Multiplayer Games and Hostility

We live in a world where acts of violence take innocent lives. Video game critics blame violent games.  Gamers defend their favorite form of relaxation as stress relief.  Back in the 1980s, Super Mario was considered a violent game, with a character that threw fireballs (Flower Power), ran into enemies (Star Power), and gracefully squashed his victims (“Player” Power). As per today’s standards, Mario stands in awe of assassins, powerful wizards, vicious monsters (here’s looking at you, Pyramid Head), ruffians, and karate spine choppers to name a few. The result?  A provocative world-wide game of pointing fingers. While research into the matter has shown evidence for a link between violence and video games, plenty of evidence against that conclusion has also surfaced.

Most research into violence, hostility, and aggression on the subject, however, leans into single-player games or massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, with little emphasis on small team, multiplayer games—like Super Smash Bros. Dr. Wei Peng, MSU associate professor in the department of Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media and a Principle Investigator in the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab, seeks to change that.

Using teams, Peng and her Games and Meaningful Play student research team will study the impact of violent gaming between in-group teams versus out-group teams. In-group teams consist of players who already have a positive relation to each other or identify with each other in the same social group. Out-group teams are considered as from another social group by the in-group teams.

Peng hypothesizes that if the in-group players (e.g., playing with friends or acquaintances) encounter hostility from the out-group (e.g., strangers), that will result in greater aggression in play than if they had encountered hostility from players they are acquainted with. Hostility here refers to intentionally provoking other players verbally. Hostility and aggression (violent attitudes or behaviors) may be linked with personalities wherein certain individuals are more predisposed to hostility than others. Peng’s ideas rely in part on the General Aggression Model (GAM) which states that situational and personal traits are both important factors in determining a person’s internal state (e.g. thoughts, feelings, stimulations). GAM is complicated, and reflects that upon the link between video games and violence. It is a model that suggests why people turn to aggression.

GAM-Anderson and Bushman, 2002

GAM-Anderson and Bushman, 2002

Peng’s research has several implications for the field of gaming. Results could inform parents on what children should and shouldn’t play. It would also impact game design decisions, and cause designers to explicitly define what constitutes enjoyment for players.

This research could also open doors to future studies into enjoyment within in-group vs out-group, and may spark interest in the idea of “trash-talking,” and how verbally attacking other players affects aggression and hostility within games.

Currently, Dr. Peng is drafting a chapter on cooperation and competition in online games for 1st Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society.

What do you think, or what have you experienced? Is there greater hostility, dissatisfaction, or aggression when you and your team of friends lose a game?

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