Computer Science Engineers at the University of York have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.
In one of the most significant studies of its type – with more than 3,000 participants – a team of Computer Scientists demonstrated that video games do not ‘prime’ players to behave in specific ways.
The findings suggest that there is no link between these kinds of realism in games and the kind of effects that video games are commonly thought to have on their players.Dr Zendle
This conclusion means that increasing realism in violent video games does not increase aggression in the player.
“Priming” – The old model
Up to now the the idea of learning in games has been centred around the idea that exposing a player to concepts (such as violence) results in a player being more comfortable to use those concepts in ‘real life’.
This is known as ‘priming’. It has traditionally been thought to lead to changes in behaviour.
However, past experiments on this effect have provided very mixed conclusions.
The team from the University of York were able to put together a much larger study to compare gaming realism in the hope they would be able to find more conclusive evidence of ‘priming’.
In one ‘test’ the team asked people to play a game where they avoided car avoiding collisions with trucks or played as a mouse dodging a cat.
After completing the game, the players were asked to categorise different images ( for example; label a bus as an animal or a vehicle ).
According to priming; players would have immersed themselves in the concept of the game and should then be able to categorise objects in the game much more quickly in the real world.
What the team found was that it made no difference. For example; players playing the car-themed game couldn’t categorise vehicle pictures any faster and in some cases, their reaction time was much lower than would otherwise be expected.
The team also conducted a second separate study that looked at how realism would effect aggression in players.
The team were well aware that past studies had returned mixed results.
While you might find modern computer games to be photo-realistic; there are actually many ways a game can be considered realistic. The team were particularly interested in if characters would react like they would in the ‘real world’.
Dr David Zendle, from the University’s Department of Computer Science, explained that the new “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.”
The team picked two combat games – one with ‘ragdoll physics’ to create realistic character behaviour and one without.
The team then compared the reactions to the game by looking at how players completed word puzzles.
By asking the players to undertake these complex ‘word fragment completion tasks,’ they expected to see violent word associations from players of the game with more realistic behaviours.
Like the previous experiment, the team didn’t see any detectable evidence of priming.
The research is undoubtedly exciting and overturns the traditional model of priming. However, the team only experimented with adults so future work will be needed to see if the effect is different in children.
The research paper, ‘No Priming in Video Games’, is published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, and the research paper, ‘Behavioural Realism and the Activation of Aggressive Concepts in Violent Video Games’, is published in the journal