While the best players, competing at the highest level for sometimes significant prize-money, may benefit from interaction with other top players from across the Balkans, academics have long been concerned about the impact of such violent games on young people knocking back energy drinks in the dark, smoke-filled gaming lounges of Pristina, Belgrade and Sarajevo.
Thirty years of research have taught Dr. Brad Bushman of Ohio State University that violent video games make aggressive ideas more accessible. If you play repeatedly, they are always accessible, and if you play enough, aggressive thoughts can become chronically accessible.
“I have friends who are medical students, for example, and the first time they do an autopsy maybe they throw up or pass out, but after they do it over and over and over again they tell me it’s like cutting through clay,” said Bushman. “It’s the same for exposure to violence.”
Gentile gives the example of a child getting “bumped by a school mate”.
“Because he has been practicing an expectation of others being aggressive, he stops thinking it was an accident and assumes the other kid meant to do it,” he told BIRN.
“That tiny change in perception changes everything. So the child will most likely react aggressively. But the interesting thing is, if a fight breaks out, it’s going to look nothing like what he/she practiced in games. They are not copying games. That’s not how it works. The effect works at a much subtler psychological level.”
“The list of American medical associations on record as saying violent video games cause aggression goes on and on,” Gentile told BIRN. “It doesn’t mean that if you play it you will go shoot up a school… It means it changes the way you see the world and the way you think. It shifts the odds in a way that over time you will end up getting involved in more aggressive encounters.”
There are examples, however, of games that appear to have a more ‘prosocial’ character, requiring the player to inhabit a character whose sole purpose is not simply to kill.
According to ‘Proteus Effect’ theory, “inhabiting an avatar changes a player’s attitudes and behaviour in the real world… and causes media users to shift their self-perception by adhering to a new identity,” Dr. Priska Breves, Assistant Professor at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research, wrote in a research paper published last year when she was a research fellow at the University of Wurzburg, Germany.
Possible examples are the Polish-created ‘This War of Mine’, in which a player adopts the role of a civilian trying to survive the siege of Sarajevo during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. In ‘Attentat 1942’, developed by Charles University in Prague and the Czech Academy of Sciences, the plot revolves around a young boy trying to find a relative who has been arrested through navigating survivor testimonies.
Taking the idea further, in the Balkans, for example, players could be asked to take on a digital identity from another ethnic group. But examples of such ‘prosocial’ games are hard to come by.
“The one thing with violent video games is that they force you to adopt the perspective of the killer, not the victims,” said Bushman.