While UB students have been using the Level Up computing and gaming site in Lockwood 2 North as a place to relax and unwind with some much-needed game time, Dr. Lindsay Hahn has been using the space to put two specific games to the scientific test.
Recently in Dr. Hahn’s “Media and Moral Panic” seminar, students took a hands-on approach in experimenting with video games to learn more about the psychological effects of media. As part of the seminar, Hahn’s students focused on answering whether media encourages violent behavior in its viewers by conducting an experiment in Level Up using Mortal Kombat 11 and Overcooked! 2.
“A lot of times, I’ve tried to lecture in classes about the effects of violent video games,” Hahn said, but noticed that often enough her students weren’t gamers or rarely played games that would be considered violent. “So, I wanted to actually get them hands-on experience with playing violent video games… instead of just talking about it in this decontextualized research way.”
While there have been previous research studies done on violence and video games, Hahn was excited to use the Level Up console lounge to conduct this seminar’s experiment. “The Level Up space is great because is sort of mimics the home environment,” Hahn says.
Students taking part would enter with a partner and sit down to play a match-up in Mortal Kombat, one of the most notorious titles that recurs within the debate on violent video games, and Overcooked!, a popular cartoon-style game with high stakes and intense challenges that require speed and cooperation. After a round of each game, Hahn used a variety of tests to gauge how social or altruistic participants were feeling.
Students took a “taste sensitivity test” by drinking a cup of water with a small amount of hot sauce. Afterward, they were asked to decide how much hot sauce to pour into the next student’s cup. Assistants to the experiment acted as moles by “accidentally” bumping into students leaving the console lounge or dropping something on the floor nearby.
Over the course of the experiment, the room became livelier during rounds of Overcooked! than Mortal Kombat, which Hahn believes had more to do with the pressure of competition rather than the content onscreen.
“We see that competitiveness is one variable that tends to influence these more aggressive outcomes in the video game space.”
While the stigma that video games and other types of media create violence may continue to persist, Hahn hopes that this experiment has shown her seminar students that such an answer really depends on the context of both player and game. While Mortal Kombat may be a fighting game first and foremost, some of Hahn’s students felt more “aggressive” after playing Overcooked! rather than Mortal Kombat.
“The point of choosing these two games is really to juxtapose the difference between violent and non-violent, but also knowing that we can have the same types of outcomes from a violent game as we can from a non-violent game, especially when both of those games are competitive,” Hahn says. “People ended up hating the non-violent game much more than they hated Mortal Kombat, mostly because of how competitive it ended up being when competing against the clock.”
The overall goal of this specific event was to benefit of the students in this seminar with interactive research application, giving them a chance to see that the effects of media like video games may not be that straightforward. Having an environment like Level Up’s console lounge may have only been one small part of the experiment, but sometimes the details really do make all the difference.
When it comes to research involving gaming, it might be more productive to work with a space already built for the activity rather than recreating a similar environment in a lab.
“The Level Up folks were great about making the space available and showing us how to get everything loaded up,” Hahn added. “It takes lectures and classroom topics to a whole other level!”
To learn more about the spaces available in Level Up, visit the Level Up website.