Racing video games cause reckless driving: study

The researchers then studied 68 men and found that those who played even one racing game took more risks afterward in traffic situations on a computer simulator than those who played another type of game.

Then the researchers had 83 men play either a racing game or another type of game, and found that those who played the racing game reported more thoughts and feelings associated with taking risks than the others. —Racing video games cause reckless driving: study (c|net | Reuters)

That’s a misleading headline. Should be “Racing video games cause reckless driving in driving simulations.”

The participants played an aggressive driving game, and then participated in a driving simulation that involved videotaped scenarios, and had the option of sitting passively while the scenario progressed, or pressing a single key in order to abandon a risky move.

Participants sit in front of a computer monitor and learn that they will be confronted with 15 different videotaped risky situations in road traffic (driver’s perspective), such as planned overtaking maneuvers and arrival at railroad crossings that have begun to close. First, the specific traffic situation was described verbally. Then participants saw the critical situation two times. The first time, participants were instructed only to watch the situation. The second time, they decided when they would abandon their maneuver by pressing a key. The time that elapsed between the start of the sequence and the decision to abandon it was used as the dependent variable as an indicator of risk taking (the longer the reaction time, the higher the risk taking). The whole test procedure lasted about 10 min.

It’s important to note that the headline is not a quote from the research paper.

I limit the time my children play video games. My preschooler doesn’t find the games all that engaging. She may play two or three games for 20 minutes each, and then say she’s done with games. My son will play a strategy/sim game like Civilization or Zoo Tycoon, or a puzzle game like The Incredible Toon Machine for hours and hours.

The article itself does not unequivocally claim driving games cause driving aggression. The headline has greatly simplified the situation, which is somewhat clearer in the article. (And the author included a link to the full academic paper, which is something that journalists don’t always do.) In the “Limitations and Future Research” section, the authors of the study note several possible alternative interpretations. First, the researchers note that the driving simulation is not as good as actually asking people to play and aggressive game and then get behind the wheel of a real car (or at least a more realistic simulation). Further, those who played the driving game encountered stressful situations; any stressful situation may cause those who later used the driving simulator to take more risks. In addition, it may not have been the inherent potential violence in the driving game that caused the players later to be risky in the simulation; rather, the driving game may have simply been stimulating, and people who are stimulated may take more risks.

I’m disappointed by the distortion found in the headline. The article itself makes much more sensible claims.

I can see how my son acts after he has spent time playing a game with fighting (he takes an aggressive stance and grunts, for instance, when I ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do… he does this with the understanding that I will get the reference, so it’s a form of communication — a way that he can tell me “I don’t want to do that” without being overly disobedient). I don’t think that he gets more violent with his sister after he plays games, but if the game has a lot of action, he can have trouble focusing on simple tasks like not getting crumbs in his lap or following instructions on a worksheet. When we first took him to a home-school evaluator, for several days before the event, my wife banished all computer games but chess simulators.

Lately, the kids have gotten interested in Lincoln Logs. Mostly my son wants to build buildings that he can smash (pretending to be Godzilla), but it’s something that they both enjoy (though they are about 4 years apart). My wife sent me to the store the other day to buy another bucket.