Apologies to start off this article with a bit of religion, but I want to share a quote with you, and it concerns a topic which is much debated in the world of video gaming: Anger. The Buddha once said:
‘You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.’
Now that might seem a little high and mighty for a piece talking about video games. But video games do make us quite angry. So, I thought I would take a dive in here and see if I could shed some light on the issue.
The traditional perception of anger resulting from a video game, it seems, is entirely in relation to certain genres of video games – the most notorious of which is the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) franchise. How many times have we heard correlations between mass shootings in a school in America and the fact that the shooter played GTA or other violent FPS (First Person Shooter) titles? Frequently the lifestyles of these real-world killers are focused on – their so-called “darker sides” which involve them staying up late at night to play shooters, COD Zombies, DOOM or others. The media finds it easier to address this, shifting the blame from other issues which may be at play here – extremism and often severe mental illness which has not been addressed. It’s much easier to blame a video game. Never mind the millions of other people out there who play these games and then don’t murder anyone in real life.
Therefore, I wanted to write this article. Because there have been studies which have found that losing at video games makes you angrier (duh right?) such as this study by the University of Rochester. But on the whole I believe that it stops there, people simply manage their anger, and for the clear majority it doesn’t manifest itself in the real world. But why do we get so angry in the first place?
For a few months now, the clan I’m part of has switched from playing Call of Duty: Black Ops III, to playing Titanfall 2. We’d played COD a lot before, a few times a week for an hour or two right before bed in the evenings. And often, the games we played would make me angry. This was amplified even more when we tried the latest in the Call of Duty franchise – Infinite Warfare. With its poor spawning algorithms (placing you in the middle of a battlefield), ridiculously quick kill times and with the meta focusing on a few select guns, rendering the other weapons mostly useless in a competitive environment, I became angrier and angrier with every match I played.
The main point of interest here is the difference in the game mechanics and the effect of that on me as a player. With both CODs, I frequently felt that the game itself was partly to blame for my poor performance and subsequent anger. The study from Rochester Uni would dispute this. Their theory would hold that no matter what game I was playing, if I lost; I would be angry. But when playing Titanfall 2, even if I lost badly, I might be frustrated with my performance, but never angry enough to rage quit.
To return to Infinite Warfare, part of the reason that myself and my clan stopped playing the game entirely was due to our perceived failings in its mechanics and game engine, which we felt impacted our performance. We are not professional players, we don’t beat everyone we play, but we are good. We had less cause to lose than many other players and often our ass was handed to us on a plate. That feeling of losing due to identified failings in the game made us very angry. Whereas in my opinion, Titanfall 2 didn’t have these failings, which meant when I lost, I skipped that anger stage in the grieving process. The better spawns mean that I was consistently given a chance to get my bearings before charging into combat, something helped by the size of the maps. The weaponry also felt more balanced, with a wide variety of guns used and none of them clearly marked as the ‘best in game.’
So what does this all mean? Well I believe it means two things – that whilst the study from the University of Rochester is correct in suggesting that losing in a game makes a person angry, that barely scratches the surface. We look to the game to provide us with a level of balance, which we arrive at given our understanding of the way that game works.
Let me explain. I know that within Call of Duty: Black Ops III, one of the best guns in the game is the M8A1 assault rifle. The KN44 however, is a much weaker assault rifle when compared to the M8A1. With this understanding, my brain tells me that if I run a KN44 class, and am killed by someone wielding the M8, that the death was not a result of my poor play, and is in fact over-powered (OP) bullshit by the game. That feeling is amplified even more when you are spawned into the middle of a firefight and are shot before you can move two paces.
The M8 yet again saves me from myself
You enter the first of the five stages of Kubler-Ross’ grieving process. It sounds silly, but hear me out. You die a lot and lose a match. At first, you deny that the opponent bested you, and you carry on, ever more determined that you will overcome. As the pattern continues, that denial changes to anger. Now depending on what sort of person you are means you may enter the next stage more quickly or slowly than others. Some stay in that anger phase forever, and they are the sort of players who will send you messages over chat telling you how they’ve banged your mum last night so it doesn’t matter that you whooped them. For some with the issues we discussed before, this might then take a turn to violence in the real world.
Others however tend to move onto bargaining. They beg the game to stop messing them around, threaten to leave and never play again but stay, or even just desperately switch up what they’re doing to try and make something work. After the game is over, they’ll enter depression and think they suck at the game, then accept that it was a bad loss, learn from it, and try again in the next game.
The key thing about all of this, is that video games are exactly like every other type of thing in human life. They can cause immense joy and immense sadness, they can make you devalue your self-worth, they can make you want to punch a wall and take you through the entire spectrum of human emotion. But as the Buddha said, we are punished by our anger, and I know in my case, it makes me much worse at the game. It’s often that build-up of anger from one small point in a game which makes us rage quit. It’s amazing how much the human brain can build a small thing up into something much worse.
At the end of a gaming session, even if I’ve been fuming ten minutes before, the second I put down that controller, I can walk away totally happy and calm. Others may have more trouble getting over that, controlling their feelings. It might be that some of these people end up committing some of the atrocities in America that we’ve seen. But that is not the video game, and the media needs to realise that. Humans have the capacity to get angry at anything, and those who can’t control it need help to do so. The least helpful thing is to turn around and blame an object of fun and happiness for so many just because of the actions of a few. Get those few some help, and for the rest of us, let’s try to stay positive about those rubbish K/Ds, because if we get angry, we’ll only play worse.