For years, video games have been linked to aggression and violence, with researchers and media reports suggesting that violent games have inspired or even caused violent acts.
But a new study suggests that video games can be a force for good, finding that games with positive objectives can actually inspire people to perform acts of altruism.
Over four experiments, Tobias Greitemeyer and Silia Osswald, researchers at the University of Sussex in England and Ludwig-Maximilian University in Germany, respectively, had participants play either a “prosocial” game—a game where the goal is to help others—or a “neutral” game, meaning it has no characters with whom to interact positively or negatively, like Tetris. Then the researchers placed the participants in situations where they had the opportunity to help others, ranging from low-risk situations, such as seeing a dropped cup of pencils, to high-risk ones, like witnessing an angry ex-boyfriend harass an experimenter.
Greitemeyer and Osswald wanted to see if the participants were more likely to intervene after playing a prosocial game such as Lemmings (pictured), which tasks players with ensuring the safety of a group of fatally stupid creatures.
The results, published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, show that those who had played a game like Lemmings were much more likely to help in low- and high-risk situations than were those who had played a neutral-themed game.
The authors also investigated why they might have seen this link between prosocial games and prosocial behavior. Essentially, they suggest that playing video games with prosocial objectives fosters a prosocial mindset that makes people more willing to help others.
According to a study cited in the paper, 70-85 percent of games involve some kind of violence. So, although the content of games can cause behavioral shifts in either an aggressive or altruistic direction, gamers are much more likely to experience the former.
The authors’ response to this disparity is a simple one. “There is clearly a need for prosocial video games that are highly attractive to customers,” they write. “Convincing the video game industry to create such games would be an important first step.”