Student: Timothy Ng (07543956)
Tutor: Michelle Reynolds

A major issue health issue of violence - fuelled by a competitive society
Is competition to blame for high prevalence of violence amongst adolescence?

Using the context of video games and sports how competition may correlate with violence.

The Parent Zone (2010) - Violent video games.jpg
Image source: (The Parents Zone, 2012).
The cultural artefact depicts two young boys playing video games, competitively bickering side-by-side on a lounge; both boys with exaggeratedly aggressive facial expressions. For what is objectively considered to be an enjoyable leisure activity, may become resentfully violent and serious under competitive circumstances (Adachi & Willoughby, 2011). This hostile and resentful behaviour has also been commonly witnessed in sporting events amongst players and spectators (Wann, 2005).The image was originally used in an article from The Parents Zone (2012) that reported the controversy of passing a Californian law forbidding the sales of violent video games towards children.


This cultural artefact represents the major public health issue of violence and aggressive behaviour amongst adolescents and young adults that media recurringly reported within sports (Ballantyne, 2012; Stojanovic, 2012), between friends (Kimble, 2012), school (BBC News, 2001; The Hindu, 2012) etc.

As recorded June 30, 2011, Australian prison statistics indicated “acts intended to cause injury” was most prevalent, with 5,593 persons incarcerated under that offence (Harper, 2011); approximately 50-percent more charges than sexual assault (3,618) and more than double compared to homicide-related offences (2,592) (Harper, 2011). Furthermore, it accounted the largest percentage amongst under-25, 25-34 and 35-44 age group offenders than any other crime (Harper, 2011). Although females were only seven-percent of the prison population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012), when crimes compared within gender, violence resulting injury was most frequent amongst males, and second most frequent amongst females (illicit drugs leading by one more record) (Harper, 2011).

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011) - Prevalence of violence by age.jpg
Figure 1. Until age 44, violence resulting injury is most common offence (Harper, 2011).

Media frequently reports violent content in video games were the causation of tragedies such as the Columbine massacre (BBC News, 2001; The Hindu, 2012), implying the possibility of leading to violent behaviours in real life (Kimble, 2012; The Parents Zone, 2012). However, recent research provided evidence that this may not be the case, but rather the competitive nature of video games that fuel violence (Adachi & Willoughby, 2011). This literature suggests that the emotional attachment in competitive social environments (that video games tend to mimic) may account for the large reports of violent crimes among adolescents and young adults (particularly male). Furthermore, the author suggests it may also apply to aggressive behaviours in sport.


Violence in its basic definition is the “intentional physical harm” (Duncum, 2006, p. 21) of causing inflicting injury to people or damage objects. From an evolutionary standpoint throughout history, physical violence has been used to ensure dominance over others and one’s survival (Gat, 2009; Trumbull, 2008); which people may resort to when their physical body or self-esteem has been threatened (Baumeister, Smart & Boden, 1996; Bushman & Baumeister, 1998; Gat, 2009; Trumbull, 2008).

In today’s society, violence is criminalised, but widely prevalent and accepted in entertainment. An ongoing public concern that continued exposure of violence may desensitise the impact amongst people, blaming violent media such as video games may produce violent offenders in the community (BBC News, 2001; The Hindu, 2012; The Parents Zone, 2012). The concern is legitimate as most video games (especially those marketed and appeal towards adolescent and young adult males) contain some form of violent content (Jansz, 2005), yet research has consistently provided evidence that purely exposure to violence content were not predictors that violence would be imitated in real life (Adachi & Willoughby, 2011; Ferguson, 2010; Sherry, 2001; Tamborini et al, 2004). Instead, the competitive nature of video games may be the trigger for frustration leading to aggressive behaviour (Adachi & Willoughby, 2011).
Parents Television Council (2011).png
Image source: (Parents Television Council, 2011).

In a qualitative research interviewing adolescent boys about what aspects of violent video games appeals to them responded “fantasies of power and fame, challenge and mastery, emotional regulation, sociability and skill acquisition” (Olson, Kutner & Warner, 2008, p. 63) were the five arching reasons. Despite these participants were fully aware that violence “would have very different consequences in the real world” (Olson et al, 2008, p. 63), using violent videos games to manage anger in a competitive gaming environment may be risky. Rather than expecting to cope with anger by “exerting violence on opponents and destroying objects within the game” (Olson et al, 2008, p. 65), anger may actually escalate even higher in a competitive environment when the desired objective is repeatedly thwarted by opponent players. Individuals with mood disorders using videos games to control anger in this environment may be detrimental to their own mental health as well as the wellbeing of others, as “depressive symptoms are particularly strong predictors of youth violence” (Ferguson, 2011, p. 389).

According to Adachi & Willoughby (2011), their research consisted of comparing between whether violent and non-violent videos games may raise aggression levels, competition was a significant indicator for increase short-term aggressive behaviour regardless whether violent content was present. They explain this aggression is due to increased game difficulty and becoming frustrated, “as opponents continuously attempt to obstruct teach other’s goal of becoming victorious” (Adachi & Willoughby, 2011, p. 273, in Berkowitz, 1989); even non-violent games may become aggressive when winning is the only objective used to satisfy one’s ego. When video games used as anger management where the player expects to dominate others to restore their own mood, they may become angrier until their goal has been achieved. Thus, the stronger egotism for winning may actually fuel aggression more greatly when it is not satisfied (Baumeister et al, 1996; Bushman & Baumeister, 1998).

Whilst these two studies combined suggest that an egotistic competitive environment amongst adolescents and young adults might be suggestive to the high prevalence of acts intended of cause injury in the corresponding age group, this may only be reflective of video game players. It may be generalised to similar competitive leisure activities such as sports, where there are clear objectives of victory to defeat or outdo opponents. However, it may not be able to explain social and occupational competitions where there may be more variability to determine a winner and to what extent is needed to satisfy the winner’s ego. Furthermore, in the qualitative research, the response from participants assumed that playing violent video games were successful relievers of anger, but was not elaborated in occasions where it was not sufficient. Although the author has suggested negative outcomes with reference to both studies, it is only a speculation. Secondly, the qualitative research interviewed only adolescent male participants, “it is not known whether females play violent video games for the same reasons as males” (Olson et al, 2008, p. 71). Lastly, because these studies are researched in other countries, it may or may not be generalised to the Australian population as importance of victory may vary cross-culturally, but most likely depend on context of the competition and individual values for winning and ego.

Conclusively, these two studies suggest that young violent offenders may stem from the violent video games as the society continues to blame, but the connection may be more interrelated that violent acts are the result of heated, victory-focused competition than being desensitise to violence.


“The interconnected competition over resources and reproduction is the basis explanation why conflict occurs between humans” (Gat, 2009, p. 577). People compete may against one another to secure positions in higher hierarchies for ensuring their own survival by earning larger share of resources and exerting dominance over weaker others (Gat, 2009). Competition is particularly relevant among all adolescents and young adults. In this period of life, adolescents and young adults cooperate and compete with their peers to form their own identities, fitting in socially, and achieving academic, career and relationship success. The consequences of losing in this social competition ladder may be risks of neglect and loss of opportunities (Gat, 2009). The aspect of competition in older adults may be less apparent as their social hierachy is more likely to be secured.

Why does competitions intended to be enjoyable result into violence where the only objective is to emerge victorious at all costs? As aforementioned, egotism may be one explanation why competitive environments are potential places for aggression and violent behaviour to occur. For egotists, the status of winning may be utmost importance to affirm their superiority over others, regardless of the methods used to attain it (Goldstein & Iso-Ahola, 2006), with behaviours become increasingly violent and aggressive when dominance is threatened (Bushman & Baumeister. 1998).

Roar (2009) - AFL proposes top-10 draft countdown.jpg
Image source: (Roar, 2009).

Competitive environment of video games resulting violence is a relatively new research approach, but aggressive behaviour may be already frequently seen in sports (Burton, 2005; Wann, 2005). Players may use excessive aggression to intimidate or cause injury to their opponents to win (Goldstein & Iso-Ahola, 2006; Wann, 2005); potentially causing violent disputes with opposing team members and resentment when penalised by referee decisions. Essayists explain that this may be a tactic as an attempt to restore scoring margins between players or teams (Burton, 2005; Goldstein & Iso-Ahola, 2006; Wann, 2005), but egotistic players may abuse this to target opposing players whom they perceive will threaten their dominance (Gat, 2009).

Another possible explanation for increased aggression in competitive environments is the resource benefits gained and received for superior status (Gat, 2009; Goldstein & Iso-Ahola, 2006; Wann, 2005). In youth sports, parents of adolescent players may become aggressive on the sideline as they “hope their children’s abilities will lead to financial benefits such as scholarships and professional contracts” (Wann, 2005, p. 532; Goldstein & Iso-Ahola, 2006). Hence the violence fuelled in competitions suggests may be desperate efforts to secure better chances of social and career opportunities which may be jeopardise if their child's records has penalties.


This artefact depicts the competitive nature of society. People may become completely absorbed on the outcome that they no longer enjoy or value the process in the first place. For some, winning may be of such importance that unethical shortcuts may be taken. And some will viciously defend their position to ensure they remain the most dominant or continue to be respected.

We often hear reports of violent behaviours involving young people at sport, and the comments and questions that I tend to hear in response to the incident are: “Why are they fighting over a game?”

Research has shown me that there may be potential benefits or even just dedicated attachment towards the sport or hobby that people greatly value to explain aggressive behaviour when unjust has been done to them. A sports player given a bad referee call may potentially affect their career and contract, hence winning means greatly for them. Whereas the context of video game player values may vary depending whether it is within dispute over game resources or maintenance of rank to boast amongst mutual groups. Either way, people may resort to aggression to preserve what is valuable to them.

I feel my research does not actually confirm whether competitiveness is directly correlated for the high prevalence of acts intend to cause injury, but I am more able to understand why violence may occur so frequently amongst adolescents and young adults over issues that seem silly at first.


Adachi, P. J., & Willoughby, T. (2011). The effect of video game competition and violence on aggressive behaviour: Which characteristic has the greatest influence? Psychology of Violence, 1(4), 259-274. doi: 10.1037/a0024908

Baumeister, R. F., Smart, L., & Boden, J. M. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103(1), 5-33.

Burton, R. W. (2005). Aggression and sport. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 21, 845-852. doi: 10.1016/j.csm.2005.03.001

Bushman, B. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (1998). Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem, and direct and displaced aggression: Does self-love or self-hate lead to violence? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 219-229.

Duncum, P. (2006). Attractions to violence and the limits of education. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 40(4), 21-35.

Ferguson, C. J. (2011). Video games and youth violence: A prospective analysis in Adolescents. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 40, 377-391. doi: 10.1007/s10964-010-9610-x

Gat, A. (2009). So why do people fight? Evolutionary theory and the causes of war. European Journal of International Relations, 15(4), 571-599. doi: 10.1177/1354066109344661

Goldstein, J. D., & Iso-Ahola, S. E. (2006). Promoting sportsmanship in youth sports: Perspective from sports psychology. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 77(7), 18-24.

Harper, P. (2011). Prisoners in Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4517, 1-92.

Jansz, J. (2005). The emotional appeal of violent video games for adolescent males. Communication Theory, 15(3), 219-241.

OIson, C. K., Kutner, L. A., & Warner, D. E. (2008). The role of violent video game content in adolescent development. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23(1), 55-75. doi: 10.1177/0743558407310713

Sherry, J. (2001). The effects of violent video games on aggression - A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 27(3), 409-431.

Tamborini, R., Eastin, M. S., Skalski, P., Lachlan, K., Fediuk, T. A., & Brady, B. (2004). Violent virtual video games and hostile thoughts. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48(3), 335-357.

Trumbull, D. (2008). Humiliation: The trauma of disrespect. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 36(4), 643-660.

Wann, D. L. (2005). Essay: Aggression in sport. The Lancet, 366, 531-532.

Additional Resources

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2012). Prisoner Snapshot. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved September 13, 2012, from

Ballantyne, A. (2012, October 22). Video: All-in brawl at high school soccer game. Adelaide Now. Retrieved October 30, 2012, from

BBC News. (2001, May 1). Columbine families sue computer game makers. BBC News. Retrieved October 31, 2012, from

Kimble, J. (2012, October 12). Video game fight ends in real violence for Louisiana men. Complex. Retrieved October 31, 2012, from

Roar. (2009). AFL proposes top-10 draft countdown. Retrieved October 31, 2012, from

Stojanovic, D. (2012, October, 31). England players charged for their part in brawl from U21 match marred by alleged racial abuse. Fox Sports. Retrieved October 31, 2012, from

The Hindu. (2012). Consuming violence. Retrieved October 30, 2012, from

The Parents Zone. (2011). Violent video games - parental or government regulation required? Retrieved October 28, 2012, from