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Video Games: Frustration, Not Content, Leads to Aggression

video gamesThe finger is often pointed at the disturbing imagery and violent themes of video games, as fostering feeling of aggression; however, a new study has shown that hostile behavior is actually linked to the gamers’ experiences of failure and frustration during play.[1] In fact, this study is the first to investigate the player’s psychological experience with video games, instead of solely focusing on its content.1 They found that the failure to master a game and its controls actually leads to frustration and aggression, regardless of whether or not the game is violent.1

“Any player who has thrown down a remote control after losing an electronic game can relate to the intense feelings or anger that failure can cause,” said lead author Andrew Przybylski, PhD, who also stated that such frustration is commonly understood among gamers to be “rage-quitting.”1

However, this experience is not unique to gaming—it is also found in sports.1

“When people feel they have no control over the outcome of a game, that leads to aggression,” said coauthor Richard Ryan, a motivational psychologist at the University of Rochester. “We saw that in our experiments. If you press someone’s competencies, they’ll become more aggressive, and our effects held up whether the games were violent or not.”1

In order to determine which aspects of the gaming experience actually led to aggressive feelings, the researcher manipulated the interface, controls, and degree of difficulty in custom-designed video games across six lab experiments.1 Nearly 600 college-aged participants were given the task of playing the games, many of which included violent and non-violent variations.1 They were then tested for aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.1

In one experiment, participants were to hold their hand in a bowl of ice-cold water for 25 seconds.1 They were led to believe that the length of time was determined by a prior participant, but all participants were truly assigned the same duration.1

Next, they were randomly asked to play either a simple or challenging version of Tetris, after which they were asked to assign the amount of time a future participant would have to leave their hand in the chilled water.1 Those who experienced the difficult Tetris game assigned an average of 10 seconds more of chilled water pain to the next players than those who played the easy version.1

From these experiments, researchers found that it was not the narrative or imagery of the game, but the lack of mastery of the game’s controls and degree of difficulty that led to the frustration.1 The study also demonstrated that aggression is a negative side effect of frustration that was felt while playing the video game.1

“When the experience involves threats to our ego, it can cause us to be hostile and mean to others,” said Ryan.1

Even non-violent games like Tetris and Candy Crush can leave players as aggressive—sometimes even more so than games with violence, especially if they are poorly designed or too difficult.1



[1] Nauert, R. (2014). Video Game Frustration, Not Content, Fosters Aggression. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/04/08/video-game-frustration-not-content-fosters-aggression/68225.html

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