THE EFFECTS OF VIDEO GAME AVATAR RACE ON IN-GAME BEHAVIORS AND POST-PLAY AGGRESSION

Open Access
Author:
Ash, Erin Michelle
Graduate Program:
Media Studies
Degree:
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
October 06, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Michael Grant Schmierbach, Thesis Advisor
Keywords:
  • video games
  • Proteus effect
  • aggression
  • race
  • avatar embodiment
Abstract:
Video game researchers have begun to examine the effects of the avatar on game play, a phenomenon referred to as the Proteus effect. Effects of in-game behavior have been found for several attributes, including height, attractiveness, gender, and race. The study revealing a Proteus effect for race found that White game players using Black avatars demonstrated higher levels of hostile thoughts compared to White players using White avatars and concluded this effect was a result of participants’ embodiment of stereotypes associating African Americans with violence, leading to an increase in aggressive in-game behavior and, subsequently, aggressive cognition. This research uses a 2 X 2 factorial experiment to further investigate the effects observed in that study by measuring in-game behavior and the use of stereotypes to describe the avatar. Participants played Fight Night, a video game simulating a boxing match, as a White or Black avatar playing against a White or Black avatar, creating 4 conditions. Results revealed no significant effect of avatar race on the use of Black stereotypes to describe the characteristics of the avatar and no effects for in-game aggressive behavior or post-game aggressive cognition and affect. Conversely, the use of Black stereotypes to describe ones’ avatar, regardless of the avatar’s race, led to greater levels of aggressive affect and lower levels of aggressive cognition. An Avatar X Opponent race effect was also observed. However, contrary to what was predicted, participants in same-race (White or Black) conditions behaved more aggressively compared to those in opposite-race conditions. Implications of these findings for the Proteus effect and the understanding of racial priming in the context of video games are discussed.