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Psi-Ops: Titanfall Competitive Psychology

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Psi-Ops is an opinion based editorial written by a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. As an avid lifetime gamer, these opinions seek to blend and identify psychological factors and traits within the gaming culture.

Titanfall recently reinforced the “sweet spot” of 6v6 competitive online matches which left gamers split between two camps: a) “We have the technology for 64 vs 64 matches, so all games should replicate large-scale combat,” and b) “the sweet-spot must have been decided for a reason.”

Regardless of which camp you fall into, you reserve the right to hold your opinion and that is entirely okay. However, from a psychological perspective this presents a unique opportunity to an aspect of gaming that has been scrutinized over recent years. Competition, violent video games, and aggression. Always a touchy subject.

For context there has been a recent push to research violent video games. Being at the forefront of the media, gaming has been subject to analysis, interpretation, qualitative and quantitative studies in which the research has reported inconsistent and controversial results. There is one element that continues to bubble up however, and that is that competition is believed to contribute to some of the aggressive tendencies reported in the studies. At the very least, it’s an area of grand curiosity for many researchers (myself included).

Adachi & Willoughby (2011) made a call to understand the long-term relationship between video game competition and aggression, part of a sequence of studies which continue to be pursued to this day. They also twisted in another element which is to understand the age gap/discrepancy in the literature. In short, there are too many questions, and not enough answers.

So let’s get to Titanfall.

IF violent video games to lead to aggression, and competition has any contribution to this fact, then Titanfall presents something unique: Less opponents to “piss you off.”

If you’re matched up against a handful of opponents that are player controlled, and the map is filled with mindless “bots” then between getting your ass handed to you by other players, you’ll be racking up points and feeling like the tough guy, while still contributing in small part to your teams success.

It basically provides players that are having a “bad round” or just “bad players” in general the opportunity to compete.

This reduces the competitive aspect.

If the research has anything to say about this, it might reduce any of those aggressive tendencies, thoughts, or feelings.

Does this mean that Titanfall is changing the dynamic of the aggression paradigm? Possibly. Call of Duty and Battlefield pitches you against human opponents where you often see a handful of players tearing through entire groups single-handed, tripling the score of one teams highest scorer, and receiving all verbal (and non-verbal) gestures, accusations of cheating, and pleasantries about their sexual orientation or mother. If Titanfall reduces (because quite frankly, the gaming culture cannot “eliminate” these bad eggs) the amount of inter-player aggression and improves cooperative actions to any degree, we might see a bigger shift in gaming to create hybrid online games.

But then again, maybe I’m just dreaming of a better online community.

Only time will tell if any of this holds any truth to it, but that time is almost upon us.

Here’s to hoping.

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