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Examining the psychological influences of playing interactive electronic games Why study interactive games? The game industry is quickly surpassing movie, and even television, in terms of profitability and market reach.

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why study interactive games
Why study interactive games?
  • The game industry is quickly surpassing movie, and even television, in terms of profitability and market reach.
  • The generation born after the birth of interactive games are now entering adulthood. However, we know very little about what it meant to grow up with this new medium.
  • The need for producing better and more profitable electronic games is often the driving force behind many innovations in IT.
  • Recent incidents in the U.S. and China have attracted a lot of public concern and media attention on various negative influences of electronic games.
  • Politicians and lawmakers (in the U.S.) are starting to pay close attention to possible negative social influences of Interactive electronic game. Yet their efforts are hindered by the lack of scientific evidence.
what do we know about interactive games
What do we know about interactive games?
  • What is “interactive electronic game”?
    • This question is not as easy to answer as it seems.
      • Should we group computer games and video games together?
      • Are online games the same as PC games?
      • What about handheld games?
      • What about Interactive TV?
      • What about online gambling?
      • Are we talking about software or hardware?
    • Thus far, the research community has been treating these different formats of electronic game separately.
      • Lack of consistent approach
      • Lack of theoretical utility
      • No theoretical framework to examine all electronic games as a whole
what do we know about interactive games4
What do we know about interactive games?
  • Who are studying interactive games?
    • Computer engineers/Industry
    • Economists
    • Psychologists/Communication scholars
    • Medical Doctors
    • Cultural observers/Social commentators
    • Historians
    • The Military


  • There is very little, if not no, communication and integration among researchers from these different fields.
what do we know about interactive games5
What do we know about interactive games?
  • The most cited studies in game research (also the most relevant to communication scholars) are deeply rooted in the traditional media effects paradigm. They can be roughly organized along two dimensions:
    • Content
      • Violence
      • Sex
      • Violence + sex
      • Health information
      • Narratives
    • Types of effect
      • Cognitive
      • Affective
      • Developmental
      • Physiological & neurological
the content of video games is mostly violent
The content of video games is mostly violent
  • Most popular arcade games force the player to perform violent acts to meet the goals of the game
    • 85%; Bowman & Rotter, 1983
  • Most video arcade games contain violent portrayals
    • 71%; Braun & Giroux, 1989
  • Most home-console video games contain violent portrayals
    • 85%; Provenzo, 1991
  • More recent findings:
    • Most popular home-console video games feature one or more instance of violence
      • 68%; Smith, Lachlan & Tamborini, 2003
    • Half of popular home-console video games involve “violence or aggression directed specifically at other characters”
      • 50%; Dietz, 1998, p. 437
the effects of video game violence
The Effects of Video Game Violence
  • Three psychological theories support the view that repeated exposure to video game violence may lead to real life aggression:
    • Social cognitive theory
    • Priming theory
    • GAM

Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura)

  • Individuals model the aggressive acts portrayed in media
  • They see aggressors that are not punished for their crimes
  • This creates disinhibition, individuals believe that if they commit aggression they will not be punished
  • The process:
  • attention  retention  production  motivation
  • Limitation: Social Cognitive Theory only explains long-term aggression

Priming (Berkowitz)

  • Memory is a collection of networks consisting of nodes representing thoughts and feelings







Video games








the general aggression model gam
The General Aggression Model (GAM)
  • A basic overview (Anderson and Bushman, 2002)

Short-term Effects

Long-term Effects

Aggressive thoughts 

Media Violence

Aggressive thoughts

Increase in Aggressive personality

Aggressive feelings 

Repeated Exposures

Media Violence

Aggressive feelings

Aggressive behaviors 

Media Violence

Aggressive behaviors


Short-term effects of VG violence as predicted by GAM(Revised by Mahood & Yao, 2005)

Previous Gaming Experience

Trait Aggression


Exposure to Violence



Amount of violence

The Game Play Experience





Internal State




research on the aggressive effects of video game violence
Research on the Aggressive Effects of Video Game Violence
  • Meta-Analysis Findings:
    • Anderson et al. (2004)
      • 35 studies examined
    • Found that video game violence exposure is related to:
      • increases in aggressive affect, cognition and behavior
      • increases in physiological arousal
      • decreases in helping behavior
    • Recent laboratory studies focusing on the role of individual differences (Yao & Mahood, 2005, 2006, etc.)
neurological effects weber 2006
Neurological effects (Weber, 2006)

Game players who committed virtual violence displayed the same kind of brain activity pattern as those who commit real-life violence!

positive effects of video game play
Positive Effects of Video Game Play
  • Positive Effects Survey
    • Durkin & Barber, 2002
    • Examined 10th graders
    • Results: Video game play is positively related to:
      • family closeness
        • E.g., family enjoys doing things together
      • activity involvement
        • E.g., school clubs
      • positive school engagement
        • E.g., GPA
      • positive self-concept
        • E.g., confidence in one’s intelligence, leadership abilities, etc.
      • Positive friendship network
        • E.g., friends are doing well in school, planning on college, etc.
positive effects of video game play18
Positive Effects of Video Game Play
  • Positive Effects Experiment
    • Green & Bavelier, 2003
    • Teenagers randomly assigned to play either

violent games (action) or non-violent games (puzzle)

    • Results:
      • Violent game players experienced more increases in visual skills than did non-violent players:
        • E.g., ability to identify objects in their peripheral vision
        • E.g., track multiple items at once
    • Discussion:
      • The story elements in the action games allowed for increased visual skills
        • E.g., finding hidden bad guys to shoot in a 1st-person shooter
positive effects of video game play19
Positive Effects of Video Game Play
  • Lieberman and Yao (2006)
    • Cancer education game
    • Students learned about cancer treatment and prevention after playing the game for only 45 minutes.
online gaming
Online Gaming
  • Online games differ in terms of social immersion
  • Social immersion:
    • the extent to which an online game allows player to (a) engage in communication and (b) change the overall game narrative based on their cooperative actions




  • Stand Alone Games
  • LAN and WAN Games
stand alone games
Stand Alone Games
  • Single player oriented games with the option to go online to seek a human opponent
  • Example games: Diablo II; Dungeon Siege II
  • Low social immersion:
    • player can text message

each other but the game

narrative is fixed

    • online players cannot work

together to change the

overall game narrative

lan or wan games
LAN or WAN Games
  • These games focus on tactical game play
  • Example games: Halo 2; Doom 3
  • Medium social immersion:
    • Text messaging allows players to form teams or “clans,” which meet online to play out scenarios against other clans
    • Can exchange email addresses and communicate outside the game to schedule game play times
    • Latest games are voice compatible
    • But players do not contribute to a complex game narrative (the usual plot is simply us vs. them)
lan parties
LAN Parties
  • Typically, a large room or warehouse is rented out, people bring their own computers, hook them together, and play tournaments
  • LAN parties have also become popular at a few universities
    • Student organizations are formed; use computer labs
    • In fact, they have tried to have them here at OSU…
mmorpgs massively multiplayer online role playing games
MMORPGs(Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games )
  • An online game with a large, sophisticated, detailed and evolving world
  • Example games: EverQuest; World of Warcraft
  • High Social Immersion
    • Players engage in text messaging

to form teams and complete quests

    • Player can also emote by kneeling,

saluting, waving, etc.

    • The overall game narrative is based

on what the players do

(e.g., players can become leaders, form guilds,

guilds can go to war, etc.)

  • It generates a lot of public debate
  • It is a perfect medium for studying video games, because to understand this medium, we must integrate the following three areas of research:
    • Media effects (influence of content)
    • Human Computer Interaction (HCI)
    • Computer-mediated communication (CMC)
  • these areas of research were traditionally segregated.
  • Very little empirical research has been done in this area.
online aggression study
Online Aggression Study
  • Williams & Skoric (2005)
  • Game: a violent MMORPG, Asheron’s Call 2
  • Subjects:
    • 213 video gamers with no prior MMORPG experience
  • Random Assignment:
    • Treatment group: played game at home for 1 month (avg. 56 hrs)
    • Control group: no game
  • Results:
    • At the end of the month the treatment group was no more aggressive than the control group
  • Problems:
    • This was a field study done at home
    • No control, therefore a potential for “3rd variable” problems
    • E.g., What other violent games were the control group playing?
  • Some unanswered questions:
    • Will it lead to addiction? How?
    • Why do some get addicted but others don’t?
    • Game addiction vs. Internet addiction?
    • Is it therapeutic?
    • Does it have positive social influence?