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It has been found that games have become more violent, graphic and realistic with the passing of time (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). This presents an alarming perspective
because the exposure to games is becoming increasingly more widespread, touching upon younger and younger audiences. Buchman and Funk (1996) came to a startling discovery when they asked fourth-graders about their favourite type of game; over half of girls and 73% of boys responded that violent games were their favourite.
Due to consumer demand the vast majority of games on the market – roughly
89% – revolve around violence and aggression (Carnagey & Anderson,2005). In comparison to Dietz’s (1998) findings, there has therefore been a 10% escalation in games containing violence.
With the passing of time, inevitable technological advances enable gaming industries to produce visually stunning video games comprising a virtual world depicted with sheer realism. The growing realistic and violent nature of games raises many concerns about their influence on gamer aggression. Video game-related violence is believed to have partly
contributed to the occurrence of many school shootings within the United States of America (Murphy, 2002; Woodruff & Schneider, 1999). For instance, the adolescent perpetrators of the notorious school shooting at Columbine High were keen fans and habitual players of the extremely graphic horror-action game Doom. Such occurrences therefore lead to much controversy on the matter of games and aggression, subsequently stimulating the inception of elaborate research.
The General Aggression Model (GAM) [largely based on theories developed over the past 30 years by scholars ranging from social psychology to developmental psychology] devised by Anderson and Bushman (2002) attempts to explain the link between aggression and violent video games.
This particular framework addresses exposure to violent video games in a behavioural (affect), cognitive (cognition), and biological (arousal) capacity
The Cognitive Neoassociation Theory addresses the cognitive route of the framework and assumes that by viewing violence in games, our memory rehearses aggression-related concepts, stimulating aggressive thoughts/ideas. When playing games, these cognitive scripts are constantly being rehearsed, slowly ingraining them more and more in memory.
- Provenzo (1991) found that jacket covers on games very often portray a dominant male with a weapon in hand. These specific features are correlated with violence, eliciting aggressive feelings and activating the associative network responsible for aggressive responses.
These scripts can act as guidelines on how to behave in certain situations so rehearsing them frequently could give you a wrong idea on how to behave. Research has shown that by continuous exposure to lead to creating aggressive thhoughts, so there’s an increased likelihood of resulting to violence in real life (Bushman, 1998). but the theory assumes that aggression from these games can go away with time provided that these ideas aren’t activated. So the casual gamer is safe. What about those that play a lot?
one of the most comprehensive studies to date where the target population of the sample were young video game players aged 8 to 18, of which 8.5% of them were classified as pathological (Gentile, 2009).
By having an altered cognition, one may for instance experience hostile attribution bias, meaning that interpretations of situations/events may be inaccurately perceived as hostile leading to possible aggressive outcomes (Crick & Dodge, 1994).
The Excitation Transfer Theory (Zillmann, 1971) addresses the biological route of the model which focuses on arousal from exposure to violent media. By viewing violent media, a temporary emotional reaction occurs. So if two equally arousing events happen, a cumulative emotional response can occur; so if provoked, someone may retaliate. This is why people that have viewed violence are more susceptible to aggressive response if provoked (Tannenbaum and Zillmann, 1975). If no provocation happens though, the increase in arousal will just disappear with time (Zillmann, 1983).
- People playing Mortal Kombat with the blood mode-on had higher blood pressure than those playing with the mode off (Ballard and Wiest, 1996). So more violence à greater physiological response.
- Brain activity patterns similar to aggressive cognition/behaviour appeared with every violent encounter in 1st person game. (Weber, Ritterfeld, and Mathiak, 2006)
If provoked after exposure to violent gameplay, such an individual is more prone to resulting to an aggressive response caused by emotional arousal or inaccurately attributed intent.
Following the argument of physiological arousal, there is reason to believe that violence in video games triggers a biological response in the human body in many ways. For one, the Desensitization Theory explains the biological effects of continuous exposure to violence in video games, suggesting that with repeated and prolonged exposure to media violence the negative inherent physiological and emotional responses humans endure when observing violence of any nature are reduced to insignificance and don’t occur (Rule & Ferguson, 1986). Anderson et al. (2003) argues that violence is then treated like a normal emotion and thus such an attitude may lead to an increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviours. On the other side however, there exists very limited empirical support with conclusive findings as of yet regarding the application of this theory to the realm of video games.
Questions and Answers
TV vs Video Games
Results obtained from studies regarding media violence on television and in video games are reasonably consistent and parallel, vast difference in the level of interactivity.
- The main reason for this is that television may be viewed while completing other different tasks and isn’t as engrossing as avideo game experience where one has to concentrate at all times
- gamers are more active participants in simulated violence as they drive the narrative and make decisions that affect the direction it takes.
- game players tend to identify with the game character more than television viewers with a movie character (Zillmann, 1994).
- Especially if 1st POV, the player identifies with the protagonist; feeling of strong involvement in the game (e.g. Anderson & Dill, 2000) whereas TV is a passive experience
- Just by watching someone play can develop an increase in aggression (Cooper & Mackie, 1986), the active players tend to experience more aggressive thoughts (Calvert & Tan, 1994).
Possible positive effect of video games on players.
Despite the comprehensible amount of evidence supporting negative effects of video games, researchers also explore whether there are any positive aspects. Findings of studies show that video games can significantly increase spatial ability (e.g. De Lisi & Wolford, 2002). For instance, Linn and Petersen (1985) found that the three-dimensional visualization of games contribute to significant development of spatial skills, namely spatial rotation and perception. Research also shows that young audiences are most liable to this type of development, with elderly gamers experiencing little or no such change (Gagnon, 1985).
Furthermore, when we consider further the possible positive effects of video games, especially those of violent nature, it is necessary to mention the catharsis theory (Feshbach & Singer, 1971). According to Freud (1955), humans can endure catharsis by using direct aggression. Freud’s idea of emotional purification forms the foundation of the hydraulic model of anger which assumes that repressed negative emotions can build up within an individual like hydraulic pressure in a closed environment and one day be released in a fit of rage. He argued that by discovering a safe outlet of cleansing of negative emotions, one could avoid releasing aggression into the behavioural realm. Based on Freud’s assumption, the catharsis theory (Feshbach & Singer, 1971) suggests that violent video games may be treated as a simple outlet to aggressive impulses. For instance, Sparks and Sparks (2002) found that by engaging in a virtual world the player can discharge negative emotions in a safe way, resulting in psychological cleansing and relaxation. On the contrary however, research (e.g. Geen & Quanty, 1977; Bushman et al., 1999) also indicates that the idea of catharsis regarding media violence can backfire by only increasing aggression.
Another positive effect of video games on players is its ability to socially connect one another. Lucas and Sherry (2004) believe that games can act as a social bonding activity in which friends or family may participate together. For instance, in best-selling games such as the recent instalments of the Call of Duty or Gears of War franchises, the producers include two-player cooperation campaigns. Some games like those of the WWE Smackdown vs. Raw wrestling franchise can even involve up to four players. Moreover, the online multiplayer mode in modern video games has become one of the most popular forms of gameplay, where gamers have the opportunity to establish new friendships with people from all over the globe and play together. Video games can also promote prosocial behaviour, with relationships between characters in the virtual world setting the example.
Lastly, the future may hold a promising educational purpose for video games. Due to their interactive nature, games have the ability to immerse and focus a gamer’s full concentration. They are also capable of
Catharsis, from the greek word katharsis, means ‘cleansing’. It was first recorded in
Aristotle’s thousand year old Poetics.
creating a sense of challenge and achievement in meeting a goal. The fact that humans learn by observational learning and that rewarding behaviours is conducive to the process of acquiring knowledge add to the argument that video games could make a fun future educational tool instead of an incredibly realistic killing simulator.
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