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Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2013 Oct;16(10):774-8. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0695. Epub 2013 Jun 7.

Superman vs. BAD man? The effects of empathy and game character in violent video games.

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  • 1University of Luxembourg , Walferdange, Luxembourg .


Recent findings indicate that events in video games, as well as players' perceptions of game characters, moderate well-established video game effects. This includes the level of identification with game characters, and players' interpretation of whether or not the actions of the characters are conceived as moral. In the present study, it was tested whether manipulating empathy for well-known game characters influences video game effects in a violent beat-'em-up game. As was expected, playing the comic hero Superman led to more prosocial behavior (i.e., returning a lost letter) than playing the evil villain Joker. A similar positive effect was observed for inducing game characters as warm and empathic before playing. Compared to a neutral text, participants in the empathy text condition judged the violence in the game as less justified, irrespective of game character. When looking at hostile perception, an interaction was found between empathy and game character. For Superman, empathy led participants to interpret neutral faces as less aggressive. When playing the evil Joker, however, empathy even increased hostile perception. This is in line with previous findings that empathy may not be positive per se. In fact, it may backfire depending on the interaction of game characters and the empathy players feel for them.

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