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Playing violent video games with motion-capture technology does not increase aggression, study concludes

Published: Thursday, July 30 2015 2:45 a.m. MDT

BYU Professor Bruce Bailey plays the Wii with his kids Dallin and Ezri, March 4, 2011. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU) BYU Professor Bruce Bailey plays the Wii with his kids Dallin and Ezri, March 4, 2011. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU)

Do new motion-capture video games make users more violent? A recent study says no.

With events such as last summer's theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. and December's elementary school mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., violent video games and their potential effects on players became the center of attention across the nation.

Although experts haven't agreed on the meaning of data from various studies about the links between traditional violent video games and users' behavior, researchers at Penn State Altoona have examined the effects of a new type of video gaming system — motion capture.

Video games with motion-capture technology are becoming increasing popular, with the release of devices like the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft's Xbox Kinect, which holds a Guinness World Record as the fastest-selling gaming peripheral.

In this video image released by Nintendo, a scene is shown from In this video image released by Nintendo, a scene is shown from "Punch-Out!!," where players can use their Wii controllers to spar with friends. (Nintendo, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The research team, led by Eric Charles, found this particular type of video game did not lead to increased levels of aggression.

"While we found evidence suggesting that violent video game play with analog controls might lead to slight increases in aggressive behavior," the researchers wrote in the jouranal Computers in Human Behavior, "no such effects were found for players using motion-capture controls."

In one experiment, 87 participants spent 20 minutes playing the Nintendo Wii boxing video game "Punch-Out!!" Half of the students played the game in "classic" mode using analog controls, while the other half used the motion-capture technology and physically had to simulate a punch to attack their opponent on screen.

Kids stop by to experience the Kinect for Xbox 360 booth, on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 in New Orleans, LA. (Barry Brecheisen, Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP) Kids stop by to experience the Kinect for Xbox 360 booth, on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 in New Orleans, LA. (Barry Brecheisen, Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP)

Afterward, each participant was given a test "designed to reveal aggressive thoughts," as reported in Pacific Standard, including a task of completing a set of letters as either a violent word or a nonviolent word. For example, "ki-" could be completed as either the violent word "kill" or the nonviolent word "kiss." Participants also completed an activity in which they could "punish" their opponents by blasting loud noises at them.

"Participants who played a violent video game with analog controls were more aggressive in the middle part of the (blast your opponent with sounds) game," researchers wrote. But those who played the same game with motion-capture technology were "indistinguishable from those who played the nonviolent game."

In this photo released by Nintendo shows a scene from the revival of Nintendo's classic In this photo released by Nintendo shows a scene from the revival of Nintendo's classic "Punch-Out!!" is scheduled for the Wii in 2009. (Nintendo, AP)

Researchers concluded, "This strongly suggests that playing violent video games with motion-capture controls does not increase aggression levels."

The researchers believe one reason for this less-aggressive result is the cathartic nature of the technology. They also noted that motion capture requires more "physical expenditure," and studies have found people are less violent after short periods of exercise or exertion.

According to the Standard, a third reason for the results could be that the link between violent video games and aggression "is far more fickle than most admit," with the researchers noting that "specific aspects of video game play" that could trigger aggression need to be studied in "much finer detail."

Email: crenouard@deseretnews.com

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