Current computer involvement in today’s youth communication provides new opportunities to study group dynamics, interactions amongst peers, and can give scientists a better understanding of how aggressive behavior, such as bullying, occurs both in face-to-face and online interactions. Most research in the area of bullying has focused on studying face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying separately. Some of the most prominent theories explaining this type of aggressive behavior (i.e., bullying) claim that the aggression arises from a desire to acquire and maintain resources, from social pressure, or from a lack of tools for dealing with frustrating situations. Computer games can provide an ideal platform to explore whether these theories apply to both face-to-face and cyberbullying and can help scientists explore the link between these two related but different behaviors.
To this end, we analyzed the behavior of children of 6 different 5th grade classrooms while playing a game designed for this particular purpose. The game allowed them to express preference for team members, send personal messages between themselves, coordinate their gameplay through team messages, and trade game-points. The game was designed to encourage the children to collaborate and compete with their peers at different stages in order to elicit prosocial and aggressive behavior. Their actions within the game, such as the content and frequency of messages, team selection, and game-points traded, were used to create a probabilistic model. The results were compared to their scores in previously established psychometric evaluations, showing that these in-game observations can be used to predict some of the psychometric scores and providing evidence that behavior in computer games can be predictive of face-to-face bullying. Furthermore, these results suggest that some of the theories relevant to studying face-to-face bullying may also apply to studying aggression in technological spaces such as games.
Mancilla-Caceres, J. F., Espelage, D., & Amir, E. (2014). A Computer Game-Based Method for Studying Bullying and Cyberbullying. Journal of School Violence, 14(1), 66-86.