Aggressive players have aggressive personality (Peng et al., 2008)

Every time I read an journal article on video games, I always end up fantasizing a research project that would seem worthwhile, much like how a fujoshi fantasizes the unlikely pairing of two male manga characters together.

Here’s the line that triggered my fantasy: “thus the game-playing experience can vary to a great extent among players […] high-sensation-seeking players can turn on some features to show more blood and use more gruesome weapons.”

My fantasy project would be an experiment where participants are allowed to adjust the gore level and how gruesomeness of their weapons (say from shotgun to shotgun with a chainsaw and skull-sucking machine attached, I’m just making it up). Just to see the differences between high aggressive vs. low-aggressive players and perhaps novice players vs. expert players (something like professionalism and the desire to win as efficiently as possible).


This study investigates whether individual difference influences idiosyncratic experience of game playing. In particular, we examine the relationship between the game player’s physical-aggressive personality and the aggressiveness of the player’s game playing in violence oriented video games. Screen video stream of 40 individual participants’ game playing was captured and content analyzed. Participants’ physical aggression was measured before the game play. The results suggest that people with more physical-aggressive personality engage in a more aggressive style of playing, after controlling the differences of gender and previous gaming experience. Implications of these findings and direction for future studies are discussed.

Sounds nice, but let’s see what they mean by being more aggressive in the game and other details to know about.


Participants: 40 undergrads, mostly men and 6 women. No age or other demographics given. Not that it really mattered in comparison to other studies. Well, it does occur to me that I don’t know any studies with adults who aren’t students or over 30.


Aggressive-personality measure: the often-used Buss and Perry Aggression Questionnaire, but they’re just using a portion of it.

In-game aggression: They’re employing five variables to measure in-game aggression: 1- frequency of non-violent actions, 2- frequency of natural aggression (my words, what I mean is fist, kicks, and headbutts, karate chops), 3- frequency of gun use (shotgun!), 4- percentage of mild and severe consequences (so low damage to enemy, mild consequence? Dead enemy, severe consequence?) and finally 5- PAT (Perpetrator, Action and Target) frequency. Which is basically who is committing the violent act to what target (e.g. player (perp) fires shotgun (action) at zombie (target))

So how they do that? Well they recorded the last 10 minutes of a 70 minutes gaming session and had two research assistants to analyze the video and give a code to each in-game behaviour. Why 10 minutes you say and why not the whole 70 minutes? I know second-hand from those who do this kind of work and it can be frustrating just to analyze a 10-minute session, to do it SEVERAL times on the same video just to be sure and to do it for 90 more participants. It can be deathly boring and it can get worse if you’re coding for a whole hour. So 40 participants equals, at minimum, 40 hours of coding.

Game used: The Godfather and True Crime: Streets of L.A. They’re using two games to avoid game-specific effects and increase generalizibility. But that doesn’t allow them to avoid genre-specific effects because both games are third-person shooters, Post Half-Life (i.e. game dialogue and a story), does not contain a war or science-fiction-theme, has a gangster-theme and Mature-rated (obviously). However, a good side is that the participants did not have prior experience with these games, so it’s less likely to be a significant factor.


Two weeks before the experiment, participants answered the aggressive-personality questionnaire and some other questionnaire, like whether they played the game in question. Participants are randomly assigned to play one of the two games and played for 70 minutes. So it’s possible they get to see some cutscenes, learn the story, get to know the main characters and try out the interesting bits of the game, for example the driving shooting game. 18 played the Godfather, while 22 played True Crime.


Employed MANCOVA, added gender, gaming experience as control variables. Participants were categorized into either high or low aggressive-personality, if they’re above or below the median respectively.

If you recall the abstract saying, high aggressive participants behaved more aggressively in-game. That’s the general statement, here’s the detailed statement: high aggressive participants used guns and natural means (kicks and punches) more often than the low aggressive participants. No other differences were found for the other in-game aggression variables.

What’s significant from this study, IMO, is that the high aggressive participants used more natural means than low aggressive participants. I’d say there’s a potential research avenue about aggressive players wanting to get close and personal on their enemies than others. I mean for some others, like me, I prefer a killing from a distance, out of worry for my health points and efficiency. My little brother wants to get up-close and personal to deliver frags and I’d say he enjoys doing that. However, I’ll exclude all fighting games because players are required to be in punching distance whereas the choice of getting into punching distance seems more compelling and rewarding for an aggressive player despite the dangers of getting hurt or worse. Or, perhaps aggressive players prefer a more visceral gaming experience.

On the flip side, it could also be used as an indirect measure of people’s physical aggression seeing that high aggressive participants behaved more aggressively in-game than the low aggressive participants. In addition, I would include in-game verbal aggression, since Eastin (2007) had found that in-game verbal is correlated with greater state hostility. The question would be whether it is reliable and valid. This could fall on the question of whether video games can be used as for psychometrical uses in social psychology. Like measuring one’s self-esteem.

Gaming experience was not significant factor, even if it was controlled for, so it can be partially ruled out. I said partially because they asked a general question, and we don’t know if they played violent video games or not.

Another peculiar question is how much an aggressive player would enjoy from a non-violent video game, say Katamari Damacy. Would boredom ensue quicker for some types of players because the gameplay doesn’t suit their needs or personality? Speaking of needs, it does point and perhaps give credence to the question of whether aggressive players who are attracted to violent video games and play at above average amount would go in a downward spiral towards more violent media and more aggressive behaviours…

One more question and I give no promises it will be the last, I do wonder how aggressive players in MMOs are treated? Based on my understanding from aggression research on children and adolescents, aggressive kids get into a lot of trouble with people and they may have hard time getting along with people because of some behaviours, such as bullying, being an asshole or jerk, or using aggressive verbal and physical behaviours to resolve conflicts.

The study has limitations to consider which it has a small sample and the sample is mostly male. However, the results of the study are really interesting in showing that our aggression-side personality may affect our playing styles in violent video games and I would like to see more studies of this kind.

Peng, W., Liu, M., & Mou, Y. (2008). Do aggressive P\people play violent computer games in a more aggressive way? Individual difference and idiosyncratic game-playing experience. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 11(2), 157-161.


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