The enormous controversy surrounding violent video games has been fueled by conflicting claims about the nature of their content and the relationship between game use and hostility. Spurred by tragedies like those at Columbine High School, concern has led scholars, social critics, game manufacturers, and media professionals to look at the content of video games, and to question their impact on aggressive behavior.
If violent video games can affect our children, many are at risk today. Anderson (2000) tells us that nearly all children spend time playing video games. A recent study conducted by Sherry, de Souza, Greenberg, and Lachlan (2003) found that 8th graders spent an average of 17 hours per week playing video games, while 5th graders reported an average of 12 hours per week. For males, half of their favorite games are violent. Most adolescents play bloodthirsty versions like Doom, Quake, and Duke Nukem (Pooley, 1999). Approximately 68% of the most popular video games contain acts of violence, 78% of which would result in moderate to extreme harm to the average-sized human (Smith, Lachlan, & Tamborini, 2003). By the time they reach college many young men report playing these games more than 8 hours a week (Sherry et al., 2003). With the promise of even more alluring video games coming in the form of virtual reality (VR) technology, misgivings about the violent future ahead compels us to scrutinize this closely.
While estimates of effect size from meta-analytic research have led some scholars to argue that the impact of violent video games on aggression is comparatively small (Sherry, 2001), others maintain that qualitative differences in today's games and those popular 20 years ago make research on early games immaterial (Walsh, 1999). Experimental evidence with modern game technology provides support for the claim that some violent video games can facilitate aggressive thoughts and behaviors. Calvert and Tan (1994) found that playing a violent virtual-reality game led experimental participants to list more aggressive thoughts. In the only study known to look at both thought and behaviors, Anderson and Dill (2000) demonstrated not only that aggressive thoughts were made more accessible by playing violent video games, but also that playing these games was followed by increased aggressive behavior. They claim that characteristics inherent in violent video game technology make the impact of these games on aggressive behavior potentially more powerful than violent television or film.
The present investigation was designed to extend work in this area to include new video game technology by comparing the use of standard violent video games with media experiences that are both more passive (observation of a violent video game) and more active (playing a VR violent video game). We propose that features inherent in VR technology will make a VR violent video game's short-term impact on hostility stronger than the impact of a traditional violent video game. Moreover, we offer that this impact will be facilitated by prior experience with violent media. These expectations are based on the belief that VR technology and relevant past user experience will lead to an increase in the sense of telepresence--the feeling that one is involved and immersed in the media (Steuer, 1992), and that telepresence increases identification with aggressive media characters (Tamborini, 2000). Our study tests the premise that differences in a violent virtual media exposure (observation of a violent video game, playing a standard violent game, or playing a VR violent game) combine with differences in an individual's prior violent video game use to increase the experience of telepresence and subsequent short-term hostility.
Research on Violent Video Games
The emergence of each new communication medium has been greeted with concern about its possible effect on children and others (Wartella & Reeves, 1985). …