It’s easy to make assumptions about the effects of video games.
I mean, it makes sense to think that violent video games lead to higher rates of violence in real life. The reality, however, could be much simpler. For example, maybe aggressive people are simply drawn to violent video games? The problem is that we can all be guilty of jumping to conclusions. Luckily, science doesn’t rely on assumptions or maybes. If we really want to know the effects of video games, we have to look at the proper research.
The assumption most people believe is that violent video games make people more aggressive. It’s something we should be concerned about considering a whopping 97% of American teens play video games. Not to mention, evidence shows children prefer violent to non-violent video games.
Nonetheless, there are things that the majority of researchers agree on regarding the effects of video games. That is, they differ depending on the person playing them and context is crucial.
For example, younger children are more likely to be affected by violent video games than older ones. In particular, those with low scores on the Big Five Personality Traits of ‘Agreeableness’ and ‘Conscientiousness’ and high scores on ‘Neuroticism’.
So, what are the effects of playing video games? Do they lead to violent behaviour? Here are four effects that you might be surprised to learn about.
4 Unexpected Effects of Video Games
1. Siblings who play violent video games together are less violent with each other
You would think that a pair of siblings playing a violent video game together would be aggressive with each other when the game had finished. In actual fact, the opposite is true. One study examined sibling relationships and their video game-playing habits. Brothers and sisters were asked:
- How often they played violent video games
- How frequently they played with their siblings
- How many times they experienced conflict with their siblings
- How they rated their relationship with their siblings
The results showed that the siblings playing the most violent games experienced the least amount of conflict with each other. In fact, playing video games with a sibling was associated with higher levels of affection.
“By immersing themselves in the video game world, siblings can share experiences, play together, and strengthen sibling bonds.” Co-researcher – Sarah Coyne
These results are in direct contrast to most studies researching the effects of video games. But this is all about context. For example, in this case, you have to consider the kind of video games siblings are playing.
To demonstrate, pair siblings up in teams against a common enemy and however violent the game, their aggression is not directed against each other. In spite of the violence, they will form a united force against the aggressor.
What’s even more interesting is that despite playing within a fantasy world, these feelings of comradery and bravery are likely to stay with them in the real world. Albeit, for a little while after the game has finished.
2. Playing a ‘bad’ person makes you feel guilty, not more aggressive
The old classic ‘shoot-em-up’ games have become a lot more sophisticated these days. Nowadays, you don’t go around a parking lot, shooting everyone you can find. You have moral decisions to make that change the narrative and the course of the game itself.
These new types of games have led to a rich source of study data. In fact, one study explored the effects of playing a ‘good or bad’ person in a video game. In this particular study, participants had a choice of playing a terrorist or a police officer. Players were briefed about the motivations of each of the characters at the start of the game.
Afterwards, participants had to fill in a Moral Foundations Questionnaire. Here they had to rate their shame and guilt about their actions in the game. Surprisingly, the participants playing the role of terrorists rated higher on guilt and shame.
This goes against our assumptions that people get desensitised to playing violent video games. Not only did the terrorist players feel shame, but they also become more sensitised to evil in the real world. In other words, playing a bad person doesn’t necessarily make you one.
3. Playing video games speeds up your thinking and reduces reaction times
There are snipers on your left-hand side, on the roof above and you have to shoot a bunch of enemy soldiers attacking from the right. At the same time, you must protect a group of innocent children. Think of the hand-to-eye coordination needed to manipulate your handset, aim and fire and in all in record time? This type of gaming requires extremely fast hand movements, spatial awareness and quick reactions.
One study examined the differences between people who played video games and those that didn’t. As a result, they found that those who frequently played games such as Halo or Call of Duty had higher scores on cognitive processing.
These types of games require the player to think and react quickly with precision. Not only that, but they have to be aware of what’s going on around them and be able to swap tasks without too much thought. Players of these kinds of games scored well on:
- Spatial awareness
- Switching from tasks quickly
- Fast reaction times
- Quick movement awareness
This research suggests playing video games could encourage young people when it comes to increasing specific skills. There is also evidence to suggest that these types of games actually increase the grey matter in our brains. Either way, it would certainly be a fun way of learning.
4. Playing role-playing games (RPG) can lower your self-esteem
Some video games revolve around characters. Here, players get to immerse themselves in a character-driven storyline. Many are based on well-known films and books. Examples include Harley Quinn, The Joker, Minnie Mouse, Deadpool etc. Fans dress up as their favourite character or ‘cosplay’ and play the various video games.
These types of role-playing games (RPG) are certainly not violent and frequently employ ‘good characters’ in ‘saving the world’ narratives. So are there any adverse effects of video games when it comes to non-aggressive play?
Researchers at the Michigan State and Californian Universities looked into it. They wanted to see the effects on the identities of gamers who were able to really immerse themselves into their favourite fictional character. This is ‘character attachment’.
Players rated how much they agreed with a series of statements including:
- “I daydream about my character.”
- “I could see myself becoming attracted to my character.”
- “I sometimes forget my own feelings and take on those of my character.”
- “I consider my character a friend of mine.”
The participants with a higher character attachment frequently displayed lower levels of self-esteem. But why would roleplay in a video game lower a person’s self-esteem? Researchers believe that those identifying strongly with a fictional character preferred fantasy life over social interactions.
In fact, the length of time these gamers spent playing their characters supports this theory. Those with a higher character attachment tended to play for longer, enjoyed the experience more and were even at risk of addiction to the game. Their social interactions lessened as they immersed themselves in fictional storylines.
So, to conclude, we can see that not all the effects of video games are increased aggression or violent behaviour. In fact, some effects are actually beneficial and useful for society. At the end of the day, as with most things, it all depends on the context.
“No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently. Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior.” APA Press Release