Competence-impeding electronic games and players’ aggression: the short-version (Przybylski et al., 2014)

Andrew Przybylski (University of Oxford) tweeted a press release foreseen to create a lot of twitter activity and press media.

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology ranks very highly in social psychology and its articles are very long, detailed and comprised of multiple studies. There are only two other video game publications in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The first is Craig Anderson and Karen Dill’s 2000 seminal aggression videogame article, the second is Tobias Greitemeyer and Silvia Osswald’s 2010 prosocial videogame article.


Recent studies have examined whether electronic games foster aggression. At present, the extent to which games contribute to aggression and the mechanisms through which such links may exist are hotly debated points. In current research we tested a motivational hypothesis derived from self-determination theory—that gaming would be associated with indicators of human aggression to the degree that the interactive elements of games serve to impede players’ fundamental psychological need for competence. Seven studies, using multiple methods to manipulate player competence and a range of approaches for evaluating aggression, indicated that competence-impeding play led to higher levels of aggressive feelings, easier access to aggressive thoughts, and a greater likelihood of enacting aggressive behavior. Results indicated that player perceived competence was positively related to gaming motivation, a factor that was, in turn, negatively associated with player aggression. Overall, this pattern of effects was found to be independent of the presence or absence of violent game contents. We discuss the results in respect to research focused on psychological need frustration and satisfaction and as they regard gaming-related aggression literature.

The reviewing process took very long from initial submission on November 12, 2012 to final acceptance on September 11, 2013. Continue reading

P1: GG! P2: Bad Game: losing, trash talking and aggression (Breuer et al., in press)

Last summer, I played League of Legends and I immediately got hooked, but as I progressed I encountered more toxic players, they became increasingly hostile when they realized that they would be losing and then the blame game goes around. That’s when I stopped, I still have the game installed, but never updated it. Johannes Breuer (University of Münster), Michael Scharkow (University of Hohenheim), and Thorsten Quandt (University of Münster) published a study in Psychology of Popular Media Culture regarding how participants behave when they lose or win.


The impact of video game play on player aggression continues to be debated within the academic literature. Most of the studies in this area have focused on game content as the independent variable, whereas the social context of gaming is largely neglected. This article presents an experimental study (N = 76) on the effects of game outcome and trash-talking in a competitive colocated multiplayer sports video game on aggressive behavior. The results indicate that an unfavorable outcome (i.e., losing) can increase postgame aggression, whereas trash-talking by the opponent had no such effect. We also tested the frustration– aggression hypothesis for video games and found that the effect of losing on aggressive behavior is mediated by negative affect. The results suggest that the frustration–aggression hypothesis can be applied to the use of digital games and that game characteristics alone are not sufficient to explain effects on aggression.

I have uploaded an excel sheet regarding the number and type of articles I have collected this year, I update it every Thursday. Continue reading

Why girls play pink videogames? (van Reijmersdal et al., 2013)

The gender disparity in the gamer demographics is probably one of its defining characteristics. The proportion of men who game are higher than women, in a broad sense, but anecdotes and some survey data show that there are greater disparities in some genres. Men are attracted to competitive and combative videogames (e.g., FPS, RTS, MOBA) whereas women are attracted to socially interactive videogames (e.g., MMO) (references). Researchers noted that this does not reflect some fundamental reason to justify why girls don’t play videogames… it’s complicated. I’d have to bring in developmental psychologists, sociologists, and other social scientists who specialize in gender to interpret these results.

Eva van Reijmersdal (University of Amsterdam) and colleagues noted that there is not much we know about girls and videogames, especially why pink games are popular among young girls.


Based on social role theory and uses and gratifications, this study provides insights into the popularity of so-called pink games. This study is the first to examine the roles of identification, playing time, and age in the experience of motivations while playing an online role-playing game. Drawing upon a survey among 2261 girls between10 and 17 of age, our results show that identification with characters in the game is an important process in explaining girls’ gaming motivations. In addition, identification and motivations are intensified with playing time. Although age affects identification negatively, age is not related to the most important motive in playing pink games: social interaction. This study has important theoretical and practical implications for the popularity of pink games among girls.

So… my first article is finally published in Computer in Human Behavior. Continue reading

The communication of videogame science to the public and gamers

Gamers don’t like bad news about them or gaming, whether it is about connecting videogames to mass shootings, acts of violence or scientific findings about its link to aggression.  The most vocal gamers would take it to the comment section and voraciously argued in its defence or attacking those named in the article, such as politicians, pundits, journalists and social scientists. Understandably, they receive these news for many years. Andrew Przybylski (University of Oxford) chimed in that the years have not been kind to gamers, as it reinforces harmful stereotypes and linking them with suspicion after mass shootings.

Indeed, this affect gamers’ attitudes towards social scientists who studies videogames and has an impact on future scientific endeavours. Gamers may feel increasingly alienated as bad news continue to mount about them and their activities, this alienation could cultivate distrust towards anyone who wants to study them and perhaps this distrust might spread to the social sciences in general.

Recently, eight published studies have investigated this matter compelling me to tie in all these studies together and draw up the big picture. I solicited comments from Andrew Przybylski and James Ivory (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) who were authors on some of the studies.

Who believes in the connection between violent videogames and aggression?

Popular perception on who believes in the connection between violent videogames and aggression is often attributed to the older generation and those who do not or rarely play videogames. A 2013 Harris Poll found that 3 in 5 of American Adults believed in the connection between videogame and aggression, but it was noted that nearly three-quarters of older adults held such beliefs whereas less than half of young adults do.

Andrew Przybylski (2013) sought to explore this demographical topic through three nationally representative surveys in the U.S.,using Google Consumer Surveys. His findings revealed that while the belief is spread across demographics, such as gender and age,  65+ year old American adults who never or rarely played videogames compared to  18-25 year old adults were six times more likely to hold the belief. Notably, American men who never played videogames were 3.5 times more likely to hold such beliefs than men who frequently play whereas women across age and gaming experience were twice as likely as men to hold such belief.

Peter Nauroth (Philipp University of Marburg; 2014) and colleagues conducted experiments in Germany to examine how people who identify themselves as gamers can affect people’s opinions towards videogame research. Across three experiments, participants who highly identified themselves as gamers tended to negatively evaluate violent videogame research.

We can see that people who never played videogames were more likely to believe that violent videogames cause real world aggression. Conversely, people who play a lot or strongly identifies themselves as gamers tend to think otherwise and reacted with anger. An observation from Przybylski and Ivory is that the population who plays videogames or grew up with them is growing, this mean that society’s views on videogames are changing, can change IMO. At present, however, it begs the question how else do people form the belief that videogames cause aggression besides playing videogames? I point to the news media as one of many sources.

What does the news media has to say about violent videogames research?

The news media occasionally cover videogame research. How journalists write about research studies could translate into how people form their opinions about videogames, especially for those who do not play them. Reasonably, we can assume that the news media is their major source of information about videogames, as well for a lot of topics, from politics to science.

The popular perception about the news media’s portrayal of videogames research and gamers is typically showing the link between violent videogames with adverse outcomes, from aggression to addiction. In my observation, university press releases are typically the catalyst for such coverage. There are two point of views to consider. The first point of view is that the news media is being sensationalistic and is fanning moral panic (Ferguson, 2013). The second point of view is that the news media is doing the opposite by adding ambiguity to the research by representing both sides of the videogame debate. This is motivated by a desire for objectivity and balance.

Nicole Martins and her colleagues at Indiana University (2013) conducted a content analysis of news print’s coverage on media violence and aggression research. What they did is they pulled out news articles that covered on media violence and aggression. They do so through the LexisNexis database, from 25 highest-circulating newspapers in the U.S. and as far back as they could get to (1982 to 2012). This yielded 540 news articles.

They had five people read those articles and categorize each article based on several variables of interest. These variables include whether the article is a story or an opinion editorial; is it about general research or a specific study; which medium they are covering (i.e., TV, videogames);  characteristics of the journalists (i.e., sex); the article’s sources (i.e., experts, interest groups, etc.) importantly the tone of the article, whether it suggest no link, neutral about the existence of the link or suggest a definitive link that media violence is link to aggression. What they found is that 52.7% of the news article suggested media violence can increase aggression, 37.7% were neutral about the link and 9.3% suggested no link at all. Interestingly, media violence research got peak press attention between 1997-2001 and also 60% of the articles during that time period suggested a positive link, something important must have happened. After that period, the articles took on a more neutral tone. Another finding is that male reporters more likely to suggest that there was no link whereas female reporters more likely to suggest that there is. Thus, the news media (at the least the printed ones) are not creating a moral panic, but Martins and colleagues noted this create a disconnect between what researchers have found and what is reported to the public.

James Ivory had this to say:

“The study by Martins and colleagues is a very useful descriptive analysis of media coverage, and I think we would do well to examine more about the psychology and sociology of public discourse about media effects.  Much of what is going on now in the “real world” with game effects is not about the research at all, but about how that research is presented and discussed in the media, in the U.S. Congress, and in the courts, and those conversations will have more impact on games’ social role in the future than the scholarship will.  I have problems with the article’s tone at times in that it seems to assume the “correct” media coverage would be to acknowledge a games/aggression link when “aggression” means something very different in different settings (i.e., much of the press coverage may be in the context of prominent murders, which the research still tells us very little about in terms of game effects, so assuming that trends in research findings on aggression should map onto trends in tone of press coverage is a flawed way of thinking given the different contexts), but the study’s description of trends is useful regardless.  We could benefit from more such studies, because the way the game effects research is currently being communicated is probably not very representative of what we know.  A similar study related to the communication of the research in the policy and criminal justice arenas would be very valuable, I think, as one of the most personally disappointing and truly sad applications of the game research literature for me of late has been seeing the way is has been applied in some criminal trials in ways I would consider irresponsible.”

How do gamers feel, react and think about research on videogames?

As we learned earlier from Nauroth and colleagues’ experiments, gamers do not particularly feel agreeable about adverse videogame research. A closer look into their experiment, in particular to their second experiment, they found that strongly identified gamers who read news that supported a link between violent videogames and aggression, as opposed to those that does not,  reacted with more anger which in turn led to greater negative evaluation of said news article. This experiment gives us some clues about the angry tone in the comments section of news articles, especially those in gaming news sites [1, 2], on violent videogame research.

It is not just anger that gamers feel, but also feelings of stigmatization that lead to disregarding “bad” research. Gamers are a subcultural group centered around videogames. Rachel Kowert (University of Münster) posted about being a gamer. The point Nauroth et al. made was that belonging and identifying oneself to a group influence their behaviours, attitudes and thinking that goes along with the group’s stance. Consequently, belonging to a group stigmatized by mainstream society would likely lead to defensive-hostile reactions against any stigmatizing forces, be it from politicians advocating videogame bans to scientists who found anything they found disagreeable.

A trio of experimental studies led by team leaders Julia Kneer (Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Sabine Glock (University of Luxembourg) found supporting evidence among Young German men’s cognitive processes related to videogames. The gist from all three experiments is that the youth who grew up with the internet and videogames, even amongst those who do not play videogames, do not readily associate cognitively videogames with aggression, rather more towards positive thoughts of social interactions and achievements, gamer motives.

Andrew Przybylski has this to say:” Nauroth et al., and the work of Kneer & Ivory begin to open the top off how gamers view the pronouncements handed down to them from the Ivory Tower (no pun meant there Jimmy). The past 25 years of research has not been kind to gamers, reinforces harmful stereotypes, and links them with suspicion following mass-shooting events. Understanding how to communicate carefully done scientific research to these populations (who have been stigmatized) will be key moving forward. “

James Ivory has this to say: ” I share Andrew’s sentiment that work like the paper by Nauroth and colleagues is beginning to unpack a little bit about for the agency of game users in both their own media use and experiences and as underutilized contributors to a better understanding of potential game effects.  The same can be said, to a degree, of the work by Sjöström and colleagues.  The dominant literature seems to have viewed them as pawns of a monolothic media-effects mechanism, which I believe is a poor way to look at a group that comprises much of the western population even if we do eventually find that there are substantial negative social effects of some patterns of game play.  Much of the research and policy discussion about video games seems to have been driven by people who know little about them, which is something that is changing.  I, for example, don’t find myself in position to play many video games these days, and I definitely don’t get very positive about celebrations of criminal violence in media from a personal standpoint, but I’d like to think that having been around some video games in my youth informs my minor contribution to the scholarship in ways that can’t be summed up as simply as the narratives in the effects discussion I’ve often heard about how people familiar with games are being games apologists, exhibiting third-person effects, resolving dissonance, etc.  People who play a lot of games have a lot to say that we can learn from, and they are not militant defenders of games.  Julia Kneer, for example, has already taught us much about game players and is now leading some new research that seems to have promise for shedding light on how game users can help highlight risk factors for “addiction” and problematic use..”

Indeed, to simplify, the third-person effect is people’s perceptions about adverse outcomes of something, like violent television’s effect on aggression or the chances of an accident happening, to themselves and to others. James Ivory and his colleague, Sriram Kalyanaraman (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; 2009) did an experiment on an aspect of the third person effect, namely how thinking concretely (i.e., a specific videogame) versus abstractly (i.e., videogames in general) would affect people’s perception of violent videogames effects’ on themselves and others. They found that thinking about a specific videogame led participants to think that violent videogames have lesser adverse effects on themselves and others than those who thought abstractly.

Andrew Przybylski’s surveys tied in nicely with the experiments we explored so far and supported the idea that having some experiences with videogames can inform everyone and offer new insights.

Besides videogame aggression, I wonder how gamers feel about videogame addiction?

What are the impacts on videogame research from such media attention?

As a videogame researcher, the issue of how gamers respond to the works on videogame research is very important to me as it can influence how future studies would turn out, especially when I am attending to a very sensitive topic.

In experiments, from psychology to medicine, we must be very conscious of designing our experiments to arrive at a clear and accurate conclusion. Many factors can turn our results into noise or worse, misleading. One particular factor relevant to the conversation is participants’ biases during the experiment, a more precise phrase is whether the experiment is sufficiently blinded. Much like in medical research, patients are given some new medicine which they will start forming ideas about its effects, and some might start acting upon these ideas without realizing it, thus a placebo effect ensues. Similar phenomena occur in psychological experiments, participants start forming ideas about the hypothesis and some might act upon those ideas. But sometimes, some experiments are very obvious, especially anything related to videogames. How would gamers form ideas about the purposes of videogame experiments?  How would they behave in such experiments?

Jens Bender and colleagues (University of Koblenz-Landau; 2013) conducted an experiment to answer such question. The researchers told a cover story to participants that the experiment is either about videogames effect’s on a cognitive ability or about aggression. Then, participants complete a task related to aggression, but the researchers told the participants the task’s purpose is either a test of cognitive ability that has to be done within a time limit or they did not told its purpose, but gave participants unlimited time and the test was obvious that it was examining aggression. They found that greater identification as a gamer led to lower score on the obvious aggression test, but not on the less obvious test. However, the cover story did not have an effect. Although it is quite a valuable lesson for experimenters like myself, but it is not something new (see Elson & Ferguson, 2013). It also begs the question about what the researchers themselves bring in.

Andrew Przybylski has this to say: ” Expanding on all of these studies, I would like to know more about the preconceptions researchers bring to games, these are likely to affect participants’ expectations, the conclusions they draw, and the extent to which they will be willing to generalize and communicate their conclusions to society more broadly. “

Andrew continued with a more positive note: ” I am increasingly reading reviewer inputs (peers on papers I review) that reflect ideas/perspectives that were entirely absent when I started my PhD (e.g. competition, the use of surrogates instead of mods, practice time, genre differences, game structure etc.). I think there will be a higher level of skepticism of methods that will arise from direct experience with games and gaming culture. This will hopefully increase the psychological realism of lab studies and cool down some of the extreme things researchers have claimed”

James Ivory has this to say:” I share Andrew’s view that it is more of a marker of a growing trend in research to try to explore games in the best way possible for the questions at hand rather than cramming games into a methodological paradigm better suited for a more unidimensional “stimulus.””

” I agree with Andrew that the common thread is that we are seeing incremental changes in the sophistication of research on games, their audiences, and their impact.  This is not a surprise, because science is supposed to follow such trends, but it’s probably noteworthy that for whatever reason these advancements may have been retarded at times by rigid adherence to methodological and conceptual approaches that were never well-suited to the medium.”

What will we go from here?

We can start by fostering a greater understanding between videogame researchers and gamers. Jamie Madigan (The Psychology of Video Games) is the psychologist that I can rank as a popular science educator. There have been several psychologists and communication scholars who communicate their findings to the public, but not on a regular basis. Establishing greater contact between gamers and scientists is very fruitful for both sides can share insights and fresh perspectives, more importantly to work collaboratively on creating a better social environment in gaming.

Bender, J., Rothmund, T., & Gollwitzer, M. (2013). Biased estimation of violent video game effects on aggression: Contributing factors and boundary conditions. Societies, 3 (4), 383-398. URL

Elson, M., & Ferguson, C. J. (2014). Twenty-Five years of research on violence in digital games and aggression: Empirical evidence, perspectives, and a debate gone astray. European Psychologist, 19 (1), 33-46. URL

Ferguson, C. J. (2013). Violent video games and the supreme court: Lessons for the scientific community in the wake of brown v. entertainment merchants association. American Psychologist, 68 (2), 57-74. URL

Glock, S., & Kneer, J. (2009). Game over? the impact of knowledge about violent digital games on the activation of aggression-related concepts. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 21 (4), 151-160.URL

Kneer, J., Glock, S., Beskes, S., & Bente, G. (2012). Are digital games perceived as fun or danger? supporting and suppressing different Game-Related concepts. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15 (11), 604-609.URL

Kneer, J., Munko, D., Glock, S., & Bente, G. (2012). Defending the doomed: Implicit strategies concerning protection of First-Person shooter games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15 (5), 251-256.URL

Ivory, J. D., & Kalyanaraman, S. (2009). Video games make people Violent—Well, maybe not that game: Effects of content and person abstraction on perceptions of violent video games’ effects and support of censorship. Communication Reports, 22 (1), 1-12. URL

Martins, N., Weaver, A. J., Yeshua-Katz, D., Lewis, N. H., Tyree, N. E., & Jensen, J. D. (2013). A content analysis of print news coverage of media violence and aggression research. Journal of Communication, 63 (6), 1070-1087. URL

Nauroth, P., Gollwitzer, M., Bender, J., & Rothmund, T. (2014). Gamers against science: The case of the violent video games debate. European Journal of Social Psychology, 44 (2), 104-116. URL

Przybylski, A. K. (2013). Who believes electronic games cause real world aggression? Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, (pp. 131120060135006+). URL

Sjöström, A., Sowka, A., Gollwitzer, M., Klimmt, C., & Rothmund, T. (2013). Exploring audience judgments of social science in media discourse. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 25 (1), 27-38. URL

Helping behaviors during videogame play (Velez & Ewoldsen, 2013)

John Velez (Ohio State University) mentioned this article when he gave his opinion on Jerabeck and Ferguson’s article some time ago. I originally wanted to compare the two studies, but they were not comparable on several respect. This study surveyed helping behaviours with other players. Velez noted that the data is quite old, I forgot how old, but at least 4 years old. Why was it not published earlier? A lot of priorities at the time.


Research suggests that video games are becoming a social activity. Previous research has neglected the complicated social context in which people now play video games. However, a growing body of literature suggests that playing violent video games cooperatively with others can attenuate their aggression-facilitating effects and increase prosocial behaviors between players. To better understand which types of social game play can foster helping behaviors between players and which players may be engaging in these helping behaviors during game play, the current study administered a survey to 252 students who self-identified as video game players. The results suggest that participants who reported playing cooperatively/competitively with other players were more likely to report engaging in helping behaviors during game play. Additionally, participants who reported being motivated to play specialized roles in group game play and have an altruistic personality were more likely to report engaging in helping behaviors during game play.

According to my database, this is the only survey study that examined prosocial behaviours within online gaming. Continue reading

Tackling the Gamer Identity Crisis

This post is written by Rachel Kowert (University of Münster). Rachel has published  articles about cultural stereotypes of online gamers and relationship between social (in)competence and online video game involvement. She can be reached via Twitter. Also cross-posted at Gamasutra.

helloamiagamerRecent events have called into question just exactly what it means to be a “gamer” today. What was once a title associated with being a member of a fun loving community now seems to have become intertwined with the promotion of misogynistic and discriminatory behavior.

This perceived shift in gamer culture has been spurred by a series of recent events: the influx of threats directed towards Anita Sarkeesian following her Tropes vs. Women YouTube Series, the scripted unscripted interaction presented at Microsoft’s E3 event that seemed to condone “rape culture”, and the transphobic comments by one of the hosts of the Video Game Awards, just to name a few. These incidents have called into question what it really means to be a gamer today and has led some members of the gaming community to consider the resignation of their “gamer” title.

A recent article by Dennis Scimeca, entitled “Why I can’t call myself a gamer anymore”, highlights this shift. Scimeca discusses his personal need to distance himself from identifying as a gamer. He states, “…after three years of being ensconced in video game culture long enough to be disgusted by it on a regular basis, I’m ready to give up my identity as a gamer…”, and Scimeca is not alone. A recent Statesman article by Simon Parkin, entitled “If you love games, you should refuse to be called a gamer”, expresses similar sentiments. Parkin argues that the term “gamer” is a legacy of the medium’s niche past and solely functions to reinforce negative stereotypes of the gaming community. He states, “Gamers are depicted as the contemporary nerd group…shunned by the jocks and achievers. Gamers are the losers who spend their days in darkened bedrooms furiously tapping on controllers or keyboards in a solitary pursuit…”. As the video game industry is now a multi-billion dollar market and because video games are now being played by a wide spectrum of individuals that spans across age, gender, and ethnic lines, Parkin believes this term no longer serves its original function. Exacerbated by the recent influx of discriminatory behavior perpetrated by the gaming community, Parkin calls for an abandonment of this title.

However, abandoning the term “gamer” is not a straightforward process because the label represents much more than a simple title one adopts to easily identify oneself as a person who enjoys playing video games. While the term is often used as a shorthand to organize the world into people who play video games and people who do not, self-identifying as a gamer also signifies a shared identity with other members of the broader gaming community and culture and denotes an alignment with the group’s idiosyncrasies, traditions, and social practices. As noted by Scimeca and Parkin, individuals who read books are not called “bookers” nor are avid movie goers called “moviers”. This phenomenon occurs because the term “gamer” has not only come to refer to the enjoyment of a particular leisure activity but also to part of one’s self-conception. Being a “gamer” is more than just a label given from the outside; it is a part of one’s self-conception and an expression of one’s affiliation with a group of society.

This fact likely plays a significant role in Scimeca’s explicit disappointment in today’s meaning of term “gamer” and his self-imposed detachment therefrom. He states, “[it is] a shame that the preponderance of problems in the gaming community has left such a bad taste in my mouth”.  When Scimeca makes the conscious resolution to reject his “gamer” title, he is not only removing himself from the gaming community and all that is associated with it, but he is also leaving a part of himself behind.

However, Scimeca’s decision to detach himself from the gaming community raises another question: at a time when gamers are perceived as being overweight, reclusive, and socially inept, who would actually want to identify as one?

Perceptions of Game Players and the Game Playing Community

Turn on the TV at any given hour, and you are bound to find a reference to the stereotypical “gamer”. Popular TV, web series’, and news media have all portrayed the same reclusive, socially inept, basement dwelling gamer stereotype to some extent or another. While some have taken a more comical rather than serious approach, the sentiment remains the same: gamers are social outcasts that are unable or unwilling to integrate into mainstream society.

This stereotype is not only noted in popular culture. Researchers in the UK empirically examined the stereotype of gamers and gaming subgroups (e.g., online gamer, arcade gamer, console gamer). While there was some statistical variation in the perception of gaming sub-groups, video game playing groups were generally perceived as unpopular, unattractive, lazy, and socially inept (Kowert & Oldmeadow, 2012; Kowert, Griffiths, & Oldmeadow, 2012). As summarized by Williams et al. (2008), “Game players are stereotypically male and young, pale from too much time spent indoors and socially inept. As a new generation of lonely and isolated ‘couch potatoes’ young male game players are far from aspirational figures” (p. 995).

memememAlthough stereotypes are often thought to be grounded in a “kernel of truth” (Prothro & Melikian, 1955), there is little demographic evidence in support of these stereotypical characterizations. Despite that there still seems to be a disproportionate ratio of male to female game players among representative samples (Lenhart, Jones, & Macgill, 2008; Lenhart, Kahne, Middaugh, Macgill, Evans, & Vitak, 2008), no evidence has been found to suggest that game players are substantially more overweight, lazy, or reclusive than their non-gaming counterparts (Kowert, Festl, Quandt, in press; Williams et al., 2008; Griffiths et al., 2003).

Despite the fact that there is little empirical foundation to support these stereotypes, Parkin suggests that the negative stereotypes of gamers are fueling the community’s recent intolerant and hostile behaviors.  As stated by Parkin, “The stereotype is powerful, and … informs gamers. Many gain instruction as how the world views them and the expectation becomes self-fulfilling: they play to type”.

On the surface, this claim is not as preposterous as it sounds. People are often perceived to behave in ways that conform to their stereotypic attributions. For example, a plethora of classic social psychology experiments have been conducted that investigate the self-fulfilling nature of the stereotype “beautiful people are good people”. Researchers have found that even when visual cues are absent, such as when talking via telephone, people who are thought to be attractive are rated as more friendly, likeable, and sociable than their less attractive counterparts (Goldman & Lewis, 1977; Snyder, Tanke, & Berscheid, 1977). However, living up to the expectations associated with likeability vastly differs from conforming to expectations of sexist, aggressive, or any other anti-social behavior.

Additionally, unlike the “beautiful people are good people” scenario, individuals do not particularly perceive the stereotype of online gamers as being an accurate depiction of the online gaming community. A recent study found that neither self-identified gamers nor non-gamers endorse the stereotypes of the online gaming community to the same degree to which they think other individuals, gamers and non-gamers alike, believe the stereotype is accurate (Kowert, Griffiths, & Oldmeadow, 2012). In simpler terms, they believe “others” generally see online gamers in a much more stereotypical way than they do themselves. While this study was limited to examining the portrayal of online gamers, there is no evidence to suggest that the same would not be found when looking at “gamers” more broadly.

As the stereotypes of gamers are not perceived, or found, to be particularly accurate, it is highly unlikely that the recent influx of bad behavior perpetrated by “gamers” can be attributed to individuals conforming to the negative stereotypes that society has imposed upon the community any more so than they conform to other stereotypical expectations of how they should look, live, or act (e.g., overweight, lazy, reclusive, and aggressive).


This is all fine and well, but what exactly is a gamer? (Quantifying “Gamer”)

All this discussion about gamers and gamer culture seems a bit presumptuous when it is not exactly clear what one means to convey when they employ the term “gamer”. If I were to qualify my personal self-identification as a gamer, I would provide examples of my video game playing experience, knowledge of classic games, participation in and out-of-game, game related activities, and my fashion preferences. For me, being a gamer is more than just playing and enjoying video-game related activities; it is about being part of a broader community, participating in game-related events, and displaying my membership to the community through my choice of attire. The degree to which I consider myself to be a “gamer” is contingent upon a range of factors.

This self-definition is a vastly different approach than is taken by a number of researchers and even other members of the gaming community. Some gamers are quite fervent in the conviction that there are unofficial prerequisites that one must fulfill before one can adopt the “gamer” title, such as having experience with certain games or consoles or boasting a long history of game play. Do a quick search of Reddit, and you will be sure to find numerous threads discussing what it is that qualifies an individual as being part of the gaming community.

wonkagameThere are also numerous differentiations of the “gamer” title. For instance, Wikipedia discusses eight types of gamers than can be quantitatively and qualitatively differentiated: casual gamer, core gamer, hardcore gamer, pro gamer, newbie, retro gamer, girl gamer/gamer girl, and gaymer. Other categories like online gamer, console gamer, and arcade gamer are also commonplace.

In scientific research, the distinction between those who play video games and those who do not is often the criteria used to differentiate between “gamers” and “non-gamers”. While some researchers adopt a simple play-pattern (playing or not playing) approach, other researchers differentiate by play-frequency (i.e., whether or not individuals dedicate a certain amount of time a week to gameplay). Variations of play pattern or frequency measures have likely become the standard for distinguishing between gamers and non-gamers due to the ease of assessment (i.e., simply asking “Do you play games?” and “How often do you play games?”) and their intrinsic relationship with video game involvement, as playing many video games, or a higher frequency of play, indicates greater exposure to video game environments.

In my opinion, this is a troubling standard to retain. This one-dimensional distinction is far too simplistic as self-identification with any social group is inherently multi-dimensional. The reliance upon frequency based assessments within the scientific community excludes the potentially more important role of other factors that contribute to the extent to which an individual feels and identifies as a member of the gaming community: for instance, the extent to which players engage in gaming related activities, how involved they are with gaming related news, their level of interest in professional gaming, the extent to which gaming defines them in relation to other adopted social identities (i.e., adopting gaming as their primary identity rather than one based on other aspects of themselves), etc. While the importance and pertinence of these variables in understanding how exactly one is involved within the gaming community remains unclear, researchers need to be mindful of the potential importance these extraneous factors may hold.

Kowert & Oldmeadow (2013) made the first attempt to develop a composite measure of video game involvement comprised of both behavioral (i.e., play frequency and variety) and psychological (i.e., social identity) measures. This new quantification of what it means to be a more involved “gamer” provides a more systematic evaluation of video game players across a broader spectrum of game involvement than has previously been utilized. Researchers are encouraged to remain mindful of the multi-dimensional nature of the title “gamer” and to develop and enlist similar composite measures in order to more accurately assess one’s level of involvement within the video game community

The Future of the Gamer

In a time when the gamer identity seems to be in flux and shifting towards a community characterized by misogynistic, discriminatory, and rude behavior, people are abandoning their affiliation with the gaming community. While no one would want to be associated with such behavior, it is likely the sensationalization of the aforementioned recent abhorrent acts (e.g., the backlash directed towards Anita Sarkeesian, Microsoft’s disastrous E3 event, etc.) by the media that has led society to believe that this behavior is disproportionately typical of members of the gaming community as there is no evidence to suggest that gamers are “living up” to the negative expectations associated with the stereotype.


I believe that gamers are, at their core, people who love to have fun. We love exploring new worlds, meeting new people, and achieving what one thought would be impossible. We remember the rush of getting our first epic weapon in World of Warcraft, the heartbreak when Aeris drops her basket of flowers in Final Fantasy VII, and the tune that plays when you slide down the flagpole in Super Mario Brothers. In general, gamers have historically been a group of inclusive, friendly people who are equally excited to discuss Starcraft strategy as they are to understand why your shirt says “The Cake is a Lie”. I believe that it is time to reclaim our community — to begin the shift away from negative stereotypes and discriminatory behavior and towards a community that is seen as a fun-loving, inclusive, and diverse group of people from all walks of life.


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The influence of solitary and cooperative violent video game play on aggressive and prosocial behavior (Jerabeck & Ferguson, 2013)

John Velez (Ohio State University) mentioned this study and I got curious enough about it to write a blog post. Jessica Jerabeck (now at University of Houston) and Christopher J. Ferguson (Stetson University) have published an article in Computers in Human Behavior. Upon further investigation, it turns out to be the first author’s Master’s thesis.


Research on video games, aggression and prosocial behavior remains inconclusive. Examined cooperative and solitary play of violent and non-violent games. Violent games had no impact on aggressive or prosocial behavior. Playing cooperatively reduced aggression even in violent games. Research examining the issue of video game violence influences on aggression continues to be debated within the scientific community. Thus far, no consensus has been reached regarding the influence of such games. This study adds to the prior literature by examining how violent video games may promote prosocial or aggressive behavior when played either cooperatively or alone. Results indicated that violent content in video games had no influence on prosocial behavior, aggressive behavior, or self-perceptions of empathy. Playing cooperatively was associated with less aggressive behavior, whether games were violent or not.

I asked John Velez for his comments about the study. Continue reading