Will the experience of playing a bad cop influence people’s judgment of violent crimes? (Lee et al., 2010)

Miller-McClune broke the story just after a few days of the latest issue of Computers in Human Behavior had

Nick Kang (True Crime: Streets of L.A.) not going by the book

published. Kwan Min Lee (University of Southern California) and colleagues conducted an experiment investigating the video game context of rogue policemen and how it might affect attitudes towards crime and criminals.


The present study investigates the impact of the experience of role playing a violent character in a video game on attitudes towards violent crimes and criminals. People who played the violent game were found to be more acceptable of crimes and criminals compared to people who did not play the violent game. More importantly, interaction effects were found such that people were more acceptable of crimes and criminals outside the game if the criminals were matched with the role they played in the game and the criminal actions were similar to the activities they perpetrated during the game. The results indicate that people’s virtual experience through role-playing games can influence their attitudes and judgments of similar real-life crimes, especially if the crimes are similar to what they conducted while playing games. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

I’ll be leaving for Winnipeg soon… What am I going to do there besides the convention? Another thing I’m skimming this paper because of my desire to reduce the time lag between this posting and that reporting and my boatload of tasks.

People’s attitudes about crime are influenced by their knowledge and where does it come from? The media, such as news and reality-based crime shows, is one of the biggest sources. Research has found that frequent viewing and greater enjoyment of such shows lead to less negative attitudes towards crime and criminals. Violent video games can theoretically lead to less negative attitudes towards crime and criminals. Well, indirectly through repeated justified virtual violence and desensitization. However, context matters as players role play the protagonist and follow whatever trope and its associated script this hero or anti-hero may possess (i.e. Conan does not negotiate, he smashes; Max Payne on a revenge killing spree). Even if you’re not role-playing, you may have done so unconsciously or the narrative is pushing you in that direction. Players may start identifying with these characters through this role-playing and may value or adopt said characters’ beliefs or behaviours.


Participants: 52 undergraduate students. 33 women and 19 men who never played the experiment’s game were used in their analysis. Average age is 20 years and average video game experience was not reported, but they reported that more than 45% did not played video games. The gender ratio is unbalanced that’s something to keep in mind. So, this study has limited generalization to inexperienced players only. It’s possible that experienced gamers would “read” the game in a different light, much like how fans of car chases scenes would view them differently.


Participants read four real-life criminal cases that were carefully picked by the researchers. These cases were picked on the basis of severity (mild versus severe), compatible based on sentencing and comparable between perpetrator (police officer and criminal).

Participants are to rate each case on the basis of:

Negative evaluation of the perpetrator: participants rate these three adjectives: harmful, horrible and intolerable in order to describe their impressions of the perpetrator.

Unjustifiedness of the crime: participants rate these three adjectives: immoral, unjustifiable and unwarranted as a means to describe their impression of the crime.

Sentencing (dun dun): participants were asked how many months they would give for the mild criminal cases on a 9-point scale (from 0 to 24 months). For the severe cases, the sentencing is in years on a 9-point scale (from 0 to 24 years).

Video game used: the PS2 version of True Crime: Streets of L.A. because the game allowed excessive force committed by a police officer. The protagonist is a rogue-like police officer who will use any means necessary to arrest criminals. Collateral damages include civilian being shoot at.

Is there a video game featuring playable female officers? (Found this in Danbooru)

They have one video game with a rogue-like police officer, what about a video game with a criminal? Participants in that latter group might have a favourable opinion for the criminal’s antics or at least some differences. The authors mentioned a limitation that there were no female playable characters in the game and given the possibility that people might identify more with characters of the same gender, it’s something to investigate.


Participants are randomly assigned to either play the game (experimental group) or not (control group). The experimental group played for two hours (1 hour for training and the other for play) and was tasked to arrest as many criminals as possible through any means possible regardless of civilian casualties. According to wikipedia, it’s like a Grand Theft Auto clone, so good police actions are possible. So, I assume that the experimental group have consistently wreaked havoc during their two hours in L.A. and did not earn any ‘good cop’ moral points. After play, they are asked to read and rate the four criminal cases. Counter-balancing measures were in place (half read the police case first and the other read the criminal cases and etc.). As for the control group, they read and rated the criminal cases without any 2-hour filler task. That’s one jarring limitation.


The authors combined the mild and severe cases because there were no differences in the dependent measures. So, the police and criminal cases are analyzed.

The experimental group was found to significantly have lesser negative evaluation and lesser attitude towards the unjustifiedness of the crime and gave a lesser sentence than the control group. In terms of perpetrators, police officers gone bad seemed to receive more leniency than criminals from both groups. The authors suggested that the participants’ leniency stem from the belief that the police officers acted for the greater good at their own risk.

Further analysis has found the experimental group was more lenient towards the bad police officers than the control group on all dependent measures. As for the criminals, both groups did not differ in their attitudes and sentencing. The control did not differ in their attitudes or sentencing towards bad police officers or criminals.

There we have it, playing a video game character role influenced your judgment to be more positive towards similar people in real life. So, the authors argued that character context and by extension narrative context would explain the inconsistencies in the video game effects literature.

The authors offered a practical implication from this study in that the jury selection process should be mindful of people’s real life experiences as well as their media experiences as well. The authors wrote virtual, but I like to write in as media for a good reason. People who enjoyed violent criminal video games would be more lenient towards similar criminals. The same thing can be said about CSI, jury members might be convinced or demand evidence that’s similar to the show like DNA samples, blood splatter analysis, bullet analysis, etc. Even yet, how about other media like novels? Would this result in the same way?

There are some implications, at the top of my head, from game design to player engagement. First, the contextual feedback system can be effective towards reinforcing positive attitudes and behaviours. We have already some systems in place like the moral meter, the scoring system where unjustifiable acts (civilian casualties, etc.) are penalized, etc. A novel method from Metal Gear Solid is Snake losing health when he’s smoking. The authors argued that the role playing could reinforce positive attitudes and behaviours, which means game designers should put some more effort in character portrayals and positive ones at that. Another implication is the open world games and its potential contextual ambiguity. I can’t think clearly on that one, but players are given free reign to play whatever they like, from a paragon to a renegade. How does that affect their attitudes or is it the setting of the game that would have an influence (Gangster-setting versus Wild West setting)?

Lee, K. M., Peng, W., & Klein, J. (2010) Will the experience of playing a violent role in a video game influence people’s judgements of violent crimes? Computers in Human Behavior, 26, 1019-1023. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.03.002


6 thoughts on “Will the experience of playing a bad cop influence people’s judgment of violent crimes? (Lee et al., 2010)

  1. Pingback: Study reveals violent video game’s effects on attitude of potential jurors « Beubo

  2. Pingback: Study reveals violent video game’s effects on attitude of potential jurors | Purple Rain IT Support & Computer Repair

  3. Pingback: AT Computers » Blog Archive » Study reveals violent video game’s effects on attitude of potential jurors

  4. Pingback: Do games affect juror attitudes? « Paola comenta

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