Playing as black: Avatar race affects white video game players

by Jeff Grabmeier

What happens when white video game players see themselves as black characters in a violent game?

A new study suggests some disturbing answers: It makes the white players act more aggressively after the game is over, have stronger explicit toward blacks and display stronger implicit attitudes linking blacks to weapons.

These results are the first to link avatar race in violent video games to later aggression, said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

And it raises another troubling impact that violent video games can have on players, he said.

"Playing a as a black character reinforces harmful stereotypes that blacks are violent," Bushman said.

"We found there are real consequences to having these stereotypes – it can lead to more aggressive behavior."

The results appear online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science and will be published in a future print edition.

The study involved two related experiments. In the first, 126 white university students (60 percent males) played the violent game Saints Row 2. They were randomly assigned to play the game either as a black or white male avatar.

Before the participants arrived, the researchers set up the game with the black or white avatar and rotated the game view so that the avatar was visible to the participant when he or she started playing.

The participants were assigned to play with a violent goal (break out of prison) or a nonviolent goal (find a chapel somewhere in the city without harming others).

Afterward, those who played with the violent goal and as a black avatar showed stronger explicit negative attitudes toward blacks than did those who played as a white avatar. For example, those who played as a black avatar 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."

But the negative attitudes weren't just explicit. All participants took the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which is designed to reveal unconscious bias. During this test, researchers measure how quickly participants link a white or black face with a "good" word (joy, love, peace) or a "bad" word (terrible, horrible, evil). If it takes a participant longer to link a black face to good words than it does to link a white face, then that is considered showing more negative attitudes toward blacks.

Results showed that participants who played the violent version of the game as a black avatar were more likely to associate black faces with negative words on the IAT than were those who played as a white avatar.

"The media have the power to perpetuate the stereotype that blacks are violent, and this is certainly seen in video games," Bushman said.

"This violent stereotype may be more prevalent in video games than in any other form of media because being a black character in a video game is almost synonymous with being a violent character."

This stereotype can affect people's actions, as found in the second experiment.

In this study, 141 white college students (65 percent female) played one of two : WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010 or Fight Night Round 4. These games both used a third-person perspective, allowing the player to see his or her avatar's race throughout the game.

Again, participants were assigned to play as a black or a white avatar. After playing, the participants completed another version of the IAT, which took an implicit measure of the stereotype that blacks are violent. In this version, photos of black and white male and female faces were paired with photos of weapons or harmless objects like a cell phone or camera.

The students who played the game as a black avatar were more likely to associate black faces with weapons than were students who played as a white avatar.

But this study went further by finding that participants who played a violent game as a black avatar acted more aggressively against a partner than did those who played as a white avatar.

This part of the study involved a test that researchers have used since 1999 to measure aggression. Participants had the opportunity to force an unseen partner (who didn't actually exist) to eat hot sauce after the partner revealed that he or she strongly disliked spicy food.

Those who played the violent game as a black avatar gave their partner 115 percent more hot sauce than did those who played as a white avatar.

In a statistical analysis, Bushman found that participants' implicit attitudes that blacks are violent was linked to their actual aggressive behavior after the game was turned off.

"This suggests that playing a violent as a black avatar strengthens players' attitudes that blacks are violent, which then influences them to behave more aggressively afterward," he said.

Bushman noted that this study shows that it doesn't always help white people to take the perspective of a black person.

"Usually, taking the perspective of a minority person is seen as a good thing, as a way to evoke empathy," Bushman said. "But if white people are fed a media diet that shows blacks as violent, they don't have a realistic view of black people. It isn't good to put yourself in the shoes of a murderer, as you do in many of these violent games."

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bjplague
not rated yet Mar 21, 2014
The control group is too small, 126 students, 60% of which is male is randomly divided into black and white players. you need atleast 1000 and 2 groups, 100% male, 100% female.

zfx
5 / 5 (1) Mar 21, 2014
This study seems unsound, how can they assume the video game caused this effect? What were the students attitudes regarding race prior to the game? How come when they played as white they dont associate whites with the same level of violence you say they do when playing blacks? its not like there are people who dont have views on race, anyone exposed to T.V is fed a diet of subtle racism.. This study jumps to conclusions which is not how science should be.
dogbert
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2014
It is sad when two professors at a state university spend their time and resources devising studies to promote racism.
tadchem
1 / 5 (1) Mar 21, 2014
From the Bureau of Justice Statistics' Report 'Firearm Violence, 1993-2011':
"In 2010, the rate of firearm homicide for blacks was 14.6 per 100,000, compared to 1.9 for whites, 2.7 for American Indians and Alaska Natives, and 1.0 for Asians and Pacific Islanders."
Is it 'stereotyping' if the data supports it?
leumasmc
5 / 5 (1) Mar 21, 2014
I don't think its the violence aspect nearly so much as the role played by the avatar. There needs to be a study based on players responses to black avatars playing the hero rather than a villain or nameless fighter. Why not use a game like Mass Effect? There is plenty of violence ME, but your avatar is a space opera hero. The avatar can be customized to any race.
julianpenrod
4 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2014
Among other things, this "experiment" was not performed with blacks, or having blacks play as, say Asian, characters. The purpose is obvious to lower the boom of whites and whites alone. No good running a scam if you reveal ugly facts about the group you're promoting.
Too, what color was the adversary in the game? If there is such an implicit suggested predilection against blacks among whites, how did whites playing as whites treat black characters?
Also, an immensely egregious error. In terms of matching black and white faces to certain terms, aside from asking whether participants thought, say, "telephone" was mild or aggressive, consider that, quite frankly, black facial morphology does cover quite a range, much of it in the almost cartoonish region of overhanging brows, shielded eyes, heavy chins, broad expressions. Compare, say, Chris Rock with Harry Belafonte, or Whoopie Goldberg and Vanessa Williams.
julianpenrod
2.5 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2014
An eminent example of an anti white fraudulently designed "experiment" to "prove" children are taught to hate dark skin.
The white hating venue CNN, a few years ago, aired a segment with the bigot, Anderson Cooper, demonstrating the fraudulent "experiment" by "professor" Margaret Beale Spencer. Children, black and white, were shown cartoon figures, all exactly the same, except for darkening color. They were than asked which figures they thought was "smart" or "good" and which "stupid" or "evil". They all always chose the dark as reprehensible and the white as good. The "conclusion" is that whites automatically think white is better and blacks are beaten into submission to think that way. All the figures were the same, except for color! The kids thought they were being tested to see which color they thought was desirable, not which race they respected! And Spencer knew it had already been proved that children automatically prefer light colors!
barakn
1 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2014
From the Bureau of Justice Statistics' Report 'Firearm Violence, 1993-2011':
"In 2010, the rate of firearm homicide for blacks was 14.6 per 100,000, compared to 1.9 for whites, 2.7 for American Indians and Alaska Natives, and 1.0 for Asians and Pacific Islanders."
Is it 'stereotyping'?

Yes, if you present the data that way. Looked at another way... In 2010, the rate of firearm survival for blacks was 99.9854%, compared to 99.9981% for whites, 99.9973% for American Indians and Alaska Natives, and 99.9990% for Asians and Pacific Islanders. Whites were a paltry 0.0119% more likely not to be killed by firearms than blacks.
mse
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 22, 2014
Straw Man Argument :"Yes, if you present the data that way. Looked at another way... In 2010, the rate of firearm survival for blacks was 99.9854%, compared to 99.9981% for whites, 99.9973% for American Indians and Alaska Natives, and 99.9990% for Asians and Pacific Islanders. Whites were a paltry 0.0119% more likely not to be killed by firearms than blacks.":

No matter how you try to represent it, this does not change the statistics you seemingly object to. Denial is not a solution. To mischaracterize white males,who are 14 time less likely to kill than their black cohorts, is nothing short of true racism. But today, true racism is being used with impunity and with malintent by the means of projection and for the purpose of destroying what racial harmony can exist. Divide and conquer. Blacks and whites are the losers in this scenario. The elitist Left wins.
baudrunner
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 22, 2014
Those studies are stupid, and exploit the obvious in an effort to modify people's perceptions, which they will not do in any event. Kids are more accepting of lighter colors. When I was just a child and we only had B&W TV, I always picked the white uniformed football team as my favorite to win, because they were the "good guys". I wasn't so much into football that I actually cared who the teams were. By the same token, when I first heard Eminem's rap 'music', I thought that he was black, until I saw his photo. No harm there, either. Those researchers are giving innocent people some serious complexes.
barakn
1 / 5 (2) Mar 23, 2014
I wear my 1 star ratings with pride, ubavontuba and dogbert. In the past, racists like you wore hoods and cloak, but now you try to hind behind cherry picked statistics (one of uba's favorite tactics in all arenas). But how easy it is to unmask you. All I have to do is present the same statistics from a different point of view, and you give me a 1.
ubavontuba
3 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2014
I wear my 1 star ratings with pride, ubavontuba and dogbert. In the past, racists like you wore hoods and cloak, but now you try to hind behind cherry picked statistics (one of uba's favorite tactics in all arenas). But how easy it is to unmask you. All I have to do is present the same statistics from a different point of view, and you give me a 1.
You're a bully, and it upsets you to be bullied? Imagine that!

I'm just downranking you like you do to me (without even bothering to discuss the reason).