Thoughts on: Beyond the Shooter Game: Examining Presence and Hostile Outcomes Among Male Game Players (Eastin and Griffiths)

Eastin, M. and Griffiths, R. (2006) Beyond the Shooter Game: Examining Presence and Hostile Outcomes Among Male Game Players. Communication Research 2006; 33; 448 Retrieved 31st May, 2008 from

One of the questions I’ve asked in this project is about violence in games and what this raises in an educational context. This paper investigates the role of violent games in stimulating aggression in players – and at the same time raises some interesting observations about the factors that cause “presence” or immersion in games.

The methodology for measuring aggression seems a little sketchy to me to be honest but then again, I’m not a psychologist. They quantify it by considering perceptions of aggressive/hostile intent in others – the more aggressive you are feeling, the more likely you are to take someone’s actions or intent to be hostile.

They made use of scenarios that the player is meant to describe what happens next in and discuss the emotional state that they believe the scenario characters are experiencing.

4. Story 1: Todd was on his way home from work one evening when he had to brake at an intersec-
tion for crossing pedestrians. The person on the bike behind him must not have known he needed to stop
for the pedestrian because he crashed into the back of Todd’s bike, causing a lot of damage to both bicy-
cles. Fortunately, there were no injuries. Todd got off of his bike and surveyed the damage. He then
walked over to the other rider. What happens next? Note: This story was originally a car accident; how-
ever, given that one of our conditions was a racing game, the word car was removed and replaced with
bike. Story 2: Fred had worked all summer long, and now, a couple of weeks before school started, he felt
he deserved a holiday. After a bit of thought, he decided on a vacation to the coast would be ideal. After
all, what could be better than heading to the beach and ocean? The problem was that he did not want to
go alone. He knew his best friend Sam would go if he could; however, Sam had been saving his money
to buy a new stereo. Fred decided to go over to Sam’s place and try to convince him to come to the coast.
What happens next? Story 3: George had worked hard all day long cleaning his apartment. He was tired
but decided to reward himself with a meal in one of the restaurants down the street. On entering the restau-
rant George decided on Caesar salad, French onion soup, and a filet mignon. Some 15 mins later, a waiter
came around to take his order. Time slowly passed, and George was getting hungrier and hungrier. Finally,
about 45 mins after his order had been taken, George was about to leave when he saw the waiter approach-
ing with his food. What happens next?

Eastin and Griffiths provide some interesting language to describe the way people interact with the games:

First-person games are thought
to increase identification with the gaming character through involvement and immer-
sion, which subsequently increases short-term outcomes such as aggression (Leyens
& Picus, 1973; Schneider, Lang, Shin, & Bradley, 2004). Involvement, defined as a
psychological state in which attention and energy are focused on the medium, and
immersion, defined as the extent to which the player or person perceives being in and
interacting with the mediated environment, are considered necessary components to
the larger construct of presence (Witmer & Singer, 1998). Presence, which is further
explicated below, is then defined as “the subjective experience of being in one place
or environment, even when one is physically situated in another” (Witmer & Singer,
1998, p. 225). The decision to shoot, punch, and so on “as” a character in a first-
person game rather than “with” a character leads to greater presence—as defined
through involvement and immersion.

There is further discussion of what “presence” really is later:

Lee (2004) defined presence as “a psychological state in which virtual (para-
authentic or artificial) objects are experienced as actual objects in either sensory or
nonsensory ways” (p. 37). Further describing the subjective experience, Lee expli-
cated three typologies of presence—physical, social, and self. Physical presence rep-
resents a psychological state in which virtual objects are experienced as actual. In
this regard, presence can occur in any locale because it is a psychological feeling
rather than the actuality of being in the environment. Social presence is a state where
virtual social actors are experienced as actual. Finally, self-presence describes a state
where the virtual self is experienced as actual.

Speaking across definitions, the perception of presence experienced is to some
extent based on the media’s ability to deceive the human senses into believing medi-
ated sensory as reality (Heeter, 1992). Through person-centered routes, the mediated
environment becomes the focus and simulates the sensation of real life. Thus, presence
is experienced through the interaction between the individual and mediated technology
(Klimmt & Vorderer, 2003; Tamborini et al., 2004), where involvement and immersion
are important interrelated components (Witmer & Singer, 1998). Similarly, Steuer
(1992) and Tamborini et al. (2004) inferred that presence, in part, occurs through the
combination of vividness (relating to the user’s senses) and interactivity (the ability to alter environment).

Presence in this regard is dependent on the number of sensory chan-
nels activated simultaneously and the saliency of each sensory channel (Steuer, 1992).
Technology that increases sensory engagement should ease a player’s mental strain by
enabling greater focus on the content and action, subsequently increasing the effects of
game content. Based on the tendencies of previous work, the current researchers used
Witmer and Singer’s (1998) conceptual and empirical definition of presence that
broadly captures the subjective experience of being in one place even when physically
in another.

From this they hypothesize that players in a Virtual Reality (VR) environment would feel more deeply immersed in the game environment (more “present”) than players of console based games. They refer to previous studies that suggest that the greater the “presence”, the greater the short-term effect on aggression. They refer also to studies by Tamborini et al which indicate that this didn’t in fact happen with players using a VR system and attribute this to the fact that

The researchers suggest the findings were due to a lack of experience using VR systems
and a potential disengagement between firing a gun and the respondent’s existing
real-world scripts for aggression (Tamborini et al.). Simply put, a violent behavior
resembling more common social violence, such as punching, kicking, and so on,
would increase the behavior salience (and potentially aggressive cognition) more
than a shooting-type game.”

This is a particularly interesting observation – that punching in a game has a deeper connection to most people because it is closer to reality for them. From this they hypothesize that presence and hostile expectations will be greater in a fist-fighting game than a shooting (and driving) one.

Finally they consider whether the player is playing against the computer or another person. (Or at least believes that they are). Eastin and Griffiths believe that presence is enhanced when people think they are playing other people – and this forms their final hypothesis. (Also that hostile expectations will rise in this context)

However, when a person experiences an environment with another person, research
suggests levels of presence are heightened. Schubert, Regenbrecht, and Friedmann
(2000) found that when participants “perceive some possibility to be part of the action,
to interact with the characters” (p. 4), inside a virtual environment, levels of perceived
presence rose.

Competitively speaking, research suggests a positive relationship between competi-
tion and aggression (Anderson & Morrow, 1995; Berkowitz, 1962, 1989). According
to Berkowitz (1962), aggression increases through frustrations, and competition
between opponents who seek the same goal is thought to be frustrating (Berkowitz,
1989). Furthering this idea, research has shown competitive situations, or simply
priming participants toward competition, increases indices of aggression (Anderson
& Morrow, 1995).

The study used 219 participants from a “large mid-western university”

Participants engaged in two distinct sessions for the current study. During the first
session, they were given consent forms and an initial questionnaire on video-game
use. After completing the questionnaire, participants were randomly assigned to one
of six conditions (shooting, fighting, or driving games in either the standard console
or VR condition). Participants were permitted to “train” on the game until they felt
they had a handle on how to successfully manipulate the controls of the game. This
rarely exceeded 20 mins. The training environments were designed to be similar to
but not duplicates of the final testing environments. The only purpose for training was
to give participants the opportunity to develop the necessary skills for game play, sub-
sequently allowing them to focus on content and action (as suggested by Tamborini
et al., 2004). When the participants felt comfortable with the game’s controls, they
were asked to sign up for another session and thanked for participating in the study.

The second session of the study positioned the players in the same condition and
environment in which they were trained. However, this time participants were told
they would be playing against either a computer agent or another participant. Previous
game-play treatments varied from 5 to 75 mins (Sherry, 2001); however, longer game
time does not signify increased aggression. Because the researchers are interested in
short-term effects, the players played for two 10-min sessions (Anderson & Dill,
2000). As a manipulation check, after the second session all gamers were asked to
indicate whether they were playing against the computer or another person. Only
those consistent with the manipulation were included in analyses.

The results indicated that:

  • consoles actually provided higher levels of presence
  • VR sparked more hostile expectations overall but generally differences weren’t huge with the console
  • the shooting games gave more presence than the fighting games
  • the fist-fighting games provided more hostile expectations by far than either the shooting or driving games
  • presence and hostile expectations weren’t particularly influenced by whether the player was playing a human or a computer

Eastin and Griffiths conclude that players are generally more familiar with console games, explaining the higher levels of presence (also by playing these in the lab they wouldn’t have had the usual distractions they would have at home)

Greater familiarity with the FPS genre could also explain the lower hostility expectations

They have a very interesting possible conclusion about shooters and presence and why hostile expectations weren’t higher:

Conversely, rivaling current hypotheses, it also could be argued that presence increases game enjoyment. As game enjoyment increases, hostility decreases due to greater desensitization toward game
violence (Schneider et al., 2004; Tamborini et al., 2004). This could also explain the
relatively small effect sizes found for hostile expectations. Given that presence was rel-
atively high across conditions, the influence of violent game play on hostile outcomes
could have been attenuated by enjoyment. Future research should continue to examine
the influence of presence when presence is absent or at least relatively low before con-
cluding that it decreases hostility.

But that’s not all.

They touch on questions of avatar and agent race and gender in better understanding competitive gameplay.

“For instance, Eastin (2006) found
identification cues could be a moderating variable to competition. In his study, he found female game players attend to self and others during game play. Gamers playing with a same-gender avatar experienced greater connectedness with game play and competitiveness.

They finish with some interesting general observations which I believe are pretty pertinent to the project:

1. Immersion is only realized if the player is able to focus on content and action—which can only be
achieved if the player is not concentrating on the fundamental skills of the game and technology.

This entry was posted in experience, first person learner, first person perspective, first person shooter, fps, immersion, violence and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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