Surprising concern about 3D video games

Violent video games like Grand Theft Auto V (shown here) increase feelings of anger when played in 3D.

Rockstar Games

Playing video games in 3D makes the player feel like part of the action -- and that's a problem, according to researchers at The Ohio State University.

When college students played the popular but very violent video game Grand Theft Auto IV, in which players embody gangsters who fight, carjack and rob liquor stores, among other unsavory activities, those who played in 3D reported feeling more angry at the end of 15 minutes than those who played on a traditional two-dimensional display.

The difference? The 3D players felt more like they were really "in the game."

"3D gaming increases anger because the players felt more immersed in the violence when they played violent games," said Ohio State professor of communications and psychology Brad Bushman, co-author of the study to be published in the journal Popular Media Culture. "As the technology in video games improves, it has the ability to have stronger effects on players."

Bushman had some of the students in his experiment do video-game bowling rather than aim to kill as many people as possible. They were no more agitated after playing in 3D compared to 2D.

So-called "shooter" games accounted for 20 percent of video game sales (by units) last year, according to a report by the Entertainment Software Association. Five of the 10 top-selling video games of 2013 were rated mature, and included violent titles such as Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Topping the list: Grand Theft Auto V, which took in a record-setting $1 billion in sales in its first three days on the market.

The link between violent video games and tendencies toward violence in the real world has come up before. Studies have suggested that violent games desensitize children to violence and make kids and teens act more aggressively. This new research indicates that how those games are delivered and experienced may exacerbate the effect.

"The combination of violent content and immersive technology like 3D can be troublesome," Bushman said. "This is something that needs to be considered by everyone involved -- electronics manufacturers, video game developers, consumers, parents and content ratings agencies."