Monday 9 February 2015

Research Bulletin: Prosocial Videogames

Although many have studied the effects of violent videogames on aggression, very few have examined the potential positive outcomes of playing prosocial videogames (Yee, 2006). The narrative framing of a videogame, along with its content, can very much affect a player's experience. One exception to the focus on violent videogames is the work of Tobias Greitemeyer and his colleagues (2010). These researchers  examined the whether playing a prosocial videogames would affect emotions. Specifically, the authors hypothesized that exposure to a prosocial videogame would increase empathy and decrease schadenfreude. In the first experiment, 56 participants were randomly assigned to play a prosocial videogame named Lemmings or a neutral videogame (i.e., Tetris). In Lemmings, a player helps a group of small creatures to arrive safely at the exit. In Tetris, a player positions falling geometrical shapes by rotating them. After 10 minutes of videogame playing, participants engaged in two ostensibly unrelated tasks. First, they read a vignette about the misfortunes of Paris Hilton, who was to be sentenced to jail for violating her probation. Participants then rated how they felt towards Paris Hilton with respect to their levels of schadenfreude, relief, and happiness. These three items were averaged to form a schadenfreude scale. Next, participants read two essays about misfortune, one in which the author broke up with his girlfriend and another in which the author broke his leg. Directly after each essay, participants rated how sympathetic, compassionate, and soft-hearted they felt towards the author. These three items were averaged to form an empathy scale. As predicted, the authors found that group who played Lemmings reported lower levels of schadenfreude towards Paris Hilton and higher empathy for two essay authors, compared to those who played Tetris. In the second experiment, 61 participants were randomly assigned to play one of three possible games: Lemmings (prosocial), Tetris (neutral), or Lammers(an antisocial videogame). Lamers is the aggressive version of Lemmings, in which a player trys to kill all the small creatures so that none reaches the exit. After 10 minutes of video game playing, participants read a vignette about the misfortunes of Dieter Bohlen, a German entertainer, who was robbed of 60,000 Euros during a home invasion. Participants then responded to the same measure of schadenfreude as in Experiment 1, and indicated how empathetic they felt towards the entertainer. The authors found that (a) those who played Lemmings reported lower schadenfreude and higher empathy for Dieter Bohlen than both Tetris and Lammers groups, and (b) there were no significant differences Lemmings and Tetris groups on schadenfreude and empathy. Overall, this study suggests that the effects of playing videogames depends on the content of the game (e.g., violent or prosocial), and that exposure to prosocial videogames may temporarily increase prosocial emotions and decrease antisocial emotions. 

Greitemeyer, T., Osswald, S., & Brauer, M. (2010). Playing Prosocial Video Games Increases Empathy and Decreases Schadenfreude. Emotion, 10, 796–802.

Yee, N. (2006). The Demographics, Motivations and Derived Experiences of Users of Massively-Multiuser Online Graphical Environments. PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15, 309-329.

- Posted by Jin Kang

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