Questions of what why individuals play violent video games are currently at the forefront of psychological research. Most studies, however, examine video game choices through self-reported surveys. Although interesting, there is a limit to the inferences and understanding one can gain from such studies, and more importantly, it doesn’t answer what specifically drives game choice. To get around this problem, the authors of this study experimentally manipulated an individual’s motivation and examined what type of games they preferred to play.
Maniuplating individual mood or memory is often completed through “priming“; a process during which a certain set of ideas or feelings are passed on to the subject through a stimulus such as reading a story or watching a scene. In this study, the authors completed two experiments that manipulated an individuals opportunity to perform taboo behaviours: cheating or stealing.
In the first experiment, individuals were handed an envelope with a history test. In this envelope, one-third of the individuals (the control) had a regular test they needed to fill out. The other two-thirds had tests with the answers correctly filled in where they could simply fill in their name to gain a perfect score. To increase frustration in half of these opportunistic cheaters, the authors took the tests back and gave them empty ones, thereby denying one-third of the test group the opportunity to cheat. A second experiment allowed or denied a different set of individuals the opportunity to steal quarters in a similar manner.
As studies demonstrate that many males play violent video games to decrease frustration, the authors predicted that denying an opportunity to cheat would lead to an increase in individual frustration, and therefore, the desire to play violent video games.
After completing the test, they allowed individuals to self-report their mood and asked them which of the several fictitious games in several genres they would prefer to play. They found that individuals that were denied the opportunity to cheat or steal self-reported a higher degree of frustration and were more likely to want to play a violent video game.
These results are interesting because they demonstrate that being denied a taboo behaviour (cheating or stealing) not only increases frustration, but also results in a greater desire to play violent video games. The results thus corroborate the idea that frustration can drive individuals towards playing violent video games, possibly due to the cathartic nature.
There are a few limitations to the applicability of the results, however. Unfortunately, the researchers only used males. Given that females also play video games and the fact that more women are playing violent video games, it would be interesting to see if the drivers differ between the sexes. Moreover, although individuals self-reported increased frustration and a desire to play a violent video game, it would be interesting to see if this frustration decreased in individuals that were able to play the game of their choice. In other words, do the games have had the intended outcome the subject desired. Finally, the feelings of frustration could have been a consequence of being viewed as a thief or cheater, rather than a the feelings of being denied the opportunity of cheating or stealing.
Regardless, the paper demonstrates that specific circumstances that change individual emotions can drive individuals to play certain types of games. At least research is exploring new avenues rather than focusing on the tired old examinations of whether violent video games cause aggression.
Whitaker, J.L., Melzer, A., Steffgen, G., Bushman, B.J., 2013. The allure of the forbidden: breaking taboos, frustration, and attraction to violent video games. Psychological Science, 10.1177/0956797612457397
Although people typically avoid engaging in antisocial or taboo behaviors, such as cheating and stealing, they may succumb in order to maximize their personal benefit. Moreover, they may be frustrated when the chance to commit a taboo behavior is withdrawn. The present study tested whether the desire to commit a taboo behavior, and the frustration from being denied such an opportunity, increases attraction to violent video games. Playing violent games allegedly offers an outlet for aggression prompted by frustration. In two experiments, some participants had no chance to commit a taboo behavior (cheating in Experiment 1, stealing in Experiment 2), others had a chance to commit a taboo behavior, and others had a withdrawn chance to commit a taboo behavior. Those in the latter group were most attracted to violent video games. Withdrawing the chance for participants to commit a taboo behavior increased their frustration, which in turn increased their attraction to violent video games.