Video Games Make You Violent—If They Suck

Ah, that old “violent video games make for violent kids” canard—between cable news who won’t quite bringing it up and gamers who won’t quite whining about it, it’ll never die. In the mean time, scientists have found that a better way to make a gamer violent isn’t to give them a violent video game—instead, give them one with terrible controls.

A study published in the Journal of Social and Social Psychology found that gamers playing games with poor mechanics or gamers insufficiently instructed in gameplay controls exhibited more aggressive tendencies than those who played violent games or who were sufficiently instructed in gameplay controls.

In one test, researchers modified Half-Life 2, such that half of their subjects played a version without violence—instead of shooting enemies, the players “tagged” them, and then said enemies “evaporated”. After playing, neither group exhibited significantly more aggressive tendencies than the other.

However, in another test, half of the subjects were given short tutorials in gameplay controls, and the other half did not. In that test, gamers insufficiently briefed became more aggressive than those who had the tutorial, suggesting that frustration tends to drive aggression in gaming. Also, it probably explains why we keep rage-quitting Civ V.

In yet another test, half of the subjects played a regular game, and the other half played one with purposely-bad controls. In a result perhaps unsurprising to the average gamer, the purposely-bad controls group became more angry and aggressive.

So, add this study to the pile of growing video game studies, including risk factors for addiction, a number of neurological benefits, and the weird one about people playing as Joker becoming more aggressive than people playing as Superman.

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