A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan, Central Michigan University, Ohio State University, and VU University in the Netherlands has discovered that playing as violent protagonists of ethnic descent in video games can lead to negative racial stereotyping in the minds of players.
Titled “Effects of Avatar Race in Violent Video Games on Racial Attitudes and Agression, the study was conducted in two parts. In the first, it was found that out of 126 players, “White participants who played a violent video game as a Black avatar displayed stronger implicit and explicit negative attitudes toward Blacks than did participants who played a violent video game as a White avatar or a nonviolent game as a Black or White avatar.”
In the second part, 141 players were tested. Out of these, the study notes that “White participants who played a violent video game as a Black (vs. White) avatar displayed stronger implicit attitudes linking Blacks to weapons. Implicit attitudes, in turn, related to subsequent aggression.”
The study opened by saying that “the media often link Black characters and violence. This is especially true in video games, in which Black male characters are virtually always violent.” In the study’s abstract, the conclusion states that “Black violent video game avatars not only make players more aggressive than do White avatars, they also reinforce stereotypes that Blacks are violent.”
Many extraneous details such as the games played, conditions of the experiment, methods used for questioning, and screening process used for participants are not noted, so much of this information should be taken with a proverbial grain of salt. Despite the missing details, however, this news arrives during a time when the conversation about diversity and portrayal of minorities in video games has reached an all-time high, being one of the main underpinnings of conversation at last week’s Game Developer’s Conference (GDC). It’s an important conversation that will likely shape the nature of diversity and racial portrayal in video games for years to come, hopefully for the better.