Deconstructing Video Game Research: Part I

The primordial challenge in video game research is understanding the definitions of aggression used by investigators as they attempt to tease out the intricate details of violent video games (media) and their relationship to acts of aggression.Within the research community there, is a general consensus that the General Aggression Model (GAM) is the best measure of whether or not violent video games lead to an increase in aggression, but part of the disagreement between the research and the public may lie in the volatile nature of how aggression is measured.

Experts Anderson and DeWall (seen here) elaborated for more than 40 years on developmental theories supporting the GAM. Their theories included an understanding of aggressive behaviors, the operation of overriding impulses, and the argument that “aggression depends on how an individual perceives and interprets his or her environment and the people therein. Expectations regarding the likelihood of various outcomes, knowledge and beliefs about how people typically respond in certain situations, and how much people believe they have the ability to respond to a variety of events.” Their research is well worth the read to get a sense and understanding of where literature on aggression has been headed for the past decade. It also brings to the forefront the diversity of aggressive measures and outcomes which could impact the reliability of the existing literature.

Although the GAM model provides a foundation to start on, it’s application to violent video games and the interpretation to violent acts or acts of aggression remains noticeably absent. Bushman, Rothstein & Anderson (2010) have stated that one challenge is that “different researchers have used different (methods to) measure aggression.” This “could increase the probability of a Type I error (incorrect rejection of a true null hypothesis, ie: a false positive such as stating there is an effect when in fact, there is none) if researchers were systematically choosing a measure on the basis of the size of the media violence effect.” This statement, made by Craig Anderson, Ph.D., known for his extensive studies on violence, further reinforces the need for this specific type of literature to explore refined definitions of aggression and violence as they relate to video games.

When we think of aggression and violence, Michael Shermer (from Skeptic magazine) brings up an interesting point. He refers to four types of aggression psychologists have employed which include instrumental violence (conquest and the elimination of a rival), revenge (self-help justice, vendettas), dominance and recognition (competition for status), and ideology (religion or creeds). Although the history of aggression literature supports various types of aggression, the literature specific to video games remains unbalanced and unclear. There’s undoubtedly a need to clarify the types of aggression being measured, and explore a more refined definition of aggression moving forward.

When we refer to acts of violence or aggression, the video game community instantly refers to games such as Call of Duty or Halo as military-based titles where violence is expected, or rather, the norm. What many fail to realize is that games such as Mario Bros. contains acts of aggression if you follow the definition verbatim (See definition: 2. any offensive action, attack, or procedure; an inroad or encroachment or 3. the practice of making assaults or attacks; offensive action in general). While most would not consider Mario Bros. an innately violent game, it accentuates the need to firmly define aggression and violence as it relates specifically to video games, particularly when the literature continues to expand in an attempt to understand the link, if any, between violent video games (or media) and acts of aggression. When different individuals are considering jumping on top of someone’s head to eliminate them (Mario Bros.), aggressive versus non-aggressive, there is a fundamental problem with the literature, which may be leading to deceptive assumptions without scaling the impact on a case-by-case basis.

From here, the natural progression will be to identify different types of aggression, measures of violence, and to identify comprehensive scales that closely resemble the variability seen in decades worth of aggression and violence literature.

This is a budding field of research, and there are still more questions than answers – so stay tuned for more information as the literature rolls out, and hopefully investigators will keep up with the variability and demand needed to accurately understand the complexity of violent media and acts of aggression.

Continue to Part 2 here.

Photo Credit: Vinoth Chandar via Flickr

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