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Violent Play – Rubbing salt into the wound

Grand Theft Auto 4

Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto 4

I came across an interesting research paper today in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal.   Brad Bushman (Ohio State University) and Bryan Gibson (Central Michigan University) suggest that the aggression associated with violent video games can persist long after the game play has finished.

Many people, notably Craig Anderson of the Department of Psychology at Iowa State University, have claimed that video games encourage real life aggression, but most studies have only demonstrated short term increases.  This new study proposes that the, particularly for men, ruminating on the game play can sustain those violent attitudes much longer.

Although video games are one of the media’s favourite whipping boys and a preferred scapegoat for many social ills, the same flaws occur in this piece of work as earlier studies.

The research methodology tends to ignore other possible influencers which are worth bearing in mind:

  • Many activities ranging from football to television can instil short term feelings of aggression in participants and observers – it’s not unique to computer games
  • All manner of activities can amplify pre-existing psychological/ psychopathic tendencies – there’s no evidence to suggest that balanced mainstream players suffer any fantasy-reality confusion
  • Dwelling on any violent act, indeed any emotionally-charged experience, will result in its higher profile in our consciousness
  • And finally, any obsessive activity whether online, offline or in the Lady’s Chamber will, by definition, distort a balanced and healthy view of life and social behaviour.

While I’m not suggesting there’s no merit in this latest paper, it’s always worth taking these studies with a pinch of salt.

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  • Isn’t experiencing anger and violence regularly a useful way to understand and become aquainted with these complex and quite human emotions? Once experienced in relative safety and perhaps with friends (as gaming is increasingly the most social of things), surely the person experiencing it will learn their triggers and their tendencies and perhaps be better able to react in a measured way to instances outside of gameplay?

  • It’s a good point, Si. I guess the issue is how we encourage reflection on those emotions so that we can learn more about them, their triggers and impact. I think the level of self analysis you describe often needs some kind of prompt or external stimulus. Now, how we incorporate that stimulus seamlessly into the gameplay, now there’s a challenge! (And incidentally one of the things we’re talking to Learning about!)