The links between games violence and real-world violence are dubious, but a new study has suggested a worrying new corroboration between some games and social attitudes.
An Ohio State University study has found that young male gamers who identify with characters in violent games that objectify women show less empathy for real-world female victims of violence.
The study worked by presenting gamers with a photo illustration depicting an adolescent girl who had been physically abused by an adolescent boy. Those who had just played a violent and inherently sexist game (in this instance, Grand Theft Auto) reported lower levels of sympathy and compassion compared to those who had played non-violent and non-sexist games (either Dram Pinball 3D or QUBE 2).
A third control group played violent, but non-sexist games (Half-Life or Half-Life 2).
It was found that playing games in and of itself did not correlate with a lack of empathy. However, those who said they identified with GTA’s characters demonstrated notably less empathy and sympathy towards the pictured victim.
Those who fell into that group were also far more likely to agree with pro-masculine statements such as it is OK for a guy to use any and all means to ‘convince’ a girl to have sex” and boys should be encouraged to find a means of demonstrating physical prowess”.
One of the best predictors of aggression against girls and women is lack of empathy. The present research shows that violent-sexist video games such as GTA reduce empathy for female violence victims, at least in the short-term,” the study concludes.
This reduction in empathy partly occurs because video games such as GTA increase masculine beliefs, such as beliefs that ‘real men’ are tough, dominant, and aggressive. Our effects were especially pronounced among male participants who strongly identified with the misogynistic game characters.
It appears that GTA might make the world a worse place for females.”
Lead author of the study Alessandro Gabbiadini described the combination of video game violence and sexism as toxic”, stating: If you see a movie with a sexist character, there’s a certain distance. But in a video game, you are physically linked to the character. You control what he does. That can have a real effect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, at least in the short term.”
Co-author Brad Bushman added: You may think the games are just harmless fun. But when boys play them and identify with the male characters in the game, it can lead to agreement with some pretty disturbing beliefs about masculinity and how to treat women.”
Image credit: The Other Press