January 22, 2011

Wrath: Video Game Realism and Aggression, as Reviewed by Alexander Dela Fuente

                I like playing videogames very much; they provide me with a means for both performing actions and experiencing situations which are inaccessible in real life. Imagine, then, my personal concern whenever an outcry ensues over the supposed negative effects of videogames on real-world existence; however, this concern often abates whenever I snoop around for the latest research on gaming’s positive effects. Tonight, however, I find that such comfort may momentarily be out of reach; tonight, science seems to side with the naysayers and the alarmists. Damn them for their sensationalist ways! Damn them!
                 Perhaps that may’ve been premature; I’ve yet to share the sample of disagreeable science to which I’ve just referred. The work, entitled The effects of videogame realism on attention, retention, and aggressive outcomes, is credited to Marina Krcmar, Kirstie Farrar, and Rory McGloin; the former hails from Wake Forest University, the latter two from the University of Connecticut. As the title so eloquently puts it, this scientific study is focused on the link between videogames and aggression; while I am disinclined to favor the existence of such, my preliminary outburst suggests I may not be treating the topic with the free-from-bias viewpoint it, like all children of science, deserves. In attempting to set such a bias aside, I’ve come to recognize certain interesting, if not downright positive, motions set forward by the research study. First and foremost is the focus on both attention and retention in proceeding with the study; without either, I would not be able to review it for this Psychology 135 (Sensory and Perception) blog. Second is the premise, as I understand it: that videogames, as they progress in successfully presenting an experience that approaches the tactile essence of reality without being bound by its legal boundaries, may simulate situations so accurately as to elicit the chemo-physiological reactions appropriate to actual occurrences. Third is the methodology, insofar as I find it incredibly amusing, on a personal level, to read that the researchers chose to represent increasing success in reality-simulation by selecting connected games from the same franchise – not just any franchise, mind you, but Doom itself! This choice, at least to me, exemplifies the pragmatism which I believe good researchers must possess.

                What were the variables? Ah, Mister Guidequestions, the level of realism, as dictated by the iteration of Doom being played by the participants, was the independent variable; the resultant levels of both verbal and physical aggression – as extrapolated from standardized tests and, thankfully, not field observation – was the dependent variable.
                What was the methodology? As I understand it, participants were first randomly assigned to a condition then taught how to play the game. Those in the experimental condition were allowed to play before being deceived into believing they would not receive full credit for their participation; they were given a means to vent any frustration at this mix-up by filling up an assessment form regarding the professor who was responsible for the experiment and, ostensibly, the credit difficulties. Those in the control condition took the same steps, albeit with the deception and the form-filling preceding playtime. In the interim between the enumerated steps, questionnaires regarding demographics, video game experience, attention, and other related fields of concern were distributed.

                Who were the participants? As the journal article tells me, a total of 130 undergraduates with an average age of 19.6 years were recruited.

                What are your comments and criticisms? Well, Mister Guidequestions, I sometimes wonder if I’m too old to be writing in so trite and awkward a manner such as this; surely I’m above using an imagined interviewer to frame my thoughts, right? Oh, you meant about the journal article! Well, I really, really liked it, as far as the science was concerned. I liked how the researchers relied on the presumed similarity between same-genre games from the same franchise; it felt like a wiser allocation of time and resources, presuming no copyright laws were infringed upon. The use of deception is always amusing to behold, as is the division of experiment steps into interchangeable modules for ease of condition differentiation; I absolutely love it whenever researchers combine ease of set-up with a justifying avoidance of confounding variables.

                At this point, you may be wondering what happened to my initial animosity. It’s still there, raging at the focus on aggression. Why aggression? Sure, I know the literature supports a link between violent video games and aggression, but come on! Of course violence is linked to aggression! Of course games about shooting people/facsimiles-of-people are violently linked to aggression! Give me a break, please.

                What I want to see is either a study on the link between First-Person Shooter games and some other character trait – I don’t know what, maybe individuality –, or a comparative study of game genres when related to aggression. For example, I personally enjoy Real-Time Strategy Gaming; does ordering my in-game army to shoot at people make me more aggressive than when I do the shooting myself on a First-Person Shooter? I do wonder.

                One final note on this excessively lengthy piece: How often do you read lines as absurd as the following in scientific journals?

Not often.

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