Technological advancement and violence exposure (Ivory & Kalyanaraman, 2007)

I am supposed to be writing something more important that, but somehow it feels more fun (or easy) to be reporting on academic studies.


The possible impact of technological advancement on video games’ effects—particularly in the case of violent games—has often been discussed but has not been thoroughly explored by empirical research. The present investigation employed a 2 × 2 between-subjects factorial experiment to examine the interplay of technological advancement and violence by exposing participants (N = 120) to either a newer or older version of a violent or nonviolent game and measuring these factors’ effects on players’ sense of presence, involvement, physiological arousal (measured by skin conductance), self-reported arousal, and affective and cognitive aggression. The results indicate that technological advancement increased participants’ sense of presence, involvement, and physiological and self-reported arousal. Neither advancement nor violence had statistically significant effects on accessibility of players’ aggressive thoughts, but there is some tentative evidence that violent game content increased players’ state hostility. Theoretical and practical implications of findings are discussed, and recommendations are made for future research.

One of the technological variables Jack Thompson to argue his case against violent video games is realism and technological advancement. Jack Thompson et al. believes that as games become more realistic, it is more likely to generate psychos on a massacre (and more lawsuits on a court, more laws on a legislature, more restrictions on a video game, more violence on a country) because it blurs the boundaries of reality and fantasy.

Counter-arguments from gamers and the industry are that realism have nothing to do with individuals distinction between reality and fantasy because they do make a distinction between them, even among children. However, Gentile et al. (2007) argue that it is irrelevant and that only violent content in video games have an effect on individuals’ aggression, adult or child. IMO, those who don’t make a distinction between reality and fantasy would already be diagnosed with a mental disorder.

So in this study by Ivory and Kalyanaraman, they will be looking at how video games of different eras differ on individuals’ aggressive cognitions and affect. Other variables included are presence (I’m weak in explaining it: the feeling of actually being in a virtual environment while still feeling in being in the physical world), involvement (“a psychological state experienced as a consequence of focusing one’s energy and attention on a coherent set of stimuli or meaningfully related activities and events”) and arousal.



120 undergraduates, age (m= 20.57, SD=4.41), gender (female= 68%). No statistical significance was found for gender effects. Average time spent on video games, about 20 minutes per week. Is that average for undergrads? Perhaps the high participation rates by women probably skewed the average? But then again, those of above average would have shown significant difference…


Their selection of video games took into account of the changes some gaming genres had gone through. The selected gaming genre had to be simple and its format uniform. So arcade-style games are selected. IMO, this can’t be helped, but if you want to study FPS games, innovations like Half-Life and Quake produced paradigm shifts making huge differences between generations. Not to mention its popularity and individual differences on gaming experiences in that genre. So, this is a limitation to consider.

Differences between old and new, termed in this study as advancement type, are based on perceivable differences in terms of graphics and audio quality and of course, the year the games were published.

The games selected were the PC versions of Zombie Raid (1995) and The House of the Dead 2 (2001). Both have similar characteristics, they’re shooters, they have the undead and they have similar control schema. They are labelled as “violent”.

For non-violent games, they had to be equivalent in terms of control, graphics and audio quality. PC versions of Diamonds 3D (1996) and 3D Arkout (2003) were used.

Ivory and Kalyanaraman argues the similarities based on the fast-paced and precise mouse control require for these games.

Presence: 3 questions on a 7-point scale. IMO, it’s not a good reliable and valid measure of presence.

Involvement: 6 questions on a 7-point scale. What the hell?

Arousal: two types of measures are used.
One: measures of physiological arousal through skin conductance. A 30-second baseline measure was taken in order to compare the testing measure.
Second: a perceived arousal measure was taken using a questionnaire, included is the Self-Assessment Manikin that uses figures to show how individuals felt about their levels of excitement.


Word-association task were used to assess aggressive cognition (shortened and modified). So participants had to determine whether 45 pairs of words was similar or dissimilar on a 9-point scale. Some of the words were unambiguously aggressive others were ambiguous. Word pairs were categorized into two sections: similar (aggressive-aggressive, ambiguous-ambiguous) and dissimilar (aggressive-ambiguous). So a participant’s average score for dissimilar word pairs was subtracted from their average score for similar word pairs to give a score for aggressive cognition, the smaller score indicating greater aggressive cognition. IMO, I’m having trouble understanding how they scored this measure, but I’m guessing that priming allows individuals to tell apart aggressive words from ambiguous words, so a smaller score would be an indication of that.

35 questions from the state hostility scale were used to assess aggressive affect. Participants rated these questions on a 7-point scale. These questions asked about their current emotional state.

“Other”: demographic questions and others, such as sex, age, hours on video game per week, self-report on general knowledge on video games, attitudes towards video games, video game preferences on violence, enjoyability or frustration of the game they played in session, prior experiences with the game genre, previous experience with the game itself. The video game variables, except preferences and enjoyability/frustration, are combined into a single variable as prior game experience.


All participants took part of the experiment individually. Each participants are randomly assigned to 1 of 4 experiment conditions (non-violent and old, violent and old, non-violent and new, violent and new) They completed a pre-experiment questionnaire, then attached electrodes to measure physiological arousal. A 30-second baseline measure was taken for comparison. The testing session with the game in question lasted 10 minutes. Finally, they are given a post-experiment questionnaire.


Omnibus 2 X 2 MANCOVAs was used to assess violence type and advancement type effect on aggression (cognition and state hostility), arousal (physiological and self-report), presence and involvment. Prior game experience, preference type and enjoyability or frustration were used as control or covariates.

Two two-way ANOVAs were used to assess the differences between video game’s violent content and age. It was significant, so old game is seen as old and violent game is seen as violent, etc. No interactions were found. Measures in the “other” category have found that participants were found to slightly prefer non-violent games. This is controlled in the analyses.

From the MANCOVA results, significant effects were found for advancement type and frustration. No significant results were found for violence type or any of the covariates. From there, two-way ANCOVAs for each dependent variable were performed (Prior game experience, preference type and enjoyability or frustration were used as control or covariates):

Presence: it was found that newer games elicited higher presence scores than older games, but violence type had no effect on presence.

Involvement: it was found that newer games elicited higher involvement scores than older games, but no significant effect was found for violence type. Frustration was found to be significant as well.

Physiological arousal: it was found that newer games elicited higher physiological arousal than older games. But violence type on physiological arousal has no significant effect. No interaction between violence and advancement were found. Frustration was a significant effect.

Self-report arousal: it was found that newer games elicited higher arousal scores than older games. Violence type has no significant effect. No interaction was found. Frustration was a significant effect.

Aggressive cognition: no main or interaction significant effects were found for inducing higher aggressive cognition scores. The only closest thing for a significant effect was that the non-violent games induced higher aggressive cognition scores.

State hostility: Marginal significance (p = 0.053, so close yet so far!) was found that participants in the violent game condition had higher scores on state hostility than participants in the non-violent game condition. Advancement type was found not significant on state hostility. No interaction effects were found. Frustration was found significant. Ivory and Kalyanaraman cautioned about this result because of the initial MANOVA result that showed no significant effect for violence type. Essentially, violence type had no effect on aggression or on any of the dependent variable.


Because of my poor understanding on how they scored aggression and arousal, I don’t know if this is a good study or a badly done study.

Setting that aside, it seems that violent games, well at least for the arcade genre, seem to have no differential effect from non-violent video games on individuals’ aggressive cognition, state hostility and arousal. However, this raises the concern about the research on effects of violent video games. IMO, video games’ violent content on the surface is nothing compared to the individuals’ cognitive processes that looks something deeper within these games, such as identification with violent characters (Konijn et al. 2007), the intent to harm and the understanding of harming others. Ivory and Kalyanaraman cautioned about this study’s results and the implications because there might be other variables at play, such as frustration, gaming genre, audio realism or gaming narrative.

Another point of interest is whether presence has any effect on aggression. IMO So far, presence seems to have a complex relationship with aggression. Konijn et al. did not refer to presence, but elements of it (immersion and realism) and what they found is similar to this study, no significant effect on aggression, but on character identification towards violent characters. Although it can go the other way with non-violent characters. While in this study, presence seems to have no significant effect.

Technological advancement is now demonstrated to be an important variable for presence. However, it seems like there are mixed messages and a complicated relationship between technological advancement of video game graphics and aggression. This sounds pretty much like presence. Nevertheless, presence and technological advancement seem to be firmly related to each other and therefore it does not rule out realism as a direct factor on violent video games effect on aggression. Rather it’s a subfactor under presence of which it relates to aggression in violent video games. In practicality, graphical realism is not related to increases in aggression. Although, don’t take this study as an authoritative one.

Ivory and Kalyanaraman discussed on the practical implications from this study, such as that violence does not necessarily sell and that graphical advancement might be useful in other gaming domains, such as educational, since it can get individuals more involved and more aroused in it.

Limitations in this study were that the games were selected for the purpose of finding out the effect of graphical and audio differences, violence type while keeping the control schema similar. The caveat is that they could not control all other factors that might affect their results, such as game physics, lighting, graphical nuances, audio realism were not looked at. In addition, the graphical advancement is different between gaming genres, like graphical realism is the epitome for FPS while it doesn’t have a high priority for side-scrollers. Therefore, this study is not representative of all video game genres; so different genres might have different results.

They suggested some things to consider:

  1. Look into more specific technological factors
  2. More control on the video game condition, that is using mods of video games for experiments as a means to control extraneous variables
  3. Look into violent content in more specific terms and types, such as justified vs. unjustified violence, lethal vs. nonlethal, morally ambiguous vs. unambiguous or cartoonish vs. realistic.
  4. Keeping frustration and other affective variables in check.

Now, I hope I’ll start doing what I am suppose to be doing instead of writing study reports.

Update (26/01/08): I just realized something, why can’t we just manipulate the graphic details from a single game or just use mods to manipulate realism or use the same map in all versions of game series like Doom. This applies to the konijn et al. (2007) study.

Ivory, J. D., & Kalyanaraman, S. (2007). The effects of technological advancement and violent content in video games on players’ feelings of presence, involvement, physiological arousal, and aggression. Journal of Communication, 57(3), 532-555.


3 thoughts on “Technological advancement and violence exposure (Ivory & Kalyanaraman, 2007)

  1. I enjoyed reading your review of our article. I very much agree with you that it is difficult to make conclusions about technological advancement and aggression from this study. As you mention, the study notes the importance of technological advancement as a variabe influencing user experience, but the relationship of this and other video game factors to aggression is complex enough that our findings (null and otherwise) related to aggression are certainly not the end of the story. Hopefully, our research can be a starting point for more research on technological variables in video game effects, but there is much more to be done.

    I agree very much with your later update noting that a design could have manipulated dimensions of a single game instead of obtaining comparable games. At the time, this was something beyond our technical capabilities, but affordable software available now would allow someone with even moderate design skill to manipulate a host of technological variables to measure effects. I hope that’s what happens!

    Thanks again for the thoughtful look at our article. Again, I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Pingback: Technological advancement and violence exposure Level 2 (Barlett et al., 2008) « VG Researcher - Psychology

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