Australian Research Finds Violent Video Games Resonate Because They Fulfill Psychological Needs

Australian Research Finds Violent Video Games Resonate Because They Fulfill Psychological Needs

Why that is, has long been somewhat of a mystery but Australian researchers believe the answers lie somewhere in the fields of biology and psychology.

The most controversial series in gaming history, due to its connections to real life crimes, Grand Theft Auto has sold 165 million copies of its latest installation worldwide since 2013.

It’s also been at or near the top of Australian gaming charts for the past six months.

GTA’s brain-splitting popularity is mirrored by the world’s best-selling shooter game franchise, Call of Duty, and its current offering, Warzone, has more than 100 million players. Another, Red Dead Redemption, was Australia’s best selling game of 2018.

Survival saga Fortnite, meanwhile, generated over $US9 billion for maker Epic Games in just two years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2018-19.

All are known for their graphic content yet research exploring the extraordinary fascination they hold is rare.

Enter Associate Professor Michael Kasumovic, and a dash of evolutionary psychology and cognitive evaluation theory.

Research conducted by the professor and his University of NSW colleagues suggests violent games resonate because they offer opportunities to fulfill psychological needs.

“The motivations we have to play (them) stem from our desire to become better as individuals,” he says.

“They allow us to measure status, assess our abilities relative to others and overcome our fears.”

While unusual to think so, Prof Kasumovic says video games tap into human desires. Autonomy, social connection and competence are all motivators for behaviour.

“Whether it’s choosing a weapon upgrade, working together with other characters or accomplishing goals or missions… violent video games lend themselves to our psychological needs because they’re designed in a way that allows us to achieve a sense of control and accomplishment, “he says.

“And they help us figure out where we sit in a social hierarchy.”

According to the research, violent games also allow players to experience dangerous situations in a safe environment, as well as regulate emotions.

“(They) help explore our fears around death and can help with the expression of emotions, particularly anger,” Prof Kasumovic says.

“Before, people might have gone outside to play with others. Now, we have the means to do this through digital interactions.”

Unlike traditional sports, video games can be mastered regardless of physical capacity.

Bond University’s latest Digital Australia report shows 17 million Australians play video games in some form. The so-called average player is aged 35, more likely to bloke and logs on for 83 minutes a day.

And the love affair continues to blossom. While 76 per cent of Australian households had at least one gaming device in 2005, by 2021 92 per cent did.

Some people, however, are more likely to play than others.

The UNSW study found those who perceive themselves as lower in social status or have unmet desires to exercise influence or control over others are more likely to.

The less these needs are met in the real world, the more likely they are to seek them out in a digital one.

“Video games may allow some people to get what they’re not getting in the real world – like enhanced feelings of self-esteem and social ranking,” Prof Kasumovic says.

“So, people from low-status groups can be more drawn to playing violent video games because of a desire to obtain higher status that they can perhaps achieve in the game.”

Violent video games, particularly online multiplayer ones, are designed to encourage improved performance through match-making tiers and leveling up.

At the extremes, this is thought to encourage addiction.

According to the UNSW research, players get instant feedback on performance and there’s a positive loop that drives them to play more because they want to improve in the game and in their standing against others.

AAP with The Project