Some early research from Brock University in Canada seems to indicate that playing highly competitive video games may lead to aggressive behavior faster than playing games with more violent content. Competitiveness, says a new study published by the American Psychological Association, may be "the main video game characteristic" that influences or causes aggression.
In a series of experiments lead by Paul J.C. Adachi, M.A., a PhD candidate at Brock University in Canada, video games were matched on "competitiveness, difficulty, and pace of action." Researchers found that video game violence did not elevate aggressive behavior on its own. The more competitive games produced "greater levels of aggressive behavior" than less competitive games, no matter how much violent content was found in the games.
In one of the experiments, Adachi selected 42 college students (25 men and 17 women) to play one of two video games, Conan or Fuel, for 12 minutes. Both games were even when it came to competitiveness, difficulty and pace of action, but differed in levels of violence. After participants finished playing the game, they were then told they were going to take part in a separate food tasting study. Participants had to make up a cup of hot sauce for a "taster" who they were told did not particularly like hot or spicy food. The participants could choose from one of four different hot sauces (from least hot to most hot) for the taster to drink. The authors found that there was no significant difference in the intensity and amount of the hot sauces prepared by the participants who played "Conan" and those who played "Fuel." The authors concluded that video game violence alone was not sufficient to elevate aggressive behavior.
In the second experiment, Adachi had 60 college students (32 men and 28 women) play one of four video games: Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe, Left 4 Dead 2, Marble Blast Ultra, and Fuel. Afterward, the students completed the same hot sauce test from the first study. Electrocardiograms measured the participants' heart rates before and during video game play. On average, students who played the "highly competitive games" – Fuel and Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe – concocted what researchers called "significantly more of a hotter sauce" than participants who played Marble Blast Ultra and Left 4 Dead 2. They also had significantly higher heart rates.
"These findings suggest that the level of competitiveness in video games is an important factor in the relation between video games and aggressive behavior, with highly competitive games leading to greater elevations in aggression than less competitive games," wrote Adachi.
The full text of the study, "The Effect of Video Game Competition and Violence on Aggressive Behavior: Which Characteristic Has the Greatest Influence?," can be found here here (PDF).