Recently, the University of Queensland conducted a study on the dehumanizing effects of violent video games (Brock Bastion, Jolanda Jetta, and Helena Radke, “Cyber-Dehumanization: Violent video game play diminishes our humanity”, Journal of Experimental Social-Psychology). The study (accepted for publication but not yet edited or published) has already made its way into the news, and the predictable outcries of “I knew it along” or “this study is garbage” have already begun echoing across the internet.
Every so often this sort of study is released and typically the reaction from gamers is either that the study or newspaper is biased against the medium or any findings that suggest video games increase aggression are moot because television and movies are at least as violent as games. Interestingly, gamers seldom challenge the validity of research that props up the social value of games, such as an also accepted-but-not-yet-published study correlating games with higher creativity (Linda A. Jackson, et al., “Information technology use and creativity: Findings from the Children and Technology Project”, Human Behaviour). Research on video games and violence are most likely perfectly valid and probably should not go ignored: violent images increase aggression and participating in violence—even virtually—arouses aggressive feelings. These are a psychological truths repeatedly demonstrated, even in video games. But what is often overlooked is the context that violence takes place in.
Whether natural or not, violence is a part of the human experience and as a reflection of that experience, art must discuss it. But violence in video games usually reflects only one aspect of violence: that it’s empowering or that it’s a means to stopping a greater evil. Violence in video games is almost universally a means to excite a player and keep them involved in the experience.