The Effect of Violent Video Games: Superman v. Joker Edition

The shriller voices in media are quite happy to link video game violence to real life violence, but is there really a link? According to a new study, there is a link between violent games and an aggressive mind set—but the link is more nuanced than cable news gives it credit. Shockingly.

The study, published in Cyberpsychology, found that gamers who played as Joker were more aggressive in real life compared to those who played as Superman. For the test, researchers had sixty students play fifteen minutes of the fighting game Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe. Half played as Joker, and the other half played as Supes. Adding another dimension to the experiment, half of the participants read false Wikipedia entries for the characters they played, which were designed to make the players empathise with their characters. Superman’s said he’d been raised by a loving family, whereas Joker’s said he’d been abused as a kid.

After playing the game, participants were given a grid of faces (negative, neutral, and positive) and had to judge how hostile they looked. Those who played as Joker were more likely to judge neutral faces as hostile, compared to those who played as Superman. Reading their character’s backstory only amplified the effect.

Researchers conducted an additional test called the “lost letter technique”, which is something of an old chestnut in psychological circles. As students left the lab, they saw a stamped and addressed letter on the floor. Of those who played as Superman, twenty per cent came back and handed it in to the researchers. Of those who played Joker, the rate was three per cent.

Of course, the effects of video gaming have always been nuanced—they have an addiction risk, but a number of positives as well. Just maybe don’t trust someone who only wants to play as Joker. We feel the same way about people who only play Kirby.

This is a test