By: Chris O'Shea
It's no secret that video games are only going to increase in popularity as time goes by. Therefore, the numbers of those who play them — the self designated "gamer" — are also bound to increase. The numbers are already pretty staggering: According to the Entertainment Software Association, a gaming industry agency, in 2012, a whopping 58 percent of Americans claimed to be gamers. The bump in numbers, of course, means more scrutiny of games and gamers. And the more experts learn, the more complex things become for the gamer.
The stereotype of gamers is not a good one. It's an overweight, single guy who lives with his parents. There's also a perception that gamers are generally violent or aggressive people. In the past, many studies have claimed that the reason for this is the level of violence in the games themselves.
In one study of children who played violent video games, researchers at Iowa State University said that playing violent games is basically practice for being violent in life. In fact, Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology and the lead author of the study, said it was no different than learning a musical instrument. "If you practice over and over, you have that knowledge in your head," Gentile told the Journal of Pediatrics and Medicine. "The fact that you haven't played the piano in years doesn't mean you can't still sit down and play something. It's the same with violent games — you practice being vigilant for enemies, practice thinking that it's acceptable to respond aggressively to provocation, and practice becoming desensitized to the consequences of violence."
Another report, by experts at Brock University, studied students in middle school. One group played violent video games, while another played non-violent games. Those who played the violent games showed less understanding of social norms. "Spending too much time within the virtual world of violence may prevent [gamers] from getting involved in different positive social experiences in real life, and in developing a positive sense of what is right and wrong," explained Mirjana Bajovic, the lead author of the study, to Science Daily.
There's plenty more studies linking violent content with gamer aggression, but those have missed what's really happening — gamers are simply unable to properly deal with losing. Researchers at the University of Rochester analyzed 600 college students and their reactions to playing violent video games. What they found was that it wasn't the content, it was gaming itself that led to aggression. It didn't matter if the game was violent or not, if the gamers had a difficult time beating the game, they were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior afterward.
The Rochester study doesn't do much to help the negative stereotype of the gamer. Instead of saying that they need to stop playing games like Call of Duty because it makes them angry, research now says they need to stop playing games like Tetris because they're sore losers. But what the study does do is cast more light on a growing subgroup in America, and forces people to think about them and violent video games in different terms. It's not a giant leap forward for gamers or the games, but it's at least a step or two.
[Image via Flickr - Landon Hollis]