CHRIS BRAUN / Design editor Courtesy of MCT
Playing games such as “Halo” or “Call of Duty” will not turn people into murderers, but how the games are being played might make gamers more aggressive, according to new research from Ohio State.
OSU Professor of communication David Ewoldsen and co-author of the research says gamers who play with teammates rather than against someone, show increased cooperative behavior later opposed to aggressiveness.
In the first study, students played the video game “Halo 2” for 20 minutes in separate rooms, but were assigned into four contrasting conditions.
Ewoldsen said in the cooperative condition, subjects played the game together as teammates against computer aliens. In the direct competition condition, they played head-to-head, shooting each other. In the indirect competition, they were playing “Halo 2” independently. In the last condition, they did not play the game until much later, and instead just filled out a survey for measures of cooperation.
In the second study, the students played the game “Unreal Tournament 3” and were only placed in the cooperative or direct competition conditions. However, this time the second subject was actually a confederate who either wore an Ohio State or Michigan T-shirt, demonstrating an in-group or an out-group manipulation. Ewoldsen said this ultimately had no effect on the results.
After both studies, the students took part in a cooperation task. During this task, each were given four dimes to start off with and were told that they could either keep all of the dimes or give them to another player, Ewoldsen said. Each dime given to another doubled in value.
“The idea is that you can be selfish and keep your dimes or you can give them away, and if each person gives their dimes away they get more money so that’s the measure of cooperation,” Ewoldsen said.
Both studies found that when they played cooperatively, people cooperated in the later task, partaking in a “tit for tat” strategy in which the subject mimics the behavior in which the other players displayed.
“So if you’re nice, I’ll be nice. If you’re nasty, I’ll be nasty,” Ewoldsen said. “And that’s the strategy that leads to cooperation in the long term.”
However, when they played competitively, they competed early on in the cooperation task.
In the second study, when there was an in-group and out-group present, students were also given scenarios and asked how they would respond, varying from non-aggressive to very aggressive. What was found is that, of those scenarios, when playing with a Michigan student and in the cooperative condition, they responded less aggressively overall.
Ewoldsen said that, while surprising, this might have happened because their expectations were disproved.
“You’re expecting this person to be a jerk because they’re from the out-group but they acted in a very cooperative manner,” he said. “And we think that decreased the aggressive propensities, so it was a very interesting find.”
Ewoldsen said the best way to describe the results is that, “it’s not the content of the game that matters, it’s how you play the game that matters.”
While the idea from the studies came from the various theories on video game violence, Ewoldsen said it also came from watching his sons play video games.
“When I watched my sons playing together, afterward it would be a much more positive environment than if they were playing competitively, and then half the time they’d end up fighting,” he said. “And ultimately what the idea came down to was which had a bigger effect, cooperating with a real human or killing a virtual creature? And I always thought that cooperative behavior with a real human is going to override that killing of the digital creature.”
Dan Carr, a second-year in geography, said he thinks aggressive behavior does not just depend on whether one plays cooperatively or competitively.
“I’d say the effects depend largely on one’s mentality and on the household in which the child was raised,” Carr said. “I’ve played shooting games, and I don’t think that they had any effect in my mind and it certainly wouldn’t lead to negative results.”
Other students agree with the studies’ results.
Matt Thompson, a third-year in biology, said working on a team could certainly decrease aggressive behavior.
“The goal isn’t to go kill someone, they’re still going after somebody I guess but they still have a sense of, ‘Oh, I’m working with these people, I didn’t necessarily do that myself,'” Thompson said.
Ewoldsen said that in conducting these studies, he wanted to show that the relationship between video game aggression and actual aggression is more complex than it is made out to be.
“Video games have become such an important part of adolescent socialization,” Ewoldsen said. “Certainly the research has shown that playing violent games can have very bad effects, but it’s a much more complex relationship than that.”