CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Results from the first long-term study of online videogame playing may be surprising.
Contrary to popular opinion and most previous research, the newstudy found that players’ “robust exposure” to a highly violent onlinegame did not cause any substantial real-world aggression.
After an average playtime of 56 hours over the course of a monthwith “Asheron’s Call 2,” a popular MMRPG, or “massively multi-layeronline role-playing game,” researchers found “no strong effectsassociated with aggression caused by this violent game,” said DmitriWilliams, the lead author of the study.
Players were not statistically different from the non-playingcontrol group in their beliefs on aggression after playing the gamethan they were before playing, Williams said.
Nor was game play a predictor of aggressive behaviors. Compared withthe control group, the players neither increased their argumentativebehaviors after game play nor were significantly more likely to arguewith their friends and partners.
“I’m not saying some games don’t lead to aggression, but I am sayingthe data are not there yet,” Williams said. “Until we have morelong-term studies, I don’t think we should make strong predictionsabout long-term effects, especially given this finding.”
Williams, a professor of speech communication at the University ofIllinois at Urbana-Champaign, is an expert on the effects of onlinevideo-game play. He conducted the study with Marko Skoric, a lecturerat the School of Communication and Information at Nanyang TechnologicalUniversity in Singapore.
Their findings appear in the June issue of Communication Monographsin an article titled “Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggressionin an Online Game.”
According to Williams, researchers have suspected a strong linkagebetween games and aggression “but, with the exception of relativelyshort-term effects on young adults and children, they have yet todemonstrate this link.”
Williams and Skoric undertook the first longitudinal study of a game to see whether they could determine a link.
Because most video game research has been conducted in thelaboratory or by observation in the field – methods “not representingthe social context of game play” – they had their participants play thegame in normal environments, like home.
The results of the new study, Williams said, support the contentionof those who suggest that some violent games do not necessarily lead toincreased real-world aggression.
But he and Skoric concede that other types of games and contexts might have negative impacts.
“This game featured fantasy violence, while others featuring outerspace or even everyday urban violence may yield different outcomes.”
Williams and Skoric also concede that because their study didn’tconcentrate solely on younger teenagers, “we cannot say that teenagersmight not experience different effects.”
Still, and interestingly, older players in their study were “perhapsmore strongly influenced by game play and argued with friends more thantheir younger counterparts.”
The new study involved two groups of participants: players – a“treatment” group of 75 people who had no prior MMRPG play and whoplayed AC2 for the first time; and a control group of 138, who did notplay. The participants were solicited through online message boards andranged in age from 14 to 68, the average age being 27.7 years.
Self-reported questionnaires were completed pre- and post-testonline and included a range of demographic, behavioral and personalityvariables. Aggression-related beliefs were measured with L.R.Huesmann’s Normative Beliefs in Aggression (NOBAGS) scale. Aggressivesocial interactions were measured with two behavioral questions: in thepast month, did the participant have a serious argument with a friend,and in the same time period, did they have a serious argument with aspouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.
Because of the study’s design, only moderate or large effects caused by exposure to the game were capable of being detected.
Today, more than 60 percent of Americans play some form ofinteractive game on a regular basis, while 32 percent of thegame-playing population is now over 35 years of age.
Fears about the games’ social and health impacts have risen withthese numbers, Williams said, with politicians, pundits and mediaoutlets fanning some of the flames.
Games are becoming increasingly violent, as shown by contentanalyses, Williams said. One reason is that “the first generation ofgame players has aged and its tastes and expectations have been morelikely to include mature fair.”
Still, the extent of knowledge about what games do to or for peopleis limited, and there is “even less understanding about the range ofcontent.”
“If the content, context, and play length have some bearing on theeffects, policy-makers should seek a greater understanding of the gamesthey are debating. It may be that both the attackers and defenders ofthe industry’s products are operating without enough information, andare instead both arguing for blanket approaches to what is likely amore complicated phenomenon.”
Nor do researchers know much about the positive effects of gaming, Williams said.
“Based on my research, some of the potential gains are in meeting alot of new people and crossing social boundaries. That’s important in asociety where we are increasingly insulated from one another.”
Some game researchers believe that video-gaming leads to substantialgains in learning teamwork, managing groups and most important,Williams said, problem solving.
“How often can someone direct and coordinate a group of eight or 40real people to accomplish a complex task, as they do in theserole-playing games? That’s a real skill.
“Games are about solving problems, and it should tell us somethingthat kids race home from school where they are often bored to get ongames and solve problems. Clearly we need to capture that lightning ina bottle.”
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