Professor Shows Cooperative Video Game Play Elicits Pro-Social Behavior

The study examined aggressive behavior between subjects playing games cooperatively, competitively and by themselves.


John A. Velez

The word cooperation is self-explanatory – two or more people working together toward a common goal or benefit.

One Texas Tech University researcher wondered about the implications of teaming up with others in video games and how this differs from playing alone, competitively, or not at all. It seems playing video games cooperatively with others can lead to widespread benefits by making players think helpful behaviors are valuable and commonplace.

John Velez, an assistant professor of journalism and electronic media in the College of Media & Communication, studied how cooperating with other players in both violent and non-violent video games extended to social situations after the controllers are put down. The results of one article suggest playing cooperatively with others can eliminate the negative effects of violent video games on players’ aggressive behaviors in the real world. Another related study demonstrated playing cooperatively with a helpful teammate in a non-violent video game not only increases pro-social or helping behaviors toward teammates but opposing team members as well.

“What we found was cooperative play seems to have the biggest effect in terms of decreasing aggression toward other people,” Velez said. “We found that playing with a helpful partner increases the expectation of others to reciprocate that pro-social behavior and generally be helpful. That applies to not only the teammate, but to others as well. The other interesting thing we found was when playing with a helpful teammate, you’re nicer to the other team you just competed against that tried to beat you, even though you don’t expect them to give it back to you.”

Velez and his colleagues recently published two studies in the journal Communication Research that examined playing violent video games in different social contexts. In both studies, participants were given a chance after playing the game to behave aggressively toward their partner or foe by blasting them with a loud, undesirable noise.

game controller

In both cases, they found those who played cooperatively with a partner were less aggressive. In the first study, in which participants played the violent first-person shooter game “Halo: Reach,” participants who played cooperatively showed little aggressive behavior. In the second game, the violent game “Time Splitters,” they found those who played cooperatively were significantly less aggressive than those who played alone.

“Generally, people playing cooperatively seemed to really focus on and value those relationships that are going on when they are playing,” Velez said. “They focus more on the social aspects and focus less on the violence and aggression. It’s more important to them to think about how they’re interacting with other people. Since most video games are played this way nowadays, it’s an important factor to think about when talking about violent video games and their negative effects.”

Velez also wanted to research how specific behaviors of teammates in a non-violent video game affected later pro-social behaviors. In a study recently published online in Computers in Human Behavior, he had individuals play the sports video game “NBA Street Homecourt” with either a helpful teammate or unhelpful teammate who students thought was another student but was in fact an experimenter specifically instructed to play the game a certain way.

After playing the game, the teammates then played a game called Prisoner’s Dilemma where each player is given money, and they can donate money to their playing partner and an opponent with the rule that any donated money doubles in value, but any money a player keeps stays the same amount.

Velez found particularly helpful teammates were significantly more likely to help each other in a social situation afterward than unhelpful teammates. But this third study showed those who played cooperatively also were likely to donate more money to opposing team members without any expectation the favor would be returned.

Velez said the results show the importance of understanding how players interact when playing video games, and that the effects of video games are becoming increasingly complex.


“I did this study to figure out in general why cooperative play was so powerful in creating that positive effect,” Velez said. “That expectation (of reciprocation) is very powerful in determining pro-social behavior but it also seems that playing with a helpful teammate can inspire players to behave pro-socially without the expectation of receiving anything in return.”

One interesting aspect of the third study compared to the other two was that players sat together the same room playing cooperatively. In other studies, the teammates were connected online only through the game. Velez said the results of the study are generally the same whether the teammates are playing online or side-by-side.

The next step, Velez said, is to study cooperative play when there are more than two players, as many games today allow for multiple players, and how having more than just one teammate affects pro-social behavior. He also wants to explore the effects of competitive play in more depth.

“In every game there is a different type of cooperation you can do that provides different avenues to cooperate with each other,” Velez said. “I want to explore when does this pro-social effect happen the most and when you can start to predict what type of game in the future creates the most pro-social effect.

“Competitive play is more ambiguous. It’s not a strong effect because sometimes it shows up and sometimes it doesn’t. In general, sports are competitive and playing gets you riled up and aggressive. But when it happens, what are the lasting effects, and then contrast that to the cooperative effects.”

Other authors of the Communication Research article were Tobias Greitemeyer of University of Innsbruck, Jodi Whitaker of University of Arizona, David Ewoldsen and Brad Bushman both of Ohio State University.

College of Media & Communication

College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech offers undergraduate degrees in various communications-related disciplines including:

The College also offers graduate degrees in communications to prepare students for careers in the communications industry, communications research and academia.

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