Academic journal article Communication Studies

Models for Aggressive Behavior: The Attributes of Violent Characters in Popular Video Games

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Models for Aggressive Behavior: The Attributes of Violent Characters in Popular Video Games

Article excerpt

The violent, graphic nature of popular video games in the United States has led many social critics to voice alarm about the potential impact of playing these games, arguing that playing violent video games is contributing to anti-social behavior in society (Elmer-Dewitt, 1993). In fact, exposure to violent video games has even been cited as a possible contributory factor in the schoolyard massacres at Columbine High and Westside Middle School (Flatin, 2000; Gegax, Adler, & Pedersen, 1998). While a number of experimental studies have linked video game playing and aggressive thoughts and behavior (Anderson & Dill 2000; Ballard & Lineberger 1999), few have examined potentially problematic contextual features associated with this violence, such as attributes related to violent perpetrators, which may contribute to these aggressive responses. The goal of this study was to content analyze 60 popular home video games, in an attempt to evaluate features associated with perpetrators and victims that may enhance the nefarious effects of game violence.

Video game use data indicates that children spend large amounts of time playing video games. A report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (1999) reveals that a majority of 2- to 18-year-old children in the U.S.A. have access to video game technology in their home. Nearly three fourths of all families surveyed have at least one video game console, and one third of all children in this age group have a game system in their own room. More recent data from Sherry, Lucas, Greenberg, and Lachlan (in press) suggests that on average boys spend about 11 hours a week playing video games, while girls spend about 6 hours doing so. Because youngsters are spending time with video game technology, several surveys have been conducted to examine the relationship between game playing and aggressive tendencies (Dominick, 1984). For example, Wiegman and van Shie (1998) asked 10- to 14-year-olds to self-report how much time they spent playing video games as well as their specific game preferences. The results showed a positive relationship between preferring violent games and aggressive behavior. Other studies have supported this positive relationship between exposure to violent games and aggression with both child (Dominick, 1984; Lin & Lepper, 1987) and adult samples (Anderson & Dill, 2000). Although these findings are informative, they are based on survey data. As such, we have no way of knowing if playing violent video games is actually causing aggressive behavior in these instances. However, several experiments have attempted to examine causal linkages between playing violent video games and hostile reactions. For example, Anderson and Ford (1986) randomly assigned college students to one of three conditions: playing a highly aggressive game, playing a mildly aggressive game, or to a no play control condition. Immediately after, the participants listed their aggressive thoughts and feelings using an adjective checklist procedure. The results showed that players in both aggressive game conditions listed significantly more hostile thoughts than did those in the control condition.

While this study focused on attitudinal outcomes, attitudinal shifts do not necessarily translate into behavior. However, the effect of violent video games on behavior has also been examined in experimental settings. For example, Anderson and Dill (2000) had undergraduates play either a violent or non-violent video game and then engage in a series of competitive time tasks. As a measure of aggression, the participants delivered noxious noises to their opponents after winning each timed task. The results revealed that immediately after losing, participants who played the violent video game gave significantly longer blasts of noise than did those who played the non violent video game. Similar findings have been documented by Ballard and Lineberger (1999). Moreover, at least one study has examined the impact of playing violent video games on children's aggressive behavior. …

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