Research by the University of Rochester shows that gamers are more drawn to challenge and problem solving than violence in games.
The research, which was conducted through two online surveys and four experimental studies, showed that "people stayed glued to games mainly for the feelings of challenge and autonomy while playing. Both seasoned gamers and novices preferred games where they could conquer obstacles, feel effective, and have lots of choices about their strategies and actions."
The studies asked more than 300 undergraduates to play versions of Half-Life 2 and The House of the Dead III, which the researchers had modified into violent and non-violent variations. For Half-Life 2, players had the choice of a "a bloody battle against computer-controlled adversaries or a low violence alternative, in which the robots were tagged and teleported serenely back to base." Meanwhile, The House of the Dead III was available with varying levels of violence, from no blood to excessive gore.
The results were fairly straightforward. "For the vast majority of players, even those who regularly play and enjoy violent games, violence was not a plus," Andrew Przybylski, the lead author of the study, said. "Violent content was only preferred by a small subgroup of people that generally report being more aggressive."
The research reinforces the idea that the only reason violence is so prevalent in games is because violent situations and activities are an effective vehicle for the challenge and problem solving that make games compelling. "Conflict and war are a common and powerful context for providing the experiences, but it is the need for satisfaction in the gameplay that matters more than the violent content itself," Richard Ryan, co-author of the research, said.
Which leaves us with the dilemma of how developers can start creating more games that manage to be satisfying and compelling without making them violent. Killing and bloodshed has always been profitable, many have assumed, because that's what gamers want. That's apparently not true, but will publishers see it that way when they look at the top of the sales charts and see almost every non-Nintendo game involves shooting up either gangsters, Japanese soldiers or aliens? Scott Rigby, another co-author of the research, would hope so. "Much of the debate about game violence has pitted the assumed commercial value of violence against social concern about the harm it may cause," Rigby said. "Our study shows that violence may not be the real value component, freeing developers to design away from violence while at the same time broadening their market."