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.

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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."

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