Research Papers Video Games And Aggression Survey

Introduction

Playing video games is perceived as an exciting aspect of the media landscape and has experienced much expansion in recent years. There has been a rise in the number of children who use video games in many parts of the world, particularly in the United States (Hagan,et al. 2002). Among children in the United States, playing hours of video games have increased from 4 hours every week in the 1980s, to about 13 hours per week in recent years. Video games have also taken the attention of the public, particularly by the controversies regarding first person shooter games (Anderson, Gentile & Buckley, 2007).

Various studies have shown that violent content in video games desensitizes players, especially children, to real-world violence. When players become desensitized, they tend to increase their aggression and decrease their empathy. Other researchers have indicated that playing video games among children does not lead to significant aggressive behavior, since the magnitude of the effect in the meta-analysis may be an outcome of publication bias. Despite pressure from various societies, many video games contain a considerable amount of violence. Violent games are seen to promote feelings of excitement, satisfaction, and empowerment among players (Hagan, et al. 2002). However, Przybylski et al, carried a study on video games and concluded that the desire and enjoyment for future play were linked to competence and the experience of autonomy in the video game, and not the level of violence. Different scholars have argued about the negative and positive effects of playing video games among children. This research paper will discuss the various effects that playing video games have on children. They impact children’s lives socially and they increase violence among children (Sherry, 2001).

Background

The debate on whether video games have social effects and cause violence among players, especially children, can be traced back to 1976 when a video game entitled Death Race was released on the market. The main aim of the game was to run over screaming gremlins using a car which would then turn into tombstones. The pace of the game was pedestrian and the gremlins resembled human figures. There was a public outcry over this video game and eventually its production ceased. There were other violent video games that were produced later in 1993, such as Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, which were followed by public outcry. In the same year, a board was established in the United States to look into video games and rate them according to their content (Siwek, 2007). The board is known as the entertainment software rating board (ESRB). The other video game that attracted media attention was Rapelay, produced in 2006 (Siwek, 2007). The video game required players to rape and stalk a woman and her two girls. Such video games are said to cause behavioral change among children.

There have been several incidents that are linked to video games, such as the massacre at Columbine High School that claimed 13 lives. Laws have been enacted to ban or control the sale of video games. For example, on the 27th of June 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the law in California that banned the sale of video games to minors (Siwek, 2007). The court ruled that the law violated the freedom of speech even though the state has an obligation to protect kids from harm. Another aspect that should be noted regarding video games is that boys spend more time playing than girls. Not many girls are interested in playing video games, hence they are not affected as much as boys of a similar age (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).

The Drawbacks of Children Playing Video games

Most of the negative effects as a result of playing video games among children can be blamed on the violent scenes contained in these games. When a child spends an extended amount of time playing such video games, they becomes socially isolated. This means that a child does not have enough time to interact with other members of their society (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). The child who spends many hours a day playing video games will have little time to meet and make new friends. They may in turn become more depressed and lonely in their homes. Children will also spend little time on other activities such as sports, reading, and doing homework. The child becomes socially inactive since they do not get involved in social activities.

Some video games teach children wrong values (Gunter, 1998). Most of the children who spend much of their time playing video games are likely to perform poorly in school. A solid number of video games are addictive. Rather than studying or completing homework, a child spends time playing video games. As a result, poor performance will be seen at schools. Video games reduce a child’s imaginative thinking as well. This means that a child who ends up spending most of their time playing video games does not get a chance to think creatively or independently. Imaginative thinking is crucial in developing a child’s creativity. By fostering isolation, video games may also affect a child’s health. Since they do not get enough bodily exercise, children who spend the majority of their time playing video games are likely to suffer from video-induced seizures, obesity and skeletal, muscular and postural disorders like tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, among others.

Video games promote children to associate happiness and pleasure with the capability to cause pain to others. They develop the feeling that in order to be happy, one has to make other people suffer. Children who play video games tend to develop selfish behavior (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). Video games teach the player to be dependent and since the child is often left alone while playing a video game, he or she can develop selfish behavior. A certain study that was done at a Minneapolis-based national institute for media indicated that kids can get addicted to video games and exhibit social phobias. The interactive quality of video games is quite different from passively viewing movies or television. The games allow players to be active participants in the script. The players who are able to benefit from acts of violence are then able to proceed to the next level (Sherry, 2001).

As a negative result of playing video games, violence in children has shown an increase. “Anderson and Dill found that males who were high in aggression and irritability, showed the strongest association between video game play and aggressive behavior” (Lillian Bensely & Juliet Van Eenwyk, 2001). There are many incidents of violent behavior among children who play violent video games worldwide (Gunter, 1998). One of the high-profile incidents is the Columbine High School massacre that was caused by 17-year-old Dylan Klebold, and 18-year-old Harris Eric. The massacre happened on the 20th of April, 1999, at Columbine High School, located in Jefferson County. 12 pupils and a teacher were killed by two pupils. It was later revealed that the two shooters in the massacre were frequent players of weapon-based combat games. It was also noted that the two shooters used to play Wolfeinstein 3D and Doom, games which are violent. After the incident, many newspaper articles claimed that the key cause of that incident was violent video games.

Another incident occurred in April, 2000, when Jose Rabadan, a sixteen-year-old Spaniard, killed his parents and his sister using a katana sword, claiming that he was Squall Leonhart, the main character in the video game titled ‘Final Fantasy V111,’ on a mission of revenge. This was a consequence of playing the game too much and fantasizing about what he saw in the video game (Williams, & Marko, 2005). In 1997, there was the case of a thirteen year old, Wilson Noah, who was killed by his friend using a kitchen knife. The mother of the deceased claimed that Noah was stabbed because of the obsession his friend had with the video game known as Mortal Kombat. She alleged that the child who killed Noah was obsessed with the game, and thought he was one of the characters in the game named Cyrax. In the game, Cyrax uses a finishing move whereby he grabs the opponent and stabs him in the chest. It was alleged that this was the move that motivated the killing of that child. There are many other incidents that were caused by the effects of playing video games. A report that was compiled by the FBI in the year 2006 showed that the playing of video games among children was one of the behavioral traits linked to school shootings. The report outlined several factors behind school shootings of which playing violent video games was the most obvious (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).

According to Gentile and Anderson, playing video games increases the aggressive behavior of the player, since the acts of violence are continually repeated during the game (Gentile, & Anderson, 2003). “Although heightened physiological arousal (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance) can be beneficial in certain situations, physiological arousal produced by violent media (or by other sources), can be linked to an increase in aggressive behavior, especially when that arousal can be erroneously attributed to another provoking event, rather than to the violent media. Repetition of an act has been considered an effective teaching method, reinforcing learners patterns” (Barlett, Harris & Bruey, 2007).

The games encourage the players to roleplay or identify with their favorite character (Gentile & Anderson, 2003). The increase in physical bullying in many schools can also be linked to the popularity of video games that contain violent content. A study done in 2008 indicated that about 60% or more of middle school boys ended up striking or beating somebody after playing at least one mature-rated video game. The research also showed that about 39% of boys who never played violent video games were not involved in any form of violence. When playing video games, players are rewarded for simulating violence. This enhances the learning of violent behavior among the children who find pleasure in violent video games. When violence is rewarded while playing video games, players tend to develop aggressive behavior. As noted earlier, video games desensitize players to real-life violence. The exposure to video games causes a reduction in P300 amplitudes that are contained in the brain. The child will later experience aggressive behavior and desensitization to violence (Bartholow, Bushman & Sestir, 2006).

After children experience violence while playing video games, they are likely to develop a fear of becoming victims of violent acts. According to the report compiled by six leading national medical associations in 2000, children do not trust their fellow children and hence will develop violent, self-protective measures. The exposure to cruel video games also leads to reduced empathy among the players. From a survey conducted by Jeanne Funk in 2004, video games are the only media linked or associated with low empathy. Empathy is described as the capacity or ability to understand other people’s feelings. The level of empathy plays a noteworthy role in evaluating a person’s morals. Empathy also controls aggressive behavior among individuals, especially children (Bartholow, Bushman & Sestir, 2006). After lacking empathy as a consequence of violent video games, these children are likely to be violent. Repetition of actions when one is playing a video game affects the subconscious mind, hence a behavioral script is developed. An example of a behavioral script is that developed by drivers. It urges the driver to first get into a car, fasten their safety belt and then start the car. Similarly, video games induce a child to develop a behavioral script that urges them to respond violently to certain situations (Gunter, 1998).

Playing video games teaches children that violence is an acceptable way of solving their conflicts. Those who play video games, especially games with violent content, do not develop the belief that using non-violence means can solve a problem. They tend to be less forgiving when compared to those children who play non-violent video games (Sherry, 2001). Children tend to confuse real-world violence with video game violence. After fantasizing about the violence in video games, children are likely to fight in schools and in the streets. New video games allow a lot of physical interaction with the players. Some video games train players on how to be a killer. For example, in 1996, the Marine Corps in the United States authorized the release of Doom 11, which was a violent video game. The game was previously used to train marine soldiers. Such games can train children to be high-profile killers. Also, most video games have portrayed a negative attitude towards women. Violence against women is likely to increase in a child who plays brutal video games (Gunter, 1998).

Counter Arguments

In any life situation and with any sort of problem, there are those who disagree with the majority. Likewise, there are researchers who present various counter arguments to support the idea that video games can be beneficial for children. The first counter argument against the side effects of video games is the fact that children are not isolated, as they have online gaming communities. Children who are unable to associate with others do not feel isolated since they can play video games. For example, a child who is not physically fit to play with others can turn to video games during their free time to reduce boredom (Dietz, 1998).

It has been noted that violent juvenile crimes have been decreasing in the recent years, yet the popularity of video games has been increasing. For the period from 1995 to 2008, the rate of the arrest of juvenile murderers decreased by 71.9%, while the overall arrest cases concerning juvenile violence decreased by 49%. In the same period, the sale of cruel video games increased by almost 4 times compared to the years before. From these statistics, one can conclude that there is no direct correlation between violent juvenile crimes and video games. There has been no scientifically-proven link between violent behavior among children and video games. Most of the surveys carried out on video games are affected by design flaws. The surveys are done within a short duration of time and do not follow kids for any considerable period of time. After a short observation, conclusions are drawn (Barlett, Harris and Bruey, 539-546).

The other counter argument against video games is that children learn real life-skills when playing video games. Players of brutal video games are able to learn how to regulate their emotions when playing (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). The level of control developed while playing video games in terms of directing actions and pace are prudent ways of regulating the emotional state of children. The perception of being in control of actions minimizes emotional and stressful responses to events. Aggressive and angry feelings can be relieved by playing video games. When a child plays video games, it is one of the best ways of relieving aggression and depression. Many children play video games to relieve anger while others play video games to relax their bodies. Children are given healthy and safe opportunities to virtually explore the rules and consequences of violent behavior when they play video games (Bartholow, Bushman & Sestir, 2006).

After playing videogames, especially ones that contain violence, children are able to develop ways of escaping violence. The form of violence can be affected by video games, but does not necessarily lead to the occurrence of violence. Through the challenges faced while playing some video games, children are able to learn how to avoid violence, or how to escape from violence. Those who hold the view that video games do not have negative effects on children indicate that video games do not lead a child to violence, but instead, violent children are the ones who are interested in video games (Anderson, Gentile & Buckley, 2007).

Conclusion

The argument about whether video games have negative or positive effects on children is broad, and depends on one’s philosophical views. “Most of the research projects that have been conducted on the authentic effects of media brutality on behavior of children have included small, often unrepresentative samples and unique examples of media violence” (Dietz, 1998). This paper has compiled some of the negative effects of video games among children. Some of the negative effects include children feeling isolated from their society, becoming more violent and aggressive, as well as lacking communicative skills. When playing video games, children spend extended periods of time by themselves and do not have much interaction with other children, except for the virtual ones. As a result, children who play video games excessively do not develop effective communication skills with others, since hours, if not all their spare time, is spent on video games. There has also been a rise in violence among children who play video games, the Columbine High School massacre being one such example. Injuries and fighting at home and outdoors have risen because of children playing brutal video games (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). Some researchers however argue that video games can and do have positive effects on children. They point out that children are not isolated, as they develop online gaming communities. Children are also able to learn real-life skills while playing video games, as well as learn how to escape violence. However, what both sides agree upon is that parents should guide their children on the outcomes of playing video games. Personally, I think that video games can be allowed when selected with caution and are not played frequently. As long as virtual reality does not replace a child’s real-life communication, video games can become a great option for a child’s leisure.

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Abstract

Background

In recent years the video game industry has surpassed both the music and video industries in sales. Currently violent video games are among the most popular video games played by consumers, most specifically First-Person Shooters (FPS). Technological advancements in game play experience including the ability to play online has accounted for this increase in popularity. Previous research, utilising the General Aggression Model (GAM), has identified that violent video games increase levels of aggression. Little is known, however, as to the effect of playing a violent video game online.

Methods/Principal Findings

Participants (N = 101) were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions; neutral video game—offline, neutral video game—online, violent video game—offline and violent video game—online. Following this they completed questionnaires to assess their attitudes towards the game and engaged in a chilli sauce paradigm to measure behavioural aggression. The results identified that participants who played a violent video game exhibited more aggression than those who played a neutral video game. Furthermore, this main effect was not particularly pronounced when the game was played online.

Conclusions/Significance

These findings suggest that both playing violent video games online and offline compared to playing neutral video games increases aggression.

Citation: Hollingdale J, Greitemeyer T (2014) The Effect of Online Violent Video Games on Levels of Aggression. PLoS ONE 9(11): e111790. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0111790

Editor: Cheryl McCormick, Brock University, Canada

Received: August 5, 2014; Accepted: September 21, 2014; Published: November 12, 2014

Copyright: © 2014 Hollingdale, Greitemeyer. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: The authors confirm that all data underlying the findings are fully available without restriction. All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information files.

Funding: This research was supported by grant P23809 from the Austrian Science Fund. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Introduction

The video game industry is now the largest entertainment industry in the UK. 2011 industry figures have identified that game sales, including platform and digital, have exceeded both music and video sales [1]. Violent video games have previously been identified to be the most popular video games played by consumers [2]. Research into the effect of violent video games on levels of aggression has led to concerns that they may pose a public health risk [3]. Indeed, cross-sectional studies have found positive correlations between violent video game play and real-life aggression [4]–[6]. Longitudinal studies showed that habitual violent video game play predicts later aggression even after controlling for initial levels of aggressiveness [7]–[9]. Finally, experimental studies have revealed that playing violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggression [10]–[12]. It should be noted, however, that there is other research showing no evidence that engagement with violent video games leads to increases in aggression or reductions in prosocial behaviour [13]–[16], warranting the need for further research in this area. On balance however, evidence from meta-analyses confirm that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive cognitions, aggressive affect and aggressive behaviour, and decreases empathy and prosocial behaviour [17], [18].

Much of the research that has provided evidence to indicate the negative effects of violent video games has utilised the General Aggression Model (GAM) [19]. A widely accepted model for understanding media effects, the GAM posits that cognition, affect and arousal mediate an individual's perception of a situation. Thus, in the short term a violent video game may temporarily increase aggression through the activation of one or more of these domains. In the long term aggressive scripts can develop and become more readily available [4]. Therefore the GAM can explain how properties of a video game can affect players' thoughts, feelings, physiological arousal and subsequent behaviour. Technological developments have afforded such games, and subsequent gaming experience, to expand beyond the realms of the console, and computer programmed opponents (offline gaming), and now allow players to engage in video game play with multiple players from all over the world via the internet (online gaming). Schubert, Regenbrecht and Friedmann [20] found that players who interact with other human players experience a heightened sense of being part of the action. Significant differences in physiological arousal and evaluations of game experience, including presence and likability, have also been found when video game opponents are controlled by other humans [21]. In regards to the negative effects, increases in aggressive thoughts and hostile expectations have been found when playing human opponents in a violent video game [22], [23]. Further to this, Wei [24] found, from a survey of 312 Chinese adolescents, that those who played violent video games online against human opponents expressed a greater tolerance of violence, a lower empathetic attitude and more aggressive behaviour than those who played against computer opponents. Based on previous studies, engagement with/against human opponents may strengthen gaming experiences and therefore, in accordance with the GAM, heighten their effects on players' thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

As noted above, violent content within violent video games has also been identified to increase levels of aggression. Within specific violent video games, progression through gaming levels achieved by engaging in violence poses an additional risk of increasing levels of aggression. Carnagey and Anderson [25] found that rewarding violence increased in-game violence and that rewards for killing other racing drivers and pedestrians, in the race-car video game Carmageddon 2, increased levels of hostile emotion, aggressive thinking and aggressive behaviour. Sherry [26] identified that video games that portray human violence were associated with increases in levels of aggression, potentially due to higher rates of action, and subsequent heightened nonspecific arousal. More specifically, increases in experience of perceived difficulty, enjoyment and action have yielded significant game effects on aggressive thoughts [27]. These findings lend support to the processes involved in the GAM.

One of the most popular violent gaming formats to date is the First Person Shooter (FPS), in which the gamer experiences the action through the eyes of the main protagonist, centred on a projectile weapon. Reports indicate that a specific franchise, utilising the FPS format, Call of Duty, a military war game, has broken all previous sales records. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, made $550 m (£350 m) in the first five days of sale. This was surpassed by Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which made $650 m (£412 m) and $775 m (£490 m) in sales respectively [28]. FPSs have been found to significantly increase hostility and aggression from base line levels [29]. Based on anecdotal evidence much of the success of this franchise has been attributed to features of online game play.

Despite the popularity of the genre, to date, there is a lack of research that has attempted to investigate the effect of playing violent video games, specifically FPSs, online on levels of aggression.

Overview of the present research

In the present research, we examined whether playing a FPS online would exacerbate the negative effects of violent video game play on aggression. Further to this we examined the effect of particular game experiences including perceived difficulty, enjoyment and action, previously identified to be associated with increases in aggressive thoughts [27], on levels of behavioural aggression. To this end, participants played either a violent video game online or offline, or a neutral video game online or offline. Afterwards, aggressive behaviour was assessed. It was expected that playing a violent video game would increase aggression. It was also expected that participants who had played the violent video game online would show the highest levels of aggression (relative to the remaining three experimental conditions) due to the previously identified experiences specific to online game play. Finally, we examined whether these proposed effects would hold when controlling for perceived difficulty, enjoyment and action.

Ethical approval was given by the University of Sussex's School of Life Sciences Research Governance Committee (Ethical Approval Reference: RBJH0510). All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information files.

Method

Within this paper the authors report how we determined our sample size, all data exclusions (if any), all manipulations, and all measures in the study. One hundred and one students (64 men and 37 women; ages range from 18 to 44: M = 21.38, SD = 4.00) from a UK University participated in the study in exchange for course credits or payment. After being welcomed by the examiner all participants were asked to complete a consent form. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions; 26 participants in a neutral video game offline, 26 participants in a neutral video game online, 23 participants in a violent video game offline and 26 participants in a violent video game online. Participants were advised that they would be undertaking two unrelated marketing surveys that had been combined for the economy of time. The first would ask for their views about a popular video game and the second would involve a marketing survey for a new recipe of hot chilli sauce.

The first task involved playing a video game for thirty minutes [29] either offline or online. In the offline condition participants were allowed to play against computer characters, subject to the video game's narrative. In the online condition participants played against human opponents via the internet, utilising randomly computer selected pre-existing levels, thus reducing the time spent navigating menus. In the online conditions, when appropriate, participants were requested to wait patiently whilst the server selected and loaded following levels. There was no opportunity for players to communicate with other human players via the internet in the online condition. The audio was turned off in all conditions to prevent participants being exposed to other players' attitudes or opinions in the online condition and to promote consistency. The gaming approach and engagement of online opponents was not recorded. All participants were initially introduced to a Playstation 3 computer console. The type of video game (violent and neutral) was identified using their Pan European Game Information (PEGI) ratings. Participants in the neutral video game condition were introduced to LittleBigPlanet 2, certificate 7, a game that would normally be rated suitable for all age groups but contains scenes that may be considered frightening for young children [30]. LittleBigPlanet 2 allows players to create, explore, solve puzzles, and interact with fantasy environments which they can enjoy or share online with other gamers. All participants in the neutral condition played the initial training level and were then allocated to either the offline condition, subject to the game's narrative, or online condition, able to engage freely with the game's online content, for the remainder of the experiment. Participants in the violent video game condition were introduced to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, certificate 18. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a FPS that sets gamers as soldiers tasked to kill the enemy in various environments. Games with a certificate 18 depict extreme violence including multiple, motiveless killing and violence towards defenceless people that may make the viewer experience a sense of revulsion [30]. All participants were asked to play the initial level, that introduces players to the gaming controls, and then were set up to play offline levels, following the narrative of the game, or online levels, during which the player played against other human operated opponents in free-for-all mode (Deathmatch). Having played for the allotted time participants were then asked to complete a number of questions about the game they had just played. This survey investigated their attitudes towards the games, including how violent they perceived the content and the graphics to be. Among some filler items, participants indicated how difficult they perceived the game to be (using two items, α = .72), to what extent they enjoyed the game (using two items, α = .79), and how fast the action of the game was (using one item). All items were assessed on a Likert scale from 1 to 7.

Following this, some affective measures were employed. There were no significant effects on these measures so this is not considered further. Finally, participants completed a marketing survey investigating a new hot chilli sauce recipe. Participants were informed that they were not required to taste the hot chilli sauce but to prepare an amount of chilli sauce for a taste tester. During the instructions they were made aware that the taste tester ‘couldn't stand hot chilli sauce’ but was taking part due to good payment. They were presented with a hot chilli sauce, depicting three out of three chillies for hotness, a spoon and a plastic receptacle. The amount of chilli sauce was weighed in grams after the participant had left the experiment. The chilli sauce paradigm has been successfully used in previous studies to measure behavioural aggression in the laboratory environment [31]. All participants completed all parts of the experiment with none admitting to knowing the true purpose of the study, therefore all data was included within the study. At the conclusion of the experiment all participants were offered a comprehensive debrief form which included information as to the true purpose of the experiment.

Results

The manipulation check identified that participants in the violent video game condition reported that the violent video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (M = 4.08, SD = 1.29) depicted a more violent content and more violent graphics compared to the neutral video game LittleBigPlanet 2 (M = 1.41, SD = 0.89), F(1, 97) = 146.97, p<.001, ηp2 = .60.

A 2 (type of video game: violent vs. neutral) x 2 (setting: online vs. offline) analysis of variance (ANOVA) on the amount of chili sauce (aggression measure) revealed a significant main effect of type of video game, F(1, 97) = 8.63, p = .004, ηp2 = .08. Participants who had played the violent video game were more aggressive (M = 16.12, SD = 15.30) than participants who had played the neutral video game (M = 9.06, SD = 7.65). The main effect of setting, F(1, 97) = 0.35, p = .558, ηp2 = .00, and the interaction were not significant, F(1, 97) = 1.44, p = .234, ηp2 = .02.

To test our specific prediction that aggressive behaviour, grams of chilli sauce dispensed by participants, would be particularly pronounced after playing a violent video game online, planned contrasts were performed, which are particularly adequate to answer such specific research questions [32], [33]. In fact, participants who had played the violent video game online were more aggressive (M = 16.81, SD = 16.57; contrast weight: 3) compared to participants who had played the violent video game offline (M = 15.35, SD = 14.04; contrast weight: −1), participants who had played the neutral video game online (M = 6.92, SD = 7.62; contrast weight: −1), and participants who had played the neutral video game offline (M = 11.19, SD = 7.20; contrast weight: −1), t(97) = 2.07, p = .041 (Figure 1). Note, however, that the orthogonal contrast comparing the violent video game offline condition (contrast weight: 2) with the neutral video game online (contrast weight: −1) and the neutral video game offline (contrast weight: −1) condition was also significant, t(97) = 2.09, p = .039. Finally, the orthogonal contrast comparing the neutral video game online (contrast weight: 1) with the neutral video game offline (contrast weight: −1) condition was not significant, t(97) = 1.28, p = .202. This pattern of data suggests that both playing violent video games online and offline compared to playing neutral video games increases aggression.

The violent video game (M = 4.11, SD = 1.48) was perceived as being more difficult than the neutral game (M = 2.71, SD = 1.18), F(1, 97) = 27.11, p<.001, ηp2 = .22. Participants also enjoyed the violent video game more (M = 4.81, SD = 1.46) than the neutral game (M = 3.76, SD = 1.38), F(1, 97) = 13.34, p<.001, ηp2 = .12. The violent video game (M = 5.00, SD = 1.47) was also perceived as having faster action than the neutral video game (M = 2.94, SD = 1.56), F(1, 97) = 46.06, p<.001, ηp2 = .32. Note, however, that in a multiple regression the effect of type of video game (violent vs. neutral) was still significant when controlling for these video game ratings, β = .27, t(96) = 2.15, p = .034. Moreover, none of the video game ratings received a significant regression weight, all βs<.15, all ts<1.29, all ps>.202.

Discussion

The present study examined the effect of playing a violent video game online and the impact of game experience including perceptions of difficulty, enjoyment and action on levels of behavioural aggression. Supporting previous research, this study found that playing a violent video game in comparison to a neutral video game significantly increased levels of aggression [3]–[6]. However, this main effect was not particularly pronounced when the game was played online. That is, both playing the violent video game online and offline relative to playing a neutral video game increased levels of aggression.

It is important to note that the violent and the neutral video game differed in terms of perceived difficulty, enjoyment and action, with the violent game perceived as being more difficult, more enjoyable, and being faster. However, when controlling for these video game properties, there was still a significant influence of type of video game on aggression. To put it differently, the effect that playing the violent relative to the neutral video game increases aggression is not due to differences in perceived difficulty, enjoyment and action. It should be noted, however, that controlling for potential confounders within video game research should be viewed with caution [34].

It should be acknowledged that the violent and the neutral video game chosen for this study may differ in properties other than difficulty, pace of action, and enjoyment. For example, the first-person shooter game, even when played offline (alone), contains a great deal of competitive content (competing in shooting battles for survival against other computer-generated characters), whereas the neutral video game contains little to no competitive content. Importantly, previous research has demonstrated an effect of competitive video game content (i.e., competing against other computer-generated characters in a game) on aggressive behavior in the short-term [35] and long-term [36]. Unfortunately, we did not control for competitive content so it may well be that our finding that violent video games increase aggression can be (in part) accounted for by differences in how competitive the game is perceived to be. This is certainly an important endeavor for future investigations.

With the growing popularity and prevalence of online video gaming, more specifically the engagement with violent video games online, and evidence to suggest that playing against human opponents can heighten the gaming experience, we thought it an important endeavor to investigate whether violent video games played online would exacerbate any negative effects on aggression. As expected, online violent video game play relative to the three remaining experimental increased aggression. However, inasmuch as offline violent video game play relative to the neutral video game conditions also significantly increased aggression, we have to conclude that the violent video game affected aggression but that this effect was not further strengthened by playing the game online. Because this is the first study to have examined the effects of online violent video game play on aggression, we hasten to add that more research is needed before the conclusion is warranted that playing online vs. offline has no consequences on the player's social behavior. For instance, future research may address the effects of online violent video game play on behavioural aggression in the long term. Differences in perceived competition when playing video games online and offline should also be explored. Further to this, future research should investigate the properties of violent video games experienced online that impact on players' aggressive cognitions, affect, physiological arousal and behaviour.

Consideration could also be given to potential positive effects of playing prosocial video games online. Previous research has shown that playing a prosocial video game (where the main objective of the game is to benefit video game characters) increases prosocial behaviour [37]–[39] and empathy [40] and decreases the accessibility of aggressive thoughts [41] and reduces aggressive behaviour [42]. Likewise, playing cooperative team-player (relative to a single-player) video games increases cooperative behaviour and empathy and decreases aggressive cognitions and angry feelings [43]–[49]. It may well be that prosocial and antisocial outcomes are even more affected by prosocial and cooperative video games when played online.

It is important to acknowledge a limitation in regards to the video games selected in this study. The perspective of the FPS is specific, and the authors are unaware of a neutral video game that utilises the first person perspective. It may be possible, in the future, to identify a non-violent first person perspective video game and thus better match the characteristics of the violent and neutral video games. As a result, LittleBigPlanet 2 was selected for its low PEGI rating and ease of operating the controls (unrelated to game difficulty). It should also be conceded that the two online conditions differed in that participants competed against human opponents in the first-person shooter game, whereas the neutral video game allowed players to play competitively and cooperatively. This possible confound might have led to increased aggression in the online/violent (relative to the offline/violent) video game condition and decreased aggression in the online/neutral (relative to the offline/neutral) video game condition (that is, an interaction between type of video game and setting). However, we did not find this interaction, but simply a main effect of type of video game. In fact, it is compelling that despite these differences in online/offline shooter games that they did not differ in their effect on aggression.

Further to this some concerns have been raised as to the suitability of the chilli sauce paradigm as an accurate measurement of behavioural aggression within the laboratory environment [50]. In addition the current sample size was relatively small and therefore limits the generalisability of the results. Future research should increase the experimental population and may examine the effects of violent video games online on other measures of aggression.

In conclusion this study has identified that increases in aggression are not more pronounced when playing a violent video game online in comparison to playing a neutral video game online. This is an important finding in relation to the growing online community and popularity of violent video games, specifically FPSs, and the potential for subsequent increases in aggression. We think there should be concern about the harmful effects of playing violent video games but it appears that playing the game online does not further exacerbate these effects.

Author Contributions

Conceived and designed the experiments: JH TG. Performed the experiments: JH. Analyzed the data: TG. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: JH TG. Wrote the paper: JH TG.

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