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Video games could have negative effects on your attitudes toward other races. An Ohio State University study suggested that white gamers expressed more negative attitudes toward blacks after playing as black characters.
In the first experiment of the study, 126 white students (60% male) played Saints Row 2. They were then randomly given a black or white avatar. Some were asked to perform a violent mission, breaking out of prison, while others were asked to merely find a chapel in the city.
After the play session, the gamers with the black avatar and violent goal were more likely to express negative attitudes toward blacks than the group who played white characters. For instance, they were more likely to agreement that "if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites." When they took the Implicit Association Test (IAT), this group took longer to link positive words like joy or love with a black face than with a white face. They were also more likely to associate black faces with negative words.
In the second experiment, 141 white students (65% female) played either WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010 or Fight Night Round 4. Once again, they were assigned either a black or white character.
After playing their game, the students were given a different version of the IAT. They were shown pictures of black and white faces alongside pictures or weapons or nonviolent objects like cameras or phones. The group that had played as black avatars more commonly associated black faces with weapons.
What's more, students who played a violent game with a black avatar showed more aggression than the students playing with a white avatar. Following their play session, they were asked if they wanted to give hot sauce to an unseen partner (actually nonexistent) after told that the other person didn't like spicy food. The group who controlled a black character in a violent game gave 115% more hot sauce than the white avatar group.
In other words, playing a violent game as a black character will reinforce players' beliefs that blacks are violent. It also causes them to act more aggressively afterward.
Brad Bushman, the professor of communication and psychology who co-authored the study, said that the experiments show that simply playing as a character of a different race doesn't improve your attitude toward that race. The context of the game matters.
“Usually, taking the perspective of a minority person is seen as a good thing, as a way to evoke empathy,” Bushman said. “But if white people are fed a media diet that shows blacks as violent, they don’t have a realistic view of black people. It isn’t good to put yourself in the shoes of a murderer, as you do in many of these violent games.”
There's a lot of discussion among critics and gamers these days about the lack of diversity in games. This study indicates that simply adding characters of different races to a game isn't going to make the hobby more inclusive.
The study appears in the latest issue of the academic journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. It's currently available online and will be appear in print soon as well.