Computer Games Running Head: Computer Games

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Running Head: Computer Games

Effects of Computer/Video Games, and Beyond

Kwan Min Lee*

Annenberg School for Communication

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA 90089-0281

Wei Peng

Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media

Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI 48824

Namkee Park

Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

University of Oklahoma
395 W. Lindsey St., Room 3015
Norman, OK 73019

* Corresponding Author

In 1958, William A. Higinbotham, an engineer at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, created the world’s first computer game, a rudimentary two-player tennis game, to entertain visitors to his lab (Poole, 2000, p. 15). Since then, the computer/video game (from now on computer game) industry has become one of the most aggressively growing business sectors in the United States and in the world. In 2001, U.S. sales of computer games and related hardware increased 43 percent to $9.4 billion, surpassing movie box-office revenue of $8.3 billion in the same year (Takahasi, 2002). Global sales in the game industry were over $25 billion as early as 2002 and are expected to exceed $46 billion by 2009 (PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2006). In the United States, it is estimated that 67 percent of American heads of households play computer games (Entertainment Software Association [ESA], 2007). Already in 2000, game playing was regarded as the most entertaining media activity, relegating television watching to the second place (Interactive Digital Software Association [IDSA], 2000). Obviously, games are emerging as one of the most dominant forms of entertainment. This trend will go further, thanks to the increasing penetration of high speech Internet connection and the declining prices of computers, video-game consoles, and mobile entertainment devices.

The growing popularity of computer games and some tragic incidents such as the Columbine High School massacre have sparked various academic studies on social and psychological effects of playing computer games. In the current chapter, we try to provide an extensive review of the computer game literature with a special focus on studies published during the last decade. The current review will cover a wide range of research traditions (from effect studies to uses and gratifications studies) and game genres (from entertainment to serious games). More specifically, we will provide a comprehensive review of the following four research traditions in the game literature—negative effects of violent games; game addiction; positive effects of serious games; uses and gratifications of computer games in general. After the review, we will bring forward some unanswered questions in the current literature and lay out some agenda for future research.

Negative Effects of Violent Games

As a logical extension of the previous research in media violence, the study of negative effects of violence in computer games has been remarkably accumulated in the last two decades. The debate with respect to the effects of violent games on game users’ aggression, however, has been hardly resolved. One stream of research argues that violent games cause or at least correlate with game users’ aggression, especially for kids and adolescents, whereas the other line of research insists no significant association between violent games and aggression. This section reviews the two opposing views on the relationship between playing violent games and aggression.

Significant Effects of Computer Game Violence on Aggression

Among various theoretical efforts to explain the ways in which violent computer games affect people’s aggression, the General Aggression Model (GAM: Anderson & Bushman, 2002) is to date the most comprehensive theoretical framework. Integrating several earlier models of human aggression such as social learning theory and social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1973), cognitive neoassociationist model (Berkowitz, 1984), social information processing model (Dodge & Crick, 1990), affective aggression model (Geen, 1990), script theory (Huesmann, 1986), and excitation transfer model (Zillmann, 1983), the GAM claims that aggression is principally geared by the activation and application of aggression-related knowledge structures stored in memory (e.g., scripts or schemas). According to this model, in the case of short term effects, playing a violent game primes aggressive conditions such as aggressive scripts and perceptual schemata, which in turn increase arousal and create an aggressive affective state (Bushman & Anderson, 2002). In the case of long term effects, the model explains that hostile knowledge structures can be developed by repeated exposure to violent games, which ultimately create an aggressive personality (Bushman & Anderson, 2002; see Anderson, Gentile, and Buckley [2007] Chapter 3, for a fuller explanation of the model).

Employing the GAM, a vast amount of research has examined violent games’ effects on aggression. The research has mainly focused on the negative effects of violent games on aggressive affects, behaviors, thoughts, physical arousal, and pro-social activities. Based on three experiments, one correlational study, and one meta-analysis, Anderson et al. (2004) found that playing violent computer games led to increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive affect, aggressive cognition, physiological arousal, and decreases in pro-social behavior. Similar findings abound. Carnagey and Anderson (2005) discovered that rewarding violent behaviors in computer games increased hostile emotion, aggressive thinking, and aggressive behaviors. In a similar fashion, Gentile, Lynch, Linder, and Walsh (2004) investigated and supported the significant effects of violent games on adolescents’ hostility, aggressive behavior, and school performance. Anderson and Murphy (2003) especially examined the impacts of exposure to violent computer games on young women, and found that even brief exposure to a violent game increased aggressive behavior. In addition, they suggested that the effects of violent games on aggression might be greater when game characters played by game users are of the same gender. Bartholow and Anderson (2002) investigated sex differences in the effects of violent games on aggressive behavior and found greater effects for men than for women. A similar result was found in a German context. Krahé and Möller (2004) uncovered that there were significant gender differences in usage and attraction to violent games, which ultimately influenced the acceptance of norms condoning physical aggression.

Some studies have focused on the desensitization effect of violent games. Desensitization, which refers to the attenuation or elimination of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to a stimulus (Rule & Ferguson, 1986), is a strong mechanism that helps reduce psychological and/or physiological reactivity to real violence. In an experiment that measured heart rate (HR) and galvanic skin response (GSR), Carnagey, Anderson, and Bushman (2007) found that participants who played a violent game had lower HR and GSR while viewing filmed real violence compared to participants who played a non-violent game, indicating a physiological desensitization to violence. Funk, Baldacci, Pasold, and Baumgardner (2004) claimed with a more moderate tone that exposure to computer game violence was associated with lower empathy and stronger pro-violence attitudes, yet they could not identify strong relationships between exposure to real-life violence and measures of desensitization. Deselms and Altman (2003) found the desensitization effect only for men with a sample of college students.

There have been a series of attempts to synthesize the existing literature, although they discovered somewhat contrasting findings (e.g., Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Griffiths, 2000; Sherry, 2001). Anderson (2004) updated the effects of playing violent computer games with a meta-analysis based on 46 studies, and argued that more studies of violent games corroborate significant, though not large, effects of computer game violence on aggression. According to the study, the effect sizes of exposure to violent games on aggressive behavior, cognition, affect, pro-social behavior, and physical arousal were, both in experimental and correlational studies, about 0.20 in absolute value, confirming his and others’ previous studies.

The Opposing View

The claim of the significant effects of violent games on aggression does not come without criticisms. These criticisms are mainly centered on methodological issues. Some studies (e.g., Freedman, 2002; Olson, 2004) listed the following as the main problems of the existing studies on computer game violence. First, the definitions of aggression are not clear-cut. For instance, in the worst case, the terms, “aggression” and “violence” are used interchangeably, making it almost impossible to distinguish independent and dependent variables from each other. Second, there are few standardized, reliable, and valid measures of aggression and exposure to violent games. Many studies that examined the negative effect of violent games have been conducted in isolation. In other words, studies employed either different types of games or different amount of game exposure time for experiments. Moreover, in many experimental studies participants played the game in a single-player mode in isolation contrary to reality in which users routinely play games with their friends or other associates (Olson, 2004). As a consequence of the lack of appropriate measures and realistic study settings, a general synthesis of existing studies is hard to achieve. Third, the causal relationship between violent games and aggression in real life is not as straightforward as experimental conditions. It means that 1) it is not easy to take into account all possible mediating variables such as gender, age, personality, and so forth, and 2) a relationship of the opposite direction—aggressive people seek out violent computer games, or a two-way relationship—reinforcing or reciprocal, is also plausible. Fourth, many studies have been conducted with small, non-random, or non-representative samples. Accordingly, the statistical effect size from these studies is relatively too small for physical aggression, and moderate at best for aggressive thinking (Office of the Surgeon General, 2001). Finally, as Anderson (2004) lamented, there is still a paucity of longitudinal studies which could confirm the effect of violent games on a long-term basis. Given that the study of computer games is relatively an emerging field compared to the established research tradition of TV violence, deficiency of serious longitudinal studies is understandable. Yet, without longitudinal studies, it is hard to not only prove the effect of violent games but also triangulate the existing findings (Williams & Skoric, 2005). In addition to these methodological problems, some argue that, regardless of increase in the number and availability of violent computer games, violence crime has been decreasing in reality (Olson, 2004) and thus the claim that violent games cause aggression is simply misleading.

Not surprisingly, the above arguments are strongly backed up by the game industry such as Entertainment Software Association (ESA) although these claims are derived originally from academics. Recently, some empirical studies support these claims on the null effect of violent games on aggression. For example, Williams and Skoric (2005) conducted a one-month longitudinal study of a violent “massively multi-player online role-playing game” (MMORPG), and found no strong effect associated with aggression caused by the game. Baldaro et al. (2004) evaluated the short-term effect of playing a violent computer game on physiological and psychological indicators with a sample of 22 male participants. They discovered that participants who played a violent computer game exhibited higher anxiety and increased systolic blood pressure yet no greater hostility compared to participants who played a non-violent computer game. In addition, a study conducted by Huesmann and Taylor (2006) failed to document a meaningful long-term effect, even though they were able to demonstrate short-term increases in aggression.

Possible Reconciliation

Recognizing the conflicting views on the effects of violent computer games, one study suggests an integrated model with respect to the direction of the relationship between violent games and aggression. Slater, Henry, Swaim, and Anderson (2003) claimed that game users’ aggressive tendencies may lead the users to seek out violent games and exposure to violent games and in turn may reinforce and exacerbate such aggressive tendencies. This so-called “downward spiral model” thus emphasizes a reciprocal relationship between violent games and game users’ aggressive tendencies, at the same time focusing on the cumulative characteristic of the association between the two variables. Given that the downward spiral model is based on the assumption that aggressive users seek out violent games in order to satisfy their felt needs, it is theoretically rooted in the uses and gratifications approach (Palmgreen, 1984) and selective exposure theory (Zillmann & Bryant, 1985). Again, however, for the model to be proven as an alternative (or complementary) explanation to the existing literature, more studies are needed.

Game Addiction

Another important negative effect of computer games that has been increasingly discussed in recent years is game addiction. It has been claimed that game addiction may lead to not only social problems such as social isolation or escape from real life but also heath problems including seizures or even death. The issue has been fiercely discussed to the extent whether or not the American Medical Association (AMA) has to classify game addiction as a key mental illness. In fact, some medical problems or physical disorders due to game overuse have been reported, including epileptic seizures (e.g., Funatsuka, Fujita, Shirakawa, Oguni, & Osawa, 2001), musculoskeletal disorders, or increased metabolic rate (e.g., Brady & Matthews, 2006). In South Korea, where hundreds of private hospitals and psychiatric clinics are helping game addicts with special treatments, it was also reported that 10 people died in 2005 from game addiction-related causes such as disruptive blood circulation (Faiola, 2006). Moreover, the number of game addicts is far from being negligible. In a commercial survey conducted with 1,178 U.S. children and teenagers (ages 8 to 18) in January 2007 by Harris Interactive, it was reported that 8.5% of game users could be classified as addicts (Harris Interactive, 2007). As a response to the increasing trend of game addiction, the AMA, at an annual committee meeting in June 2007, determined that its psychiatric group would examine the issue over the next five years and decide the inclusion of game addiction as an illness. If game addiction is added as a mental illness, it is possible for game addicts to have medications or treatments for healing excessive gaming. Of course, some opposed the AMA’s consideration of the inclusion, arguing that game addiction or overuse is simply an individual (bad) habit, rather than a medical problem (Los Angeles Times, 2007). Nevertheless, the fact that game addiction is publicly discussed as a possible medical problem demonstrates that it brings a number of detrimental outcomes whether they are individual or societal problems.

In parallel with the increased interest in game addiction, there have been a few attempts to explain why people are addicted to games. Based on a survey with 1,993 Korean game users, Choi and Kim (2004) suggested a theoretical model for game addiction by integrating the concepts of customer loyalty, flow, personal interaction, and social interaction. According to the model, people are likely to continue to play games when they have optimal experiences while playing games. Optimal experiences, according to the model, can be achieved by effective interaction with the game system and/or pleasant social interaction with other users. Similarly, Wan and Chiou (2006) applied the flow theory and the humanistic needs model as a way to explain psychological motives of game addiction. The results of their study, however, indicated that the flow state was not a key psychological mechanism of game users’ addiction. Also, the study discovered that game addicts’ compulsive game use was not derived from the pursuit of satisfaction of their need-gratification but from the relief of dissatisfaction.

Game addiction or overuse is particularly associated with MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) since such games are highly social and provide interactive real time applications (AMA, 2007) similar to the factors associated with Internet addiction (Olson, 2004). For instance, MMORPG users spend many more hours devoted to the games compared to other users who play other types of games, and find the aspects of the game world more pleasant and satisfying than those of the real world (Ng & Wiemer-Hastings, 2005). The problem of the heavy use of MMORPGs would be that such users are likely to be socially marginalized while experiencing high levels of emotional loneliness and maladaptations to real life social interactions (AMA, 2007). In addition to the increasing use of MMORPGs, the recent launch of Nintendo’s Wii and enhanced competition among game console companies are also likely to fuel the addictive nature of games as a way to lock-in users to their console.

Meanwhile, a recent study based on a survey of 7,069 game users (Grüsser, Thalemann, & Griffiths, 2007) investigated the relationship between game addiction and aggression. It found that excessive gaming explained only 1.8% variance of aggression. In addition, with respect to gender difference, Griffiths and Hunt (1998) in a survey with 387 adolescents (12-16 years old) found that males were more likely to be classified as game addicts than females. They also discovered that the earlier children began playing games, the more likely they became addicts.

To sum up, the study of game addiction is still in an early stage despite the heated discussion about its effects on game users’ abnormal behaviors and social disorders. As the AMA (2007) properly pointed out, more research is needed to verify game addiction as a mental illness.

Positive Effects of Serious Games

Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games are designed to entertain. However, the features of games that afford entertainment can also be utilized for other purposes, such as education. Educational theories inform us that teaching is more effective if students are intrinsically motivated in the learning process, receive continuous feedback, and apply new ideas in a variety of relevant context. This is exactly what game features can offer. Game playing is usually fun and challenging, which motivates students to actively participate. Games also provide a simulated environment where students can apply what they have just learned in different contexts. Therefore, games have great potential to be an effective educational tool. In fact, games with purposes beyond entertainment are called “serious games,” including but not limited to games for learning, games for health, and games for policy and social change. Serious games are designed intentionally to achieve these positive effects. In this section, we review the effects of serious games that are used to teach knowledge, attitude, and behavior. Some COTS games are originally designed to entertain, but some unintended positive effects are also found associated with these games. In addition, some COTS games are reapplied by educators for purposes other than entertainment. We will also discuss the positive effects of these COTS games.

Games for Learning

Using the gaming format in teaching is not uncommon even one thousand years ago. The use of digital games in education started in the early 1980s. The early generation of games for learning was limited by the technology capacity and only minimal graphics and interactivity were implemented. In the past decade, due to the technology advancement, many educational games were developed to deliver knowledge of different subject matters, such as economics (Lengwiler, 2004), business and management (Chua, 2005; Hoogeweegen, van Liere, Vervest, van der Meijden, & de Lepper, 2006), language (Kovalik & Kovalik, 2002), mathematics (van Eck & Dempsey, 2002), biology (Clark & Smith, 2004), geography (Mayer, Mautone, & Prothero, 2002), medical education (Mann et al., 2002), and military training (Coleman, 2001). All these games demonstrate that the game-based instruction is effective. However, an early literature review on the effectiveness of using electronic games for education shows that 56% of the studies found no difference between game-based instruction and conventional instruction, 32% found differences favoring simulations/games, 7% favored simulations/games but raised questions about their experimental design, and the remaining 5% found differences favoring conventional instruction (Randel, Morris, & Wetzel, 1992). Poor graphics and low interactivity afforded by early generation games might explain the low rate of effectiveness. A more recent meta-analysis shows that digital games and interactive simulations have advantages over traditional teaching methods for cognitive gain outcomes (Vogel et al., 2006). In addition, games-based instruction seems to be more effective when the subject matter demands active participation and applying the knowledge in specific contexts, such as physics or mathematics (Randel et al., 1992).

Empirical studies have shown that serious games for learning are effective teaching tools. But why can games, as a particular medium, achieve the educational effects? Researchers believe that games embody a number of innate features that facilitate the learning process. First, games are effective because learning takes place within a meaningful context. The game rules in those contexts are usually principles intended to be taught to the players. For instance, for games that teach economics, the game rules follow the economic principles and players need to apply those principles in order to proceed in the games. The game playing experience is thus an experience of applying theoretical principles. This is exactly what situated learning and experiential learning is about. However, if a game is not engaging, the learning effect might not be substantial. The second game feature that promotes effectiveness is the element of fun that motivates players to start to play a game and to continue playing the game even though they need to repeatedly apply the same rules or principles. Players can get frustrated if they get stuck in the game after multiple trials in vain. They can also get bored if they can easily go through the whole game without even trying hard. Most games are thus designed in a way that players will be provided with challenging goals. At the same time, plenty of “just-in-time” information will be available to assist the players. This third game feature matches the learning principle of scaffolding and it is enabled by the interactive feature of games that provides immediate feedback to the players and constantly requires input from the players. Computer games also enable the development of different learning styles, since the speed and the level of difficulty can be adjusted according to the players (Jenkins, 2002).

Besides the games that are intentionally designed to educate, some researchers believe that incidental learning might occur in the process of playing COTS games. Gee (2003) summarizes 36 principles in COTS games that actually can teach us about learning and literacy. In fact, there are many examples of COTS games being used in the classroom, including Civilization, CSI, Age of Empire II, The Sims 2, Age of Mythology, and Sim City 4 (Delwiche, 2006; van Eck, 2006). Empirical studies demonstrate that COTS games are effective in improving strategizing (Jenkins, 2002) and high-level problem solving skills (Greenfield, Brannon, & Lohr, 1994), and enhancing inductive reasoning (Honebein, Carr, & Duffy, 1993). As a number of cognitive skills such as proactive and recursive thinking, systematic organization of information, interpretation of visual information, and general search heuristics are generally required for players to successfully finish games, those cognitive skills will be naturally improved in the process of game playing (Pillay, 2003). In addition, COTS games are particularly effective in improving spatial, mental rotation and visualization skills, and eye-hand coordination (de Lisi & Wolford, 2002).

Games for Health

Computer games have been used for various health-related purposes, particularly for risk prevention, health education, behavioral intervention, and disease self-management. For disease or risk prevention, games have been designed to promote a healthier lifestyle by delivering relevant health information, shifting unhealthy attitudes, and enabling healthy behavior rehearsal. These games are set in a variety of health domains, including promoting healthy nutrition (Peng, in press), safe sexual behavior (Thomas, Cahill, & Santilli, 1997), anti-smoking (Lieberman, 2001), injury prevention (Goodman, Bradley, Paras, Williamson, & Bizzochi, 2006), and early treatments for heart attack (Silverman et al., 2001).

Computer games have been developed to improve self-management skills for coping with certain chronic diseases, such as asthma (Homer et al., 2000; Lieberman, 2001), diabetes (Brown et al., 1997; Lieberman, 2001), cancer (Cole, Kato, Marin-Bowling, Dahl, & Pollock, 2006). All the games used in the above studies targeted children with upper mentioned health problems. Electronic games are believed to be a more advantageous channel to reach children because playing electronic games has become one of the most popular leisure activities of the youth, and thus integrating games into their medical regimen is very likely to be acceptable. In addition, these games provide a fun and engaging environment for behavior rehearsal and repetitive skill practice without taking risk in real life, which is otherwise hard to achieve using traditional approaches. Evaluation studies of these games generally show that players like the games and are willing to use such games to learn more about their health-related issues. However, outcome measures in most of those studies include only attitudinal variables, such as self-efficacy, perceived benefit, and behavior intention. Unfortunately, no actual behavior measures were used in the above studies. It is true that attitudinal variables are mediators for behavior changes which will ultimately lead to positive health outcomes. Yet, without empirical evidence that these games can actually influence health-related behavioral outcomes, it is difficult to convince health providers and policymakers to invest heavily on serious games for health. In fact, Huss et al. (2003) found that an asthma education game did not help kids improve health-related outcomes.

Computer games are also used as a distraction tool to reduce the discomfort caused by medical treatment. COTS games as well as specially designed games can be used for this purpose. Prior research demonstrates that games are effective in reducing pain and anxiety before surgery (Patel et al., 2006; Rassin, Gutman, & Silner, 2004). Computer games can also serve as effective therapeutic tools (Pope & Bogart, 1996).

The primary reason that games can be an effective channel for health intervention and health education is that they provide a simulated and interactive environment where players can engage in behavioral rehearsal. The simulated environment serves as a safe test-bed for them to practice self-management skills such as taking insulin, checking blood pressure, or checking peak flow. Players can observe detrimental effects of their own mismanagement of a disease without engaging themselves in real danger. For instance, players can observe severe consequences to their game characters if they fail to use inhaler and learn a lesson. In addition, game players’ successes in a simulated environment can increase their self-efficacy for managing their health problems. In addition, the element of fun can motivate players to practice the same skills without getting bored. For many disease self-management processes, the knowledge and skills needed are finite, yet repetitive practice and habit formation are critical. This is exactly what the game format can offer. A well-designed game can be played dozens and even hundreds of times without making players feel bored.

Games for Social Change

Games for education focus on knowledge transfer, and games for health focus on behavioral changes. There are other types of serious games that focus on changing attitudes about political or religious agenda, or simply increasing awareness of social issues. As early as in 1980, a game called Energy Czar, an energy crisis simulation game was created. The 2004 presidential election in the Unites States also generated a number of political games. For example, Howard Dean for Iowa was created to educate Dean supporters on various grassroots outreach programs. Another noteworthy political game is PeachMaker, in which players can take the role of either the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President to deal with a variety of events, including diplomatic negotiations, suicide bombers, and interaction with eight other political leaders, so as to reach a peaceful agreement for both sides. By affording perspectives from both sides, this game provides a unique opportunity to inform people of the issues in the region and helps to influence people’s attitude towards the other side. Darfur is dying is a social issue awareness game to inform people of the crisis in Darfur which made approximately 3 million people leave their home and become refugees. In this game, players take the role of a Darfurian to experience the threats they face every day from the militias. This game has been played by millions of people and is reported to be the most significant source to inform young people of this international crisis. So far, more than dozens of serious games for social change have been made and played. Unfortunately, however, no empirical study has been conducted to evaluate how effective theses games are.

Uses and Gratifications of Games in General

The aforementioned discussions answer the question of what effects (negative and positive) computer games have on the players, yet questions such as what kind of people play games, how frequently people play games, and why people play games remain unanswered. Uses and gratifications is a good approach to investigate these questions. According to the uses and gratifications paradigm (for a general review, see Rubin, 2002), game players are not passive recipients of messages and are not powerless under the influence of games. Rather, players with different demographic and social backgrounds purposely choose a game to satisfy their unique needs or desires. In this section, we summarize computer game studies based on the uses and gratifications research paradigm (especially with regard to differences in gender, age, and personality).


According to Entertainment Software Association (2007), 38% of game players are females. Empirical evidence consistently shows a similar pattern of gender differences. Males tend to play games more often, both at home and in arcades (Phillips, Rolls, Rouse, & Griffiths, 1995). Girls seldom go to arcades, and when they do, more often than not, they are with boys and simply watch how boys play the game (Kiesler, Sproull, & Eccles, 1983). Besides the differences in frequency of game playing, boys also prefer more realistic violent games (Buchman & Funk, 1996). There are a number of explanations for the above gender differences. One possible explanation is that females may feel less comfortable than males with the violent themes that are found in many computer games, and are less comfortable in the arcade atmosphere where such games are played (Kiesler et al., 1983). Another factor might be that these games are generally produced by males and for males. Game contents are predominated by simulations of male activities, such as flying fighter aircrafts, driving racing cars, fighting, and doing masculine sports such as football. Even fantasy and strategy games are male-oriented. Female characters appear a lot less frequently. A third explanation is the differences of cognitive abilities of females and males such as the visual and spatial skills. Game playing demands good eye-hand coordination and spatial skills in which males are much better than females.


Computer games were once played only among children and adolescents. The recent data show that games are now being played by more and more adults. Children and adolescents not only play games alone or with friends, but also with parents and family. However, very few studies examine the game playing patterns among different age groups. A relatively outdated study shows that younger subjects were more comfortable with computer games and liked playing those games more. In contrast, older subjects were more afraid of computers, were not aware of the variety of computer games, and did not like playing computer games very much (McClure, 1985). As the Gameboy generation gets old, the major population for computer games has been changed also. Currently, the average age of game players is 33 as of 2007 (ESA, 2007) indicating that playing games has become one of the major media use activities for adult population too.


Personality predicts the frequency of game playing (McClure & Mears, 1984), the enjoyment of games (Holbrook, Chestnut, Oliva, & Greenleaf, 1984), and game addiction (Griffiths & Dancaster, 1995). Frequent game players are more likely to be young males who like competitive activities, science fictions, and challenges (McClure & Mears, 1984). Holbrook et al. (1984) argued that both enjoyment and performance depended on how the personality of the player interacted with the game being played. One particular personality relevant in the gaming context is one’s tendency towards visualization as opposed to verbalization. Specifically, visualizers are more likely to enjoy and perform well on visual games while verbalizaers are more likely to enjoy and perform well on verbal games. As to the relationship of personality and addiction, Griffiths and Dancaster (1995) demonstrated that Type A personality subjects had a greater increase of arousal than Type B personality subjects while playing games and thus were more likely to become addicted to computer games. A recent study found that people of high physical aggression personality tend to play the game in a more violent way (Peng, Liu, & Mou, in press).

Conclusion and Suggestions for Future Research

This chapter reviews the existing literature on the negative and positive effects of computer games. It shows that playing violent entertainment games has negative effects to some extent, though not as strongly as people usually imagine. In general, the previous literature suggests that violent entertainment games can result in aggressive affects, thoughts, and behaviors. Even non-violent games can have negative impacts on players; MMORPGs can make players be seriously addicted to the games and cause some social, financial, and health problems. Playing games (especially educational games), however, can be beneficial. For instance, computer games can improve motivation, retention, spatial skills, and cognitive skills of players. Computer games can even be used to train soldiers or corporate employees. In addition, computer games can be utilized to help some special groups such as people with health problems. Since kids usually play games with friends and family, computer games might help children to develop social skills as well. Computer games can also be used to promote social causes or increase social awareness as we have seen during presidential elections or international crises. In addition to the studies of games which are based on the media effect research paradigm, game studies based on the uses and gratifications research paradigm were also reviewed. Gender is a very strong predictor for the frequency of game playing. Males and females differ with respect to their preferences of games and their playing patterns. Another important variable is personality. Player’s personality influences his or her enjoyment of a game, potential to become addicted to a game, and preference for a particular genre of a game, and how they play the game. Age is also an important factor. Yet, research on this variable is somewhat limited.

As a final remark, we discuss some limitations in the current literature and possible ways to overcome the limitations. First, there is a lack of unique theories on computer games. Current studies mostly borrow theories from the domain of television. However, playing games and watching television are fundamentally different activities in that the former is active and the latter is passive. Therefore, a new set of theories focusing on the interactive nature of game playing is needed. As Sherry (2001) suggested, new theories should be able to explain how and why people are engaged in computer games, and what kind of gratifications players pursue from their game playing. The uses and gratifications approach is a good start to overcome the limitation. New theories on computer games, however, should go beyond the uses and gratifications approach and need to clarify the underlying mechanism of the game engagement and the origin of biological and psychological reasons for diverse individual motivations to play games.

Second, the current literature heavily focuses on the consequences of game playing and as a result fails to explain the nature of game playing as an entertainment experience. We believe that theoretical understanding of the nature of game experience can solve the controversies about the negative effects of game violence and game addiction (see Lee and Peng [2006] for a similar claim). A possible approach to understand the nature of gaming experience is to introduce the concept of presence (see Lee [2004] for a detailed explication of the concept). As many scholars argue, feelings of presence lie at the heart of media experience (Lombard & Ditton, 1997). Consequently, subjective and objective measures of presence during game playing can give us many insights on the nature of game experience and the underlying mechanisms of how game playing affects game players’ attitudes, cognition, and behaviors. A recent study (Lee, Jin, Park, & Kang, 2005) clearly shows the benefits of measuring presence in computer game research.

Finally, the effects of new game interfaces (e.g., Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation Eyetoy, DDR [Dance Dance Revolution] Pad), devices (e.g., mobile game devices, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS), and technologies (e.g., haptic technologies, 3D graphics) have hardly been examined in the current literature. More than other traditional media experiences, computer gaming experiences are critically affected by technological factors. For example, for the same game, game players might have qualitatively different experiences depending on particular interfaces (e.g., game pad vs. keyboard), devices (e.g., PSP vs. PS2), and technologies (14 inch screen vs. 21 inch screen) that they used while playing the game. Technological factors will also significantly alter possible effects of game playing. For example, violent games played on a small screen with bad audio quality have minimal effects on game players’ physiological arousal (Ballard & West, 1996) and aggressive thoughts (Anderson & Dill, 2000) than the same game played on a large screen with high fidelity audio. The existing game literature predominantly focuses on the effects of game content factors (e.g., violence, education). With rapid development of game technologies, however, equal attention should be paid to the effects of game technology factors.


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