How gamers manage aggression: Situating skills in collaborative computer games

  • Ulrika BennerstedtEmail author
  • Jonas Ivarsson
  • Jonas Linderoth


In the discussion on what players learn from digital games, there are two major camps in clear opposition to each other. As one side picks up on negative elements found in games the other side focuses on positive aspects. While the agendas differ, the basic arguments still depart from a shared logic: that engagement in game-related activities fosters the development of behaviors that are transferred to situations beyond the game itself. With an approach informed by ethnomethodology, in this paper we probe the underlying logic connected to studies that argue for such general effects of games. By focusing on proficient gamers involved in the core game activity of boss encounters in a massively multiplayer online game, we examine the fundamentals that must be learnt and mastered for succeeding in an ordinary collaborative gaming practice where aggression is portrayed. On the basis of our empirical analysis we then address the contentious links between concrete instances of play and generic effects. As expected, the results point to “aggression” as well as “collaboration” as major components in the gaming experience, but our analysis also suggests that the practices associated with these notions are locally tied to the game. Based on these results, we propose that to reverse this relationship and claim that game environments foster collaboration or aggression in general first assumes strong theoretical claims about the nature of cognition and learning, and second, risks confusing the debate with hyperbole.


Collaborative gaming Coordinated action Boss fights Ethnomethodology Skill Transfer Violence Gaming literacy MMOG 



The work reported was supported by the Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction, and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society (LinCS). It has been financed by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, The Swedish Knowledge Foundation (project GRO) and the Swedish Research Council (project ‘Learning, interactive technologies and the development of narrative knowing and remembering’ (LINT). We wish to express our gratitude to the scholars in LINT for their continuous support and suggestions on previous materials but also to three anonymous reviewers and Thomas Hillman for their insightful comments. The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support and the productive collaboration.


  1. Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A., et al. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 151–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bailey, K., West, R., & Anderson, C. A. (2011). The influence of video games on social, cognitive, and affective information processing. In J. Decety & J. Cacioppo (Eds.), Handbook of social neuroscience (pp. 1001–1014). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bartle, R. (2004). Designing virtual worlds. Indianapolis: New Riders Publishing.Google Scholar
  4. Beach, K. (1999). Consequential transitions: A sociocultural expedition beyond transfer in education. Review of Research in Education, 24(1), 101–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bennerstedt, U., & Ivarsson, J. (2010). Knowing the way. Managing epistemic topologies in virtual game worlds. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): An International Journal, 19(2), 201–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bogost, I. (2008). The rhetoric of video games. In K. Salen (Ed.), The ecology of games: Connecting youth, games, and learning (pp. 117–140). Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  7. Buckingham, D., & Burn, A. (2007). Game literacy in theory and practice. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 16(3), 323–349.Google Scholar
  8. Bushman, B., Rothstein, H., & Anderson, C. (2010). Much ado about something: Violent video game effects and a school of red herring: Reply to Ferguson and Kilburn (2010). Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 182–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cairncross, S., & Mannion, M. (2001). Interactive multimedia and learning: Realizing the benefits. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 38(2), 156–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Calvert, S. L. (2005). Cognitive effects of video games. In J. Raessens & J. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of computer game studies (pp. 125–131). Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  11. Chen, M. (2009a). Communication, coordination, and camaraderie in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture, 4(1), 47–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chen, M. (2009b). Visualization of expert chat development in a World of Warcraft player group. E-Learning, 6(1), 54–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crabtree, A., Benford, S., Capra, M., Flintham, M., Drozd, A., Tandavanitj, N., et al. (2007). The cooperative work of gaming: Orchestrating a mobile SMS game. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): An International Journal, 16(1/2), 167–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Delwiche, A. (2010). Media literacy 2.0: Unique characteristics of video games. In K. Tyner (Ed.), Media literacy: New agendas in communication. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Ferguson, C. J. (2007). The good, the bad and the ugly: A meta-analytic review of positive and negative effects on violent video games. Psychiatric Quarterly, 78(4), 309–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ferguson, C. J., & Kilburn, J. (2010). Much ado about nothing: The misestimation and overinterpretation of violent video game effects in eastern and western nations: Comment on Anderson et al. (2010). Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 174–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  18. Garfinkel, H. (2002). Ethnomethodology’s program: Working out Durkheim's aphorism. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  19. Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  20. Gee, J. P. (2008). Learning and games. In K. Salen (Ed.), Ecology of games (pp. 21–40). Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  21. Goldstein, J. (2005). Violent video games. In J. Raessens & J. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of computer game studies (pp. 341–357). Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  22. Gredler, M. E. (1996). Educational games and simulations: A technology in search of a (research) paradigm. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research for educational communications and technology: A project of the association for educational communications and technology (pp. 521–540). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  23. Griffiths, M. (2005). The therapeutic value of video games. In J. Raessens & J. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of computer game studies (pp. 161–171). Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  24. Griffiths, M. (2010). Online video gaming: What should educational psychologists know? Educational Psychology in Practice, 26(1), 35–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gunter, B. (2005). Psychological effects of video games. In J. Raessens & J. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of computer game studies (pp. 145–160). Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  26. Harel Caperton, I. (2010). Toward a theory of game-media literacy: Playing and building as reading and writing. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 2(1), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hsu, H.-Y., & Wang, S.-K. (2009). Using gaming literacies to cultivate new literacies. Simulation & Gaming, 41(3), 400–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Keating, E., & Sunakawa, C. (2010). Participation cues: Coordinating activity and collaboration in complex online gaming worlds. Language in Society, 39(3), 331–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Klimmt, C. (2009). Key dimensions of contemporary video game literacy: Towards a normative model of the competent digital gamer. Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture, 3(1), 23–31.Google Scholar
  30. Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Marton, F. (2007). Sameness and difference in transfer. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 499–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mayer, R. E., & Wittrock, M. C. (1996). Problem-solving transfer. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 45–61). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  33. Mondada, L. (2011). Coordinating mobile action in real time: The timely organization of directives in video games. In P. Haddington, L. Mondada, & M. Nevile (Eds.), Mobility and interaction. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter (in press).Google Scholar
  34. Moore, R. J., Duchenaut, N., & Nickell, E. (2007). Doing virtually nothing. Awareness and accountability in massively multiplayer online games. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): An International Journal, 16(3), 265–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Moore, R. J., Hankinson-Gathman, C. E., Duchenaut, N., & Nickell, E. (2007). Coordinating joint activity in avatar-mediated interaction. In M. B. Rosson (Ed.), CHI '07 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 21–30). New York: ACM.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nardi, B., & Harris, J. (2010). Strangers and friends: Collaborative play in World of Warcraft. In J. Hunsinger, L. Klastrup, & M. Allen (Eds.), International handbook of internet research (pp. 395–410). London: Springer.Google Scholar
  37. Packer, M. (2001). The problem of transfer, and the sociocultural critique of schooling. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10(4), 493–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Partington, A. (2010). Game literacy, gaming cultures and media education. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 9(1), 73–86.Google Scholar
  39. Pelletier, C. (2005). Studying games in school: Learning and teaching about game design, play and culture. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) on Changing Views: Worlds in Play, June 16–20, 2005, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Google Scholar
  40. Reeves, S., Brown, B., & Laurier, E. (2009). Experts at play. Understanding skilled expertise. Games and Culture, 4(3), 205–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Salen, K. (2007). Gaming literacies: A game design study in action. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 16(3), 301–322.Google Scholar
  42. Säljö, R. (2003). From transfer to boundary crossing. In T. Tuomi-Gröhn & Y. Engeström (Eds.), Between school and work. New perspectives on transfer and boundary crossing (pp. 311–321). Oxford: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  43. Schrader, P. G., Lawless, K. A., & McCreery, M. (2009). Intertextuality in massively multiplayer online games. In R. E. Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of research on effective electronic gaming in education: 3 (pp. 791–807). Hershey: Information Science Reference.Google Scholar
  44. Shaffer, D. W. (2006). How computer games help children learn. New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sjöblom, B. (2008). Gaming as a situated collaborative practice. Human IT, 9(3), 128–165.Google Scholar
  46. Smedslund, J. (1953). The problem of “what is learned?”. Psychological Review, 60, 157–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Soares Palmer, D. (2010). Second language pragmatic socialization in World of Warcraft. Unpublished PhD Thesis: University of California, Santa Barbara.Google Scholar
  48. Squire, K. D. (2008). Video-game literacy: A literacy of expertise. In J. Coiro, M. Knobel, C. Lankshear, & D. Leu (Eds.), Handbook of research on new literacies (pp. 635–669). New York: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  49. Steinkuehler, C. (2006). Massively multiplayer online video gaming as participation in a discourse. Mind, culture, and activity, 13(1), 38–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Steinkuehler, C. (2007). Massively multiplayer online gaming as a constellation of literacy practices. E-Learning and Digital Media, 4(3), 297–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Steinkuehler, C. (2008). Massively multiplayer online games as an educational technology: An outline for research. Educational Technology, 48(1), 10–21.Google Scholar
  52. Steinkuehler, C., & Duncan, S. (2008). Scientific habits of mind in virtual worlds. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 17(6), 530–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Steinkuehler, C., & Johnson, B. Z. (2009). Computational literacy in online games: The social life of a mod. The International Journal of Gaming and Computer Mediated Simulations, 1(1), 53–65.Google Scholar
  54. Sudnow, D. (1983). Pilgrim in the microworld. New York: Warner.Google Scholar
  55. Taylor, T. L. (2006). Play between worlds: Exploring online game culture. CambridgeMA: MIT.Google Scholar
  56. Tuomi-Gröhn, T., & Engeström, Y. (2003). Conceptualizing transfer: From standard notions to developmental perspectives. In T. Tuomi-Gröhn & Y. Engeström (Eds.), Between school and work: New perspectives on transfer and boundary crossing (pp. 19–38). Amsterdam: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  57. Walsh, C. (2010). Systems-based literacy practices: Digital games research, gameplay and design. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 33(1), 24–40.Google Scholar
  58. Woodcock, B. (2008). An analysis of MMOG subscription growth. Version 23.0 Available from
  59. Zagal, J. P. (2010). Ludoliteracy: Defining, understanding, and supporting games education. Pittsburgh: ETC.Google Scholar
  60. Zagal, J. P., & Bruckman, A. (2009). Novices, gamers, and scholars: Exploring the challenges of teaching about games. Game Studies, 8(2).Google Scholar
  61. Zimmerman, E. (2009). Gaming literacy: Game design as a model for literacy in the twenty-first century. In B. Perron & M. J. P. Wolf (Eds.), The video game theory reader 2 (pp. 23–32). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Society of the Learning Sciences, Inc.; Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulrika Bennerstedt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jonas Ivarsson
    • 1
  • Jonas Linderoth
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Education, Communication and LearningUniversity of GothenburgGöteborgSweden

Personalised recommendations