Video Game Aggression Intensified When Characters Look More Human
May 21, 2013

Video Game Aggression Intensified When Characters Look More Human

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

Video games often allow players to stop an alien invasion, defeat the bad guy and save the world. However, realistic looking opponents in games could increase aggression in the players.

Since the introduction of simple games such as Pong for the home nearly 40 years ago games have gone through several revolutions and today feature near photo-realistic graphics that can be displayed on HDTV sets. While the protagonists are often depicted as larger-than-life heroes, villains can range from insidious aliens to rotting zombies to gasmask-wearing mercenaries and soldiers. However, when the players take on more human-looking characters the aggression can increase.

It isn´t the violence or violent behavior on the screen either.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut (UConn) and Wake Forest University (WFU) have found that video games where players take on human-looking characters can increase violent thoughts and words than those where the players faced off against monstrous creatures.

The results of the study, “The Perception of Human Appearance in Video Games: Toward an Understanding of the Effects of Player Perceptions of Game Features,” were published in the May 2013 issue of Mass Communication and Society.

The researchers noted that their findings also come as lawmakers and the public continue to debate a possible risk that violent video games could pose to impressionable players.

“It´s important to think in terms of risk factors,” Kirstie Farrar, the lead researcher on the study, told UConn Today. “The research clearly suggests that, among other risk factors, exposure to violent video games can lead to aggression and other potentially harmful effects.”

Farrar is an associate professor in the communications department at UConn, and her research interests include the effects of violent games and the media´s effects on adolescent socialization.

The study had 148 participants play the science-fiction based first-persons shooter Quake 3 Revolution, a game in which the player engages with onscreen opponents that can vary from human-like to completely non-human in appearance.

The team, which also included Rory McGloin, an assistant professor-in-residence at UConn, and Wake Forest professor Marina Krcmar (a former UConn faculty member), used a series of tests to measure participants´ level of verbal, cognitive and physical aggression. Those who battled the more human-looking characters were shown to have more aggressive thoughts and words than those who battled less human-looking characters.

“In this posttest-only experimental design, participants played one of two versions of the video game Quake with either a human-looking target or a nonhuman-looking target. Dependent measures included perceived human appearance of the target, perceived violence in the game, immersive presence, physically and verbally aggressive intentions, and aggressive cognitions. Of specific interest was the relative effect of the manipulation compared to the effect of the players´ perceptions (humanness of the target, experienced immersive presence) on aggressive outcomes. We utilize schema theory to argue that game perceptions, including those of the manipulation, and other perceptual variables partially mediate the relationship between game features and aggressive outcomes,” the study´s abstract noted.

The study found that less “human-looking” targets were perceived as less human, while the more experience someone had playing violent games, the less violent they perceived the stimulus game to be. Moreover, men were more physically aggressive than women. Additionally, the manipulation of humanness actually had no direct effects on aggression. Finally, the more human players perceived the aggressive targets to be, the more verbally aggressive they were and the more violent words they generated.

The study´s authors suggest that the perceptions of the manipulation were more important than the experimental manipulation itself in predicting outcomes. Farrar noted that this could become a greater issue as games could allow for customizing of artwork in games.

“A lot of games are becoming incredibly easy to customize now,” she added. “I can upload pictures of myself into a game, for example. Or I can upload pictures of people I don´t like.”

The study also found that there was no actual significant increase in levels of physical aggression after fighting human-looking characters, which could suggest that social prohibitions against violent acts do remain strong.

Next up Farrar and McGloin, assistant professor in residence in the communications department at UConn, plan to develop the research and determine if uses of realistic-looking gun-shaped controllers could also have any effect on a player´s aggression.