Research: Gamers Love the Challenge, Not the Gore

While video games are often slammed over violent content, a new study suggests that it is the challenge presented by a game rather than graphic violence which attracts players.

The research, which appears today in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, was conducted  at the University of Rochester in cooperation with Immersyve Inc., described as a "player-experience research firm."

A press release quotes University of Rochester grad student Andrew Przybylski, the study’s lead author:

For the vast majority of players, even those who regularly play and enjoy violent games, violence was not a plus. Violent content was only preferred by a small subgroup of people that generally report being more aggressive.

Immersyve president Scott Rigby commented on potential ramifications for the video game industry:

Much of the debate about game violence has pitted the assumed commercial value of violence against social concern about the harm it may cause. Our study shows that the violence may not be the real value component, freeing developers to design away from violence while at the same time broadening their market.

Researchers incorporated the popular Half-Life 2 and House of the Dead III into their study, using both high and low gore scenarios.

Iowa State University Professor Craig Anderson, a frequent critic of video game violence, praised the new research in an interview with the Canadian Press:

A common belief held by many gamers and many in the video game industry – that violence is what makes a game fun – is strongly contradicted by these studies.

Furthermore, the research convincingly shows that there is no relation between amount of violence in a game and the enjoyment experienced by the players, once opportunities for satisfying competence needs and autonomy needs have been equated in violent and non-violent games.

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  1. BrandonL337 says:

    Take Mortal combat for instance the only thing there is the gore so all you have is a puddle of iceing the cake is a lie concocted by midway to convince players that they are playing a good game.

    There have always been motherf*ckers, there will always be motherf*ckers, but what we can’t do is let them control our motherf*cking lives. -John Oliver, December 1st, 2008

  2. ShayGuy says:

    I had fun playing I Wanna Be the Guy, though I did see over two thousand explosions of blood along the way.

  3. Shadow D. Darkman says:

    I wish I could play Wolfenstein 3D again. That game was one of the best I ever played.


    "Game on, brothers and sisters." -Leet Gamer Jargon

  4. GoodRobotUs says:

    But if it was easy to do so, you’d soon get bored with it. Victory without challenge is a pretty hollow Victory.

  5. Kris says:


    I certainly don’t consider myself a violent person.  I don’t even have much of a temper or anything like that.  But I should point out that I don’t play God of War for the "challenge," I play it so that I can rip the heads and arms off of harpies.

  6. GoodRobotUs says:

    ‘A common belief held by many gamers and many in the video game industry – that violence is what makes a game fun – is strongly contradicted by these studies.’


    Where did Craig Anderson get the idea that Gamers thought violence made a game? I’ve never, ever heard of someone buying a game based on its violence level, even Manhunt 2 was bought more as a protest than anything else, and most people agreed it had pretty limited appeal.

  7. Baruch_S says:

    You could get some pretty messy blood splatters since every bullet that hit any living target would leave a semi-realistic blood splatter on the wall, but it didn’t have dismemberment or anything. The only really gory aspect was the ability to slice zombies in half with a saw blade, and even that wasn’t very messy or realistic.

  8. Baruch_S says:

    I’d probably be discontent if I were in the no gore group simply because I wouldn’t have any way of knowing if I was hitting my opponent or not. As long as I have hit indication, I don’t really care if I get green goo or a complete dismemberment when I rocket somebody.

  9. Baruch_S says:

    A cool finishing blow is something of a challenge in and of itself. You have to know what you’re doing and execute the move correctly. Jumping on top of the monster and stabbing a huge blade into its skull is just the reward for successfully completing the combo.

  10. Matthew says:

    Sounds like a simple study that someone should have done a long time ago.

    Take two decently-sized samples of gamers, and let them play the same FPS game but give the experiment group an “increased gore” mod. Actually, let’s get a third group in there and give them a “zero gore, not even blood” mod. Ask them to rate their experiences afterwards, and do those fun brain activity monitoring measurements while they play.

    Anyone else think that the “no gore” group wouldn’t get the same enjoyment as the vanilla group because the lack of blood splatter etc. would make the game feel less realistic, while the “extra gore” group wouldn’t gain a significant increase?

    That is, except for maybe the initial “whoa” factor that comes with violent games. There is a certain visceral thrill the first time you see a Cerebral Bore in action or realise they’re physics-modelling dismembered limbs.

  11. GrimCW says:

    don’t forget the chaingun on the second level.. or was it third? i forget

    heh i still own a copy of that, 2 in fact, a CD somewhere, and the STEAM version 🙂

    i LOVE that game :p   and especially taking out hitler and watching him just fall apart… i used to pull up the animation thing where you could watch the dif char anims and look at the sprites and all, and just slowmo that death over and over… it was pure gold i says 🙂

  12. ZippyDSMlee says:

    Modern games haz challenge??….WHERE?!?!?! its all quick snore feasts….

    Violence is merely detailing with the shiny paint that makes a finished product… if you can find a finished product anymore….



    Gore,Violence,Sexauilty,Fear,Emotion these are but modes of transportation of story and thought, to take them from society you create a society of children and nannys, since adults are not required.

  13. Aliasalpha says:

    Did half life 2 really have much gore? I don’t really remember much beyond the traditional little splat of blood to show you’ve hit someone.

  14. TBoneTony says:

    Scott Rigby, president of Immersyve, said the video game industry is locked in "a little bit of a mortal combat" with those who are worried about violence and not so keen about video games.

    If most consumers aren’t drawn to the violence, he said, it frees up designers to do other things.

    "They won’t feel as constrained by kind of the history and the convention within the game development industry to develop a lot of games with violent themes," he said.




    What about Nintendo? What about SEGA?

    What about Namco and all the other developers who have had success for making both violent and non violent games?


    Come on there…I think that this article has got a few things wrong here when they try to say that companies make violent games because they think violence sells…


    It is not always the truth but to say that companies are better off making non violent games is a bit too much in their own opinion and not enough about what is really happening here.


    There is always room for BOTH violent and non violent games to co-exist with eachother and also that is the reasons why the ESRB have been in existance since the mid 90’s.


    I think that some of these conclusions have been made by people with an agenda against violent videogames and they themselves don’t really know much about videogames because they have always sat on their butts and not even played videogames while criticising other people because in their own opinions they think that us gamers are violent people…


    Like come on…there was a good study but these people with agendas have ruined it by saying conclusions without understanding what the real study was about…



  15. TBoneTony says:

    Positive, it shows that we as gamers like both violent and non violent games.

    I always loved Mario, Pokemon and the Legend of Zelda, as much as I would love to be able to play a few Japanese Dating Sims too if I ever get the opportunity…

    I’d love to play out a challenge and I enjoy a good game with a good story, gameplay and challenge to it.

    However, I can see the research being manipulated by the anti-gaming groups who say that we don’t need violent content in videogames because non violent games are just as fun…

    But that is NOT what the research was talking about….

    Also I don’t like the way how the research talked about people being agressive and non agressive, how did they find out or label people are agressive???

    Were they swearing during the game?

    I don’t think you could ever point out that people could be agressive unless if you find out what is NORMAL for videogame players…

  16. Austin_Lewis says:

    Hey, you leave Wolf3d out of this.  To my dying day, I’ll never forget the hidden room in the first level where you can get the machine gun.  Ah, memories…

  17. Vortex says:

    They’re easy games before the Wii came out, and you believed a study that shoots down gamer stereotypes isn’t correct just because of one console?

  18. MrKlorox says:

    I agree. The HL series has plenty of challenge. Usually the challenge is spread out though, leading to just a few really challenging moments per game. The challenge is figuring out what you’re supposed to do, and that challenge doesn’t tend to carry over to multiple playthroughs; hence the attemp of dynamic levels in Left4Dead.

  19. MrKlorox says:

    I agree that this would be awesome, but I don’t see it happening until the beginning of a new console cycle. And even then, the ESRB needs to be persuaded by the industry to adopt such a risky mechanic. I mean having one single copy of a game that has a 15 (yet to be adopted), 17(M), and 18(AO) capable rating that is switchable with the universal parental controls would make a lot of people uneasy and even more confused; especially with all those sensationist stories implying kids are too stupid to know that games are fiction, and the even more stupid adults believing them or refusing to enlighten themselves to game ratings to begin with.

    I truly don’t believe the "rest" are actually ready for something as benign as this.

  20. finaleve says:

    idk man, I hated driving in that game.

    Also, don’t you remember the challenge of not stepping on the sand?

    Or shooting down a couple combine copters?

    or the intensity of the whole water boat chase before getting the gun attached?  And then trying to find that sweet spot when that light house came down?

  21. MrKlorox says:

    Beating a challenge is rewarding and satisfying, but so is revenge killing the guy who kept mopping the floor with your ass throughout the entire first round. Proper gore can be what makes that challenging revenge kill more rewarding/satisfying.

    I agree that people play for the reward/satisfaction of beating a challenging opponent/environment over the violence. That is obvious. But it is ignorant to imply that the degree and quality of the violence used to accomplish said challenge bears no factor on how satisfying that accomplishment can be.

  22. deuxhero says:

    Challenge? Half Life 2?I call BS, Health/Ammo is all over the place in Half Life 2, only a handful of sections (The courtyard where you protect Aylx/Alyx/however ever you spell it in Follow Freeman… and… hmm…) have any real chalenge at all!

  23. Shahab says:

    I totally agree. I installed and played Crayon Physics last night and LOVED it. There is no violence in in that game. It does challenge your brain though, and that is part of the reason it is so fun. I also installed Call of Duty 4 for the first time last night and I thought that game was really fun. It is very violent but also very challenging. Cake walk games can be fun if they have the right atmosphere but generally the games I keep coming back to are the ones that require skill or critical thinking.

  24. Wolvenmoon says:

    Well duh.

    I’m not the only one that wants to be able to turn off excessive gore in their games. (Read: Opt out, not opt in. The devs still get to go as wild as they want. We just get to decide if we want it displayed.)

    Maybe the industry will start listening to the customers.

  25. mogbert says:

    Everyone seemed to miss what I thought was one of the most significant points in this study.

    Aggeressive people are predisposed to play violent games.

    Too often people try to claim that someone was changed by the game into a monster. You had a person, they played a game, and they did something bad. Media and insane people like to claim the game made them violent. The much more obvious answer is that they were aggressive and/or violent (two different things) BEFORE they played, and that the game and the violent act were both results, not causes.

    Just reminds me of Aphrael’s discussion about thunder causing spoiled milk, and that it was an error in logic as they were both effects.

  26. GrimCW says:

    someone hasn’t actually played MH2 have they? the games NOT gorey, not even close compared to even old things like Wolf3D. theres hardly much blood really even in the deaths. its an average level of blood for a game of its gfx grade really.

    its GRUESOME in the killings, but its far from gorey. i love the game despite, but maybe its cause i have the wii version and smashing them virtual characters heads in with my hands virtually is a blast.

    i haven’t even bothered to get far in the game :p but its on my shelf for life unless something equally gruesome or better comes out and lets me vent in that :p .

  27. Toltendo says:

    I would like to point out the movie ‘The Blair Witch Project’ can be an example of a movie with barely any gore or blood and at the same time, it truly scared us. I also think the game ‘Portal’ would be similar to the movie in the sense of absolute creativity without the content, even though the two are not in the same genre.

    (Although I might be wrong if ‘Portal’ does have any blood)

    The point I’m making is how the two don’t need too much violence, even though my explanation is very confusing.

  28. GrimCW says:

    i LOVE my gore, i mean LOVE it. but gimme a GOOD game and i can get along without it.

    i mean, the beta for RTCW had a TON of blood and gore, i thought the game was gonna ROCK, then the final version came out and it was all removed. i practically shat myself in disappointment, but it never stopped me from buying and enjoying hours of the game online and off.

    if a game lacks gore its  a dissapointment, but its not a killer usually, unless its a chainsaw rip like in GoW, then i EXPECT a LOT of gore, otherwise its just sparkly barney stories…

    heh you could only imagine my excitement when i learned of CoD WaW’s little bit of gibbing 🙂

    its not very bloody at all, but it gets the point across and looks good when doing it too, its got me hooked on the MP because of this little detail, and makes me fully understand what it was about CoD4 that irked me to the point of nearly hating it. (CoD2 having the Merciless Matador mod with added extreme ammounts of content… to extreme really, but its scaleable in the options!)

  29. insanejedi says:

    I’m going to say this study is wrong because of the existance of the wii, and the majority wii games…

  30. nighstalker160 says:

    This should be obvious after something like Manhunt 2. That game did not sell like hotcakes because…well…it wasn’t very good.

    Gamers aren’t looking for gore, we’re looking for GOOD and the two are not synonomous.

  31. magic_taco says:

    Good, Atleast some honest reasearch, Besides Mr.Disbarred who pulls his "reasearch facts" from his bony old ass, I love the challenge of games, :D, Besides i even get bigger fun from playing the sonic games, And yes, SH:homecoming on hard mode(Im not used to SH games that much),But i still love the fun of a game that can get hard the moment you play…Like Guitar hero.


    Thanks for the Find Dennis.


    Magic Taco

  32. Zero Beat says:

    Stylized violence can be a draw.  Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden wouldn’t be the same without the ridiculously awesome violence.

    There’s just something about using Dance Macabre on a scarecrow in DMC4 or using a Cremator to Piercing Mountain on a Black Spider Ninja that just never gets old.


    "That’s not ironic. That’s justice."

  33. Praetorian says:

    No one, for the most part, wants something easy. If people get something easy they get bored and there’s no replay value.

    I tend to like the violence in my games because it lets me release after a long hard day at work in an office where you have to be mindful not to act like a heathen infront of your co-workers lest you offend someone, not much of a worry here as the room is quite blue and populated with gamers.

    Even in GTA: Vice City or San Andreas, I’ll load up the game just to drive around for a couple hours because I like hurling my vehical off of cliffsides and parking them on the roof of someones house just because I can.

    Games are very much an escape for a lot of people because playing by the rules isn’t always fun and is ALWAYS easy.


    "I’ve been told I’m the resident skeptic, but I wouldn’t believe that."

    ECA Seattle Chapter

  34. axiomatic says:

    The gore is just icing on the cake. It is truly unnecessary but the cake would taste worse without it.

    (there is a "the cake is a lie" joke in there somewhere, I just left it alone though.) 😉

  35. EvilTikiMan says:

    The average gamer will tell you that gore does not make the game. Same goes for sex and other such "taboo" elements. You can put them in a game, but simply adding them does not make it an instant hit with people. Look at "The Guy Game", It simply oozed with Nude women galor and it is one of the biggest laughing stocks of the gaming world. It bombed because it was nothing but an excuse to show off naked women. BMX XXX, suffered a similar fair because it too tried to shovel in loads of sex with no real reason.

    Games that use Sex, Gore, and other such things as a means to draw you in are not only essentually doomed to fail, but are an insult, particularly to gamers.

    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Responsibility: Something that everyone has, but no one seems to want when something goes wrong. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

  36. ShayGuy says:

    I thought people played SRW to watch Bright Noa slapping Shinji Ikari, Amuro Ray flirting with Misato Katsuragi, and ridiculously over-the-top attack animations?


  37. insanejedi says:

    OMG A SRW FAN!1111111

    The mature feeling and theme goes more towards the writing and the story of a game though. That’s why games radar had a feature saying "Mature games that are actaually "mature"" Like I can say Braid is a more mature game than Madworld, dispite the fact that Madworld has gallons of blood in it and Braid has nearly no violance at all. Super Robot Wars while a 10+ rated game is still mature in it’s story and in it’s writing following (what is mecha clechie conventions) philosophy of war, philosophy of human beings, childhood experience, and so on.

  38. catboy_j says:

    I do like a challenge in a game, which is the whole point I play RE4 on pro mode sometimes, but I do like the gore lol. In real life, outside of video games I’m very much against violence but in some games I do enjoy a fair bit of gore if it fits in with the games theme.

    I mean I don’t start playing Super Robot Wars wanting the blood to poor out of the enemy robots though. Sometimes the violence just helps to add to the mature feeling and theme. If you shoot someone in Metal Gear Solid eventually you’ll get over them not being real, but you’re not going to have a lot of extra detterent to kill guards if they don’t bleed when you shoot them.

  39. Father Time says:

    When I was younger I was attracted to violence in games, it may have been because I was young, it may have been because my parents wouldn’t let me get the violent T or M games (although strangely I’ve never cared about any of the M games until I was old enough to get T games), but that’s what excited me.

    In fact the promise to blow things up was what led me to try the Ratchet and Clank games.

    I’m still a big fan of the series because I think they’re fun (and funny), although I still enjoy getting to use the big exotic guns on enemies. I don’t think I’ve quite grown over violence = amusing, but I don’t equate lots of violence with a good game.


    Debates are like merry go rounds. Two people take their positions then they go through the same points over and over and over again. Then when it’s over they have the same positions they started in.

  40. Nocturne says:

    A common belief held by many gamers and many in the video game industry – that violence is what makes a game fun

    Who the heck thought that?

    I’ve only ever thought that the level of violence should be as realistic (or as excessive) as the game style, I don’t want buckets of gore in my Ratchet & Clank, and I don’t want people popping into smoke in my Fallout 3.

    Thanks Mr University Proffessor, thanks for telling us all that it’s gameplay that makes a game fun, not the violence, Mortal Kombat may have fooled me when I was 10 but by the time I was 12 and the second one was coming out I’d worked that out myself thanks!

  41. hayabusa75 says:

    Hey Scope, remember Daniel?  This article reminds me of him.  Ah, those fond GP memories…

    "There is no sin except stupidity." – Oscar Wilde

  42. Rabidkeebler says:

    I don’t know if that would work though.  Since by limiting violence, they would be limiting the stories that could be told.  Violence isn’t the main draw, but "mature" violent themes can be used to further a story (ie GTA 4).  So I wouldn’t worry to much about it being a problem.  Especially because this study can be used to broadside the anti violence people by saying that the violence doesn’t matter to other people and thus won’t have an effect on them.


    Foaming at the mouth

  43. SimonBob says:

    This is bad news for the M-gaming crowd: now the anti-violence advocates will say, "well, if the violence doesn’t matter, then stores can just stop selling violent games and you’ll be just as happy, right?"

    But that’s wrong — the violence may not be the main draw, but it elicits a reaction distinct from the joy of nailing a high score in Tetris, for instance.  Separation of experience still matters, otherwise different genres of movies wouldn’t exist.

    I just have this awful feeling that the research is being taken the wrong way.  Remember back in ’93 when gamers preferred the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat for keeping the blood?  Obviously there’s some merit to the existence of violence in a game, or else there truly wouldn’t be a reason to keep it in.  The key seems to be in the distinction of "enjoyment" versus "preference."  I enjoy both Tetris and MK, but I prefer one over the other depending how I’m feeling.  That choice shouldn’t be taken away.

    The Mammon Industry

  44. reverandspaniel says:

    One more piece of research to add to the arsenal against people who slam ALL gamers as violent sociopaths…

  45. Kincyr says:

    same here. and if you enjoy horror movies like I do, you can always watch the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff afterward, that always lessens the shock value for me

    岩「…Where do masochists go when they die?」

  46. gamegod25 says:

    Sounds right to me. I play a lot of M rated games but TBH I don’t really like blood and gore. I can’t stand horror/slasher movies and could never be a surgeon.

  47. Brokenscope says:

    Interestingly enough, asking a handful of mature gamers doesn’t constitute viable scientifc data.

  48. Geoff says:

    On one hand, I like the idea of adding this to the aresenal against those that think video games is the Devil incarnate.

    On the other hand, the same conclusion could have been drawn by simply asking a handful of mature gamers.


    Tea and cake or death! Tea and cake or death! Little Red Cook-book! Little Red Cook-book!

  49. Chaltab says:

    Does it really count as research if the conclusion is something that any gamer worth his salt could have told you?

  50. black manta says:

    Upon reading this, I thought, "I could have told you that."  A lot of gamers play games because of the challenges they present and not the gore.  I’ve never liked movies or games that just used gore or violence as its sole selling point.  It just points to sensationalism and suggests the developers or filmmakers have nothing else to say and have no point other than to shock people.  At which point, then, it becomes pornography.

    However, that having been said, having at least some violence in a game does make it appealing.  I don’t think, for example, Mortal Kombat would be as fun to play without the absurdly over-the-top Fatalities.  And games like BioShock and Dead Space wouldn’t have been as effective in their presentation if their imagery was less disturbing.  I see violence in games or movies as the eqivalent of spice in cooking; no it doesn’t need to be there, but it sure makes it taste a lot better!

  51. Monolith says:

    "once opportunities for satisfying competence needs and autonomy needs have been equated in violent and non-violent games."


    You don’t believe in non violent games, remember Anderson?

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