Immediately following the debut of Nintendo in 1995, researchers questioned what effects games like Super Mario Brothers had on those who played them. Early video games consisted primarily of objects or unidentifiable characters such as Pac-Man. Now, through several technological advancements, game play is more complex and has begun to visually mimic real life. For instance, within games and gaming communities of players, both male and female human forms of all races make up many of the characters.
And, with the arrival of online games, multi-user environments are increasing the number of video game players, the age of players, and the economic structure of play, thus, changing the outcomes and direction of video game research. Within the computer game literature, multi-user environments are defined as massive multi-user online games (MMOGs) or massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Players of multi-user environments typically spend more than 20 hours each week playing alone or gaming with others (Yee 2006). MMOGs and MMORPGs can consist of thousands of players. However, large gaming communities typically break down into manageable groups known as “guilds,” defined as a collection of players who share a common belief or outlook, and clans, defined as “an organized gaming team which enters leagues and tournaments” (Griffiths et al. 2003, 90). Unknown groups, typically small (2 players) or medium (2 –20 players) in size, consist of players who, since they are only together for a specific mission, are usually not familiar with each other. Known groups, often clans or guilds, are usually medium in size and contain players who are familiar with each other and often play together (Ducheneaut et al. 2005). Although winning is considered a gaming motivation for these groups, players are also motivated to increase the status of their characters, or simply to game with and against others (Yee 2006).
As with some of the media effects literature, video game research is most broadly developed within antisocial gaming effects such as aggression. Investigators have utilized several theories to explain offline outcomes and perceptions from mediated experiences, including arousal, excitation transfer, social learning, and cultivation. From these theoretical frameworks, a comprehensive model on human aggression known as the general aggression model (GAM) was developed and applied successfully to the video game experience (Anderson & Bushman 2002).
The GAM suggests that situational and personal input factors combine to influence behavior through the present internal states of cognition, affect, and arousal. Personal inputs include variables such as trait aggression, while situational inputs have included violent and nonviolent game play. During game play, games provide a learning forum for behavior, including aggressive acts. Learned attitudinal and behavioral responses developed and rehearsed during game play can be transposed into real-life behavior and perceptions. The repetitive nature of game play creates a combined effect where longterm play develops schemas that are chronically accessible (Anderson & Bushman 2002). In the case of the GAM, the social perception and reality of game play is a more hostile society. Using GAM logic, a recent meta-analysis confirms a positive relationship between violent game play and aggressive outcomes (Anderson 2004). That said, the exposure and scripting process also has the potential to influence other game play behaviors. Most recently, research has argued that realism (Eastin 2006) and realistic behaviors (Eastin & Griffiths 2006) facilitate the learning or scripting process. Complex environments and realistic gaming complicate the agenda and interpretation of research, perhaps rendering meta-analytic analyses ineffective. It is entirely possible that gaming could be a secondary goal of play. That is, the extent to which competitive game play is not the primary goal could attenuate real-world social perceptions. Many games require cooperation between group members; cooperative group play directs goal attainment to the group (Bonta 1997), which should decrease individual competitiveness and frustrations from game play, and subsequent aggressive outcomes. In short, those playing cooperatively with others should experience less aggression from game play than those playing individually.
From a general exposure standpoint, cultivation processes posit that heavy users of media such as video games are more likely to perceive a social reality consistent with the “images, value systems, and ideologies propagated” (Weber et al. 2006, 351). Grounded in cultivation theory, the first longitudinal study investigating potential influences on social perceptions from playing the online computer game Asheron’s Call 2 found that “after playing the game, the participants in the treatment condition were more likely than those in the control group to say that people would experience robbery with weapons in the real world” (Williams 2006, 79). Furthermore, significant findings were only discovered with “in-game and real-world parallels” (i.e., robbery with a weapon).
The ability to be anyone or anything within games presents a large obstacle for MMORPG or MMOG research, regardless of the theoretical framework. For instance, if “self ” or “other” is central to game play, then scripting-type effects from play could be centrally focused within the game or character, and thus not carrying over into the real world. Although seemingly a positive outcome for role-playing exposure, it is important to note that, if true, then role-playing could also indicate that social relationships developed and maintained through game play represent weak relationships that are conveniently fostered through play. Regardless, amount and type of role-playing points to additional mediating (or moderating) factors to real-world social outcomes from game play.
In sum, the social reality of game play is hard to define. We know that there is a small but consistent effect on real-world outcomes, positive and negative. However, game complexities make studying and understanding video games difficult, or, at least, more difficult than previous media such as television, where content could easily be controlled.
- Anderson, C. A. (2004). An update on the effects of violent video games. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 113 –122.
- Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27– 51.
- Bonta, B. (1997). Cooperation and competition in peaceful societies. Psychological Bulletin, 121, 299 –320.
- Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N., Nickell, E., & Moore, R. (2005). “Alone together?” Exploring the social dynamics of massively multiplayer online games. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems: CHI 2006. New York: ACM Press, pp. 407– 416.
- Eastin, M. S. (2006). Video game violence and the female game player: Self and opponent gender effects on game presence and aggressive thoughts. Human Communication Research, 32, 351–372.
- Eastin, M. S., & Griffiths, R. P. (2006). Beyond the shooter game: Examining presence and hostile outcomes among male game players. Communication Research, 33(6), 448 – 466.
- Griffiths, M., Davies, M., & Chappell, D. (2003). Breaking the stereotype: The case of online gaming. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 81– 91.
- Weber, R., Ritterfeld, U., & Kostygina, A. (2006). Aggression and violence as effects of playing violent video games? In P. Vorderer & J. Bryant (eds.), Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 347–361.
- Williams, D. (2006). Virtual cultivation: Online worlds, offline perceptions. Journal of Communication, 56, 69 – 87.
- Yee, N. (2006). The demographic motivations and derived experiences of users of massively multiuser online graphical environments. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15, 309 – 329.