The debate around video game violence and whether it leads to actual violence has once again come to the fore this year since the Obama administration asked for funding to study the matter. A study by researchers at the University of Connecticut isn't trying to answer that particular thorny question, but it has uncovered a noteworthy component to the level of aggression gamers display when playing.
The study monitored 148 participants as they played Quake 3 Revolution on PlayStation 2. They battled opponents that either looked closely human or characters that looked like inhuman monsters. The gamers were surveyed afterward. The study found that fighting human targets increased both verbal aggression and aggressive thoughts. The research was just published in the journal Mass Communication and Society.
"The more human players perceived the aggressive targets to be, the more verbally aggressive they were and the more violent words they generated," the study concludes. "Although we predicted that less human targets would result in more aggression, players seemed to be more aggressive after perceiving more human targets." It's notable that the study found no correlating rise in physical aggression from the participants.
The study leads to some interesting questions. You might think gamers would go to town on an inhuman monster, but it seems that seeing ourselves in a video game mirror is more likely to raise our hackles.
I'm thinking about Resident Evil 4, one of my favorite games. Most of the opponents are obviously humans (or were until they got infected). There was something innately more disturbing about them coming after me than there was about inhuman creatures like Del Lago or El Gigante. I'm pretty sure I swore way more at the human Garradors than at any other character in the game. Maybe this study isn't so surprising after all.