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In this issue, (Ferguson, C. J., & Donnellan, B. D., Journal of Youth and and Adolescence, published online 21 June 2017) criticize one of our studies (Gabbiadini, A., Riva, P., Andrighetto, L., Volpato, C., & Bushman, B. J., PLoS ONE, 11: 1–14, 2016) that found violent sexist video games can reduce empathy for female violence victims in male players who identify with violent male game characters, and do so by increasing masculine beliefs. Their main criticism is a “straw person” argument built on a claim that we never made (i.e., a direct effect of sexist-violent video games on empathy). They also made several other criticisms of our article. We appreciate the opportunity to respond to their criticisms in this article. We also point out some flaws in their reanalysis. Despite their criticisms, the core contributions of our original article remain intact.
J Youth Adolescence
DOI 10.1007/s10964-017-0731-3
Grand Theft Auto is a SandboxGame, but There are Weapons,
Criminals, and Prostitutes in the Sandbox: Response to Ferguson
and Donnellan (2017)
Alessandro Gabbiadini
Brad J. Bushman
Paolo Riva
Luca Andrighetto
Chiara Volpato
Received: 25 July 2017 / Accepted: 27 July 2017
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017
Abstract In this issue, (Ferguson, C. J., & Donnellan, B.
D., Journal of Youth and and Adolescence, published online
21 June 2017) criticize one of our studies (Gabbiadini, A.,
Riva, P., Andrighetto, L., Volpato, C., & Bushman, B. J.,
PLoS ONE, 11: 114, 2016) that found violent sexist video
games can reduce empathy for female violence victims in
male players who identify with violent male game char-
acters, and do so by increasing masculine beliefs. Their
main criticism is a straw personargument built on a claim
that we never made (i.e., a direct effect of sexist-violent
video games on empathy). They also made several other
criticisms of our article. We appreciate the opportunity to
respond to their criticisms in this article. We also point out
some aws in their reanalysis. Despite their criticisms, the
core contributions of our original article remain intact.
Keywords Violent video games Sexist video games
Empathy Sexism Child development Reanalysis
In 2016, we published a study (Gabbiadini et al. 2016)
showing that playing the violent-sexist video game Grand
Theft Auto (GTA) increases the endorsement of masculine
beliefs, especially among male players who highly identify
with violent male game characters. We also found that the
endorsement of masculine beliefs, in turn, reduced the
empathy toward female violence victims.
Ferguson and Donnellan (2017) raised some concerns
about our article, and reanalyzed our data. They created a
straw personclaim that we never made (i.e., a direct effect
of sexist-violent video games on empathy), and then they
criticized us based on that claim. They also made seven
additional criticisms, which we respond to in this article.
First, they question whether GTA is a sexist video game.
Second, they criticize our random assignment approach.
Third, they argued that gender should not be a moderator.
Fourth, they criticize our use of video game violence ratings
as a covariate. Fifth, they criticize our measure of masculine
beliefs. Sixth, they criticize our measure of identication
with game characters. Seventh, they criticize our failure to
pre-register our study. We appreciate this opportunity to
respond to these criticisms. We believe it can be productive
to have an open debate on such issues.
It is Easy to Knock Down a Straw Person
In their reanalysis, Ferguson and Donnellan (2017)
expressed concern about how moderated mediation models
are used to support causal inferences. It is crucial to note
that conditional process models focus on the conditional
nature of an indirect effect. In other words, how an indirect
effect is moderated by another variable. As Hayes (2013)
notes, moderated mediation means moderated indirect
effects(p. 387). Interpretive focus in a conditional model is
directed at estimating the indirect effect, and how that effect
varies as a function of one or more moderators (i.e., levels
of individual differences). Specically, if we conceptualize
the indirect effect of an independent variable (X) on a
dependent variable (Y) through a mediator (M) as
*Alessandro Gabbiadini
University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy
The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA
University of Genova, Genoa, Italy
depending on the level of a moderator (W), we are assessing
how the size of the indirect effect linking X to Y through M
differs between groups when increasing of one unit the
value of W. In light of these assumptions, we do not see the
reanalysis reported by Ferguson and Donnellan (2017)tobe
particularly relevant, because direct effects are not a
necessary condition for indirect effects (see Hayes 2013).
Ferguson and Donnellan (2017) reported that the intent
of their reanalysis was to examine the robustness of the
claims about media effects made in light of the effects that
would be expected by theory. However, we never theorized
a direct effect of exposure to sexist videogames on empathy
toward female violence victims. Instead, throughout our
article we consistently talked about conditional indirect
effects of exposure to violent-sexist video games on
empathy, which we hypothesized (and found) to emerge
through the mediation of masculine beliefs on different
levels of identication with the game character, especially
for male players (i.e., gender was the moderator). Accord-
ingly, the main analyses presented in Ferguson and Don-
nellan just conrm what we found and already reported in
our original article (i.e., no direct effects of type of video
games on empathy).
In their reanalysis, Ferguson and Donnellan (2017) tested
a basic model (PROCESS Model 1) in which game con-
dition (the X variable in the Process Model) led to reduced
empathy (Y) moderated by masculine beliefs (M). Indeed,
we proposed that the exposure to violent and sexist video
games could reinforce masculine beliefs. As discussed in
our article, masculine norms are reinforced in GTA video
games. Thus, we proposed (and found) that GTA gameplay
increased masculine beliefs. Masculine beliefs, in turn, were
negatively related to empathy for female violence victims
(see Gabbiadini et al. 2016, p. 3). No clear theoretical
rationale is given by Ferguson and Donnellan for testing
this alternative model. Thus, we have concerns about why
they considered masculine beliefs as a moderator. We the-
orized masculine beliefs to be a mediator rather than a
Ferguson and Donnellan (2017) also tested a second
alternative model in which identication with the game
character moderated the effect of type of video game on
empathy. In our original article, we hypothesized that the
identication with the game character would moderate the
effects of the type of video games on masculine beliefs
not on empathy. Thus, we have concerns about this analysis
as well.
To test our assumptions in an alternative way, it is pos-
sible to run a simple mediation model (PROCESS model 4)
with type of video game (i.e., violent-sexist vs. violent or
neutral) as the predictor, masculine beliefs as the mediator,
and empathy as the outcome. Violent-sexist games
increased masculine beliefs (b=0.21, SE =0.07, t(152)
2.85, p=.005), and masculine beliefs were negatively
related to empathy for female violence victims (b=0.48,
SE =0.10, t(151) =4.69, p<.001). As expected, the
direct effect of type of video game on empathy was not
signicant (p=.29), whereas the indirect effect was sig-
nicant (b=0.10, 95% CI =0.22 to 0.030). The
model remained signicant even after controlling for par-
ticipantsage, frequency of video game play, and violence
ratings. Adding the covariates, violent-sexist games
increased masculine beliefs (b=0.50, SE =0.15, t(147) =
3.28, p=.001), and masculine beliefs were negatively
related to empathy for female violence victims (b=0.47,
SE =0.10, t(146) =4.34, p<.001). The direct effect of
type of video games on empathy was not signicant (p
=.48), whereas the indirect effect was still signicant (b=
0.23, 95% CI =0.49 to 0.075).
Although we agree with Ferguson and Donnellan (2017)
that our hypothesized model was rather complex, we
believe that the theoretical rationale underlying each aspect
of our model was clearly articulated in our article. As
already pointed out, we never claimed a direct association
between exposure to violent-sexist video games and
empathy. Accordingly, the alternative models tested and
proposed in Ferguson and Donnellan (2017) could be
misleading for readers, as they are not theoretically well-
anchored and are distant from our original hypotheses.
Indeed, our ndings are entirely consistent and sustained by
previous research in the eld of media effects (see Dill et al.
2008; Dill and Thill 2007; Fox et al. 2013,2014).
Classication of GTA as a Sexist Game
In their title, Ferguson and Donnellan (2017) put the word
sexistin quotation marks, called scare quotes.Scare
quotes are often used to call out nonstandard or unusual
terms, or merely to convey irony or skepticism about a term.
The term sexist is not a nonstandard or unusual term. The
term sexism generally refers to hostility toward females
(i.e., hostile affect and negative stereotypes) and the
endorsement of traditional gender roles (i.e., conning
women to roles accorded less status and power than those of
men; see Glick and Fiske 1997). Thus, it is surprising that
Ferguson and Donnellan claimed that there is little con-
sensus on what denes a sexist game, and questioned
whether GTA was a sexist video game. GTA certainly
meets this denition of a sexist game. In almost all chapters
of GTA game series, players can pick up female prostitutes
and pay to have sex with them. Such behavior is encouraged
by tips on many YouTube clips and forums. In fact, players
life points go up when they have sex with a prostitute (see
for an example
Tb7HIKThkU - 4:11 min). Then, it is common practice
J Youth Adolescence
among GTA players to kill the prostitute after having sex
with her, so they can get their money back. Nevertheless,
we do not have to rely on YouTube clips to establish that
GTA is a violent-sexist game series. The violent-sexist
games that we used in our study, GTA San Andreas and
GTA Vice City, are described in the PEGI database (Pan
European Game Information) as suitable for persons aged
18 years and over only. The PEGI webpage also reported
that both these video games contain extreme violence,
violence toward defenseless people, sexual violence, and
strong language. PEGI is the organization that rates video
games for European countries, including Italy where our
participants were from. PEGI is similar to the Entertainment
Software Rating Board (ESRB) system used in the U.S.,
which gives GTA similar ratings. Both games are rated M
for Mature players 17 and older. GTA San Andreas contains
the following content descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense
Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of
Drugs.Similarly, GTA Vice City contains the following
content descriptors: Blood and Gore, Strong Language,
Strong Sexual Content, Violence. Thus, it is not just our
opinion that the GTA games we used are violent and sexist.
They are labelled as such by PEGI and ESRB.
Instead of dening GTA as a sexist video game, Fer-
guson and Donnellann (2017)dened GTA as a sandbox
game. The terms sandbox,”“open world,and free roam
are used to describe video games where a player can move
freely through a virtual world, rather than in a linear fash-
ion. Yet, all the chapters of GTA develop around a storyline
and allows players to take on the role of a criminal who
plans to rise through the ranks of organized crime. Players
are given various missions that must be completed to pro-
gress through the storyline and complete the whole game.
For instance, in GTA Vice City, players have to buy a strip
club in order to please a criminal boss. By spending a total
of $300 on the strip-tease dances, the player will complete
the clubs asset mission. Although GTA can be considered
as a sandbox game,the sandbox is full of prostitutes, pole-
dancers, weapons, and criminals.
Is Playing with Sexist Video Games Just Harmless
Our work (see Gabbiadini et al. 2016) is certainly not the
rst to suggest that violent sexist video games such as GTA
can inuence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of
players. In fact, a scientic consensus is beginning to
emerge around the potentially harmful effects of sexist
violent video games on players. For example, one study
found that exposure to images of sex-typed video game
characters from GTA (vs. images of professional men and
women) increased judgments and attitudes supporting
aggression against women (Dill et al. 2008). Another recent
study (Fox et al. 2014) found that female participants who
played with sexualized characters in a video game reported
higher rape myth acceptance scores than participants in
other conditions. They also had increased body-related
thinking, which can lead to increased self-objectication.
The authors suggested that those who use sexualized char-
acters in video games are more likely to develop harsh
attitudes toward women and to blame a rape victim for the
act (Fox et al. 2014). Another study found that violent video
games can be a risk factor for individuals who are already
prone to sexually violent fantasy, offering a safe place to
practicethe activity in ways that feed fantasy and pre-
existing cognitive scripts (Helfgott 2015).
Modern video games are saturated with stereotypes of
women, and these games may cultivate sexism (Bègue et al.
2017). One content analysis found that female characters
are far more likely to be portrayed as more sexualized than
male characters (60 to 1%; see Dill and Thill 2007). Female
characters often have a huge bust with disproportionally
small waist and hips. In addition, female characters tend to
play minor roles. These games not only affect the way
young women view themselves, they also encourage young
men to look at women as sex objects (Dill and Thill 2007).
Conrming these ndings, another recent study (Lynch
et al. 2016) evaluated 571 playable female characters in
video games released from 1989 to 2014 and concluded that
despite an increase in games featuring playable female
characters, games still depict female characters as sex-
ualized and in more minor roles.
Randomization in Real-World Contexts
Recently, some scholars (e.g., Ferguson 2015) have pointed
out that most video game studies rely on college student
samples, and that these studies are arguably not illuminating
for answering questions about harm to minors, which is the
population of primary interest to the general public, parents,
and policy makers. It is noteworthy that our study was
conducted with minors in a real context (i.e., high school)
rather than with college students in a lab context.
As suggested by Ferguson (2015), the adoption of a
sample of the population of interest allows researchers to
generate evidence with a greater external validity. We agree
with this point; however, working in a eld setting with
adolescents sets some limits over the experimenters free-
dom. In our study (Gabbiadini et al. 2016), the internal
committee of the high school in which data were collected
prevented us from using some items due to ethical reasons
(see section on Masculine Beliefs Measure), gave us a 1-h
time limit for each experimental session, and gave us only
one week to collect all data. Moreover, other practical limits
J Youth Adolescence
related to time management of each classroom at school did
not allow us to assign participants to group conditions in a
complete randomized way. Instead, we had to randomly
assign classrooms to conditions. As suggested by the Editor
of PLOS ONE, we discussed this issue on the webpage
1371/journal.pone.0152121). That is why we used partici-
pantsage as a covariate in our analyses. Importantly, both
in our analyses and in Ferguson and Donnellan reanalysis,
participantsage, when entered as covariate, did not affect
any of the results.
Gender as a Moderator
Ferguson and Donnellan (2017) tested a third alternative
model (PROCESS Model 7) that excluded gender as a
moderator, claiming that such a model would have been
theoretically defensible because theories regarding the
effects of video games do not typically hypothesize gender
differences. However, given that our original article deals
with violence toward women, we believed that gender was
an important moderator. Considering the gendered phe-
nomenon under investigation, our original work reported
our expectations of different effects for males and females.
It is hard to understand how collapsing males and females
together could be considered as an appropriate analytical
strategy for our data set.
Video Game Violence as Covariate
Ferguson and Donnellan (2017) said it was unclear why
video game violence ratings should be used as a covariate.
As we reported in our original article (Gabbiadini et al.
2016; p. 6), post-hoc comparisons indicated that the violent-
sexist games had higher violence ratings than the violence-
only games. Because it is crucial to disentangle violent
content from sexual content, we included the violence rat-
ings as a covariate (for a similar approach, see Bushman and
Anderson 2002; Anderson and Carnagey 2009; Barlett and
Rodeheffer 2009).
Masculine Beliefs Measure
The high school internal committee imposed a number of
limitations on the wording of items from the Male Role
Norms Inventory (MRNI; Levant et al. 2010). The MRNI
assesses seven theoretically derived traditional norms: (1)
Avoidance of Femininity, (2) Fear and Hatred of Homo-
sexuals, (3) Self-Reliance, (4) Aggression, (5) Achieve-
ment/Status, (6) Non-relational Attitudes toward Sexuality,
and (7) Restrictive Emotionality. It also includes a Non-
traditional Attitudes toward Masculinity scale, which
includes items that reect violations of traditional male
norms. After a careful analysis, the committee asked us to
adapt or to drop some items that were considered too
explicit for minors, considering that some of the participants
were as young as 15 years old (i.e., Men should always
take the initiative when it comes to sex).
Moreover, the maximum available length of our experi-
mental session to one hour further limited the number of
items we could include in the original questionnaire. Given
these restrictions, we selected a pool of ve subscales from
the original MRNI and considered three items for each
subscale (i.e., Self-Reliance, Aggression, Achievement/
Status, Non-relational Attitudes toward Sexuality and
Restrictive Emotionality).
When selecting the items, we chose items more appro-
priate for minors. The wording of items was also adapted to
our sample. For instance, the original item Men should
always take the initiative when it comes to sexwas adapted
as Guys should always take the initiative when it comes to
love relationships. All the 15 selected items were adapted,
except for the items composing the self-reliance subscale,
which accidentally were reported as they are in the original
scale. Thus, these items were excluded from the analyses
(see note 3 in Ferguson and Donnellan 2017). Although our
article should have contained a more detailed discussion of
the items we selected and changes, there were valid reasons
for making these selections and changes.
Nevertheless, given the concerns raised by Ferguson and
Donnellan (2017, see note 3), we performed additional
analyses considering all the 15 items collected for the
masculine beliefs scale (Cronbach α=.79). Thus, we con-
sidered a conditional process model (PROCESS model 11)
in which the type of video game was entered as the pre-
dictor, gender, and the identication with the game char-
acter as the moderators, masculine beliefs (computed
considering all the 15 available items) as the mediator, and
empathy toward female violence victims as the outcome. As
in the original model, participantsage, video game violence
rating, and frequency of video game play were included as
covariates. The predicted 3-way interaction between type of
video game played, participantsgender, and identication
with the game character on masculine beliefs was sig-
nicant (b=.24, SE =.10, t(140) =2.35, p=.020; 95%
CI =0.039 to 0.45). Thus, our nding was robust to how
masculine beliefs were operationally dened.
Identication with the Game Character
Adolescents seem more likely than adults to identify with
their avatars (Blinka 2008), and in our study we assumed
J Youth Adolescence
the identication with the game character as one possible
mechanism for better understand the process leading from
violent sexist games play to reduced empathy for female
violence victims. In order to assess the individual level of
identication with the game character, we adapted the scale
proposed by Van Looy et al. (2012), which is composed of
three subscales: (1) Wishful Identication, (2) Similarity
Identication, and (3) Embodied Presence.
To keep our study within the 1-h time limit given to us
by the high school, we dropped the Similarity Identica-
tionsubscale, which is dened as the degree to which the
player sees their avatar as similar to him/herself(Van Looy
et al. 2012, p.129). This subscale was considered less
relevant because it is typically used for MMORPG (Mas-
sively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) virtual
environments rather than stand-alone games like the ones
we used (Van Looy et al. 2012). Because the reliability for
the ve-item wishful identication subscale was rather low
(Cronbach α=.67), we also decided to drop it from our
analyses and to consider only the embodied presence sub-
scale that was much more reliable (Cronbach α=.92).
Theoretically, it is also a better measure. Indeed, embodi-
ment creates a powerful and very realistic experience for the
players and it represents the strongest mechanism for
identication with a virtual representation (Biocca 1997;
Klimmt et al. 2010). Such a detailed procedure could have
been mentioned in the original article and indeed, it was
subsequently amended through a specic comment made in
accordance with the PLOS ONE editor on the website of the
journal (
Furthermore, Van Looy and colleagues (2012), estab-
lished the nomological validity of their proposed scale.
Nomological validity has an external orientation, referring
to the degree to which constructs accurately predict other
constructs, within a shared theoretical model. After vali-
dating the avatar identication scale, Van Looy et al. also
assessed separate measures for the Empathy toward the
avatar and for the Proteus effect (see Tables 4 and 5). The
four items present in our published data set (labeled as
avatar_id_char_empathyXX), were derived from a 4-item
scale used in Van Looy et al. (2012) and adapted to the
context of video games (Cohen 2001; Davis 1980).
Following the rationale proposed by Van Looy et al.
(2012), we ran a series of analyses considering identica-
tion with the game character as the predictor and empathy
toward the game character as the outcome. Identication
with the game character signicantly predicted the empathy
toward the game character β=.40, t(152) =5.35, p<.001,
even when controlling for participantsage, violence rating,
and frequency of game play. A second analysis, revealed
that the identication with the charactercomputed as the
mean of the items for embodied presence and wishful
identicationstill signicantly predicted empathy toward
the game character, β=.50, t(152) =7.06, p<.001, even
when controlling for participantsage, violence rating, and
frequency of game play.
To support our conclusions and following the theoretical
rationale explained in our original article, we modied our
proposed model by including a composite index for iden-
tication with the game character, computed as the average
of the embodied presence 6-item subscale plus the 5-item
wishful identication subscale. Thus, conditional process
model by using the PROCESS macro Model 11 for SPSS
with 5000 bootstrapping samples was computed. In this
model, the type of video game was entered as the predictor,
gender and the identication with the game character as the
moderators, masculine beliefs (15 items) as the mediator,
and empathy toward female violence victims as the out-
come. As in the original model, participantsage, video
game violence rating, and frequency of video game play
were also included as covariates. Analyses conrmed the
predicted 3-way interaction between type of video game,
participantsgender, and identication with the game
character on masculine beliefs, even when considering all
the available set of items for the avatar identication con-
struct (b=0.27, SE =0.11, t(140) =2.46, p=.015; 95%
CI =0.055 to 0.50). Thus, the three-way interaction we
reported in the original article appears to be robust and
insensitive to how identication with the game character is
measured. This boosts condence in the reliability of the
three-way interaction.
Even though the empathy toward the game character
should not be included in the avatar identication construct
and scale (see Van Looy et al. 2012), Ferguson and Don-
nellan (2017) included it. Surprisingly, they sometimes
computed identication with the game character as the
mean of wishful identication, embodied presence, and
empathy toward the character. Theoretically, identication
with the game character is not the same as empathy for the
game character and should therefore not be combined.
Pre-Registration of Studies
Psychological science, along with other scientic dis-
ciplines, has begun to adopt practices aimed at reducing the
frequency of publishing poor quality research. We agree
with Ferguson and Donnellan (2017) that more and more
studies would benet from pre-registration, with the aim of
preventing publication bias and practices that can increase
the likelihood of making Type I errors (Gonzales and
Cunningham 2015). However, we are not sure why Fer-
guson and Donnellan targeted only our article as an
example of failure to pre-register a study. Researchers have
only recently begun to pre-register studies. For example, Dr.
J Youth Adolescence
Ferguson seems to have started pre-registering some of his
studies in 2017, whereas Dr. Donnellan seems to have
started pre-registering his studies in 2016. Our data were
collected in 2014. Thus, it seems unfair for the them to
criticize us for doing something that they perhaps were not
doing themselves at the time our data were collected.
The implications of the Ferguson and Donnellan (2017)
reanalysis did not signicantly differ from those reported in
our original article. Both analyses highlighted the lack of a
direct effect of violent-sexist video games playing on
empathy. Our original study carefully avoided making such
a claim. Furthermore, in our original article, we have never
suggested that exposure to violent sexist video games is a
necessary or a sufcient cause of decreased empathy for
female violence victims. To our knowledge, no media-
violence researcher has ever made such a claim.
As researchers in the eld of media effects, we strongly
believe that an open and constructive debate on the effects
of violent and sexist video games can contribute to the
improvement of research in this area. Modern video games
present hyper-realistic environments, complex plots, struc-
tured narratives, and immersive virtual world. Because of
this complexity, researchers in the media eld need to dig
deeper into the understanding of underlying processes and
mechanisms underlying exposure to modern video games.
Human thought, emotion, and behavior is often complex,
and complex models are therefore required to understand
this complexity.
The effect of violent video games exposure on adolescent
development continues to be urgent. We believe that more
research is needed to understand how video games affect
youth. It is therefore important to identify factorsinclud-
ing media exposurethat, singly and together, may inu-
ence how youth view the world and others.
Author Contributions All the authors contributed to the con-
ceptualization, data analysis and writing of the nal draft manuscript.
All the authors read and approved the nal draft of this manuscript.
Compliance with Ethical Standards All procedures described
within were developed to comport with APA standards for ethical
human participant research.
Conict of Interest The authors declare that they have no compet-
ing interests.
Ethical Approval The original procedures described within
received local ethical approval as described in Gabbiadini et al. (2016).
Informed Consent The original procedures described within were
conducted with informed consent provided to participants as described
in Gabbiadini et al. (2016).
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Alessandro Gabbiadini received his PhD in Quality of life in the
Information Society at the University of Milano-Bicocca in 2012. He
is now a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Milano-
Bicocca. His main research interests focus on morality and violent
videogames, social identity in virtual environments, new technologies
and social interaction.
Brad J. Bushman is full-professor of communication and psychology
at The Ohio State University. He holds the Margaret Hall and Robert
Randal Rinehart Chair of Mass Communication. He studies the causes,
consequences, and solutions to the problem of human aggression and
Paolo Riva is an assistant professor at University of Milano-Bicocca.
His research interests lie broadly in social inuence processes with a
specic focus on social exclusion. Specically, he examines the
consequences of exclusion and the possible strategies that can buffer
against and reduce its effects. In a related vein, he is also interested in
the neuromodulation of emotion regulation processes.
Luca Andrighetto received his PhD in Social Psychology from the
University of Padova in 2008 and he was then a post-doctoral research
fellow at the University of Milano-Bicocca. Currently, he is Associate
Professor at the University of Genova. His work centers around issues
of social relations and prejudice, with a focus on intergroup and
interpersonal attributions of humanity. Currently, he is also exploring
real-life consequences of video-game exposure. He is also Editor of In-
Mind Italy.
Chiara Volpato is full-professor of Social Psychology at the
university of Milano-Bicocca. Her main research interests focus on
intergroup relationships, psychosocial analysis of historical texts,
collective emotions and colonialism, sexism and dehumanization.
J Youth Adolescence
... Today it can be a hard topic to avoid, especially with its prominence within popular media. For example, in video games like Grand Theft Auto (GTA), players are encouraged to pick up sex workers and receive life points for engaging in sexual activity (Gabbiadini et al., 2017). However, as much as sex work has become more socially accepted in terms of how often we see some mention of it, it is usually represented negatively. ...
... However, as much as sex work has become more socially accepted in terms of how often we see some mention of it, it is usually represented negatively. To illustrate, there is an often-practiced act in GTA where players can kill the sex worker after having sex so they can get their money back (Gabbiadini et al., 2017). This demonstrates that although sex work is in popular media, these workers are disposable objects to be used and discarded. ...
... We also echo the concerns of that scholars often imply direct, causal, Table 1 Sensationalist claims by scholars liking "Sexist" games to sexist attitudes or behaviors in real life Quote Citation "Modern video games are saturated with stereotypes of women, and these games may cultivate sexism." Gabbiadini et al. 2017 "The effect of violent video games exposure on adolescent development continues to be urgent." Gabbiadini et al. 2017 "Sexist video games decrease empathy for female violence victims." ...
... Gabbiadini et al. 2017 "The effect of violent video games exposure on adolescent development continues to be urgent." Gabbiadini et al. 2017 "Sexist video games decrease empathy for female violence victims." ...
... Our gender breakdown was nine females and six males, in contrast to the 53/8 split in Schott and the 13/1 split in Atkinson and Willis' study (DeVane and Squire offer no information on their gender dynamics). We considered gender representation to be particularly important given earlier work on the role of masculinity and misogyny in gaming (Fox & Tang, 2014;Jenkins, 1998) as well as specific depictions of women in the Grand Theft Auto series (Gabbiadini, Bushman, Riva, Andrighetto, & Volpato, 2017), though it is our intention to explore this in detail in a separate paper. ...
Drawing on research from a mixed-methods project on gaming we argue for a qualitative methodological approach called “interactive elicitation,” a form of data collection that combines elements of photo elicitation, interviewing and vignettes. After situating our broader research project exploring young people’s experiences of violent open-world video games, we outline the process of conducting interactive elicitation, arguing for a mixed-methods approach where participants are observed and interviewed both during and immediately after interacting with particular cultural artefacts, in this case the game GTA V. We reflect on the initial design of the research methodology, the problematic aspects of conducting the research – focusing on social desirability bias – before proffering adaptations to our approach in relation to complementary work in the field of Game Studies. Ultimately, we argue for immediacy in relation to research on cultural experiences and the importance of social desirability as an asset in framing interaction, both of which have implications for sociological and interdisciplinary research more widely.
... According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) (2019) sixty-five percent of American households play video or computer games on a daily basis. Research on video games often goes back and forth between a debate on positive and negative effects (see Anderson et al., 2010;DeCamp & Ferguson, 2017;Ferguson & Kilburn, 2010;Gabbiadini et al., 2017;Greitemeyer & Mügge, 2014). The types of outcomes that are elicited from playing video games may be impacted by contextual factors of the game. ...
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The following study examines the effect of character viewpoints in a video game and task (motivation) on outcomes associated with identification and enjoyment. The study employs a 2 (first-person viewpoint vs. third-person viewpoint) × 2 (task vs. no task) experimental design to test potential theoretical impacts of identification. Specifically, this study looked at how first-person and third-person viewpoints impact identification (cognitive vs. similarity) and enjoyment after playing a video game. The results showed that third-person perspectives through manipulated gaming objectives (task) positively impacted identification. Furthermore, task was associated with higher game play enjoyment. This study adds to the current literature by comparing different type’s identification (cognitive vs. similarity) and how these concepts are impacted by point-of-view and motivation. Thus, extending our theoretical understanding of identification.
... Although we say "portrayals", we should not overlook a key difference between video games and, say, movies. As others have said, consumers of video games are players who exert their agency in peculiar ways(Cogburn and Silcox 2009;Jurgensen 2018;Nguyen 2017; 6 Recent research by, e.g.,Gabbiadini et al. (2016Gabbiadini et al. ( , 2017, suggests an "indirect" link between playing violent-sexist video games and reduced empathy for women, which has been associated with increased male aggression to women. 7 Once again, it is a separate question whether such games warrant censorship or other action(Cogburn and Silcox 2009). ...
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Video game players sometimes give voice to an “intuition” that violently harming nonhuman animals in video games is particularly ethically troubling. However, the moral issue of violence against nonhuman animals in video games has received scant philosophical attention, especially compared to the ethics of violence against humans in video games. This paper argues that the seemingly counterintuitive belief that digital animal violence is in general more ethically problematic than digital human violence is likely to be correct. Much video game violence against animals has at least some potential, even if only a modest one, to contribute to moral indifference toward animals and to their routine mistreatment. These possible effects have ethical implications for animals, society, players, and video game designers.
... No direct impact of sexualised content was found, but when the authors employed a complicated multipart mediation/moderation model, they found some impact of video games. However these results were not confirmed in a reanalysis that we performed (Ferguson & Donnellan, 2017a; see also Gabbiadini, Bushman, Riva, Andrighetto, & Volpato, 2017;Ferguson & Donnellan, 2017b) and it was revealed that randomisation to condition did not, in fact, occur as was claimed. Younger players were non-randomly assigned to sexualised game conditions. ...
Background: There is continued debate about whether sexualisation in games can influence sexist attitudes and reduced empathy towards women in real life. There is research evidence both supporting and refuting the possibility. Aims: Our aim was to examine the relationship between sexualised content in video games and players' sexist attitudes and empathy. Our research question was, do any such relationships exist once other factors including gender and trait aggression are controlled? Methods: An online sample of 125 participants were recruited and asked to rate their video game playing experience, complete a trait aggression scale and record responses to a vignette about rape. Scores were first correlated, and then hierarchical multiple regression was employed followed by PROCESS examination of interactions between sexualised game content and trait aggression. Results: Exposure to sexualised content in video games was neither correlated with higher sexist attitude ratings nor with lower empathy scores. Sexualised content in games was associated with slightly lower sexist belief scores for those with higher scores on trait aggression (the 12.8% of our current sample at one standard deviation above the mean). No effects were observed for those low in trait aggression. Conclusions and implications: While it is natural to be concerned about the impact of potentially arousing video games, actual effects may be counterintuitive, so if seeking to regulate, it is important to act from actual information. Further research with groups of particular concern will be important.
... These services enable the players to receive life points at a cost (Gabbiadini et al., 2016;Guitiérrez, 2014). To recoup the loss, players are encouraged in acts of violence towards these female characters by killing them and stealing their money (Gabbiadini, Bushman, Riva, Andrighetto, & Volpato, 2017;Guitiérrez, 2014). ...
The concept of karma (which means that the actions in this birth and previous births will determine the current fate) is exercised as a tool with some explanatory power to help promote understanding about a range of social problems in the South Asian culture. Through an exploration of indepth telephonic interviews conducted with a convenience sample of 20 South Asian women (originally from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan) in the United States, this chapter discusses these South Asian women’s experiences of domestic violence and helpseeking practices, in the context of the concept of karma as a unit of analysis. This study found that due to belief in karma (fate/destiny), South Asian women tend to endure violence for longer periods of their lives and therefore are reluctant to seek help. Additionally, the chapter highlights the meanings, events, processes and structures in the lives of South Asian women respondents living in the United States. Within the framework of discussion on karma and domestic violence (DV), the chapter emphasizes the need to offer culturally sensitive services and encourage the agency personnel to understand the ways South Asian women have coped on their own and within their own belief systems.
... "The effect of violent video games exposure on adolescent development continues to be urgent." Gabbiadini et al. 2017 "This finding gives us a better idea of what exactly a combination of violence and sexism in video games does to harm male players." ...
During the early 2000s, several states and municipalities sought to regulate minors’ access to violent video games owing to perceived harms to minors. The resultant case law, culminating in the US Supreme Court case Brown v. EMA (2011), demonstrated court skepticism of the science linking violent games to harm in minors. Such skepticism was increasingly confirmed as numerous newer studies could not link violent games to socially relevant outcomes. In more recent years, there has been a newer focus on sexist games and the harm these might cause. This field appears at risk for repeating some of the problems of the violent game field, including exaggeration of mixed findings, lack of curiosity regarding null findings, and unreliable research designs. By persisting in advancing a narrative of public health crisis, despite evidence to the contrary, social science has risked damaging its reputation in the eyes of the courts. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Law and Social Science Volume 14 is October 13, 2018. Please see for revised estimates.
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Children are among the social groups most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic because they have found themselves forced to stay at home, far from their schoolmates, their friends, and far from all the activities they used to do before the pandemic. so, it was their only refuge for recreation during their stay in Home is staying in front of the screens of tablets, smartphones, and computers to play electronic games for long hours, and there is no doubt that the sudden shift in the lifestyle of children during the Covid-19 pandemic had serious consequences and risks threatening their stability at all levels. In light of that, the current study aimed to determine the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on increasing the social, psychological, behavioral, and health risks of children's addiction to electronic games from a social work perspective. This study falls under the type of descriptive-analytical studies that are based on describing the reality of the problem under study. The study sample included 289 children in the age group 6 -17 years in the first grade to the twelfth grade at school. The researcher designed a questionnaire that reflects the four risks facing children to assess these risks. The results showed is that the value of all impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the increasing risks of children's addiction to electronic games came to a total weight of (27907), weighted relative weight of (80.47%). This indication is High, indicating that the level of impact is High for the Covid-19 pandemic on the increase in all types of risks of children's addiction to electronic games. It ranked first " Behavioral Risks " at 91.15%, It is followed by the ranked second “Social risks " at 85.5%, Then came third place " Psychological Risks" at 80.91%, and in finally in fourth place " Health Risks" at 64.28% , which necessitates the need to take a set of serious measures by educating parents to monitor the content of electronic games that their children play, especially violent games, in addition to, reduce the number of hours the child spends practicing these games, and to encourage parents to form a bridge of communication and constructive dialogue between them and their children, and that parents put controls and restrictions on their children's practice of electronic games to confront abnormal behavioral, psychological and social patterns such as aggression, violence, deception, lying, imitation, vigilance, physical stress, poor eyesight, distance from practicing religious rituals, academic delay, introversion, depression, intolerance, selfishness, sadness, isolation from society, social withdrawal and lack of forming social relationships and lack of communication with others. The researcher took care that the results of the current study are very accurate and representative of the reality of the research problem, in light of the researcher's emphasis on the commitment to observe ethical rules to ensure the confidentiality of data. finally, the current study will greatly benefit researchers interested in the field of childhood and its problems and they will rely on its results and recommendations in how to protect children from the dangers of electronic game addiction in light of the Covid-19 crisis in particular.
Both collected anecdotal evidence from video game players and the results of academic studies have shown that sexism is an issue in video game culture. More specifically, sexism has been found to be common in two areas: (1) video game content and (2) interactions between players in online games. While it might seem logical to assume that these two are causally connected, the available empirical evidence suggests that the relationship between sexist video game content and sexism in interactions between players is more complex than a simple chain of cause and effect. This chapter reviews existing conceptual and empirical work on sexism and video games to arrive at a more nuanced view of this topic. Neither sexist video game content nor sexist attitudes and behavior are monolithic things. They come in different forms, all of which are likely to have different causes as well as different effects on the players. These differences need to be taken into account when studying the relationship between sexism and video games. Importantly, results from cultivation studies on the effects of video game content on real-life attitudes and behavior show that these are extremely limited or even nonexistent. Together with reports from players and study findings on misogyny and sexual harassment among online players, this suggests that research on video games and sexism should focus more on interactions between real people and less on fictional content. This also has implications for the development of measures that aim to reduce sexism in video game culture.
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Gabbiadini, A., Riva, P., Andrighetto, L., Volpato, C., & Bushman, B, (PloS ONE, 2016) provided evidence for a connection between "sexist" video games and decreased empathy toward girls using an experimental paradigm. These claims are based on a moderated mediation model. They reported a three-way interaction between game condition, gender, and avatar identification when predicting masculine ideology in their original study. Masculine ideology was associated, in turn, with decreased empathy. However, there were no main experimental effects for video game condition on empathy. The current analysis considers the strength of the evidence for claims made in the original study on a sample of 153 adolescents (M age = 16.812, SD = 1.241; 44.2% male). We confirmed that there was little evidence for an overall effect of game condition on empathy toward girls or women. We tested the robustness of the original reported moderated mediation models against other, theoretically derived alternatives, and found that effects differed based on how variables were measured (using alternatives in their public data file) and the statistical model used. The experimental groups differed significantly and substantially in terms of age suggesting that there might have been issues with the procedures used to randomly assign participants to conditions. These results highlight the need for preregistration of experimental protocols in video game research and raise some concerns about how moderated mediation models are used to support causal inferences. These results call into question whether use of "sexist" video games is a causal factor in the development of reduced empathy toward girls and women among adolescents.
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Research has indicated that many video games are saturated with stereotypes of women and that these contents may cultivate sexism. The purpose of this study was to assess the relationship between video game exposure and sexism for the first time in a large and representative sample. Our aim was also to measure the strength of this association when two other significant and well-studied sources of sexism, television exposure and religiosity, were also included in a multivariate model. A representative sample of 13520 French youth aged 11–19 years completed a survey measuring weekly video game and television exposure, religiosity, and sexist attitudes toward women. Controlling for gender and socioeconomic level, results showed that video game exposure and religiosity were both related to sexism. Implications of these results for future research on sexism in video games are discussed.
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We analyzed in-game content from titles released between 1983 and 2014 (n = 571) featuring playable female characters. Results indicate that sexualization has diminished since an observed height in the 1990s. Traditionally male-oriented genres (e.g. fighting) have more sexualized characters than role-playing games. Games rated Teen or Mature did not differ in sexualization and featured more sexualization than Everyone games. Despite an increase in games featuring playable female characters, games still depict female characters more often in secondary roles and sexualized them more than primary characters. A positive relationship emerged between the sexualization of female characters and their physical capability. Critical success of games was unrelated to sexualization. We discuss these findings in light of social identity and objectification theories.
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Empathy-putting oneself in another's shoes-has been described as the "social glue" that holds society together. This study investigates how exposure to sexist video games can decrease empathy for female violence victims. We hypothesized that playing violent-sexist video games would increase endorsement of masculine beliefs, especially among participants who highly identify with dominant and aggressive male game characters. We also hypothesized that the endorsement of masculine beliefs would reduce empathy toward female violence victims. Participants (N = 154) were randomly assigned to play a violent-sexist game, a violent-only game, or a non-violent game. After gameplay, measures of identification with the game character, traditional masculine beliefs, and empathy for female violence victims were assessed. We found that participants' gender and their identification with the violent male video game character moderated the effects of the exposure to sexist-violent video games on masculine beliefs. Our results supported the prediction that playing violent-sexist video games increases masculine beliefs, which occurred for male (but not female) participants who were highly identified with the game character. Masculine beliefs, in turn, negatively predicted empathic feelings for female violence victims. Overall, our study shows who is most affected by the exposure to sexist-violent video games, and why the effects occur. (200 words).
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Research has indicated that many video games and virtual worlds are populated by unrealistic, hypersexualized representations of women, but the effects of using these representations remain understudied. Objectification theory suggests that women’s exposure to sexualized media representations leads to self-objectification. Further, we anticipated this process would lead to increases in rape myth acceptance (RMA). Two experiments (Study 1, N = 87; Study 2, N = 81) examined the effects of avatar features on women’s experiences of self-objectification. In both studies, college women exposed to sexualized avatars experienced higher levels of self-objectification after the virtual experience than those exposed to nonsexualized avatars. Furthermore, in Study 2, self-objectification mediated the relationship between controlling a sexualized avatar and subsequent levels of RMA. We discuss the implications of women using sexualized avatars in video games and virtual environments, which may lead to negative attitudes about the self and other women off-line due to heightened self-objectification. Additional online materials for this article are available to PWQ subscribers on PWQ's website at
Typically, MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) are persistent virtual worlds falling within the fantasy genre, in which the player controls his or her character which subsequently becomes a part of the online fantasy world. The study focuses on the aspects of player's relationship with the character while searching for differences in these aspects between various age groups, especially adolescents (12 – 19 years) and young adults (20 – 27 years). A sample containing 532 players was obtained upon contacting players in discussion fora, where they were asked to fill in a web-based questionnaire in English. A battery of 12 questions was tested dealing with the various aspects of relationship between the players and their avatars. The results identified three dominant factors. The first one dealt with identification, i.e. not distinguishing the player from the avatar and the younger the player the stronger the identification. The immersion factor, i.e. daydreaming and emotional feelings towards avatar, was found to be important on the same level for all age cathegories. Among adolescents and emerging adults, the results show a higher similarity in the identification and compensation between the player and the avatar, while the relationship (and its components) was found to be weaker among adults.
The issue of whether video games-violent or nonviolent-"harm" children and adolescents continues to be hotly contested in the scientific community, among politicians, and in the general public. To date, researchers have focused on college student samples in most studies on video games, often with poorly standardized outcome measures. To answer questions about harm to minors, these studies are arguably not very illuminating. In the current analysis, I sought to address this gap by focusing on studies of video game influences on child and adolescent samples. The effects of overall video game use and exposure to violent video games specifically were considered, although this was not an analysis of pathological game use. Overall, results from 101 studies suggest that video game influences on increased aggression (r = .06), reduced prosocial behavior (r = .04), reduced academic performance (r = -.01), depressive symptoms (r = .04), and attention deficit symptoms (r = .03) are minimal. Issues related to researchers' degrees of freedom and citation bias also continue to be common problems for the field. Publication bias remains a problem for studies of aggression. Recommendations are given on how research may be improved and how the psychological community should address video games from a public health perspective.
The accumulation of anecdotal accounts of copycat crime suggests that popular culture plays an important role in some instances and aspects of criminal behavior. However, there is little empirical research specifically examining the copycat effect on criminal behavior. Questions remain regarding the nature and extent of copycat crime, cultural influences that shape the copycat effect, the role and relevance of popular culture as a motivating factor for criminal behavior, and issues the copycat phenomenon raises for legal determinations of criminal responsibility. This paper reviews the research literature and contemporary case examples of copycat crime with attention to the influence of mass media technology on criminal behavior, the mechanisms of media-mediated crime, and the relevance of understanding the copycat phenomenon for determinations of criminal responsibility in insanity cases. An integrative theoretical model of copycat crime is proposed, a methodological framework for empirically investigating copycat crime is presented, and practical implications for understanding the role of the copycat effect on criminal behavior are discussed.
Research has indicated that many video games and virtual worlds are populated by unrealistic, hypersexualized representations of women, but the effects of embodying these representations remains understudied. The Proteus effect proposed by Yee and Bailenson (2007) suggests that embodiment may lead to shifts in self-perception both online and offline based on the avatar’s features or behaviors. A 2 × 2 experiment, the first of its kind, examined how self-perception and attitudes changed after women (N = 86) entered a fully immersive virtual environment and embodied sexualized or nonsexualized avatars which featured either the participant’s face or the face of an unknown other. Findings supported the Proteus effect. Participants who wore sexualized avatars internalized the avatar’s appearance and self-objectified, reporting more body-related thoughts than those wearing nonsexualized avatars. Participants who saw their own faces, particularly on sexualized avatars, expressed more rape myth acceptance than those in other conditions. Implications for both online and offline consequences of using sexualized avatars are discussed.