Christopher Ferguson wrote a pithy analysis of yet another study claiming that playing (and, in this case, even thinking about) violent video games increases aggression, at least in males. Ferguson does an excellent job of highlighting many of the methodological issues with many such studies, but its an interesting finding about the amount of time spent playing video games in these sorts of studies that I wanted to draw attention to.
In the study Ferguson criticizes, study participants were divided into two groups. One group played either a violent or non-violent video game for 20 minutes. Near the end of his essay, Ferguson notes that in studies of aggression after playing violent video games there is an odd trend — the longer the study participants play the violent video games, the smaller the affect on aggression tends to be. Why could this possibly be?
More recently Przybylski, Rigby and Ryan (2010) seem to have figured out why. It turns out violent video games often have more difficult controls than non-violent games. When exposure times are short, violent game players are cut off before they’ve even figured out the controls. Imagine trying to master Modern Warfare 2 while people randomized to the non-violent condition are humming away at Tetris (and I’ve seen just those kinds of parings in research more than once, I wish I were exaggerating). Any “aggression” appears to be due to being frustrated at being cut off at such a short interval. At longer intervals players have mastered the controls and fewer differences between randomized groups are seen.
Apparently we should go ahead and play violent video games, as long as its not for only 20 minutes at a time…