The Effect of Violence and Active Gameplay on Recognition of Advertisements in Video Games

May 4, 2020   /  

Student: Charlie Quigley
Major: Psychology
Minor: History
Advisors: Nathaniel Foster, Michael Casey

The aim of my I.S. was to evaluate whether video game violence and passive viewing of video games affect recognition of in-game advertisements. Previous research has shown that violence leads to worse memory of brands in video games (Lull et. al., 2018). In the current study, participants were randomly assigned one of four conditions. Participants were instructed to complete a race in Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA 5) while engaging in violent or non-violent behavior or asked to watch gameplay of violent or non-violent GTA 5. After this study phase, participants completed a recognition task on billboards in the game. A 2 x 2 analysis of variance and two independent sample t-tests were conducted to analyze the results. A significant difference in recognition emerged for the active groups between the violent and the non-violent participants. The non-violent participants performed significantly better on the recognition task than the non-violent participants.

I have been playing video games all my life. One thing I noticed was the boom in the video game industry and the slow increase of advertisements in games. More and more people are playing video games each day. When it came time to start thinking about IS topics, I kept coming back to video games and how I can incorporate that into my study. After doing some background research I discovered the topic of video games and advertising and it immediately piqued my interest. From there I brainstormed ideas until I landed on looking at how violence and playing versus watching impacts memory of in-game advertisements. Luckily, I found Grand Theft Auto 5, a game I had played a lot when it first released. I was able to create a race in the game that went on streets with fictitious advertisements the game developers made. From there, manipulating violence was as simple as instructing participants to be as destructive as possible or avoid hitting anything for the duration of the race. All the active gameplay participants were given a controller and completed the race and all the passive gameplay participants watched a video of one of the active participants playing. The console used was an Xbox One and it has a feature to record gameplay of up to 10 minutes long. This is how every race was recorded for passive participants to watch. Something I came to appreciate throughout the I.S. process but mainly in the testing portion is the time and effort that goes into in-person experiments. Many times, I spent whole days in the lab running participants. Each participant would only take 10 minutes, but I have to prepare the Xbox and all the necessary forms for each person too. A difficult part of my study was the number of participants I needed to find significant results. Having four conditions means I needed around 120 participants to sufficiently power my study. I had roughly 40 participants. Despite this, I still observed significant effects. I found that in the active gameplay group, non-violent participants performed significantly better on the recognition task than the violent participants.

Charlie will be online to field comments on May 8:
2-4pm EDT (PST 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

13 thoughts on “The Effect of Violence and Active Gameplay on Recognition of Advertisements in Video Games”

  1. Charlie,

    Wish we had the opportunity to discuss your topic in person. Your area of research shows the power of messaging, whether obvious or subtle.

    Congrats and all the best, Charlie.
    Dr. W

  2. This is so interesting Charlie! For such a popular industry, I think it’s really important to consider the impact that video games have on those who play them, especially ones which utilize violence. Based on the findings from your study, what recommendations or suggestions would you have for video game creators?

    Great work!

    1. Hi Ellie!

      My recommendation to video game developers would, first and foremost, make a game you are passionate about. In terms of advertisements in their games, I would suggest making them similar to product placements. Prior research I’ve read has shown that advertisements that pull the player out of the game and don’t fit into the game seamlessly can create negative connotations with the brand or company that was advertised. Ads are still effective when they are placed subtly. So, I would recommend to video game developers that when deciding on what to advertise and how to advertise it, choose brands, products, companies that fit within the game (such as a Nike ad in a sports game) and make it more subtle. An example would be putting the Nike logo on the jerseys of basketball players in the NBA 2k games.

  3. Great explanation and congrats Charlie! I think Ellie raised a really interesting and important question about what suggestions you may have for video game creators and companies regarding violence and its effects.

    1. Hi Hope!

      My response to Ellie focused on what type of ads video game developers and advertisers should consider. In regards to violence and video games, most of my research focused on violence and memory for advertisements, so I can’t confidently speak about other effects of violence. In terms of advertisements in games, it’s up to the advertisers what games they look to advertise in. The video game developers start creating a game they believe will be enjoyed by players and sell well. For the most part, video game developers aren’t basing their game on how they could advertise in it. Many games include violence but just as many don’t. The advertisers need to make the decision which games to try and advertise in and there is a lot that can go into that decision. While previous research shows that violence leads to worse memory of brands and advertisements, a violent game will a large player base might make it worth it for the advertisers to advertise in the game.

      The most common connection to violent video games I see is that violent video games cause people to be violent. While I have not done a lot of reading in this area, I have read a few studies in the past few years that have said this is not true. But I am only speaking from my experience playing video games and the few studies I have read.

  4. Thanks for presenting your research Charlie. I was wondering a little about the passive condition. Given that lots of people do watch others while playing, and one would guess that the advertisers want to be influencing them as well, why do you think the passive viewers had so little memory of the ads?

    1. Hi Dr. Stavneezer,

      In the case of my IS, I believe that the passive viewers had so little memory of the ads because of the task I gave them. I found it difficult to replicate the engagement of people watching video games in my study. When someone is watching someone else play a video game, they are interested in and choose to watch. They have an active interest in paying attention. For my study, I asked participants in the passive condition to count how many times the person playing hit anything with their car. While this gets the participants to engage in the video, I believe it might have made participants focus more on the car than someone who was watching because they want to. If I were to repeat my IS, I would look into finding a way to more accurately represent the level of engagement of those watching video games. While the results might not change, I believe there would be increased memory in the passive condition.

  5. Hi Charlie,

    Very interesting topic! When you say participants have a “worse memory of advertising/brands” in violent video games, do you mean they didn’t like the advertising/brand, or couldn’t recall it?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Emily!

      They couldn’t recall it. In the case of my study, it means they performed worse on the recognition task. From prior research, it means they performed worse on the memory task they were asked to complete. That task tended to be a recall or recognition task.

  6. Your project is fascinating! After participating in your study, I was questioning everything I observed all day. You hear a lot about how violent video games are bad, but I’d never heard about it impacting memory. Good job, Charlie!

  7. Thanks for investigating this topic! What wonderful work! Congratulations and I wish you the best.

Comments are closed.