Violent Video Games Might Make White People More Racist

Rachel Feltman | Quartz | March 21, 2014

You’ve probably heard that violent video games can make you more violent—and you’ve probably rolled your eyes at the news. But it’s more complicated than that: Playing violent video games can make Caucasian players have racist, intolerant thoughts. And it comes down to the race of the avatar in the game.

According to new research, white gamers who played with black avatars showed more aggression—and intolerance—after the fact. “It’s very troubling,” lead researcher Brad Bushman told Quartz, “but we found that embodying a violent, black character is more likely to increase your own aggressive behavior afterwards.” To test aggression, researchers had participants decide whether or not an unseen partner should be forced to eat hot sauce—after being told the person in question hated spicy food. Those playing with a black avatar gave their partners more than twice as much more hot sauce (115% more, to be precise) than those who’d played the same game with a white avatar.

Bushman has been vocal about the damaging effects of violent media throughout his 25 year career. “We’ve firmly established that violent media increases aggression,” he says, “and I think that in people’s minds, there’s a link between being black and being violent.” In fact, Harvard’s research on implicit bias—biases we hold onto unconsciously—has found that most people associate more negative feelings with black individuals. It’s an uncomfortable truth that indicates our world is far from post-racial. After playing a violent video game with a black avatar, participants showed more racial bias in both conscious tests (such as agreeing with statements like  “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.”) and tests for unconscious bias. “This just reinforces those stereotypes we’re carrying,” Bushman says...