The perceived wisdom among many social commentators is that the violent content of games such as Manhunt or Grand Theft Auto creates feelings of aggression in players, which then spills over into aggressive behaviour in their own life.
However, a new study suggests that aggressive behaviour may be linked to a player’s experiences of failure and frustration during a game rather than its violent storyline. Przybylski et al. (2014) found that failure to master a game led to frustration and aggression regardless of whether the game was violent or not. The researchers conducted six laboratory experiments, manipulating the interface, controls and degree of difficulty in custom-designed violent and non-violent video games. Nearly 600 participants played the games, and were then tested for aggressive thoughts, feelings or behaviours.
Across the six experiments, it was not the storyline or imagery, but the lack of mastery and difficulty players had in completing the game that led to frustration and aggression. This was evident across both violent and nonviolent games. The researchers also surveyed 300 avid gamers and found that real world gamers also experienced the same phenomena, reporting that an inability to master a game or its controls led to increased feelings of frustration and ‘rage quitting’.
One of the researchers, Richard Ryan, suggests that we tend to have fairly simplistic views when it comes to the link between video games and aggression and notes that even nonviolent games such as Tetris and Candy Crush can leave players feeling aggressive if they are poorly designed or too difficult.