A new study has revealed that gamers are more likely to experience feelings of aggression from playing a game when it is too difficult or when the controls are too complicated to master.
In comparison, the research found there was “little difference” in levels of aggression when the games themselves depicted violence. Overwhelmingly, the deciding factor was “how the volunteers were able to master the electronic game after 20 minutes of play”.
This need to master the game was far more significant than whether the game contained violent material.”
The study was conducted by research teams from University of Oxford in the UK and the University of Rochester in the US, with the findings published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The experiment is believed to be the first study of its kind and consisted of six controlled lab tests involving university students. The candidates played a simple puzzle game the researchers were able to manipulate, increasing its difficultly or making the control scheme less intuitive or responsive.
“To date, researchers have tended to explore passive aspects of gaming, such as whether looking at violent material in electronic games desensitises or aggravates players,” says Dr Andrew Przybylski, co-author of the study, from the Oxford Internet Institute. “We focused on the motives of people who play electronic games and found players have a psychological need to come out on top when playing. If players feel thwarted by the controls or the design of the game, they can wind up feeling aggressive. This need to master the game was far more significant than whether the game contained violent material. Players on games without any violent content were still feeling pretty aggressive if they hadn’t been able to master the controls or progress through the levels at the end of the session.”
If the structure of a game or the design of the controls thwarts enjoyment, it is this, not the violent content, that seems to drive feelings of aggression.”
In addition to the lab tests, researchers conducted a survey of over 300 players, focussing the three games they had played most in the last month. Players were asked which they had enjoyed the most, and why. Again, the research demonstrated that some players experienced aggression when they didn’t feel good at the game. Furthermore, these feelings of aggression had even spoiled their level of enjoyment.
“The study is not saying that violent content doesn’t affect gamers,” says co-author Richard M Ryan, from the University of Rochester. “But our research suggests that people are not drawn to playing violent games in order to feel aggressive. Rather, the aggression stems from feeling not in control or incompetent while playing. If the structure of a game or the design of the controls thwarts enjoyment, it is this, not the violent content, that seems to drive feelings of aggression.”