Competition and Video games: Source of Aggression or Engine of Education and Change?

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

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2 Responses to Competition and Video games: Source of Aggression or Engine of Education and Change?

  1. kswartz3 says:

    blog post response 2

    Hey Gabriel,

    I think that you make some excellent points in this blog post, and some very timely ones as well when considering both Professor Taylor’s recent visit and today’s reading from Derek Burrill’s “Masculinity, Structure, and Play in Videogames.” Though she focused largely upon different types of masculinity and how they manifest themselves in the gaming world during her talk last Thursday, the mere fact that T.L. Taylor is able to devote her academic career to the study of competitive gaming is testament to its importance. As you mention, videogames are a mixed bag of tricks: commendable for their potential to educate, invent, and provide new means of socialization, yet equally objectionable for their frequent association with cultivating violent behaviors. However, whether you celebrate their positives or dwell upon their negatives, the huge influence that videogames now have upon our culture is undeniable, with their competitive aspects at the very center of their popularity. I cannot help but think back to the film T.L. Taylor showed at the very beginning of her presentation in the Knight Library Reading Room, where she recreated the tension, energy, and magnitude of an e-sports competition. For me, that imagery drove home just how big of a deal gaming is coming to be, even more so than any of the statistics or numbers that occasionally get bounced around during class.

    Accompanying their great success, however, is an equally large stigma that videogames are a ‘man’s’ activity, that because of how things are set up they cater to a predominately male audience, unapologetically disregarding the female gamer both as a worthy competitor and a viable audience to market to. Professor Taylor spoke a great deal about how women are often discriminated against in the online and competitive gaming spheres, but Burrill goes even farther, suggesting that the games themselves, not just their players, unfairly favor a male user-ship. He states that “videogames idealize, represent, and re-present hyperviolent hypermasculinity in a number of ways: character, action, plot, scenography, ‘camera’ position, and so on” (73). In his chapter, Burrill ends up focusing specifically upon game theory, and how when many video games are ‘mapped’ out to determine their full potential, they often reveal themselves to feature the world in terms that represent and please the straight, male psyche. Though he goes a little too deep into the psychoanalysis of the games he studied for my personal liking, Burrill does articulate the point that videogames are made almost exclusively to cater to the traditional masculine senses, with little or no effort to reach any other audience.

    Coming back to your post Gabriel, I agree that videogames are becoming undeniably important, whether the reason for their rise in popularity is due to their positive potentials or not. You reach a similar conclusion as Burrill at the end of your post, that videogames will surely receive more scholarly study in the years to come. I think you’re both right, but whether or not a general increase in attention to the field of videogames will cause any real change in the industry itself, there I still remain skeptical.

  2. A couple of responses to both posts. First, G’s original post suggests that competition and not video games may cause violent behaviors. That’s an intriguing way of re-phrasing the research question, since it asks us to also consider other kinds of games and sports that center on competition. Do competitive sports increase violent or aggressive behavior rather than serving as a safety-valve?

    Second, I think it’s safe to say that video games are going to continue to be an important part of the media landscape for years to come. Nothing debatable about that. You’re right, K., to suggest that more research into media hasn’t necessarily lined up with better media (or even better-regulated media). Perhaps in the short term, what we’re looking for is a better understanding of videogames and how they function — an understanding that might get us beyond the often panicked responses to video game use that we’ve seen to date.

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