As we have discussed in class, violent and traumatic event such as the Sandy Hook School shooting often stir up controversy and debate in the media about the possible role of video games in promoting violence. While much research has been conducted on video games as a cause of violence, the sheer complexity of the issue, the large number of unknown unknowns regarding brain/behavioral research, and the difficulty, due to legal and ethical restriction, to the direct testing of levels of violence in study participants have all contributed to a lack of definitive answers about the relationship of video games and violence. While data such as the number of fatalities and injuries due to school shooting, as mentioned by professor Stabile in class, does not show a convincing correlation to the increase in the number of video game players and playtime, some research does suggest that at least the competitive aspect of video games may contribute to behaviors resembling violence. In a 2011 research report entitled The Effect of Video Game Competition and Violence on Aggressive Behavior: Which Characteristic Has the Greatest Inﬂuence? Researchers at Brock University, Canada found that while violence in videogames is often attacked for its role in leading to real world violence, it may in fact be the competitive aspect of video games and e-gaming that can promote violence in those that play. The report had participants play some video games which were competitive but not violent and others that were violent but had little competitive elements and compared the participants’ willingness to inflict discomfort on others by means of doctoring their food with hot sauce. (http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/vio-1-4-259.pdf) Far from implicating video games as a catalyst of social violence, this study further complicates the role of video games to affect our behavior by illuminating the importance in competitive play in games to possibly shape behavior.
While the violent and competitive aspects of videogames and e-sports are at times vilified in the media, videogames are increasingly being recognized as important and positive engines of change in our society. In September 2010 Barack Obama announce the National STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Video Game Challenge, a program which promotes scientific education and participation in middle school through college students through game design. Participants in the program design and create education-oriented videogames. The top winners have been honored at the White House by president Barack Obama and been awarded money and prizes such as laptops. (http://stemchallenge.org/about/why-games/) While many of these games themselves lack competitive elements, focusing primarily on basic play and instructive interaction, the competitive aspect of the National Video Game Challenge itself is a case study in the power of creative aspects of game competition.
Whether promoting violence, fun or education, competition in videogames is undeniably important. With the increasingly large role of videogames and e-sports as modes of leisure activity, shapers of social behavior, networks of social interaction, and promoters of scientific education, the effects and dynamics of competition in videogames will likely come under greater scrutiny.
Gabriel J. L