The Effects of Home Video Game Violence and Fantasy Portrayals upon
Enjoyment and Emotional State: A Gender Comparison
John McGrath (PhD Student)
Chad Mahood (MA Student)
This paper is based on an undergraduate Independent Study.
Dr. Mary Beth Oliver
For a complete report of this research, see:
Mahood. C., Oliver, M. B., & McGrath, J. (2000, June). The effects
of home video game violence and fantasy portrayals upon enjoyment and
emotional state: A gender comparison . Paper presented to the Mass Communication
Division at the 50th annual conference of the International Communication
Association (ICA), Acapulco, Mexico.
Many critics of the media industry have singled out video games as a
major cause of several recent high school shootings such as the incident
at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. It has been claimed that both
student shooters were avid players of Doom, a "first-person shooter"
video game categorized by high levels of depicted violence. The video
game industry has recognized that males seem to enjoy violent video games
more than females and have heavily targeted their games toward males.
Several studies have shown this to be true. It is of further concern that
not only is violence prevalent; the portrayal of violence is highly skewed
toward a male perspective. It has also been shown that males may seek
out this violence more than do females, but research has been mixed as
to whether or not males actually enjoy this violence more than females
do? The ambiguity in prior research is mostly likely due to two reasons.
First, when research has compared violent video games with non-violent
games it may have inadvertently measured an effect for the confounding
variable of game genre. Researchers typically compare games that involve
shooting, fighting or chasing digital characters (violent condition) with
puzzle games (non-violent condition). Secondly, the studies mentioned
above have looked at very unrealistic, two-dimensional games. It may also
be of practical importance to study if a violent game that depicts fantasy-like
creatures differs in effect from a game where the object is to kill more
human-like creatures that employ realistic movements and facial characteristics.
Given these findings and more recent developments of video game technologies,
further research is needed to explore the effects of improved, more realistic
portrayals in modern home video games. As the violence in video games
becomes more 'real,' what effect will it have?
Research Questions and Hypotheses:
Specifically, we asked the following research questions:
RQ1: Will there be gender differences in emotional agitation after exposure
to video games, especially violent ones?
RQ2: Will enjoyment of games be greater if the video game contains realistic
human, non-fantasy characters?
RQ3: Will emotional agitation following violent games be greater if the
video game contains realistic human, non-fantasy characters?
Based on the research questions and prior research findings, the following
hypotheses were proposed:
H1: Males will report playing more video games than females.
H2: Males will report greater enjoyment of most types of video games
than will females, but particularly video games that portray violence.
H3: Exposure to violence in video games will increase males' enjoyment,
but decrease females' enjoyment.
Seventy-six participants took part in a 2 (violent game demonstration
vs. non-violent game demonstration) X 2 (human, non-fantasy enemies vs.
alien fantasy enemies) between-subjects design.
Violent, alien fantasy
To maintain maximal control over the manipulation of violent content,
subjects in this study were asked to view a demonstration of a video game
rather than to engage in actual play (where some subjects may have played
the game more violently than others). Before experimental exposure, subjects
filled out a paper-and-pencil questionnaire inquiring as to their video
game usage and preferences. After exposure, subjects were asked to rate
their enjoyment of the game they watched, as well as their present emotional
H1: Partially Supported. Although a larger percentage of males than females
reported play in arcades, on computers, and on home video games, these
differences were significant for home video games alone.
H2: Supported. Consistent with Hypothesis 2, males in this study reported
greater enjoyment of all video games, especially violent video games (e.g.
shooting and fighting).
H3: Partially Supported. Exposure to violence in video games did increase
males' enjoyment, but did not affect females' enjoyment.
RQ1: There were gender differences in emotional agitation after exposure
to video games. Males were more tense and angry after viewing non-violent
video games, while females were more tense and angry following the violent
RQ2: Enjoyment of video games did not differ as a function of realism
RQ3: Emotional agitation did not differ as a function of realism of characters.
Results indicate that not only do males play more video games than females,
males also have a greater preference for violent games, while males and
females prefer non-violent games equally. After viewing experimentally
manipulated video games, males appeared to enjoy all the games, but especially
the violent ones, more than females did. Yet females had the same level
of enjoyment for both violent and non-violent games. Males and females
also had differing levels of tension and anger following violent video
games. Finally, fantasy violence had the same effect as more realistic
violence upon both males and females.