Difficulty inspires more aggression in gamers than violent material

Struggling to play a video game inspires more “significant” levels of aggression in the player than whether the game contains violent material, researchers have found.

With studies already published on the link between aggressive thoughts and violent imagery in some of the most popular gaming titles, researchers at the University of Oxford in Britain, and the University of Rochester in the US, examined how competence impacted on the person’s psychology.

They set up a series of test scenarios which included asking players to play a version of the very popular shooting game, Half-Life 2, which had the violent elements removed.

Some of the players of both the non-violent and the unmodified versions of the game were given a tutorial on how to play it, while the others were not.


The researchers concluded it was the players who had not been given help and therefore felt less competent and more aggressive rather than those who had played the unmodified version containing the violent imagery.

Lead researcher Andrew Przybylski was quoted by the BBC as saying: “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.

“Players of 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.”

Dylan Collins, founder of Irish computer company DemonWare, and current CEO of SuperAwesome, Europe’s largest child/teens digital marketing platform, said: “I think the area of behaviour and entertainment is a complex one and most studies tend to focus (naturally) on individual factors.

“It seems as if the summary of this research is that ‘frustrated people become exasperated’ which intuitively sounds about right.

“While this sounds as if I’m deliberately simplifying, it’s gratifying to see research which is really trying to look deeply at the whole area. Also, I would be mindful of any notion that it’s up to a game developer to ‘fix’ this problem. As with any issue involving kids and teens, the interaction of parents remains a critical piece.”

Earlier this year, a study by Brock University in Canada found games which asked the player to kill, maim, decapitate, torture, and otherwise inflict harm on another “human” player could cause serious damage to how a child grows.

The team examined the gameplay habits of 109 boys and girls aged 13 and 14. Over half said they played games at least once a day.

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