Alternative ways of Gaming

Published: 2/01/2019

Ferris wheels, driving a taxi, shopping for nicer clothes and getting a haircut – not the typical gaming experiences that come to mind when Grand Theft Auto is mentioned.

Despite the fact that most of the computer games released to market now have violence as part of their story, some gamers choose to explore an alternative narrative during their gaming experience.

A new paper released by Dr Jack Denham, Learning and Teaching Lead at the School of Psychological & Social Sciences for York St John University, and Dr Matthew Spokes, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, has revealed some fascinating traits about modern gaming. The research, published by the British Journal of Criminology, argues against the idea that games can be ‘violent’ by themselves and that the player and the decisions that they make are an equal part of the puzzle.

Dr Denham said: “Our research shows that people play open-world games, where violence is part of the options open to the player, but not all of them, in a similar sort of way that they engage with real life. In real life, people are often repulsed by and abstain from violent behaviour. In GTA5, all of our participants at some point mentioned these feelings of disdain and at some point opted for play that did not involve violence. Participants chose to fill their gameplay time by going on the Ferris wheel, driving a taxi to earn money, shopping for nicer clothes or getting a haircut. On top of this, participants used the game as a sort of ‘world-simulator’ - exploring the mountains, hiking through the countryside, or driving around in nice cars obeying the rules of the road.”

Research carried out in 2017 showed that 7 out of 10 of the most popular games featured an element of violence. In Dr Denham’s and Dr Spokes’ recent research, the team noticed that participants sometimes embraced the violent aspects, but their pro social behaviour outweighed antisocial behaviour within the game.

Dr Denham added: “Sometimes they embraced it, other times they fought back against it. We take it for granted that violence is programmed into (and therefore, encouraged) as part of the narrative of the majority if popular games, GTA included, but also things like Red Dead Redemption or Call of Duty. In these games, violence is a necessary part of player progression through the game narrative, but every single participant at some point also decided to play pro socially. Pro social behaviour definitely outweighed antisocial behaviour.”

The research, which has been making the headlines, also suggests that what we bring from the real world can shape what we might do in a gaming scenario. Read the article Thinking Outside the ‘Murder Box’: Virtual Violence and Pro-Social Action in Video Games.

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