Violent Video Games Help Relieve Stress, But at an Added Price

The benefits of playing games reach beyond just entertainment — they're a great outlet. However, at the end of a stressful day, sitting down with a violent video game may not be the best idea.

There's nothing better than kicking back at the end of the day with a video game — it's a nice way to blow off some steam. But researchers out of the University of Wisconsin–Madison question in their recent study if all games provide the right remedy for relieving end-of-the-day stress. They write that their “study tests how video games are used to manage feelings of frustration and boost one’s sense of competency.”

The study comprised 82 undergraduate students at the school. Most had no experience playing violent video games. For their experiment, the researchers split the students into two groups: one that would be conditioned and the other acting as a control. The researchers prompted the conditioned set of participants to become frustrated by having them play a game appropriately named, Maximum Frustration. The researchers lied to the participants, telling them they should be able to complete a level in 10 minutes when in reality it was near-impossible to beat.

Participants were then selected from the two groups, at random, to play one of two games: the fun, whimsical LittleBigPlanet 2 or the more violent beat-em up game Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage. The researchers write in their paper that the latter “was chosen because players’ responses to the game during pretesting indicated that it fit with our definition of a game with extremely graphic violence.”

The participants were asked to play their respective game for 18 minutes and then fill out a questionnaire to take the temperature of their moods. The results showed that frustrated players were motivated to progress further. Perhaps, trying to get a win to compensate for their earlier failure. However, they write that “frustrated participants showed a boost in aggressive cognition compared to non-frustrated participants prior to engaging with a video game.”

This led the researchers to suggest, “It is possible that the use of violent games to manage emotions is one type of risk factor for boosting aggressive outcomes, particularly for people who derive intense enjoyment from that use. Further study of the interaction between violence and enjoyment is required.”

So, when you want to relieve the stress of the day, perhaps kick back with a relaxing, more meditative game, like Flower or Flow, before you pop online for some Call of Duty deathmatch.

Jane McGonigal has been one of the major champions for video games, arguing that its merits reach beyond mere entertainment value. In fact, she calls for more research looking into “what games are doing for gamers, the skills that we’re developing, the relationships that we’re forming, the heroic qualities that we get to practice every time we play, like resilience, like perseverance, and grit, and determination, like having epic ambitions and the ability to work with other players, sometimes thousands of other players at the same time."

Read more about the study at EurekAlert! or read the full report on Computers in Human Behavior.

Photo Credit: David McNew / Getty

Got a question for a real NASA astronomer? Ask it here!

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.


Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!

And this time, she's ready to tackle any questions you're willing to throw at her, like, "How big is the Universe?", "Am I really made of stars?" or, "How long until Elon Musk starts a colony on Mars?"

All you have to do is submit your questions to the form below, and we'll use them for an upcoming Q+A session with Michelle. You know what to do, Big Thinkers!

Keep reading Show less

Why eating ice cream is linked to shark attacks

Why are soda and ice cream each linked to violence? This article delivers the final word on what people mean by "correlation does not imply causation."

  • Ice cream consumption is actually linked to shark attacks.
  • But the relationship is correlative, not causal.
  • It's pretty stunning how media outlets skip over this important detail.
Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The tongue-in-cheek petition, whose stated aim is to reduce the national debt, has been signed more than 8,600 times as of Tuesday.
  • Selling Montana, the fourth largest state in the country, would constitute the largest land deal since the Louisiana Purchase.
  • The national debt is often a source of concern for individuals, but the chances of the U.S. defaulting on its debts are relatively low — in part because the bulk of the national debt is owned by the American public.
Keep reading Show less

The answer to Skynet? A democratically controlled supermind.

The plan to stop megacorps from owning superintelligence is already underway.

  • A.I. technology is often developed within the proprietary silos of big tech companies. What if there was an open, decentralized hub for A.I. developers to share their creations? Enter SingularityNET.
  • The many A.I.s in the network could compete with each other to provide services for users but they could also cooperate, giving way to an emergent-level mind: artificial general intelligence.
  • SingularityNET is powered by blockchain technology, meaning whatever 'digital organism' emerges will not be owned or controlled by any one person, company or government.
Keep reading Show less