For decades, concerned parents have waged war on violent video games. Years of research, however, have failed to consistently demonstrate a link between violence in video games and violent behavior in young players. Indeed, many massive multiplayer online videogames (MMOGs) today include components of both violence and cooperation, muddying research where studies fail to account for games’ complexity.
A recent study published in Computers in Human Behavior hopes to nuance the relationship between video games with violence and real-world behavior among children and adolescents. The authors hypothesized that the prosocial aspects of the popular game Fortnite (in which players fight it out to be the sole survivor or surviving team on an island) would promote prosocial behavior, winning out, as it were, over the game’s more violent aspects.
The study involved 845 elementary students from 10 Israeli state schools. Subjects played either Fortnite (violent condition) or pinball, in either solo mode or with a partner. Measurements were taken for game enjoyment (“I really enjoyed playing X.”), sense of relatedness/closeness to coplayers (“I really like the children I interacted with.”), and perceived competence (“I feel confident in my ability to play X.”).
The authors also included two measures of prosocial behavior. First, participants were asked to indicate how much of their potential prize money ($150) they would give to a charity for children. Second, after they thought the study was over, they were asked if they would be willing to help the researchers on another study, and how much time they would be willing to spend.
The results of the study are quite interesting. First, it was shown that children in the co-player Fortnite condition were likely, by a significant margin, to give more money and donate more of their time following gameplay as compared to children in the pinball condition, despite being a more violent game. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, children in the single-player Fortnite game were also more prosocial in behavior than children in the co-play pinball condition.
This could be due to several reasons, chief among which may be game enjoyment. Indeed, the violent game yielded more positive emotions, and the authors note that prosocial scores increased as overall satisfaction of psychological needs increased.
This means, for example, that children who felt more competent and more connected to other players were more prosocial. Interestingly, co-player mode in Fortnite led children to feel more competent, while co-player mode in pinball led them to feel less competent. This kind of interaction may explain why violent, but highly engaging video games lead to greater prosocial behavior.
It should also be noted that most of the children were familiar with Fortnite, a metric the authors include but do not comment on. 100% of the children played Fortnite at least one hour per day. Thus, being more familiar with the game, they may have enjoyed it more. It will be necessary for future research to match games based on engagement and enjoyment, and not only competitiveness, pace of action, frustration and difficulty, as was the case in the present study.
Ultimately, the authors were successful in demonstrating that the relation between violence in video games and antisocial behavior is far from linear. Hands may continue to be wrung by concerned parents and educators, but there is no doubt that modern games, by virtue of the Internet and multiplayer features, are able to elicit multiple emotional and psychological responses, many of which are positive.
The study, “The Fortnite social paradox: The effects of violent-cooperative multi-player video games on children’s basic psychological needs and prosocial behavior“, was authored by Anat Shoshani and Maya Krauskopf.