Anti-gun lawmakers miss the boat in crusade against violent video games

Anti-gun lawmakers, such as recently jailed California state senator Leland Yee, frequently point to violent video games as a crucial factor behind devastating school shootings. But a new study conducted by Oxford University found that the violent content of video games is not the perpetrating cause of aggressive and destructive behavior.

Researchers analyzed subjects’ aggression levels by having them play both violent and non-violent video games with varying degrees of difficulty for 20 minutes. It was the game’s difficulty, and not it’s violent subject matter, that determined the gamers’ aggression levels.

From Gamespot:

“To date, researchers have tended to explore passive aspects of gaming, such as whether looking at violent material in electronic games desensitizes 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.”

The left’s crusade against violent video games has been an ongoing fight since the tragic Columbine massacre in 1999, but has since come to the forefront following Sandy Hook and other recent shootings.

In a Wednesday speech to a San Francisco audience of nearly 500, Sen. Dianne Fienstein (D-Calif.) said that Congress needs to take a stand against violent video games and claimed that play “a very negative role for young people, and the industry ought to take note of that.”


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