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Monday, 27 February 2017

P3: Understand how Media Audiences Respond to Media Products - Task 1

Violence in Video games is always portrayed by mainstream media as one of the leading causes of overly aggressive behaviour in people under the age of 18 years old. While it is true that the impact of violent video games does have an effect on people, both positively and negatively, it is a massive oversight to say that it is to blame for a lot of the major crimes committed by teens that play these games in their spare time. Indeed, research suggests that there is very little to no correlation between major crimes committed and violent video games "Yet it is not at all clear whether, over longer periods, such a habit increases the likelihood that a person will commit a violent crime, like murder, rape, or assault, much less a Newtown-like massacre. (Such calculated rampages are too rare to study in any rigorous way, researchers agree.)" (1)

When looking at the impact of video games on under 18 year olds, it is first important to consider audience theory, looking at how an audience consumes media and why they decide to consume this media. One model that is used to define the relationship between an audience and the media is the Hypodermic Needle model, which states that the audience is passively fed the information that is being displayed and are therefore unable to resist the message that is being shown to them. This theory helps to reinforce the fact that video games have a negative impact on an audience due to the fact that there is the belief that when people under the age of 18 consume violent video games, they are unable to resist the effect that these games have on them, thus normalising them to violence and making them believe that violence alright. However, the issue with this theory is that there are a lot of people that do consume violent video games and are unaffected by the content that they are consuming, which renders the fact that the audience is passive and cannot resist the flow of media to them completely void of merit. Due to this, there is another theory that is used to help define the way that an audience uses media, which is the Uses and Gratification Theory. This theory is the opposite to the Hypodermic Needle model as it states that the audience is active when consuming the media, and uses the media instead of being used by it. Furthermore, this theory states that the audience uses the media for it's own pleasure and gratification. This is important as this theory believes that the audience is free to choose how they react to the media that they are consuming, and whether they believe the message that is coming across to them. In terms of violent video games, this theory strengthens the argument that video games aren't necessarily bad for the consumer, as they are able to play these violent video games, and then be free to make their own choices regarding how they feel about the scenes that they have witnessed, instead of being blindly guided by the game that they are playing and then having no choice in the actions that they might commit due to playing these games. (2)

Taking this into account, the big question is how do these violent video games actually have an effect the people that play them. There have been studies into both the positive and negative impacts of violent video games, although mainstream media tends to only pick up on the negative aspects as it helps to fit the narrative that they are trying to tell. The Washington Navy Yard shooting was reported by the media as being caused by the perpetrator being obsessed with the video game Call of Duty, and that this was the main cause of the rampage that occurred on that day (3), without citing any other factors that may have caused this tragedy to occur, such as mental health issues. (4) The issue with this is that it creates the narrative that all violent video games cause heightened aggression which will cause the players that play these genres of games to all become violent towards people in their real life activities. 

When looking into different studies, it is fair to say that there is evidence to suggest that playing violent video games does lead to heightened aggression levels in the players. For example, a study that was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology had participants either play a violent or non-violent video game for 20 minutes per day for 3 days. At the end of this time period they were then asked to compete in tasks where if they were the winner, they would be able to blast their opponent with an unpleasant noise. The researchers found that when the winner of the competitive task was the person who played the violent video game, they tended to blast the loser with an unpleasant noise for a longer time period, and the researchers interpreted this as an increase is aggressive behaviour. (5) However, another study which was conducted by Seth Gitter and his colleagues found that context was massively important when looking into the effects of violent video games on people. This study showed that when players were asked to play a violent game in which there was a positive goal in mind, such as saving and protecting a friend in a zombie game, they showed decreased levels of aggression compared to those who were just asked to kill as many zombies as they possibly could. This study helps to show that it isn't just the act of playing violent video games that dictates whether they have a negative effect or not, it's the way that the games are played instead. (6) Many similar studies have been conducted that have found similar results to those found by the study posted in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, such as the study conducted by Christopher Bartlett, a psychologist at Iowa State University. Bartlett led a research team that had 47 undergraduates play the violent video game Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance for 15 minutes. After they had finished playing the team took various measures of arousal, both physical and psychological. Furthermore, they also tested how aggressive the students were after playing the game, by having them dole out hot sauce to a fellow student who they were told did not like spicy food. The study found very similar results to that of the previous study; that those students who had played the violent game were more aggressive across the board, giving their fellow students much bigger proportions of hot sauce. (7) These studies give evidence to support the fact that playing violent video games do give players a heightened level of aggression, at least in the few minutes after playing these games. However, they do not provide evidence that playing violent video games increases the aggression of players in the long term. 

When looking at the long term effects of violent video games, psychologists at Brock University in Ontario found that longer periods of violent video game playing among high school students predicted a slightly higher number of such incidents over time. However, a study by Oxford University suggests that the content of video games is not the true problem, rather that the length of time that young people spend playing video games could have an effect on behaviour of school performance. The study, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, researched the effect of playing violent video games on primary schoolchildren and concluded that the fears that a generation that played these violent video games would grow up with an impaired development were no more likely to be true than the other moral panics that occurred over television and other media. This study also found that there were positive effects to playing violent video games. For example, they found that children who played online video games were more adept at relating to other children than those who played alone, while those who played alone were more likely to perform better academically and were actually less likely to display aggressive behaviour. However, these effects were small and overall video games were a minor factor in shaping children's behaviour. The study found that Overall those who played for less than an hour a day were less likely to have problems such as aggression than those who did not play at all, but those who spend more than three hours a day displayed higher levels of aggression and were less academically engaged. This evidence suggests that rather than violent video games being the cause of a higher level of aggression in the long term, the real reason may be the amount of time spent playing video games in general, which is a counter intuitive finding to the studies that focused on the violent content of video games as the sole cause of increased aggression levels. The study also adds that these findings do not support the idea that regular violent video game play is linked to real world violence or conflict. (8)

There are some studies that conclude that playing video games does have some positive effects on the players, contrary to some peoples beliefs. A study conducted by scientists at the University of Rochester, New York has found that playing fast paced action games helps to increase the speed in which people can make decisions, and also the quality of the decisions that they are making. The scientists conducted a series of test to gauge whether regular playing of high speed video games could help to improve cognitive abilities. Taking dozens of 18 -25 year olds who were not ordinarily video gamers, they split them into two groups. One group would be playing fast paced video games such as Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, action games in which players move around arenas shooting each other in a competitive atmosphere, whereas the other group were given the Sims 2 to play, which is a more sedate life simulation game that mimics the pace of everyday life. After playing the games for 50 hours, both groups were tested to see whether they could make quicker decisions and the results showed that those who had played the action games made decisions 25% faster than those who played the Sims 2, whilst also answering as many questions correctly in that faster time. This study shows that playing these violent, action-packed video games appears to improve the ability to make fast paced decisions at the same time as being accurate in their results. (9)

Surveys and Conclusion

When asked about violent video games we found that in a survey of 19 people, 17 male and 2 female, that the majority of those had played a game rated 18+ before they were 13 years old. This may imply that there may be a problem with the people buying violent video games for children before they are mature enough to play them, although maturity levels can vary from person to person. This could lead to an early desensitization to violence whilst still developing, which may cause the younger players to act out to they still don't fully understand their actions. When playing competitive games, 11/19 said that they get very competitive when playing, which could also be another reason why people might be more aggressive after playing video games, as the frustration over losing a close game could boil over to outside the game, although in my experience that rarely lasts longer than a few minutes after the game before the player returns to normal. Finally, 13 of the participants said that they have not been shocked by a violent scene in a video game. This may lead to a bigger problem as a whole that everyone is getting increasingly desensitized to violence in general, which is emphasized by the fact that the majority of the participants said that they are okay or have no issue with violence in video games. Due to the rise of the internet and social media, it is now easier than ever to be faced with violent media. Scrolling down Facebook or Twitter can lead people to seeing things that may include violence, which a lot of people now see as normal these days. Along with the increase in news reports being shown in violent places, it is now harder than ever for anyone to get away from the violence that has become part of everyday life. I believe that is a larger reason for aggressive behaviour in teens who play video games, they have already become so normalized to violence and distressing scenes that when playing these video games it doesn't really have as much as an effect on them as maybe it should. I think that the aggressiveness comes from general frustration with the game, especially in a competitive environment where everyone wants to win and do their best, when things are going wrong that's when the aggressiveness comes out and people start to act out, rather than due to the violence in the game. When the game is over these feelings generally subside after a few minutes, which shows that while video games may have a short term effect of increased aggressiveness, it is very unlikely that they will cause long term effects, unless they are coupled with other contributing factors, such as mental health issues or problems in the home. To liken it to a competitive football match, when one team is losing they may get frustrated and make a bad tackle. Just because they did something wrong in the moment doesn't mean that they are an inherently violent person, just as playing violent video games doesn't make you a violent person just because of the things that you see in game, chances are there are larger factors at play, but these will get swept aside by media outlets as it doesn't fit the story they want to tell. 

Survey Results

2 Female
17 Male

1 = 14 or under
6 = 15 to 17
12 = 18+

11/18 people played an 18+ game before they were 13

Average number of hours per week = 20

11/19 competitive games and they get quite competitive

16/19 get frustrated at video games

8/19 said that when they play violent video games, it affects their mentality when playing other types of games

13 people said they have not been shocked by a violent scene or been in distress.

The majority of the survey takes said that they feel okay or have no issue with violence in video games.


(1) (7)



(4) (See Mental Health Issues)




(9) (9)

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