The Effects of Home Video Game Violence and Fantasy Portrayals upon Enjoyment and Emotional State: A Gender Comparison
Student researchers

John McGrath (PhD Student)
Chad Mahood (MA Student)
This paper is based on an undergraduate Independent Study.

Faculty Supervisor

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, non-fantasy enemies

Violent, alien fantasy enemies

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 state.


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 games.

RQ2: Enjoyment of video games did not differ as a function of realism of characters.

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.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. Mary Beth Oliver by e-mail at or by telephone at (814) 863-5552

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University