Does violent gameplay lead to aggressive behavior?

In his article, Grant Tavinor deconstructs the meaning of aggressive behavior and the fictional nature of videogames

Videogames have long been the subject of scrutiny, particularly as many of them contain seemingly violent or aggressive gameplay. Consequently, this has led to scientific investigation of whether playing aggressive or violent games leads to player aggression beyond the context of gaming. However, in his article Fictionalism and Videogame Aggression, Grant Tavinor challenges this view, repeatedly using Dice’s 2016 FPS (First-Person Shooter)  Battlefield 1 as a case example.

Tavinor’s main argument here is the fictional nature of video games that has been ignored in some psychological studies on games and gameplay, resulting in misconceptions of gaming aggression. By fictionality, Tavinor means that while video games are entirely real, they also depict imaginary scenarios and activities. Therefore, he argues that seemingly violent in-game activities such as shooting enemies are fictional.

In the article, Tavinor criticizes a study conducted by Anderson, Gentile and Buckley in 2007, where they designed an experiment to test the causal relationship between violent videogames and short-term aggression in children and college students. After pointing out that many studies offer ambiguous or conflicting definitions of the term, they move on to define aggression as interpersonal – between persons. Additionally, it involves an intention to harm another individual, and the perpetrator’s belief that that the target individual is motivated to avoid the harm.

The main problem with this definition regarding video games is that gameplay cannot be literally aggressive, as the content of these games is fictional, and therefore lacks the interpersonal behavior that aggression demands. The seemingly violent and aggressive actions of such as shooting an enemy are not performed by the players, but their fictional gameworld characters. Secondly, the characters subject to these actions are also fictional, and therefore cannot really be harmed, only fictionally. Even in multiplayer games, such as Battlefield 1, where interpersonal behavior exists in both competitive and cooperative gameplay, defeating opposing players by fictionally shooting their in-game characters cannot harm them, nor is it intended to.

Screenshot from Battlefield 1 (DICE)

Tavinor goes on to explain that, for example, fictionally shooting an NPC (Non-player character) is designed to surmount an obstacle in the game world, rather than to harm the NPC. In Battlefield 1, shooting an opposing player is designed to best them instead of harming them. These oppositional structures, obstacles hindering the player’s progress, count as one of their key motivations. That is why games are so frequently embodied in violent or aggressive fictions, which intrinsically offer opposition.

Fictional interpersonal violence has long been a good way to embody oppositional gameplay and its ludic activities. Many organized sports involve oppositional features, as well as childhood games such as tag, dodgeball and cops and robbers. These games involve eliminating opponents to remove them from the play space, and games such as battlefield 1 seem to be a robust fictional outgrowth of these kinds of oppositional play activities.

In summary, Tavinor’s article focuses on the definition of aggressiveness, and how that cannot be applied towards play of video games in a literal sense, as video games and actions performed in them are fictional, making the point that the apparent violence in a game such as Battlefield 1 is only a fictionally violent embodiment of literally non-violent gameplay activities, such as cooperation, competition and fun.

Key Information:

Original Article: Fictionalism and videogame aggression

Author: Grant Tavinor

Published: Melbourn, Australia: Digital Games Research Association, July 2017. Number 1, Volume 14

Original article accessible from: http://www.digra.org/digital-library/publications/fictionalism-and-videogame-aggression/