April 9, 2014
The Study Of Rage-Quitting
I had a roommate that got so angry at a videogame‘s poor design and control scheme that he threw the controller across the room and against the wall, destroying it. I was not there for the actual destruction, but when I got home that evening from work, my other roommate was quick to show me the damage. Anyone who has ever played a videogame that is either too hard/difficult to master, or in some way frustrating to play, knows what it is like to get angry at a game. Though I have been enjoying Hearthstone a great deal, 20+ losses in a row with most being completely one sided is enough to make me realize I need to walk away from the game for a bit else risk snapping my keyboard in half. As much as we love games, they do have a tendency to make us angry.
Now, admitting this, I still hold videogames to be a wonderful form of entertainment and find that the notion of violent games turning players into murdering psychopaths in real life to be a bit extreme. Yes, the anger and frustration we sometimes feel toward games is real, but it is no different than the anger and frustration felt due to unfavorable circumstances that come up in other activities. Have you ever seen an NFL fan when their favorite team loses due to a bad call? Have you ever gone to a high school basketball game and listened to the parents sitting in the bleachers? It’s no different.
A recent study was conducted to test this at the University of Rochester. This was the first study to look at the player’s psychological experience with games instead of the game’s content. Violent or not, it was found that failure to master a game and its controls could lead to frustration and aggression, and that is not something limited only to gaming. According to the co-author of the study, Richard Ryan, a motivational psychologist at the University of Rochester, “When people feel they have no control over the outcome of a game, that leads to aggression. We saw that in our experiments. If you press someone’s competencies, they’ll become more aggressive, and our effects held up whether the games were violent or not.”
Once again, a cold-water test was used as part of this experiment, but this time it was done to test a different variable than before. For this test, nearly 600 college-aged participants were tasked with playing video games – some violent and some non-violent – and were then tested for aggressive thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. In one such test, the participants were asked to hold their hand in a bowl of painfully cold water for 25 seconds having been led to believe that the length of time they were asked to do so was determined by a previous participant when, in fact, all participants were asked to hold their hand in there for the same length of time. After which, the participants played either a simple or extremely difficult bout of Tetris and were then asked to assign the time the next participant was to hold their hand in the painfully cold water. Players who were given the much harder version of the game, on average, assigned 10 more seconds to future participants. According to Ryan, “When the experience involves threats to our ego, it can cause us to be hostile and mean to others.” The inability to master a game and its controls did seem to demonstrate a more aggressive showing from the players.
This study could offer important contributions to the ever-ongoing debate about the effects of violent video games. Ryan admits that many critics of video games have been premature in their conclusions about violent games causing violent tendencies. “It’s a complicated area,” he explains, “and people have simplistic views.” According to him, non-violent games like Tetris or Candy Crush can leave players feeling just as frustrated, if not more so, than a bad bout of Call of Duty or Gears of War.
My advice, if a game is making you angry, just stop for a bit, cool off, and try again later.
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