April 9, 2012 at 5:02 PM ET
For years, countless studies have claimed that video games, particularly ones containing violent content, are the cause of aggression in the real world. But researchers have not only recently discovered benefits from game playing, but also how such previous studies might be in error.
A research team at the University of Goethe, in Sweden, spent hundreds of hours playing competitive online games and watching others. They focused on games that not only contained aggressive content, but in which the goal was to fight each other.
The results, according to Science Daily, betray what many might assume. Most of the time, players must actually play nice with each other, instead of just blowing each other up. Clear thinking and coordination is also honed in such activities.
As a direct result, players who act aggressively or too emotionally do not perform as well in similar situations. Being rude is also a deterrent; abrasive and obnoxious players will naturally have a hard time finding someone to play alongside.
And it is this last finding that has led Jonas Ivarsson, one of the researchers, to cast doubt on all previous studies that link aggression in the virtual space and aggression in real life:
The suggested link between games and aggression is based on the notion of transfer, which means that knowledge gained in a certain situation can be used in an entirely different context. The whole idea of transfer has been central in education research for a very long time. The question of how a learning situation should be designed in order for learners to be able to use the learned material in real life is very difficult, and has no clear answers… 'In a nutshell, we're questioning the whole gaming and violence debate, since it's not based on a real problem but rather on some hypothetical reasoning.
The finding is sure to be encouraging to those have long defended video games against claims they are to blame for societal ills. Meanwhile, those who have an agenda against violent games, or games in general, such as these lawmakers, will surely take issue with the University of Goethe's findings. At the very least, there is now more scientific data to chew on.
Matthew Hawkins is an NYC-based game journalist who has also written for EGM, GameSetWatch, Gamasutra, Giant Robot and numerous others. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of Attract Mode, and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on him via Twitter, or his personal home-base, FORT90.com.