They did it everyone. They found the link between playing video games like Kirby and being a bigot…Well, not really. However, A recent study coming out of Ohio State University has found some interesting findings regarding racism and video games. This study may make your reconsider your next gaming choices.
Published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science the study questioned what happens when white video game players find themselves playing as black video game characters in violent video games. The first experiment had 120 white students play the violent video game Saints Row. Participants were randomly given either a white protagonist or a black protagonist in the game. Furthermore, players were given one of two missions – break out of prison or go to a chapel without harming others. After each play sessions participants were given the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to reveal any hidden biases they may have had by having participants link white and black faces to either negative or positive categories. The results found that players that were using black avatars were more likely to link negative categories to black faces than those who used white avatars. Similarly, it was found that players who played the more violent mission were more likely to agree with the statement “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites”. Yeesh, that’s harsh.
We’re getting into some scary findings here kiddos, but it doesn’t stop there. A second experiment was conducted to further these findings. In this follow up experiment, 141 more white college students were asked playing either WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010 or Fight Night Round 4. As in the previous experiment, participants were assigned either a white or black avatar and then given the IAT to measure their biases. However, after each play sessions participants had the opportunity to give their unseen partner (presumably their opponent) a punishment in the way of hot sauce, which the participants knew they disliked. The results found were inline with those of the previous experiment; players who played as black avatars were more likely to associate negative categories with black faces than those who played as white characters. In regards to the hot sauce portion of the experiment, players who played as black avatars gave their partners 115% more hot sauce than those who played as white avatars. Clearly, something about playing as black avatars makes white players want to dish out some hot sauce.
What this suggests is that something about playing as black avatar characters, especially in violent scenarios, reinforces negative stereotypes about the black community in white video game players and makes them more aggressive towards others. While it’s a general perspective to believe that more minority characters will make general audiences more empathetic to people of colors, this study suggests that negative and unbalanced minority characters may only fuel further racism and bias. Regardless of this study’s findings or not, clearly there is a lack of balanced and progressive minority characters in the video game industry.
One thing the study does not do is offer reasons why this may occur, other than their go-to embedded racism. Embedded racism may be the perpetrator, but one must consider that there may be something more at work. It would be interesting if the same experiments would be done with a control group of only black video game players: would the same results be found or would the results be flipped. One consideration the study does not offer is disassociation: players could potentially be more likely to be more aggressive when they have a further distance between themselves and their character. Not relating to their character on race may be making players relate less, and thus become more aggressive and more likely to act out. Of course this doesn’t offer a solution as to why they would be biased towards racial stereotypes, but it’s a consideration.
This study tells us something that we already know: negative characters lead to negative attitudes and actions. Playing as a violent killer is negative, regardless of the race of the character or player. I’m not suggest we pacify or censor our games, but instead me more conscious of the media we’re consuming and how it effects us. It often is more fun to be violent in a video game than not, but perhaps we should only be giving our gaming palettes opportunity to be violent.