PsychNology Journal, Volume 10, Number 3, 215 – 243

Killing Non-Human Animals in Video Games: A Study on User Experience and Desensitization to Violence Aspects

Luca Chittaro, Riccardo Sioni
Human-Computer Interaction Lab University of Udine, Italy


Violent video games are often associated to negative effects such as desensitization to violence. However, while aggression can concern any living being, experiments in the literature have especially focused on games that require the player to aggress human (or anthropomorphic) beings. To extend the investigation of violent video games, this paper considers a video game genre (Whac-a-Mole) in which the victims of aggression belong to non-human animal species. The study investigates User Experience aspects (in terms of players' affect) as well as desensitization to violence aspects of a Whac-a-Mole game and a non-violent version of the same game, using Affect Grids and physiological measures (Facial EMG, SCL, HR, and BVPA). To obtain a high level of control on confounding factors, the modified game for the non-violent condition of the study replaces only the violent content of the original game with non-violent content, leaving all other game features constant. Well-known findings about desensitization to violence in violent video games were not found in this study, and player’s affect results also suggest that the violent element of the Whac-a- Mole game cannot be straightforwardly replaced by a non-violent one without possibly weakening the User Experience. The paper discusses possible reasons for the obtained results and suggests additional research steps to better clarify the role that the virtual victims’ species might play as a factor in violent video games studies.

KEYWORDS: Violent video games, User Experience, Physiological measures, Desensitization to violence, Whac-a-Mole games.

Chittaro L., Sioni R. (2012). Killing Non-Human Animals in Video Games: A Study on User Experience and Desensitization to Violence Aspects. PsychNology Journal, 10(3), 215 - 243. Retrieved [month] [day], [year], from

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PsychNology Journal Volume 10, Number 3