Video Games and Racial Stereotypes

black-video-game-character-from-Saints-Row-2Here’s a write-up of a study that a PSY 13 student sent me last semester: video gamers playing with a Black avatar act more aggressively and subsequently exhibit more racial bias. Really fascinating (and concerning) study. And it combines several topics we’ve discussed recently: media effects, aggression, and stereotyping.

Reactions to these findings?

This entry was posted in Aggression, Chapter 13, Media, Racial Bias, Research Study. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Video Games and Racial Stereotypes

  1. Gideon Wulfsohn says:

    This idea ties in perfectly with the Eberhardt study we learned about earlier in the session and is that much more pertinent to my current situation here in San Francisco. The way in which people associate color with crime is horrible, and I witness racial profiling almost every time I walk through the Tenderloin.

    We cannot attribute the horrible way in which we let the availability heuristic allow us to treat people unfairly. Growing up I played Grand Theft Auto, and remember the main character being Niko Bellic, an Eastern European tough guy that you control on mission that involve killing prostitutes amongst other tasks. Moreover, there is a mode in which you get to roam the city doing whatever, and Take Two Interactive (the company that produces the game) feels that people are more likely to let their mind run that much more wild when stepping into the body of a hard nose seeming person.

    • Profile photo of Zihan Chai Zihan Chai says:

      I agree. And sometimes it seems that the game publishers are even trying to prime the players with racial distinctions. In many prominent FPR games set in an alternative universe (as opposed to those featuring real-world wars), gamers are still set to be up against the same stereotypical enemies: Latinos (COD: Ghost), Russians (COD6), Chinese (Battlefield 4), and Arabic people (COD4). Of course, there are many other considerations that go into the making of the storyline, but somehow, even in the alternative universe, it is still quite unimaginable to have the UK, Australia, or Canada to attack America and easier to have players shooting at enemy infantries speaking Russian or Arabic.

      • I do not necessarily agree that developers are trying to prime the players with racial distinctions. Statistics show that latinos and blacks play more video games compared to whites in the same age group and that generally there is very low distinction when it comes to race and video gamers. I don’t think developers are trying to alienate a good portion of their customer base. To the contrary, I think they are trying to show that they are cognizant of the diversity problem in video games. One good example could be the most recent Battlefield 1: even though it is set in WWI, a mainly European (and white) conflict, the developer chose to make a good 50% of the playable characters people of color, as they wanted to make a WWI game that would have not seemed white-washed. It’s food for thought when thinking at what lengths publishers think about race when producing video games.

    • I think the last sentence of your response could possibly give interesting suggestions. Is it implying that playing the game as a black avatar for a white person can, in cases, actually worsen people’s racial bias against black people, given that such racial bias might be present in many people’s minds an implicit prejudice or social stereotype?

  2. Profile photo of Alison Hoi Alison Hoi says:

    This is undoubtedly very concerning — the idea that our biases are so deeply entrenched that not only do we associate crime and violence with race, but that we unconsciously allow this association to manifest itself through our behavior. In this way, I think that the media has a tremendous impact on the way that we interact and understand our racial prejudices. It’s uncomfortable to recognize these findings, but that discomfort is important in working to challenge them.

    • Profile photo of Ki Jung Lee Ki Jung Lee says:

      I agree that prejudice is very deeply entrenched in me. Despite my efforts to be not controlled by my prejudices, I find myself associating certain races with typical stereotypes and “standards”. When I walk along the pathway with lots of black people, my body automatically tenses up and I become nervous and alarmed. I know those individuals are doing nothing to me, but both availability heuristics and representative heuristics constantly bring up the image on the media that showed violent crime done by black individuals. It is definitely uncomfortable that such stereotype is easily manifested and social categorization is done too easily. Recognizing this circumstance would allow better method to escape from fall into the prejudices and stereotypes.

    • After what we know about how video games can encourage aggression in real life, these findings are concerning. It seems here that our implicit real-world biases can manifest themselves in video games, but could there be some simultaneous causality here? How might these video games cause us subconsciously notice that black characters are more violent (even though we are the ones behind the controller), and then retain those stereotypes once we are done playing? A very disturbing thought to ponder.

  3. The most interesting experiment in this study in my opinion is that where the white female participants were put into a virtual reality as a black avatar. The conclusion of the study, which states that embodiment is influential in reducing implicit racial bias, could certainly be important to understanding racial bias in our society and the necessary actions needed to reduce it. I think using a video game was a very clever way to allow a person of one race to temporarily identify as another race, something that would probably not be as possible without virtual reality. Something else I would be interested to know is whether or not the actions of the white participants in the virtual reality would differ if they were playing as a black avatar or white avatar.

    • It is a clever idea to use a video game as a temporary way to view the actions of one race identifying as another race. Though I do agree that it would be interesting to look at the differences between a white participant playing as a black avatar and a white avatar in order to see if playing as an avatar of a different race really causes the participant to identify as the other race temporarily.

  4. Profile photo of kalper02 kalper02 says:

    Extrapolating from this study, I would love to know how self-fulfilling prophecy plays into violence, particularly in police/authority figure interactions. It would not surprise me if police officer’s implicit (and even explicit) bias towards people of color leads them to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in the person they approach. These cognitive and implicit biases about African-Americans and violence surely do not help in these types of encounters.

  5. I think this study is very enlightening, because it shows that we are all capable of the same behaviors, and our outer characteristics and the way society sees them determines which behaviors we express.

  6. Profile photo of jstone08 jstone08 says:

    This is not that surprising to me. The stereotypes and associations that one experiences in video gaming culture are pretty blatant. I think that game developers take advantage of stereotypes when they are designing RPG characters. A perfect example would be the three characters in GTA V. Franklin’s description represents an exaggeration of violent black stereotypes. Complete with a unique speech style, and absent mother, and a history of drugs and violence. The goal of game design is to get you to become immersed in the game. To motivate you to become the characters, and that is exactly what happened in the above study. 🙁

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