Video game aggression linked to losing and in-game incompetence

Oxford research shows that players are quick to anger from games if they lose or cannot master it, and not just due to violent content

Players who lost in a Call of Duty match will be just as berserk with rage as gamers who lost in a Mario Kart bout. It's all on the user's temperament in the end.

Players who lost in a Call of Duty match will be just as berserk with rage as gamers who lost in a Mario Kart bout. It’s all on the user’s temperament in the end.

Whether you’re in a Diablo III: Reaper of Souls loot run on Adventure Mode or in a DOTA 2 half-an-hour team session, you’ll be running into a cascade of emotions ranging from joy to anger. According to a BBC report, the latter is scientifically stemmed not from the blood-soaked visuals and multitude of gore-laden killstreaks from your shooter or M18 game of choice.

Rather, it’s from losing any kind of game or game-related situation, be it some guy bailing out from a League of Legends match at the last moment which would usually cost the game or losing in Hearthstone match after match for the tail end of the night. The report discussed an Oxford University study which measured the parallels between aggression and video game competence.

Subjects were asked to play modded versions of Half-Life 2: one with a tutorial and one without, as well as one with its violent content intact and one without. The study showed that the subjects that showed the most aggression levels are the ones who played it without the tutorial and violence, followed by the ones who played it without the tutorial but with the violence intact.

“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,” said Dr Andrew Przybylski from the Oxford Internet Institute, adding, “This need to master the game was far more significant than whether the game contained violent material… If the structure of a game or the design of the controls thwarts enjoyment, it is this (and) not the violent content that seems to drive feelings of aggression.”

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Dr Przybylski’s research, which was also contributed by his colleagues from the University of Rochester in the US, focused on the motives of game players. “[People who play games] 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 of 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.”

Co-researcher Professor Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester said that people aren’t drawn to playing video games in order to feel aggression, but from the feeling of not being in control and being incompetent in the game. “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.”

As with any form of competitive activity -sports, video games, board games, etcetera, not everyone is a gracious loser and good sport. A person who lost in a Gears of War match (a rather M18 gore-filled game mind you) will be just as enraged and aggressive as another person who came out last in the cartoony Mario Kart 7 because of an ill-timed Blue Shell blast. Thanks to the report, at least people who aren’t too in tuned with video game culture will gain insight knowing that aggression from games isn’t at all from the content, but from the mechanics and structure.

Jonathan Toyad

If you want an elaborate answer on who would win in a fight between Ultraman and Godzilla, Jonathan Toyad is your man. A six-year veteran in the game journalism industry, he did words and videos for outlets such as GameSpot, GameAxis, IGN and Stuff.TV. Fears coyotes and scorched earths.

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