I chose this article because of its brevity which fits with my summer slump. Peter Fischer (Karl-Franzens-University) and colleagues published this brief experiment on the impact of participant-customized miis on either wii bowling or wii boxing. Guess what they found?
A recent development in video games is that players can design and personalize their own in-game characters. It was predicted that this innovation could lead to elevations in the intensity of the psychological effects of video games. The present study confirmed this hypothesis, revealing that participants who played an aggressive video game using their own, personalized character exhibited higher levels of aggressive behavior than participants who played an aggressive game with a non-personalized character. The aggressive behavior levels of the own-character players also exceeded those of individuals who played a non-aggressive game, regardless of whether or not they used a personalized character. Process analyses revealed that participants playing a violent video game with a personalized game character experienced more arousal and self-activation than they did when playing with an impersonal, default game character, which in turn increased aggressive responses.
If you’re wondering about the special issue of Review of General Psychology on videogames. I tried to do a timely cover on it, but summer procrastination stalled me.
A personalized avatar, especially an avatar that bears a resemblance to oneself, can make ambiguously dangerous, yet virtual, situations more personal than a pre-made doll in a non-threatening situation. The authors started by the basics in that aggressive situations would arouse individuals and prime their aggression cognitive schemas. In addition, they argued that such arousal would also prime self-activation or their self-concept in order for these aggressive cues to be more self-relevant (or rather more personal) and would prompt these individuals to deal with them quickly or based on their own norms, values and skills. In essence, an attack on my virtual self (if it has any significant connection to the self) would lead to a higher increase to aggression than a neutral situation.
Participants: 76 participants. Undergraduates students, 50 are female and 26 are male. Average age is 22.56.
Video game characters: participants play through their miis. Either a personalized one of which randomly selected participants create their avatars for the experiment or a default mii character that has no typical male or female characteristics.
Self-activation questionnaire: A 5-point Likert-scale questionnaire. It asked how awake, strong, attentive, active, upset and motivated they felt.
Aggressive behaviour: the hot chilli sauce paradigm. Participants are asked to determine the amount of hot chilli sauce for another participant (non-existent) to consume. The sauce is very spicy and hurts the tongue very badly. Of course, there’s the usual deception strategy (e.g. “this chilli sauce study is unrelated to what you just did”) to confound the participant from knowing that it is to measure their aggressive behaviours (in an academically experimental setting).
Identification: a single question: “I could identify with game character.” This is used to check if participants are identifying with their avatars.
Video games used: the Wii sports, more specifically the Wii bowling and Wii Boxing module. It’s used to minimize software differences. IMO, I think it’s the easy creation mii system. I would’ve gone further with Second Life because it’s more realistic, but time-consuming for both experimenters and participants.
Another potential problem is the motion gameplay of the wii games, boxing and bowling are played differently, of course. One might’ve suggested that boxing involved aggressive motions which could’ve account for increased aggression. Markey (2008) found that wii motions in violent video games do not increase aggression. Another thing the authors missed is that the behavioural synchrony between avatar and player might’ve increased self-activation levels.
Participants are randomly assigned to either create their personalized miis or play with the default mii character. Unfortunately, the authors did not say how long participants created their miis because some might have a poor memory of their self-image or just can’t figure which nose matches theirs. This could be a systematic flaw in this line of research, these participants were given time to familiarize with their character and thus form a connection as opposed to the other group being already thrown into the boxing ring or bowling alley. A solution to this dilemma is to have the other group to recreate a mii character from a picture of a person. More on that after the results.
Play time is 25 minutes. Afterwards, the hot chilli sauce paradigm: where participants are lead to believe that sauce can lead to tears of pain and suffering just like Hinata.
They found that personalized miis lead to a significant higher level of identification than the default character. So, I expect no further whining why miis aren’t good avatars because of graphical realism or some such.
They’ve also found that participants in the personalized miis boxing game reported higher levels of self-activation and gave a significantly higher amount of chilli sauce than the other three conditions. Those in the default mii boxing game were also found to have given more chilli sauce than the non-aggressive groups.
The authors finally did a meditational analysis and reported that aggressive behavioural effects from aggressive video games using the personalized miis was mediated by levels of self-activation. If I get this right, aggressive behaviours by playing a self-relevant avatar in a aggressive video game is dependent on the level of self-activation. So, if a player has low self-activation and plays a personalize mii in that boxing game then his level of aggressive behaviour would be lower than those who have a high self-activation level, am I right?
On to the limitations, the stuff I like to rant about! The authors had a point that research on the self within the video game context is rather small and would have a great potential within the media violence literature, especially when you consider the raging behaviours of some crazy MMO players or the many inflated egos. Participants gender ratio was not equal, more women than men. The boxing game is an aggressive sport which condones acceptable aggressive behaviours within an enclosed space bound by specific rules that does not allow efficient means (i.e. brass knuckles; Suits,1978). A violent video game with unjustifiable motives might produce different results. Since it’s a simple experiment, many aspects were left missing, such as prosocial video games or racing games. Huh… a personalized vehicle that a player would get attached or identify with or would they?
I stumbled upon Tronstad’s chapter on identification in World of Warcraft and there are some relevant bits that should be considered about the self in the video game context. In Role Playing Games, players are given the greatest degree of character customization than any other genres, but also the most complex. Character appearance is equally important as to capacity as Tronstad motioned. Capacity is defined as the “given possibilities a certain character type has to interact with the game”. For example, the warrior can split skulls in two, but can’t pick lock a sealed treasure chest. Why does capacity has to do with character identification? It speaks about personality and what you (as the player) can do. If I recall Nick Yee’s research, people with social motives or more likely women often play the priest class since the class is suitable to that role. Another way is the players’ style; some opt through brute strength or tricks and thus choose the appropriate class. Appearances may be self-activating, but it could be superficial if every avatar can do everything. Perhaps giving more options like physical traits (i.e. strength, endurance or speed) or even behavioural tics (i.e. avoiding eye contact during a conversation) might bolster self-activation.
Another consideration is the multiple avatars one can create. The questions would beg if each of these avatars would instil the same level of self-activation; what would happen if those avatars represent a certain aspect of their personality (i.e. feminine side of yourself?); What if some of these virtual representations are the player’s avatars or characters? Again drawn from Tronstad, he classified avatar as the representation of the player in the game where it has no discernible identity of its own, then this study would apply to avatars. On the other hand, characters have a discernible identity of its own in which the relationship between player and character has changed from immersive identification to narrative identification or “empathic identity”. This kind of identification is the sort where the player experiences what the character experiences, but the player understood that he/she is not the character. For example, Shepard from Mass Effect would be considered a character despite the visual customization and personalized naming. Shepard speaks as his own and not through the player and NPC kept calling him his last name instead of the player’s, thus creating a distance between player and character. Such distance would affect player’s self-activation and perhaps their aggressive chilli dispensing behaviours.
Well I’ve highlighted some of the complexities about the personalization of a virtual representation and it looks like we still have a long way to go about learning our self in the video game context. We may have felt more self-aware through our personalized miis through a short-term experiment, and in turn felt more aggressive in an aggressive situation. However, what happens if we go even further into the social virtual world where aggression and social gatherings happen at the same time?
Fischer, P., Kasenmuller, A., & Greitemeyer, T. (2010). Media violence and the self: The impact of personalized gaming characters in aggressive video games on aggressive behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 192-195. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.06.010