Study: Gaming more likely to cause aggression when controls are frustrating

Aggression after playing video games more closely tied to frustration with controls than the amount of violence that appears in a game, study says.

A new study has suggested that increased levels of aggression people feel after playing video games is more closely tied to frustration with controls than actual violent content.

Researchers at Oxford University this week published the results of a study that measured subjects' levels of aggression after spending 20 minutes playing violent and nonviolent games of different degrees of difficulty. What they found was that feelings of aggression were more closely correlated not to the level of violence in a game, but rather to the frustration people feel when they can't master the controls.

The study found that significant predictors of aggression among subjects were overly difficult games, counter-intuitive hand controls, and a lack of practice or experience with a game. "This effect had little to do with whether the game contained violent material or not," they said.

"To date, researchers have tended to explore passive aspects of gaming, such as whether looking at violent material in electronic games desensitises or aggravates players. We focused on the motives of people who play electronic games and found players have a psychological need to come out on top when playing," Oxford researcher and co-author of the study Dr. Andrew Przybylski said in a news release.

"If players feel thwarted by the controls or the design of the game, they can wind up feeling aggressive. This need to master the game was far more significant than whether the game contained violent material," he added. "Players on games without any violent content were still feeling pretty aggressive if they hadn't been able to master the controls or progress through the levels at the end of the session."

Prior to and after play, researchers asked subjects to rank statements like "I feel irritated," "I feel like I am about to explode," and "I feel friendly." Researchers also conducted various lab tests, questioning the subjects about what games they played recently and asking them to report how much violence was depicted in these titles.

Overall, the researchers found that players were most likely to feel aggressive when they did not think they were good at the game. On top of this, players reported that harboring aggressive thoughts even spoiled their sense of enjoyment. Though the study puts forth some interesting data points, it does not mean that violent content isn't also a contributing factor to increased levels of aggression, study co-author Richard M Ryan said.

"The study is not saying that violent content doesn't affect gamers, but our research suggests that people are not drawn to playing violent games in order to feel aggressive," he said. "Rather, the aggression stems from feeling not in control or incompetent while playing. If the structure of a game or the design of the controls thwarts enjoyment, it is this, not the violent content, that seems to drive feelings of aggression."

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

Written By

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.

Discussion

170 comments
sidzero
sidzero

I'd like to say "Duh" - but instead, I'll be thankful that someone is finally catching on, and it will eventually hit developers and they'll be forced to stop making their games have shitty controls as a public safety issue.

noladem504
noladem504

Finally a study i can agree with.

cboye18
cboye18

Yeah that's why I don't play Asscreed. 

Sam_021
Sam_021

It's the freaking lag lol

JulyAeon
JulyAeon

just plodding through castlevania...most of the control issues I can live with, the infuriating camera angles are a different matter!

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

That would mean Flappy Bird destroyed many smartphones. (^o^)

deadpen
deadpen

Thank you for another "no shit" study. This is like saying "rooms smell worse when someone farts in them"

nanoblast
nanoblast

So, now the government should seriously think on taxing games with shitty controls.

tjsmoke63
tjsmoke63

That can apply to anything where things don't go as planned, not just video games. Not sure what the point here was, as it seems that conclusion should be a fairly obvious one.

Dav_id83
Dav_id83

Its true Assassins Creed games are one of my worst for shouting at the screen because sometimes the character will jump in a different direction even though I am pushing the analog stick say forward he'll jump to the left

anvilone
anvilone moderator

Study: Room darker with lights off.

DrKill09
DrKill09

NO FUCKING SHIT.


Trying to removed stripped screws is frustrating, too, but that doesn't mean it causes mass shootings.


Stop using video games as a scapegoat!

bluefox755
bluefox755

Frustrating controls frustrate people? Nah, that's crazy talk!

platinumking320
platinumking320

Uhh. Wow. Did folks really need a study to come to this conclusion? How about just asking? Would gamers really lie?

nurnberg
nurnberg

I agree.  Some of the games that made me the most angry were Mario games.

Daian
Daian

Frustration leads to anger? No kidding, give these men the Nobel prize.

Fursnake
Fursnake

I will not deny that game controls have pissed me off more than once, but never have I felt like taking it out on the real world. I keep at it until I manage to get past that particular moment and then feel extra good. Eventually all that frustration gets turned into something positive.

berserker66666
berserker66666

I don't believe a single word from what new studies suggest. Personal experience is the best kind of experiment.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Also you're only addressing part of their findings.  Yes, games where people got frustrated at the controls caused people to get more aggressive, but there were other important findings.


1. People who were given a tutorial were less aggressive than those were just thrown into the game, even though the controls were identical.

2. People who sucked at the game were more aggressive regardless of the quality of the controls.

The 2nd point is the most interesting one - people who suck at games are just more aggressive in general.  Who'd have thought?

gamesareneato
gamesareneato

They should do a study to try to link how people who feel frustrated with their lives are more aggressive when pretty much anything doesn't work right the first time!

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

Study: EVERYTHING more likely to cause aggression if frustration is involved.

Really! >.<

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

This is the kind of study on violent video games that people can actually relate to.  People who suck at video games are the people who are more aggressive.

(And high five Eddie!)

Pr0ving4Gr0undz
Pr0ving4Gr0undz

True True 

Like playing RE 5 after playing Dead Space. 

nazart81
nazart81

lol I must confess that I have broken a pair of controls when I threw them to wall on frustration....

Megavideogamer
Megavideogamer

The game can be hard as hell. The controls shouldn't be.

PrpleTrtleBuBum
PrpleTrtleBuBum

Study: Falling is more likely to cause damage than not falling.

crix01
crix01

Why that image? Dark Souls does not have frustating controls.

noladem504
noladem504

@tjsmoke63 agreed....pretty common sense. I wonder how many a university department got tax money allocated to to confirm this.....

hystavito
hystavito

@tjsmoke63  I was going to say, yup, if you make people do something annoying and/or difficult, they angry :).

noladem504
noladem504

@platinumking320 this is really just a way for politicians to return favors. They allocate funds for bogus "studies" that cost merely a fraction (if any) of the funds allocated. The recipient than writes off all the funds and distributes the "favor funds" to the proper parties.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@platinumking320  

Well, either there is an empirical study, or this remains mere conjecture.

After all, there's the unfounded view that people can't see beyond 60 frames per second, yet there really isn't any study which proves that.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@crix01 It's not all about frustrating controls.  People who failed at the game were equally aggressive.  Dark Souls has you failing a lot.

grenadehh
grenadehh

@crix01  ......Yes it does. The controls in Demon's Souls are awful, and the controls in Dark Souls 1 are hardly better. Nothing about your control of the character, nor the combat, in that game is fluid or responsive.

BamaGoatt
BamaGoatt

@crix01  I killed 3 people after playing it now I have an excuse the controls made me do it just kidding. The controls might not be frustrating but the game was a letdown glad I only paid $15 for it in bargain bin.

platinumking320
platinumking320

@Gelugon_baat @platinumking320Perhaps. I just think this is one of those situations where researchers should really come from behind the microscope, learn to play these games and include themselves as part of the study.

crix01
crix01

@grenadehh  To you maybe. But Dark Souls is not a game known for having frustrating controls. The frustration comes from other aspects of the game. Now, old Tomb Raider games and Soul Reaver games, those are frustrating controls.

timeformime
timeformime

@grenadehh  Combat in Dark Souls is a lot like controlling in Super Meat boy - frustrating and wonky for the first 10-20 hours, then smooth sailing once you know all the ins and outs. I'm guessing you never got past the breaking in period if you think the controls are awful.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@timeformime @Thanatos2k@grenadehh RE4 was a good game.........but it was not a good survival horror game.  Capcom doesn't realize this, and that's why all Resident Evil games since have been crap.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@grenadehh @timeformimeYou really don't know that Resident Evil's controls are intentionally bad?


They are intentionally frustrating because the game is a survival horror game - they are there so you will make mistakes when you become flustered and scared by enemies.  To make it far more likely for you to make mistakes under pressure.  That greatly increases the tension in the game.

timeformime
timeformime

@grenadehh @timeformime  That's cool man, I can see you're not a fan and I wouldn't try to convert you. For me, the controls are workable and intuitive right away in both games, but if you want to get good, it's a lot like mastering a new fighting game character, which you'd never expect to do in an hour. Every weapon gives you a few new abilities to learn, and you roll with a few favorites.

grenadehh
grenadehh

@timeformime @grenadehh  Yes. And I don't need to because controls are supposed to take MAYBE an hour of gameplay at the most to become familiar. If you don't make them feel workable in that time, your game doesn't deserve to be played. We gave Resident Evil a pass because that's how things were back then, but the fact that Demon's controls like RE1 is unacceptable. Dark Souls is fine, at least it works.

BamaGoatt
BamaGoatt

@96augment @BamaGoatt @crix01  the story line did not pull me in the action aspect was ok but not enough to meet expectations. It's an opinion not a fact so don't be butthurt if you disagree with  me about it.