Friday 27 May 2011

Violent video games and aggressive behaviour

This week the makers of the Call of Duty series of violent video games announced advance details of the next title in the series.  Modern Warfare 3 is not due to go on sale until November but the advance trailer features scenes of destruction on the London tube and the Houses of Parliament.

We were called by several news outlets who wanted our view of the game.   We walk a fine line when commenting on games like this because scenes are often inserted which are likely to attract protest thus creating a media buzz and selling more copies.  Because we’ve not yet been able to play the game or see anymore than the contents of the trailer we weren’t prepared to comment beyond saying that ,coming so close on the back of the 7/7 inquests which showed the devastating effects of an attack on the tube, including this in the game would appear to be cynical and in poor taste.

We did however make clear our concerns that, despite age ratings on games, young children continue to gain access to violent games designed for adults and we urged parents to be aware that games are rated because of their content rather than their perceived difficulty, popular games rated 18 are not suitable for children to play.

This is particularly relevant in the light of a new study from the University of Missouri has found violent video game players become less responsive to violence which predicts an increase in aggression.

During the study, 70 young adult participants were randomly assigned to play either a nonviolent or a violent video game for 25 minutes. Participants then competed against an opponent in a task that allowed them to give their opponent a controllable blast of loud noise. The level of noise blast the participants set for their opponent was the measure of aggression.

The researchers found that participants who played one of several popular violent games, such as Call of Duty, were more aggressive than participants who played a nonviolent game.

In addition, for participants that had not played many violent video games before completing the study, playing a violent game in the lab caused a reduced brain response to photos of violence - an indicator of desensitization.  Participants who had already spent a lot of time playing violent video games before the study showed small brain response to the violent photos, regardless of which type of game they played in the lab.

Bruce Bartholow, the associate professor of psychology who conducted the study, said that future research should focus on ways to moderate the effects of media violence.  He cited surveys that indicate that the average American school child spends more than 40 hours a week playing video games - more than any other activity besides sleeping.  He warned that as children spend so much time with video games, they could become accustomed to violent behaviour as their brains are forming.

"More than any other media, these video games encourage active participation in violence," he said. "From a psychological perspective, video games are excellent teaching tools because they reward players for engaging in certain types of behaviour. Unfortunately, in many popular video games, the behaviour is violence."