Xbox as Therapy? An Experimental Investigation into Persuasion, Catharsis and Violent Video Games

David S. Chester, Kathryn A.P. Burleson*, Warren Wilson College

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Abstract The hypothesis that persuasive articles that either endorse/oppose cathartic aggression (releasing psychological stress through aggressive behavior) would affect the preference to play violent video games was tested on 37 undergraduates. Participants who read articles that endorsed cathartic aggression indicated a greater preference for playing a violent video game than participants who read articles that opposed cathartic aggression. Our findings suggest that an individual’s motivation to play violent video games is moderated by their belief in the efficacy of catharsis.

Introduction “When the world pisses you off and you need a place to vent, Quake [a violent video game] is a great place for it. You can kill somebody and watch the blood run down the walls, and it feels good.” – Anonymous blog submission In 2007, $9.5 billion in video games were purchased by the American populace (Entertainment Software Association, 2008). This is triple the sales of the electronic gaming industry 10 years prior. In the same year, 67 percent of American heads-of-households described themselves as video game players. Not only are video games incredibly popular but it seems that they will become more so as 53 percent of current gamers reported that they would maintain or even increase their level of video game playing over the next 10 years. Interestingly, most of the top-selling video games include violent content. The child-advocacy organization ChildrenNow (2001) analyzed the 70 top-selling video games and found that 89 percent contained violent content and 41 percent of these games required violent acts to complete the game. Violent video games constitute a large portion of this burgeoning media format, but the underlying causes behind this phenomenon remain unclear.


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