Play Stuff Blog

Graphic Violence as a Motivator for Game Players?  

Death Race Screenshot The debate over violence in video games is one that has shadowed, and at times nearly overshadowed, the electronic games industry (despite the fact that they account for a relatively small percentage of the game market). When did all this fuss begin and where has it led?

ExidyEver since Exidy Inc. released Death Race—a mid-1970s arcade game where players steer pixilated race cars around a graveyard in an attempt to run down undead monsters—there has been increasing public concern about the impact of video games on those who play them, especially children. The game, as pictured below, seems rather innocuous by today’s standards, but at the time it broke new ground, in a new media.

Mortal Kombat Later, arcade fighting games, such as Mortal Kombat, and PC first-person shooters, such as Doom, both released in the early 1990s, raised the ante with much more realistic graphic violence. Senate hearings followed, as did the independent rating system established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Recent game franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Halo ensure the debate will go on. All of this fuss leads to the oft-asked question: Do electronic games inspire violence? Surely the intense graphic violence players experience in the games leads to violence in the real world. Or does it? Don’t worry; I’m not going to attempt to answer that question here in a blog. However, it is useful to consider whether or not violent content motivates game players. A 2009 psychological study conducted at the University of Rochester looked at this exact subject. This type of research is germane to any discussion on violent content.

Andrew Przyblski, a university graduate student and lead author of the study, explained that “for the vast majority of players, even those who regularly play and enjoy violent games, violence was not a plus.” Przybylski added that, “violent content was only preferred by a small subgroup of people that generally report being more aggressive. However, even these hostile players did not report increased pleasure when playing more gruesome games.”
The study also revealed that through the use of “two online surveys and four experimental studies, people stayed glued to games mainly for the feelings of challenge and autonomy they experience while playing. Both seasoned video gamers and novices preferred games where they could conquer obstacles, feel effective, and have lots of choices about their strategies and actions.”
These elements, said study coauthor Richard Ryan, a motivational psychologist at the university, represent “the core reasons that people find games so entertaining and compelling. Conflict and war are a common and powerful context for providing these experiences, but it is the need satisfaction in the gameplay that matters more than the violent content itself.”

The issue of violence in electronic gaming is indeed a complicated one, but it is useful to remember that reactions to these games parallel reactions to earlier shifts in media—motion pictures, comic books, and television. And by looking at what motivates gamers to play, I believe we can begin to cast a light on the issue of graphic violence. As the NCHEG collection grows, it will continue to acquire titles that cross all gaming genres, from first-person shooter to real-time strategy games to casual games.  What motives you to play? Does a gremlin’s squeal cause your hair to curl? Or are you a proud member of the “doom clones” sub-culture?  Let us know what motivates you to play.