Are Video Games Making You Angry? You're Probably Just Incompetent

Nobody likes being bad at something. It's human nature to want to succeed - particularly when we give it our all. Sometimes, though, that simply isn't possible. We fail in spite of our best efforts, and are left stewing in our own dissatisfaction. That sucks, and it tends to leave us more than a little frustrated.

That's particularly true where video games are concerned, apparently. 

Opponents of gaming have often warned that there exists a direct connection between video games and violence/aggressive behavior. Unfortunately for them, such a link has never been proven to conclusively exist, and what little research we've done on the matter has actually found the opposite: games are not harmful, are not correlated with higher crime rates, and are not antisocial in the least.

It turns out, however, that they are linked to increased aggression, according to a new study carried out by a joint team from the Oxford Internet Institute and the University of Rochester. There's a catch, though. Apparently, games only tend to make you aggressive if you're terrible at them.  If you feel incompetent, you're likelier to become agitated or aggressive while playing. 

The researchers carried out a range of tests, which included creating a modified, non-violent version of Valve's Half-Life 2, a popular (and violent) first person shooter. This version was tested alongside the normal version of the game. Some subjects involved in the study were given a tutorial, while others were simply thrust into the game without being allowed to familiarize themselves with the game's mechanics or controlled.

What the researchers found was that the players who had not been given the tutorial felt less competent - and more aggressive - than those who did. This aggression was even more marked an prevalent in players forced to suffer through a modified version of the game, with controls designed to be obtuse and difficult to master. 

"We focused on the motives of people who play electronic games and found players have a psychological need to come out on top when playing," said Oxford's Dr  Andrew Przybylski. "If players feel thwarted by the controls or the design of the game, they can wind up feeling aggressive."

"This need to master the game was far more significant than whether the game contained violent material."

"The study is not saying that violent content doesn't affect gamers," added Co-author Professor Richard Ryan, from the University of Rochester, "but our research suggests that people are not drawn to playing violent games in order to feel aggressive. Rather, the aggression stems from feeling not in control or incompetent while playing."

"If the structure of a game or the design of the controls thwarts enjoyment, it is this not the violent content that seems to drive feelings of aggression."

So, there you have, it folks. The next time you start trying to blame violent video games for your surly teenager's aggressiveness or moodiness, take a look at how they do when they play their games. Their foul mood might not actually be a result of any violence they've encountered - they might simply be really, really bad at what they do. 

That; or whoever developed the game they're playing didn't understand how to keep things fair or balanced. Could be either one, really.