If you ever want to start a fight with a gamer, say that violent video games make them violent.
I mean, everyone knows virtually shooting someone in the face is what makes you a sociopath, always on the precipice of become a crazed gunman in real life, right?
Okay, so plenty of people say there's no correlation to support that. But according to a new study, there is a bit of evidence that playing violent games actually makes you more sociable.
Findings from a University at Buffalo communications department say that suggests that "violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity," according to assistant professor Matthew Grizzard. Joint research with Michigan State University and the University of Texas has found that immoral behavior in games appears to make the player feel guilty in real life. That, in turn, makes them more aware of the moral domains they violated in the game.
The study, "Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive," was published online last month in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.
"Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments," Grizzard said. "This is particularly relevant for video-game play, where habitual engagement with that media is the norm for a small, but considerably important group of users."
For the study, 185 subjects were split into groups who participated in a guilt-inducing condition (either playing an FPS as a terrorist character or think of something they did in real life that made them feel guilty) or a non-guilt-inducing situation (playing the game as a U.N. soldier or recall a moment from real-life that didn't make them feel guilty).
After finishing the assigned task, the subjects had to rate items in a moral foundations questionnaire that measured feeling in five categories. The results showed that the game players had heightened awareness of concepts of care or harm cruelty, abuse and lack of compassion) and fairness or reciprocity (injustice or the denial of the rights of others).
The definitions of moral behavior changed by situation and culture, but there was still a marked difference before and after playing the game.
"For instance, an American who played a violent game 'as a terrorist' would likely consider his avatar's unjust and violent behavior — violations of the fairness/reciprocity and harm/care domains — to be more immoral than when he or she performed the same acts in the role of a 'UN peacekeeper,' " Grizzard said.
Other studies have shown that bad behavior in video games can induce guilt, but the difference here is that the data show people are prone to changing attitudes based on that guilt. In a very real emotional sense, it seems being bad in a game can help you be a better person.
That's a compelling argument for the "games aren't hurtful" camp, and is a bit of proof that those marathon Call of Duty online sessions aren't as bad as they may seem.
Of course, that doesn't mean you'll be so sensitive you can't bring yourself to melee that guy camping for kills.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games for tbt*. Challenge his opinions at email@example.com.