The Appeal of Violent Video Games To Teenagers with Low Empathy

In 2011-2012, 95% of Australian homes used video game devices (SMH, 2012), with Australian consumer spending $1.1 billion in 2012 on gaming devices alone (IGEA, 2013). This growing popularity of video games in Australia has meant a growth in the debate concerning the negative effects that video games can have on consumer’s mental health.

Gratification has been shown to affect the choice of video game play (Chory & Goodboy, 2011) and 43% of all video sales are violent video games (Entertainment Software Association website, 2013), so whether this is good for humanity or not was part of a controversial debate between policy makers, parents, researchers and video game producers about the effects being both harmful and beneficial, especially as 90% of
children and teens reportedly play them in the US (Anderson, Prot, McDonald & Gentile, 2012) and six of the top ten include violent content (ESA, 2008).

Moreover, this fuelled the motivation behind the large body of 250 correlational and experimental studies carried out over the past twenty years to find out if exposure to violent video games is positive or negative (King & Delfabbro, 2010), however the effects are complex and
be better understood as multiple dimensions rather than simply ‘good or bad’ (Anderson et. al, 2012).

These studies provided causal relationships between violent video game exposure and increased aggression, cognition and behaviour of game players, especially adolescents and shows exposure to violent video games lowers empathy levels (King & Delfabbro, 2010). This evidence is highly contested however, mostly by the methodological limitations questioning the validity of this link (King & Delfabbro, 2010), more frequently by those with a conflicting interest such as the Entertainment
Software Association and researchers funded by video game companies such as Texas University where a leading researcher on the subject works, Ferguson et al (2010) who are in partnership with a television station which sells videos, (Texas University website, 2013). Additionally, boys who scored low in empathy were found more likely to play violent video games (Lemmens & Bushman, 2006).

The correlation between behaviour factors and violent video games
Multiple theories have tried to establish the complex relationship between the effect of violent video games and aggression in young generation.

One theory states that the choice to play violent video games is dependent on the consumer’s personality (Chory & Goodboy, 2011).

Factors such as increased aggressive behaviour, cognition and effect, reduced empathy, and pro-social behaviour play a role in aggravating the effects of violent video games (Anderson, 2012). However, the
evidence is contested due to methodological limitations (King & Delfabbro, 2010) as can be seen from the work of another group of
researchers who identified those who have a family history and psychological predisposition to violence, that influences their behaviour and reaction to playing these games researchers identifying those who have a family history and psychological predisposition to violence, would
influence their behaviour and reaction to playing these games (McLean & Griffiths, 2013, Markey & Markey, 2010, Ferguson & Kilburn, 2008,)
which places less importance of violent media in influencing violent behaviour (Ferguson 2010, 2013).

We can however hypothesis that the violent media may set off a person’s predisposition to violence either genetically or developmentally.
In summary, a number of theories and variables affect the choices and attraction of a person to consume violent media (Weaver, 2011), which explains why so many people play violent video games and only a small amount carry out violent behaviours as a result.

Media Gratification
The media gratification theory proposes that gratification seeking in humans leads to consumption of different types of media which is impacted by a person’s personality traits i.e. excitement, and this media exposure then impacts the person’s cognitive behaviours such as a rise in aggression for example (Chory & Goodboy, 2011) whose research
showed extroversion trait correlated to a need to consume violent media content in order to gratify their need for sensation and sociableness.

This theory is used by software and game developers and is exploited in gamification, which is thought to encompass addictive properties causing a desire to repeat the experience, and is also found in social media platforms (Fang & Zhao, 2010). Conflicting evidence however was reported that personality traits were not a factor of any game preferences (Collins & Freeman, 2013).

Role of Empathy
Empathy is defined as the drive to detect emotions and thoughts in other people and respond appropriately and plays an important role in social relationships (Prot et. al, 2012). Based on the above theories, one of the parallel consequences of violent video games, besides aggressive behaviour, is the decreasing of empathy towards the victims (King & Delfabbro, 2010).

Additionally, boys with low empathy were inclined to play more violent video games resulting in high aggression (Lemmens & Bushman, 2006), and this cyclical effect may contribute to the addictive nature of video games.   In fact a new study has shown psychopaths switch off empathy in the brain as it is not spontaneous like most people and has severe violence disinhibiting consequences (Meffert, Gazzola, Boer, Bartels & Keysers, 2013). Yet, the proponents and beneficiaries of video games have highly contested the inverse relationship between empathy and exposure to violent video games (King & Delfabbro, 2010).

Insufficient strong correlations between violent media and empathy have yet been established due to lack of complete control on media conditions (Ramos et. al, 2013). More research to study the effects of empathy in the video gaming context is becoming a higher priority with the growing depiction of violence and could show significant influences on the usage
of violent video gaming.

In conclusion, scientific literature on social personality traits and video game preferences is to date lacking evidence in providing insight into what makes people choose certain types of video games in order to determine if the games cause a change in their personality character (Fang & Zhao, 2010), especially as many causal and correlational studies focus on the outcome of exposure to these games, one being lower levels of empathy. This might be because those who play violent video games are low in empathy trait as a starting point (Collins & Freeman, 2013), which implications of boys low in empathy and high in aggression seeking out violent media include increased aggression and lower empathy (Lemmens & Bushman, 2006) and this increasing use suggests violence may contribute to the addictive nature of video games.

Written by Karyn Krawford (Jan 2014)

Published:  mental health matters magazine / summer 2013/14

Karyn has appeared a number of times in the Australian media. She is
completing her degree in Social Sciences with a specialisation in Counselling and 3 years postgraduate studies in Coaching. She delivers regular learning events to the public on the effects of digital technologies on humans and is the founder of a new Australian Cyber Addiction
Recovery Center providing treatments for those with cyber addictions.

• Anderson, CA., Prot S, McDonald KA, Gentile DA (2012): Video games: good, bad, or
other?, Pediatric Clinic North America., Vol. 59, No. 3
• Chory, R.M. & Goodboy, A.K. (2011): Is Basic Personality Related to Violent and Non-
Violent Video Game Play and Preferences? , Cyber psychology, Behaviour and Social
Networking Journal, Vol 14, no.4
• Collins, E. & Freeman, J. (2013: Do Problematic and Non-Problematic Video Game
Players Differ in Extroversion, Trait Empathy, Social Capital & Prosocial Tendencies?,
Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 29, No. 5, pages 1933–1940
• Fang, X. & Zhao, F. (2010): Personality and Enjoyment of Computer Game Play,
Computers in Industry Journal, Vol 61, No. 4, Pages 342-349
• Ferguson, C.J. & Kilburn, J. (2010) Much Ado About Nothing: The Misestimation and
Overinterpretation of Violent video Game Effects in Eastern and Western Nations:
Comment on Anderson (2010). Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 136, No.2, 174-178
• Ferguson, C.J. & Kilburn, J. (2008) The Public Health Risks of Media Violence: A Meta-
Analytic Review. Journal of Pediatrics Vol. 154, No.5, May 2009, 759–763
• King, D. & Delfabbro, P. (2010), Should Australia Have an R18+ Classification for Video
Games? Youth Studies Australia, Vol. 29, No. 1
• Lemmens, J.S. & Bushman, B.J. (2006), The Appeal of Violent Video Games to Lower
Educated Aggressive Adolescent Boys from Two Countries. Cyber Psychology & Behaviour
Journal, Vol 9, No. 5
• Markey, P., M., & Markey, C., N. (2010). Vulnerability to Violent Video Games: A
Review & Integration of Personality Research. Review of General Psychology, 2010. Vol.
14, No.2, 82-91.
• McLean, M. & Griffiths, M. (2013) The Psychological Effects of Videogames on Young
People: A Review. Aloma Journal, 2013. Vol. 31, No.1, 119-133
• Meffert, H., Gazzola, V., den Boer, J.A, Bartels, A.A.J. & Keysers, C. (2013) Reduced
Spontaneous but Relatively Normal Deliberate Vicarious Representations in Psychotherapy.
Journal of Neurology: Brain. Oxford University Press.
• Ramos, R.A., Ferguson, C.J., Failing, K, & Romero-Ramirez, M., (2013) Comfortably
Numb or Just Yet another Movie? Media Violence Exposure Does Not Reduce Viewer
Empathy for Victims of Real violence Among Primarily Hispanic Viewers. Psychology of
Popular Media Culture, Vol 2, No.1, 2-10
• Weaver, A. J. (2011). A Meta-Analytical Review of Selective Exposure to and the
Enjoyment of Media Violence. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media,55(2), 232-250
• Interactive Games & Entertainment Assoication
• The Entertainment Software Association. _EF_2013.pdf
• The Entertainment Software Association
• The Sydney Morning Herald
• The Huffington Post games_b_3480497.html
• Texas International University

Anonymous said: Hi, I'm doing a research about modern communication technology. I found your article about the Increased use of digital devices very interesting. I want to know more about this author whom you quote from Holmes, 2007. If you can give me the more information about this author, will be a great help to me. Thank you

Hi there,

Great to hear you are researching such an important area of social interaction and development.

You are welcome to quote me in your research and if you would like to directly access the references I am happy to clarify them as your request.  This one is Holmes, Hughes & Julian, Australian Sociology, A changing society, 2007.  Pearson Education Australia.

Great Article!!

Hi, I don’t know that you still run this blog or not, but please read this mail.

I’m currently researching on the problems of modern communication technology, and I found your article about the “Increased use of digital devices” very interesting.

The problem is that I could not find more information about “Holmes, 2007” or anywhere where you cited from. If you can give me the information about this author, it will be a great help to my research.

This my email:

Anonymous said: Hi Karyn, Just noticed you are following my tumblr blog (eDigital). Thanks. I am going to be back in beautiful Bondi on the 20th of March and would like to have a chat with you. Is there any photo number or email I can contact you. Cheers Mauricio. My Skype is mauroes1

Hi Mauricio,

Sure, you can get me on 0409104700.



Worthwhile investigating how circumvention tools and other programs can beat those set up by authoritarian governments to block and censor the Internet


Gynoid or cyborg?

A woman incorporating animal features and machine


Gynoid or cyborg?

A woman incorporating animal features and machine

Cyborgs generally don’t use tobacco or alcohol to change how they feel as they have no emotions. They are machines

Cyborgs generally don’t use tobacco or alcohol to change how they feel as they have no emotions. They are machines

(Source: gearotica)


model- Emma Spilsbury
Photography- Rebekka Werren 
Styling/MUA/bodypainting- Emily-Jane Avarice

Wants to be a cyborg


model- Emma Spilsbury

Photography- Rebekka Werren 

Styling/MUA/bodypainting- Emily-Jane Avarice

Wants to be a cyborg

(Source: )


I fell in love with a robot that has no feelings


I fell in love with a robot that has no feelings

(via degeneratelowlife-deactivated20)

Do not feed the trolls!

Do not feed the trolls!

Here is my recent interview on ABC national radio.  I was interviewed in relation to cyber trolling as recent attacks on Australian celebrities had ensured this issue emerged again in the mass media.

While it can be disturbing to the target victim, trolls only exist on the attention they continually get.  If it is possible, switch them off, close the site down, remove yourself from the website, block the perpetrator and if it really seems threatening, call the police who can track IP addresses.

There is no need for these ongoing online attacks to cause more justification for authorities to adjust regulations on the free open internet.  The problem is one that exists offline as the perpetrators are most often suffering from some form of mental health problem.  This can be resolved offline.

Please leave any comments or thoughts you have on the subject and I will be glad to hear your thoughts.


Sociology - Impacts of digital technologies on humans & society - Event 2

Just like toilet training, regulation has become a part of most social activities and that includes the Internet according to many govt officials!

Will this website be able to provide open information for it’s members? Will it get sanctioned in future?

Regulation or democracy - can these both work together?

The emerging field of study that can be called Cyber Psychology (CP) and Cyber Sociology (CS) is gaining more and more interest out there!  These fields are yet to be defined academically, therefore the presenter will define them by:

The effects of digital media on the inidivdual - CP

The effects of digital media on society - CS

Last session covered Cyber Psychology and we learned the below points

- Cyber Bullying / Trolling

- Neurological effects on the brain

- Changes in relationships & empathy

- Mental Health effects

- The effects on adolescents and children thereby changing future generations

This session will cover the following:

- Govt regulations and control over the Internet

- Commercial gains and control over the Internet

- Security, privacy and annonymity - how much is enough!

- Nanotechnologies and ethics - advancements and US defense force investments


The presentations will be done by presenting visual slides plus discussion around each sub topic.  The outcomes are learning of the above factors and will include a final experiential exercise so you can experience the learned political position you take as an individual.

Costs are $15 per person per session plus any food and drinks you desire which are available at low cost prices at the venue with a large menu.

If you are unemployed or a student and want to attend but cannot afford to, please email the organisers regarding concession pricing.

Finally if you have any questions you would like addressed specifically in this field please note them when you rsvp.

About the presenter - Karyn Krawford (your group host)

Karyn has over 8 years experience working for large digital media organisations including a Digital powerhouse owned by Microsoft and 9 Entertainment.  She is the Director at Cyborg Digital and has been sought after for interviews on Cyber movements and effects and these interviews can be viewed online on www.cyberpsych.tumblr.comand further on Twitter - @cyborg_ltd.  She is an editorial board member for the Journal of Communication Technology and Human Behaviors

She is working in collaboration with Dr. Claude Steiner, a Psychologist based in California who has authored past best sellers, on a Cyber Psychology book project and Psychology Professor Linda Jackson from Michigan State University on the emerging academic fields of cyber psychology.

Karyn is a current Social Sciences Student specialising in the field of mental health counselling, she is a professional coach and certified trainer/assessor.