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Games may make you sad. They may even make you mad, competitive, or more likely to throw down some grade-A trash talk you end up feeling bad about later. But if you’re a British teenager, they’re no more likely than other activities to make you downright violent, according to the findings of a new study from Oxford University’s Internet Institute.
Published at Oxford’s Royal Society Open Science, the study examined the behaviors and anecdotal reporting data on 1,004 subjects (and an equal number of their caretakers) to learn whether the frequency and type of their gameplay corresponded, with any detectable pattern, to increases in acts of violence or aggression in the population of studied teens who played video games.
Beginning with the hypothesis that there is, in fact, a link between gaming and violence, the study set out to collect both statistical data and anecdotal evidence, on a case-by-case basis, with the goal of determining whether the hypothesis could be supported by facts. What researchers Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein found, in this case, is that it simply couldn’t.
“Following a preregistered analysis plan, multiple regression analyses tested the hypothesis that recent violent game play is linearly and positively related to [caretaker] assessments of aggressive behaviour,” the study’s introduction states.
“Results did not support this prediction, nor did they support the idea that the relationship between these factors follows a nonlinear parabolic function [in other words, a notable link between gaming and violence]. There was no evidence for a critical tipping point relating violent game engagement to aggressive behaviour.”
It’s not as though playing games doesn’t invest a player’s emotions, as the study pointed out. In the heat of competition, it’s possible, and sometimes likely, that a player will verbally mimic the aggressiveness of the avatar he or she’s controlling. “We argue that this study speaks to the key question of whether adolescents’ violent video game play has a measurable effect on real-world aggressive behaviour. On the basis of our evidence, the answer is no,” the report states.
“This is not to say that some mechanics and situations in gaming do not foment angry feelings or reactions in players such as feelings of incompetence, trash talking, or competition.”
But, as Przybylski said in announcing the findings, “[d]espite interest in the topic by parents and policy-makers, the research has not demonstrated that there is cause for concern.”
The new report comes on the heels of recent efforts by some U.S. lawmakers to set policy based on the presumption of a link between gaming and violence, including a current bill before the Pennsylvania legislature that seeks to add a 10 percent tax to games rated M and AO by the ESRB. A similar bill in Rhode Island was proposed last year; so far, neither measure has made it far enough to see a final vote.