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Violent video games move over? Relaxing ones may boost mood, kindness

June 6, 2011
Courtesy of Ohio State University
and World Science staff

While vi­o­lent vi­deo games may lead to more ag­gres­sion and an­ger, new re­search sug­gests the op­po­site al­so holds: re­lax­ing vi­deo games can make peo­ple hap­pi­er and nic­er.

“With all the ev­i­dence about the dan­gers of vi­o­lent vi­deo games, it’s good to know that game play­ers can choose games that will pro­vide a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Ohio State Uni­vers­ity’s Brad Bush­man, who co-au­thored the stu­dy. It ap­pears in the ad­vance on­line edi­tion of the jour­nal So­cial Psy­cho­log­i­cal and Per­son­al­ity Sci­ence.

Un­til re­cent­ly, he added, re­lax­ing vi­deo games were just about non­ex­ist­ent. Most “try to rev peo­ple up rath­er than calm them down. But there’s a new gen­re of games avail­a­ble that pro­vide a calm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.” One is “End­less Ocean,” in which gamers play scu­ba driv­er, ex­plor­ing an ocean hab­i­tat for sea life and sunk­en treas­ure and en­coun­ter­ing a pleth­o­ra of spe­cies along the way.

Work­ing with lead au­thor and Ohio State doc­tor­al stu­dent Jo­di Whit­a­ker, Bush­man con­ducted two ex­pe­ri­ments. In the first, 150 col­lege stu­dents were told they were par­ti­ci­pat­ing in a study of dif­fer­ent types of com­put­er games. They were ran­domly as­signed to play one of three types of games for 20 min­utes on the Wii game sys­tem: a re­lax­ing game such as End­less Ocean, a neu­tral one such as Su­per Ma­rio Gal­axy, or a vi­o­lent one such as Res­i­dent Evil 4.

Af­ter­ward, they played a game in which they were told they were com­pet­ing with an un­seen oth­er play­er, who did­n’t really ex­ist. The stat­ed goal was to push a but­ton when prompted, faster than the sup­posed oth­er play­er. The win­ner would sup­posedly re­ceive a lit­tle mon­ey, and the los­er blast­ed with noise through head­phones. The catch was that the par­ti­ci­pants chose how much mon­ey their com­pet­i­tor would get if he or she won, and how loud and long of a noise blast they would get if they lost.

Par­ti­ci­pants who played a vi­o­lent game turned out to appear more ag­gres­sive — choos­ing a louder and long­er noise blast for their op­po­nents — than the oth­ers. On the oth­er side, those who played the re­lax­ing game gave their op­po­nent more mon­ey than par­ti­ci­pants who played a vi­o­lent game. “Re­lax­ing vi­deo games put peo­ple in a good mood. And when peo­ple are in a good mood, they are more in­clined to help oth­ers, and that’s bet­ter for ev­ery­one,” Bush­man said. “Re­lax­ing vi­deo games made peo­ple kinder and less ag­gres­sive.”

A sec­ond stu­dy, with 116 dif­fer­ent col­lege-stu­dent par­ti­ci­pants, was sim­i­lar, but re­search­ers gave a tougher test to see if re­lax­ing vi­deo games really made peo­ple kinder. Af­ter play­ing a vi­o­lent, neu­tral, or re­lax­ing game for 20 min­utes, par­ti­ci­pants filled out ques­tion­naires meas­ur­ing their mood. The ex­pe­ri­menter then an­nounced the study was over, but that she could really use help sharp­en­ing some pen­cils that would be used in anoth­er stu­dy. Re­sults showed that peo­ple who played the re­lax­ing vi­deo games chose to help out more, sharp­en­ing more pen­cils.

“In the first ex­pe­ri­ment, it did­n’t take any ef­fort to give some­one mon­ey, be­cause the ex­pe­ri­menters pro­vided the mon­ey. But in this ex­pe­ri­ment, peo­ple had to use their own time to help the ex­pe­ri­menter with a bor­ing task,” Bush­man noted.


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While violent video games may lead to more aggression and anger in players, new research has found the opposite is also true: relaxing video games can make people happier and nicer. “With all the evidence about the dangers of violent video games, it’s good to know that game players can choose games that will provide a positive experience,” said Ohio State University’ Brad Bushman, who co-authored the study. It appears in the advance online edition of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Until recently, he added, relaxing video games were just about nonexistent. “Most video games try to rev people up rather than calm them down. But there’s a new genre of games available that provide a calming experience.” One is “Endless Ocean,” in which gamers play scuba driver, exploring an ocean habitat for sea life and sunken treasure and encountering a plethora of marine species along the way. Working with lead author and Ohio State doctoral student Jodi Whitaker, Bushman conducted two experiments. In the first, 150 college students were told they were participating in a study of different types of computer games. They were randomly assigned to play one of three types of games for 20 minutes on the Wii game system: a relaxing game such as Endless Ocean, a neutral one such as Super Mario Galaxy, or a violent one such as Resident Evil 4. Afterward, they played a game in which they were told they were competing with an unseen other player, who didn’t really exist. The stated goal was to push a button when prompted, faster than the supposed other player. The winner would supposedly receive a little money, and the loser blasted with noise through headphones. The catch was that the participants chose how much money their competitor would get if he or she won, and how loud and long of a noise blast they would get if they lost. The results indicated that participants who played a violent game were more aggressive —choosing a louder and longer noise blast for their opponents — than the others. On the other side, those who played the relaxing game gave their opponent more money than participants who played a violent game. “Relaxing video games put people in a good mood. And when people are in a good mood, they are more inclined to help others, and that’s better for everyone,” Bushman said. “Relaxing video games made people kinder and less aggressive.” A second study, with 116 different college-student participants, was similar, but researchers gave a tougher test to see if relaxing video games really made people kinder. After playing a violent, neutral, or relaxing game for 20 minutes, participants filled out questionnaires measuring their mood. The experimenter then announced the study was over, but that she could really use help sharpening some pencils that would be used in another study. Results showed that people who played the relaxing video games chose to help out more, sharpening more pencils. “In the first experiment, it didn’t take any effort to give someone money, because the experimenters provided the money. But in this experiment, people had to use their own time to help the experimenter with a boring task,” Bushman said.