The Depth of Competition in Video Games

The importance of further research into competition within video games cannot be understated. With the effects of technological advancement and globalisation, more and more people are playing video games than ever before. Griffith et al. also introduces the idea that video games allow players to be further involved in the creation of the narrative of the game, rather than passively consuming content as you would in regard to a spectator sport. This allows for greater depth and nuance to explore in competition research. Although I question some of the methods and premises, Griffith et al’s research provides an adequate foundation to a scope of study that is becoming increasingly relevant in our technological age. It also enables us to explore other video game genres, and to observe how competition there may contrast or compare with the kind found in the sports video game genre explored by Griffith et al.

Griffith et al. starts out with a set of hypotheses to test in the sports video game genre, based on literature. They propose that identification and competitive outcome will directly affect the level of state hostility or enjoyment a player receives. Identification in this study refers to the degree of psychological and emotional connection to a team. Players would be placed on a team that they aligned to in real life­—Ohio State for the majority of participants in this study—and be observed for identifier relationships. Competitive outcome simply refers to whether or not they win or lose the game. Their results showed that overall, both player and opponent identification had little to no effect whatsoever on either enjoyment or state hostility of the player. Competitive outcome, on the other hand, showed a direct effect on both enjoyment and state hostility.

From my personal experience, both results were unsurprising. I agree with Oliver Bontkes that identification wouldn’t change the competitiveness of a game, as a player’s enjoyment or state hostility is induced not by the team they play as, but by the gameplay itself. I do believe that identification as a team is something that is perhaps specific to spectator sports, with no bearing in the competitiveness of a video game. Certainly, it may have some impact on the player’s overall enjoyment of the game, but most likely does not affect their actual gameplay.

However, the idea of identification could still have an impact if we were to simply reframe it. In other types of video games, playing a specific character that a player identified with could very well affect the amount of enjoyment or state hostility they experience. In this case, identification could mean being proficient at playing the character, or simply because it’s their favourite character. Identification of skill would also be another indicator. It feels better to win against a rival of equal skill than against one of lower skill, and worse to lose against one of lower skill than one of equal skill. This concept is intuitive and can be seen in most types of games. This idea is also seen in Garcia et al.’s individual factors in social comparison, in similarity and closeness. As we identify how closely we relate to our opponent, our sense of competition heightens or diminishes accordingly.

Naturally, it was found that competitive outcomes should have an impact on the player. Most people would agree there is generally more enjoyment in winning, and more state hostility in losing. One thing I would note that the authors may have implied but did not explicitly state, is that enjoyment and hostility are not mutually exclusive. A highly competitive game with a closely matched in skill rival could very well lead to both an increase in state hostility, as well as increase in exhilaration and overall enjoyment. In such a scenario, both winning or losing could provide similar levels of enjoyment and hostility.

While the results of this study were not eye-opening perhaps, it still served to show that research of competition within video games can still be further explored in much greater depth. While this study focuses on sports video games, it will be of use to researchers of competition to observe how these results may differ in other genres of video games.


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