Racing games promote risky driving behavior: study

March 16, 2007 12:48am CST
Two weeks ago, on a survey published by the UK driving school BSM which showed that playing racing video games caused young drivers to take more risks on the road. That study was not greeted well by gamers, who have traditionally bristled at any suggestions that their real-life behavior could be affected by gaming. Unfortunately for that viewpoint, another study on the subject has just been published, and the results are very similar. The new research, conducted by Peter Fischer and colleagues at Ludwig-Maximilians University and the Allianz Center for Technology in Germany, examines the ability of racing games to increase risk-taking behavior. The paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, takes a three-part approach to the problem. The first part involved interviewing members of the public, asking a number of questions, including "How long have you been driving," "how much power does your car have," and "how many accidents have you had." Other questions were designed to identify risky or cautious driving behavior: "I like to participate in street races," "I like to drive very fast when the car is full of people," "I mostly respect speed limits," and so on. The latter questions were scored by participants from 0-10. Lastly, the subjects noted how often they played a number of racing games; Need for Speed, DTM Racing (Pro Race Driver in the US), Colin McRae Rally, and GTR Racing. The results were in line with the BSM survey, with a correlation between playing racing games and increased competitive behavior on the roads, and reduced cautious behavior. The effects were more pronounced in men than women. The study only looked at those games that involve driving at high speed on public roads and didn't touch on circuit racers like Gran Turismo or Forza, so it's difficult to say whether these games that don't involve bumping other road users out of the way or running red lights would have the same effect. Whether or not frequent use of racing games leads to higher real-life accident rates isn't known, and would require a much more expansive and expensive study. One has to wonder though, if at some point insurance companies are going to start asking about gaming habits when it's time to get coverage.
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