Psychologist Explains Why Violent Shooters Are Fun

Psychologist Explains Why Violent Shooters Are Fun

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The satisfaction of lining up the perfect headshot proves just why military shooters are so popular.

The debate about the psychological effects of violent video games doesn't need any more fuel, but it can't be denied that the industry is filled to the brim with violence. Look no further than the wild popularity of tactical military shooters for proof of what sells in the gaming market. The question, then, is why do we find it so enjoyable to gun down enemy after enemy on the virtual battlefield? Psychology writer Jamie Madigan has some ideas, and it goes beyond the thrill of getting to be a hero.

Madigan cites a concept known as "self-determination theory," which seeks to explain what makes people want to do enjoyable things on their own volition. According to the theory, there are three factors that make us psychologically drawn to rewarding activities: competence rewards our progressing skill level, autonomy gives us meaningful choices, and relatedness lets us use these skills in a way that impacts others. Military shooters happen to provide all three of these desires in one package, which could explain why they're top dog in the industry at the moment.

The formula fits. Competence is reinforced in the short term by end-of-round scoreboards and the gradual unlocking of new toys. Autonomy can take a variety of forms, from customizable loadouts to multiple tactical avenues to an objective. Topping it off is the addictive component of relatedness through team-based multiplayer modes that make every player a vital part of a group effort.

While many game genres address at least one of these psychological needs, shooters tie them together more neatly than most. The next question, then, is whether or not the violent nature of these games is strictly necessary. A modified version of Half Life 2: Deathmatch was used in a psychological experiment to examine the value of violence in these kinds of games. Some participants played the unmodified game, while others played a changed version in which the weapons were replaced with laser tag-style zappers that nonlethally removed opponents from the fight until they respawned. Interestingly, both versions proved equally enjoyable on the same psychological scales, regardless of the presence of simulated violence. The factors of competence and autonomy trumped the "bloodlust" that critics associate with violent games.

The addicting properties of shooters are probably very familiar to most of us, but it's interesting to drill deeper and examine what makes that the case. This formula isn't a guaranteed algorithm for a great game, but it's easy to see how the popular games of today have designs that hit every part of the checklist. Of course, it'll be up to developers to prove that other mediums can be just as fundamentally satisfying as the shooters that dominate the market.

Source: Games Industry

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It helps explain why paintball is so popular. It simulated violence, but there's no gore, no carnage. You get hit, you're out.

I happen to participate in competitive boffer fighting that follows the same lines. Everyone gets five hits. Get tagged five times and you're out. We don't simulate stabbing people or cutting heads off. It's like tag. Once your five hits are up you're out of the fight and the other guy wins. It's loads of fun, physically challenging, and a good time with friends.

I guess you could say it's violent because we're hitting each other, but the weapons are padded, so there's no pain. Just the physical feedback of a hit being scored.

When it comes to violance itself being such a big theme in vidya garms, I agree with Campster.


But as for FPS', this seems legit.

Cognimancer:
Topping it off is the addictive component of relatedness through team-based multiplayer modes that make every player a vital part of a group effort.

Group effort? Every player a vital part?

This scientist clearly hasn't played any FPSes online...

It's good to see someone look at why we enjoy the violence rather than just decrying it. I know they said the violence has no impact, just the three main factors, but violence still lends itself more naturally than that situation when you're in a virtual world and don't have to worry about -actually- hurting someone. Or maybe that's a product of being raised in a culture where violence is fairly natural. Either way, good stuff.

Pinguin:

Cognimancer:
Topping it off is the addictive component of relatedness through team-based multiplayer modes that make every player a vital part of a group effort.

Group effort? Every player a vital part?

This scientist clearly hasn't played any FPSes online...

I don't know, I think the fact that it's a team's total score in stuff like TDM makes this make sense. Loosely maybe, but it does still make sense.

Violence in gaming being looked at by people who know what they're doing? Good for them. Modding half life to turn it into laser tag as a comparison, that's freaking brilliant.

I see what they're getting at. It feels really good to end a round of TF2 at the top of the scoreboard no matter what class I play. Lately, I've had some very good rounds of Sniper, where the heads just keep lining up just right. Rolling heads with the Hitman's Heatmaker is all kinds of exciting and satisfying.

I only enjoy shooters when I am playing with or against people I know. For me its just the competition against your friends that makes it enjoyable, I hardly ever think about the violence or the blood because that is not what draws me back, its the tactics, the teamwork that keep me coming back. when I think all the way back to games like Goldeneye 64 and Quake it was always the fun of outsmarting and beating your friends (and of course making that incredibly lucky headshot to win the match) that made it all so fun for me never the blood and guts.

So basically the same three things that draw people to ANY game (whether video or otherwise.)

*reads report* Ummm yeah that applies to anything that gives you a feeling of satisfaction, hence why the "non violent" shooter was just as fun. Using this hypothesis you can explain why people like playing euchre, or play any sport.... Way to draw a non-related conclusion "researcher." How much funding did you get for that crap?

Captcha Oh, You

Pinguin:
Group effort? Every player a vital part?

This scientist clearly hasn't played any FPSes online...

I see what you're getting at here, but I don't think that's the point.

It's understandable that there will be some players who are better than others, even some that are downright terrible. However, I think we can all agree that this is countered by the fact that most players:

A) Are not trying to be bad.

B) Do not think they're bad.

I don't mean they're blindingly arrogant (though I'm sure some are), but you can only play up to your current level of skill and if you're doing that it probably feels like you're playing well even if the results are less than stellar.

I digress; it's the feeling of agency you have when you play. You might have missed the shot, but you know you could've made it.

So, if the games I come back to are Crusader Kings 2 and simulation games like Sim City 4 instead of military shooters, what does that say about me?

Salad Is Murder:

I see what you're getting at here, but I don't think that's the point.

I wasn't really getting at anything, just being flippant. :)

But you make good points!

Multiplayer shooters are popular for the same reason team sports that involve some type of ball are popular. It's about the competition, skill, competence, pride etc. It's about being better at a competitive activity than others and about socializing if you're that kind of gamer. It's got nothing to do with violence.

Adam Jensen:
Multiplayer shooters are popular for the same reason team sports that involve some type of bass are popular. It's about the competition, skill, competence, pride etc. It's about being better at a competitive activity than others and about socializing if you're that kind of gamer. It has nothing to do with violence.

Yes, the things you mention are fun, but I do believe there is an extra fun element conveyed by violence itself. The reasons are rather mundane and prehistoric. Humans are intelligent animals very capable of violent behavior. Note that violence in itself is neither good nor bad. Of course violence can be applied for lesser goals. But violence can also be positively exciting to (prehistoric) humans in the form of a hunt, or a competition. Becoming violent can be essential when ourselves or family is threatened by another violent entity. Sometimes violence or the threat of violence has to be applied for the greater good.

This relationship with violence is in our genes, and when the elements of violence, such as anger, fear, adrenaline, etc. arise in us, it sets free a chemical cocktail party in our body that simply excites us and makes us feel alive. Our body and minds feel that whatever is going to happen now is important, because health, life, standing, etc. depend on our actions.

In gaming we can experience a big part of all this, without actually having to put us or anyone else in real danger. It's no big mystery why we a drawn to violent games.

itsthesheppy:
It helps explain why paintball is so popular. It simulated violence, but there's no gore, no carnage. You get hit, you're out.

I happen to participate in competitive boffer fighting that follows the same lines. Everyone gets five hits. Get tagged five times and you're out. We don't simulate stabbing people or cutting heads off. It's like tag. Once your five hits are up you're out of the fight and the other guy wins. It's loads of fun, physically challenging, and a good time with friends.

I guess you could say it's violent because we're hitting each other, but the weapons are padded, so there's no pain. Just the physical feedback of a hit being scored.

Well, it is still possible to get at least welts in paintball, but yes.

Also explains Lazer Tag.

The blood and gore is... at most, icing on the cake.

Most of the time, its just there, and I generally just ignore it. Unless it somehow plays into the game's story of course.

(like it would in Planescape: Torment if graphical fidelity were higher back when it was made)

slash2x:
*reads report* Ummm yeah that applies to anything that gives you a feeling of satisfaction, hence why the "non violent" shooter was just as fun. Using this hypothesis you can explain why people like playing euchre, or play any sport.... Way to draw a non-related conclusion "researcher." How much funding did you get for that crap?

Two things:

Firstly, science for the sake of gathering knowledge is valuable in and of itself, both as a training apparatus for the next batch of researchers (such projects generally having one scientist actually in charge, and a number of less experienced types who are still working on their degrees in the field) and because you really never know what uses the things you uncover might have until well after they have been uncovered.

Secondly, it's a useful thing to crack out when some paranoid nitwit claims that video games are murder simulators. "Actually," you can say, "recent studies point to people playing them for the sake of accomplishment, as supported by testing of two versions of the same game, one blood-splattery and one more of a laser tag simulator." And they'll probably say something semi-coherent and not budge, but every time you make them look like a dumbass, you cost them supporters.

It's not about the violence...

It's about topping the scoreboard.

I think he could apply it to MOBA's too.

itsthesheppy:
It helps explain why paintball is so popular. It simulated violence, but there's no gore, no carnage. You get hit, you're out.

I happen to participate in competitive boffer fighting that follows the same lines. Everyone gets five hits. Get tagged five times and you're out. We don't simulate stabbing people or cutting heads off. It's like tag. Once your five hits are up you're out of the fight and the other guy wins. It's loads of fun, physically challenging, and a good time with friends.

I guess you could say it's violent because we're hitting each other, but the weapons are padded, so there's no pain. Just the physical feedback of a hit being scored.

we used 'black knight' rules in my area for that (torso was instant kill, hit to the limb loses it), though the padding didn't always stave off injury, cause we only used one layer when I did it, not the several the kids seem to use these days

I remember going to work the day after, beaten, bruised and generally 'hurt', and feeling rather good about it, hell one time I got busted across the knuckles so hard I couldn't close my hand for 5 minutes, not that it mattered in the fight, I used to dual wield for just that reason

good times :3

 

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