Racing games may be encouraging 'fast and furious' adolescent drivers, suggests a new study that gauges teenager gamers' attitudes to road risks. And it may not be just racing games like Grand Theft Auto or Carmageddon, where accomplishing goals often requires driving recklessly--or in the latter case, targeting pedestrians for points.
The study was conducted by Kathleen Beullens at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. Beullens wanted to determine if racing games and what she calls "drive-'em-ups" (games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, where flouting traffic rules goes unpunished) encouraged real-world speeding or risk-taking.
The answer? A resoundingly inconclusive maybe.
The study involved 2,000 16 and 17-year-old males and females, who answered a questionnaire asking how often they played general racing or "drive-'em-up" games. Two years later, Beullens asked those in the group who'd obtained driving licenses how willing they were to take risks while behind the wheel.
More willing, it seems. While on the upside, the study found no statistically significant link between drinking while driving * and earlier exposure (at 16 or 17) to driving games, it claims to have found a "significant link" between playing driving games at 16 or 17 and proclivity toward risky driving thereafter.
"I'll never know if they answered truthfully," Beullens told New Scientist. "But other studies suggest people respond honestly when assured their data is anonymized, as this was."
One thing the study doesn't demonstrate, according to the Belgian team, is a causal link between driving games and a teen's willingness to take risks behind the wheel. Correlation doesn't imply causation, as they say, and only opens the door a crack further for future studies, which are going to require analyzing a variety of media influences, of which games are but one.
Even then, it's not clear how much riskier we're talking, or whether what the study interprets as risk-taking doesn't rhetorically overlap with greater confidence in one's driving skills. In fact another study, though focused on older drivers, recently revealed that video games helped halve fault crash risks.
* Drunken driving does feature in games like Grand Theft Auto, or at least Grand Theft Auto IV, where three or four drinks can make controlling any vehicle a sloppy swerve-fest. If you want a real challenge, get toasted before hopping in a clunky van or sedan, then see how quick you can hit the game's "most wanted" status, and how long you can stay alive thereafter.
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