University study finds that ethnic leads in violent games can lead to racist stereotyping

Monday, 24th March 2014 13:06 GMT By Dave Cook

A new joint study conducted by the University of Michigan, Central Michigan University, and Ohio State University, together with Netherlands institute 4VU University, has found that playing as a black character in violent games can create negative and stereotypical assumptions of race.

The study can be read in the Social Psychology and Personality Science journal, and saw participants playing two violent games; one starring a white lead and the other featuring a black protagonist. The paper reasons, “The media often link Black characters and violence. This is especially true in video games, in which Black male characters are virtually always violent.”

126 players participated in the first test. The collective reported, “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.”

The second test took 141 players and saw many participants linking Black people with weapons. The excerpt reads, “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. Black violent video game avatars not only make players more aggressive than do White avatars, they also reinforce stereotypes that Blacks are violent.”

It’s not quite clear what method was used to gauge the full reaction in players, but it’s hard to deny that there is a degree of stereotyping going on in the industry today. In fact, this very subject was discussed in a rousing GDC session last week, hosted by Mass Effect gameplay designer Manveer Heir.

Echoing the study’s sentiment, Heir said at the time, “These negative stereotypes effect the identity of individuals in these groups. They affect the way people think and treat others in the real world, and [they] perpetuate the social injustices that occur in these different groups.”

The address received a standing ovation and does come at a time where stereotypes and equality are a much-discussed issue in gaming.

What’s your take on the above?

Via CVG.



  1. deathm00n

    How much do you want to bet that they made those people play GTA San Andreas? A game where the protagonist is black and is purposely a criminal?

    Because every study I see they get old games to say newer games are wrong.

    #1 9 months ago
  2. KAP

    This is exactly why I love Second Son, having the lead an native american, without either blatantly shoving it in your face or even making his story even about it. I applaud Sucker Punch for that. Very grown-up thing to do.

    I can’t really tell you another recent game that has done that I guess other then Walking Dead’s Lee Everett. I liked his portrayal of a african american lead character without him being the Franklin spewing N-word thisand N-word that. I really liked his character. First black teacher in a video game I’ve ever played anyway.

    #2 9 months ago
  3. deathm00n

    @KAP Henry in The Last of Us even tough not being the main character was amazing too.

    #3 9 months ago
  4. Typical Timing

    @KAP He did kill somebody though… ;)

    #4 9 months ago
  5. YoungZer0

    Might it have something to do with the fact that most black characters in videogames are stereotypical?

    #5 9 months ago
  6. salarta

    Okay, so white people play as white or black characters, but the group playing as black characters associate race with violence while the group playing as white characters do not? Sounds to me like this is less a case of “having a black lead in a violent game is a bad thing” and more a case of “the media in general has warped white people to perceive black people as more violent, and it’s being expressed when they play games.” If it was purely an effect of the race you play while playing a game, both groups would’ve associated the race of their avatar with more violence, not just the black avatar group.

    #6 9 months ago
  7. YoungZer0


    You make a lot of sense here, which is pretty rare.

    #7 9 months ago
  8. jmg24bad

    The Netherlands has been notorious for racism against blacks too. Don’t know how I feel about this study

    #8 9 months ago

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