YORK, England — There’s no shortage of violent video games in which players rely on an arsenal of deadly weapons to wreak havoc on challengers. Yet for all the finger-pointing at these combat-themed titles for potential negative mental health effects, parents and experts may want to back down. A new study finds no evidence to support the claim that violent video games in any way impact the behavior of players or cause them to be more aggressive.
Researchers from the University of York led a series of experiments involving 3,000 adults to test the concept of video game players being “primed” by games to act in certain ways. The model centers around the idea that when players are exposed to themes or concepts presented in a video game, they become easier for that person to mimic in real life. Prior studies based on the theory of priming have led to mixed results.
In one experiment for this latest study, participants played either a game in which they played as a car avoiding collisions with trucks, or as a mouse running away from a cat. Following the game, the researchers showed the players various images, such as a bus or a dog, and asked them to label the images as either an animal of a vehicle.
“If players are ‘primed’ through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorise the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded,” says Dr. David Zendle, from York’s Department of Computer Science, in a statement. “Across the two games we didn’t find this to be the case. Participants who played a car-themed game were no quicker at categorising vehicle images, and indeed in some cases their reaction time was significantly slower.”
Another experiment tested the theory that more realistic violent video games would lead to increased aggression in players.
“Our experiment looked at the use of ‘ragdoll physics’ in game design, which creates characters that move and react in the same way that they would in real life. Human characters are modelled on the movement of the human skeleton and how that skeleton would fall if it was injured,” says Zendle.
After playing the more realistic game, players were presented with a word association puzzle in which researchers tested whether the players would use more violent word choices to complete fragments shown to them. Players were also asked to play another violent combat game that was far less realistic and then given the same word task.
“We found that the priming of violent concepts, as measured by how many violent concepts appeared in the word fragment completion task, was not detectable,” says Zendle. “There was no difference in priming between the game that employed ‘ragdoll physics’ and the game that didn’t, as well as no significant difference between the games that used ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ solider tactics.”
Zendle concluded that in no way do violent video games prime participants to behave a certain way, nor does increasing the realism of violent gameplay make players any more aggressive in real life. Because the study participants were adults, he says future research should focus more on children.
The studies were organized into two research papers, one appearing in the January 2018 edition of the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, the other in the January 2018 edition of Entertainment Computing.