Baka and videogames: summon the smackdown (Bijvank et al., 2011)

The school year has started for most students in the Western world, with the exception for students under the quarter system including OSU, we start at the end of September. In Fumizuki Academy, students get to fight using grades as their power.

For the Dutch students starting their secondary education, they attend different schools that fit to their academic abilities (see Wikipedia article on education in the Netherlands; sadly they don’t get to summon avatars). It is quite a peculiar education system that entails separating (or segregating, for those who want to cry foul) students whose placement is decided by everyone involved (i.e. test scores, teachers, parents, and the child). This system seems to have worked quite well for the Dutch as their students ranked higher than their American counterparts in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment.

Marije Nije Bijvank, Elly Konijn (VU Amsterdam University) and Brad Bushman (Ohio State University) have an article in the Journal of Adolescence that examined adolescent boys’ videogame preferences, motivations in relation to their aggressiveness. Their study’s unique contribution is they can examine group differences across the three ability groups of Dutch high school.


This research focuses on low educational ability as a risk factor for aggression and violent game play. We propose that boys of lower educational ability are more attracted to violent video games than other boys are, and that they are also higher in trait aggressiveness and sensation seeking. Participants were Dutch boys in public schools (N = 830, age-range 11–17). In the Netherlands, standardized tests are used to place students into lower, medium, and higher educational ability groups. Results showed that boys in the lower educational ability group preferred to play violent, stand-alone games, identified more with video game characters, and perceived video games to be more realistic than other boys did. Lower groups of education were also related to higher levels of aggressiveness and sensation seeking. Higher educational ability boys preferred social, multiplayer games. Within a risk and resilience model, boys with lower educational ability are at greater risk for aggression.

For those interested, you can watch episodes of Baka and Test on FUNimation’s channel.

The general outcomes of achieving higher education translate towards greater physical and psychological well-being, higher income and, well, succeed in a good life. In contrast, individuals who failed or had a great difficulty in getting high school diploma generally achieve a smaller degree of success in life or a smaller chance of achieving the same degree of success of those with a university degree. I must caution that the end result of getting a university degree is not the focus as this line of reasoning would turn universities into expensive diploma mills. We should turn our attention towards the processes leading to a university degree. IMHO, people who are critical thinkers, adaptive, motivated, good work ethics and resilient are likely to achieve success in life.

Their theoretical base is the risk and resilience model of aggression which assumes multiple causal factors of aggression of which not a single factor is necessarily needed or sufficient, rather are risk factors. Among the risk factors that Bijvank and colleagues are interested, besides exposure to media violence, is educational ability. Although, they haven’t defined what educational ability aside from telling me to read a book chapter for review, I’ll just set that thought aside. Previous studies have found that lower educational ability is related to a greater preference for violent media, higher risk-taking behaviours, higher sensation seeking, and greater trait aggression. In my teaching experience and my hypnotic reddit browsing, those who write poor papers tend to complain with direct and aggressive words. To add further insult, they tend to over-estimate their abilities, thus leading them having a harder time understanding why they are such poor writers (see Kruger & Dunning, 1999; Miller & Gerachi, 2011).

The authors hypothesized that differences in educational ability levels also meant differences in preferences, perceptions and motivations in videogames. In terms of videogame preferences, they examined the social networking capabilities of videogames, that is they examined single-player, LAN-based and MMO-based videogames. I can certainly see why the authors would examine in this way as MMOs tend to be environments that require good social skills, collaboration in performing complex tasks, social networking with a large player community, long-term commitment, a good understanding of the complex procedural rules and systems of MMOs (e.g. how to maximize the effectiveness of magic-type classes vs. fighter-type classes), long-term goals (e.g. tactical planning for hours-long session) and a good deal of patience towards achieving a high level of competence. In comparison, LAN-based games, such as most FPS and RTS games, tend to be simpler, shorter (tactical planning covering no more than one hour), but still require teamwork, quick improvisation and adaptation and good netiquette. In single-player games, it’s just you, the controller, the A.I.s and maybe a younger sibling watching, screaming or giving bad advice.

Second, they sought for differences in perceptions of videogames, or what seemed attractive to those adolescents. One notable perceptual reason is graphical realism in Western videogames, the assumption among Westerners that graphics improve their gaming experience of which I believe is a perpetual cycle of continuing graphical development fed by game designers’ assumptions and the buying public’s bewilderment of the visuals to the detriment of other good elements, like a good story and characters. Violence is another reason as prior studies have found that those who liked violent videogames sought after them and incidentally they tend to have higher trait aggression. Finally, they hypothesized that lower-educated teens would express greater wishful identification, the desire to emulate or model after a character, in violent videogames.

Third, differences in motives in playing videogames can be expected, especially when MMOs are involved as the social aspects of the videogame are important. In contrast, one would expect competition as the primary motive for LAN-based videogames. What would be very interesting for a future study is to examine differences how videogames fulfill autonomy, competence and relatedeness needs across the three educational groups (see self-determination theory).


Participants: 833 Dutch secondary students, average age is 13.9 (SD = 1.38). They chose to examine boys to simplify things, so no girls in the study. The authors surveyed an equal ratio of students among the three education groups (Low education/VMBO = 33.4%; Middle education/VWO = 33%; high education/HAVO = 33.6%).


The authors surveyed students whose time is limited and differ in terms of educational abilities (i.e. the VMBO students), thus some measures were shortened and simplified.

Sensation seeking: 2-items on a 7-point agreement scale. Example: “I like to do risky things, even if they are dangerous”.

Trait aggressiveness: 9-items on a 7-point agreement scale, drawn from Buss & Perry’s Aggression Questionnaire’s physical aggression subscale.

Favourite videogames: Students are asked to name their three favourite videogames and for each videogames, they indicated how many hours they played it, whether played online and/or offline.

  • 26-items that stated motivations for playing their favourite videogame on a 7-point agreement scale.
  • 4-categories (realism, violence, immersion, and wishful identification) rating their favourite videogame’s attractiveness.


No differences in videogame play time across educational groups.

The VMBO group reported the highest scores in sensation seeking and trait aggressiveness of which it is statistically significant from the other groups. They also reported preferring single-player videogames (citing them more than 75%) and played more violent videogames than other groups. The authors conducted hierarchical regressions in examining the interaction between the educational groups, violent videogame play and trait aggressiveness as its outcome variables. Controlling for motivations, they found a statistical trend (p < .07) suggesting an interaction between low education level and violent videogame play. Simple effects analysis showed a positive significant interaction between violent videogame play and trait aggressiveness among the VMBO group.

Among the VWO and HAVO groups, they did not differ from each other on sensation seeking, trait aggressiveness scores, nor were their preference for violent videogames. Interestingly, the HAVO group preferred playing LAN (30%) and MMO-type (40%) videogames whereas the VWO group seemed to prefer single-player (50%), LAN (30%) and MMO (20%).

The authors conducted a MANOVA to determine differences in the perception of videogames, controlling for trait aggressiveness, sensation seeking, and violent videogame play, educational ability remained a significant independent variable.

  • Violence: the VMBO group found it as a more appealing feature (M =5.24, SD 1.74) than the VWO (M = 3.51, SD = 1.91) or HAVO (M = 3.39, SD = 1.69) would agree. Either it’s the blood or the graphical power rendering the blood. On second thought, perhaps the violence feeds their narcissism and trait aggressiveness.
  • Wishful identification: the VMBO identified more strongly (M = 4.35, SD = 1.69) with videogame characters than the VWO (M = 3.78, SD = 1.78) or HAVO (M = 3.53, SD = 1.73) groups. I bet that they put posters of their favourite videogame characters alongside that of their favourite boxers.
  • Realism: the VMBO seemed to perceive videogames as very realistic (M = 4.72, SD = 1.88) than the VWO (M = 4.26, SD = 1.5) or HAVO (M = 4.07, SD = 1.49) groups. The thought of idiots believing they can shoot a real gun like they do in an FPS makes me shudder (see The Escapist). A second thought is whether the VMBO boys don’t really understand how videogame graphics work, maybe they are easy to please and thought how magical it is; perhaps they also believe that magnets work like magic.
  • Immersion: no difference between the groups. The authors noted that the lack of difference may due to a real lack of group difference or that it is a bad measure of immersion.

The groups’ differed in terms of videogame motivations. The HAVO group (M = 4.41) played their favourite games due to social motivations more so than the VWO (M = 3.55) and VMBO (M = 2.69) groups (all means significantly different). However, I must point out that this is confounded by the groups’ game-type preferences, the HAVO favouring MMOs whereas the VMBO favoured their single-player games. I am speculating that due to the VMBO’s low socioeconomic background MMO-type games, which ask for monthly subscriptions, may be less attractive for their parents to afford, in addition to internet subscription. I don’t recall any free-to-play MMOs popular among gamers. Another speculation is that perhaps their trait aggressiveness and sensation seeking or perhaps risk taking behaviours may be risk factors in online ostracism. Their annoyance, arrogance, noobish attitudes, and plain immaturity may drove other players away from them or they are kicked out, either way they are driven away from online videogames.

With the graph below, the groups’ motivations significant differed for fantasy, arousal, challenge and unwind. Competition and diversion did not differ. What’s interesting is that both HAVO and VMBO seemed to like challenges, but I must ask what kind of challenges these groups have in mind? Are the HAVO group interested in problem-solving challenges whereas the VMBO are more in favour of endurance challenges? However, there is no way to confirm these speculations with the information in this paper. The authors noted that the motivation labels were tied empirical findings rather than to theory, so it’s not quite clear what we can get from these measures.



Their findings support the risk and resilience model of aggression where the presence of multiple risk factors poses a greater likelihood of aggressive behaviours. In this study, the presence of trait aggressiveness, sensation seeking, violent videogame play, low educational abilities, wishful identification (especially to violent characters) and let’s not forget, just being boys are factors of aggression. What is vexing is that these VMBO boys are also aggressive, sensation seekers who like to play violent videogames, prefer to play on single-player mode and wants to be like the hero of the year (relative to the other groups).

The authors argued that these low-achieving students could not achieve the same level of success than their higher level peers due to their low socioeconomic background. These boys might take up their ideals from violent videogames, believing that aggression and masculinity as an effective way of solving conflicts and towards success. IMO, the violent videogame may also reinforce their identities since the characters’ aggression fits well with the boy’s trait aggressiveness. On another thought, it could be that videogames help serve their need satisfaction (such as autonomy, competence and relatedeness) that would have been hampered in school due to their low educational abilities, although this last thought is speculative on my part as perhaps the children placed in VMBO may be comfortable since it was designed to match their learning abilities and pacing.

The study’s limitations stated by the authors are several. First, the study is based on self-reported data and therefore no causal relationship can be established, although we can make logical inferences, but that’s as far as we can go. Second, the Dutch education is unique and the results may not be easy to translate elsewhere in the world. I think it’s easy enough to generalize: I just take a look at the undergrads, listen to them in my office hours, read their emails and stain their papers in red paint. Incidentally, a awfully wrong attitude about college can probably serve as a fun proxy of intelligence (see image).  IMO, I wanted to know what genres these boys like to play are, with the HAVO group, strongly suggestive to be RPGs, I can only speculate what the VMBO or VWO group prefer, likely to be FPS or action games. Furthermore, it would be nice how much these boys enjoy their favourite games, again drawing from self-determination theory.

The authors concluded by arguing the need for intervention research, namely media literacy, to protect these boys from behaving aggressively. A somewhat tangential thought is maybe to teach children how to read videogames as ludic text. In short, have children play Jason Rohrer’s works, starting with Passage. Let’s see if they understand its poetic message on mortality. The End.

Nije Bijvank, M., Konijn, E. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2011).  “we don’t need no education”: Video game preferences, video game motivations, and aggressiveness among adolescent boys of different educational ability levels. Journal of Adolescence . URL


One thought on “Baka and videogames: summon the smackdown (Bijvank et al., 2011)

  1. Pingback: Baka and videogames: summon the smackdown (Bijvank et al … | industry, blog, iphone, app, creative, games, programming, project, various, criminalminds

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