Retaliatory aggression and the effects of point of view blood in violent video games

[January 26, 2010]

Playing violent video games can make young adults behave more violently, but the game features selected during play are responsible for the resulting aggression according to a new study published this month in Mass Communication and Society.

Modern video game systems often give the player options to choose to turn blood effects on or off and to change the color of the blood. They also allow players to change their own perspective from being a first person shooter to a third person observer of the character doing the shooting in violent video games like Hitman II, Silent Assassin, which was used in this study.

One might think that being the actual shooter or aggressor from a first person perspective would make the game player more aggressive in real life. But a study called Retaliatory Aggression and the Effects of Point of View Blood in Violent Video Games, conducted by Marina Krcmar from Wake Forest University and Kirstie Farrar from the University of Connecticut, found the opposite.

Players who see their avatar shooting and killing are more likely to express subsequent verbal or physical hostility than someone who sees the violence in the game from a first person perspective. This was especially true for people who leaned toward being more aggressive or hostile anyway. In this study, players expressed hostility in part by recommending against continued funding of an experimenter who initially insulted them.

Another variable that led to more aggression from players was the blood. When players had the blood on, they were more likely to act verbally and physically aggressive after playing the game. The reasons for this increase in aggression stem from the players’ active role in the storyline, which causes the player to act out the aggression. Players identify with the aggressors in the video games, because they want to be heroes.

Additionally, since violent behaviors are rewarded in violent video games, such as Hitman II, Silent Assassin, this can contribute to the belief that violent behavior is acceptable. In this study, Krcmar and Farrar explain a process through which aggression is evoked from video game usage.

According to these authors, “Players actively engage in game play, receive points for acting aggressively, attempt and learn various aggressive roles, actions and strategies, and through repeated play, may learn to play the game quite skillfully. Through this repeated exposure and interaction with violence through repeated game play, it is likely that players can establish similarly aggressive knowledge structures.”

Players can enhance these aggressive behaviors through practice, and activate them when faced with a real, aggressive situation as demonstrated in this study. The authors conclude that playing violent games, both in the short term and over time, can lead to aggressive behavior.

The presence of new game systems has led to the creation of more graphic, realistic, and violent video games that really draw users into the violent actions displayed in the game. But with all the commotion violent games, such as Mortal Kombat have caused in the media in the past, now many modern games allow the user to deactivate the blood and gore present in the game. These features are appealing to parents who are concerned with the level of gore in the games their kids play.

If this study’s findings on young adults hold true with younger players, parents who have their kids deactivate the blood are justified in such actions, this study shows. But more surprising is the advice that their kids should play the game from the first person perspective as the one who is committing the on-game violence. Parents who have perhaps thought the third-person perspective was better could be asking for trouble and leading their kids to become more aggressive.

CONTACT: Marina Krcmar, Department of Communication, Wake Forest University, krcmarm@wfu.edu, (336) 758-5405; Kirstie Farrar, Department of Communication Studies, University of Connecticut, kirstie.farrar@uconn.edu, (806) 486-2632.

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