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Why Virtual Reality Games Won’t Encourage Violence

The UK games market is bigger than ever, with around 32.4 million people gaming this year alone. In 2016, the UK games market was valued at £4.33 billion, which was a 1.3 per cent increase from 2015. In the past few years, interactive gaming has become more popular, with the rise of virtual and augmented reality gaming. However, the most popular video games on the market tend to be more violent, which has sparked a number of studies over the past few years into the psychological effect of violent video games.

Video games are getting more interactive

The rise of VR and AR video games has managed to immerse players in the game and offers a brand new gaming experience for the fans, which increases popularity. Pokémon Go, for example, has five million active daily users across the globe, ever since it exploded on the games market last year. Computer games have previously included different style controllers to go along with the game, such as the light-gun for Time Crisis.

Now, as games are getting more and more detailed, accessorised controllers are making a comeback. Sony recently created a gun controller for shoot-em-up game Farpoint, which was released earlier this year on PSVR (PlayStation VR), Sega teamed up with VR production company REWIND to build a one-off Power Fist replica from the game Warhammer 40,000, while Oculus VR created the Oculus Rift headset to further immerse players in games.

While gamers have welcomed the immersive aspect of VR and AR gaming, studies have shown that the games can have an effect on a person’s psychology. It was found that people in virtual environments began behaving in ways characteristic of their virtual characters or avatars. For example, virtual reality users who had been playing as a Superman-like avatar were more likely to demonstrate altruistic behaviour even after leaving the digital world.

This is because immersive experiences such as virtual reality create a suspension of disbelief, and change the player’s perception of themselves. Embodying a tall avatar, for example, causes players to negotiate more aggressively when compared to them playing with a shorter body.

The most popular video games tend to be more violent

The theory that video games cause violence in players has been argued for years, however, the most popular video games tend to have more violent themes. For example, four out of the current top five video games have at least medium violence levels, with the exception being Zelda.

The most popular video games of 2017 are:

  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands (tactical shooter)
  • For Honor (hack and slash game)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (action-adventure)
  • Horizon Zero Dawn (action-adventure)
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda (action role-playing)

Critics have long debated whether the violent themes have a negative impact on the players, and there have even been links drawn between criminal activity and video games. For example, the game Manhunt was implicated in a murder by the media in 2004, which lead to it being removed from select stores around the country. However, officials later found no connection between the murder and the game, and the game has since evolved into a series.

A study recently found that children playing violent video games were more likely to be aggressive and bully others. However, the same study found that while sales of violent video games have significantly increased over the past few years, the juvenile crime rate has actually gone down in that time.

There is no evidence that video games make people violent

Despite the criticism, a recent study found that video games do not cause antisocial or aggressive behaviour. A team of researchers in Germany used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of regular gamers. The team found that the gamers had exactly the same neural responses to a set of emotionally provocative images as non-gamers.

This study also tested regular gamers—defined in this case as those who play for at least two hours a day for the previous four years. The participants in the study were all men and had refrained from gaming in the three hours before the experiment. In the study, they were asked how they would feel in the situations presented in emotionally-charged photographs and had their brains scanned by the fMRI machine during responses.

Another study from Oxford University found that children who play online games which involved linking up with other players online were less likely to have problems relating to other children, in comparison to children who played alone. But, those who played solitary games would perform better academically and were less likely to display aggression. However, researchers found that any effects were small, and overall, video games were a “statistically significant, yet minor, factor” in shaping a child’s behaviour.

Written By

Simon Davies is a London based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues and solutions.

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