Violent acts (Video Games)




video games, violent acts, aggression, victim, perpetrator


The depiction of violence is the focus of many content analyses of video games. Typically, the occurrence and nature of acts of violence or aggression are coded to quantify the amount of violent content in a particular game.


Field of application/theoretical foundation:

Quantifying the amount of violence in video games can inform media effects research that looks at the relationship between the exposure to violent video game content and aggression. This allows for more precise measures and hypotheses than simply coding a game as violent or nonviolent which is often done in experimental research in this area. What is commonly coded in content analyses of violent content in video games is the number and nature of aggressive or violent actions. Specific attributes of these acts, such as their realism, graphicness or (narrative) justification (Tamborini et al., 2013) are only considered in a few studies (e.g., Lachlan et al., 2005). While the focus in most studies is on acts of physical aggression/violence in interactions with/between game characters, there are also studies that have investigated verbal aggression between players (Holz Ivory et al., 2017).


References/combination with other methods of data collection:

Content analysis of violence in video games can be complemented by survey data asking players about the games they play and their rating of the degree of violence they contain and/or age rating from institutions like ESRB or PEGI (see Busching et al., 2015).


Example studies

Coding material



Unit(s) of analysis

Source(s) (reported reliability of coding)

Video recording of playing session

Number and duration of violent interactions (attacking and being attacked)

(a) combat: “periods of playing time in which a player [i.e., the character controlled by the player] fires his gun” (p. 1021)

(b) “under attack–the player is attacked by an opponent before or after using his own weapon” (p. 1022) 

Distinct phases/events in up to 12 minutes of solo play of the first-person shooter game Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror

Weber et al., 2009 (Cohen’s kappa = 0.81)

Video recording of the whole game

Depictions of injury (present/not present)

“An injured or dead character lying on the ground or

remnants of blood from a known violent act” (p. 403)

1-second intervals of the game recordings

Thompson et al., 2006 (Cohen’s kappa = 0.93)

Video recording of the whole game

Depictions of violent acts (present/not present)

“Intentional acts in which the aggressor causes or attempts to cause

physical injury or death to another character” (p. 403)

1-second intervals of the game recordings

Thompson et al., 2006 (Cohen’s kappa = 0.93)

Video recording of the first 10 minutes of gameplay

Depicted harm/pain (none, mild, moderate, extreme) in aggressive exchanges between in-game characters

“physical injury or incapacitation of the victim” (p. 64)

“an aggressive exchange that occurs between a perpetrator (P) engaging in a particular type of act (A) against a target (T)” (p. 63)

Smith et al., 2003 (coefficient according to “Potter and

Levine-Donnerstein's (1999) reliability formula for multiple coders”, p. 65: 0.87)



Busching, R., Gentile, D. A., Krahé, B., Möller, I., Khoo, A., Walsh, D. A., & Anderson, C. A. (2015). Testing the reliability and validity of different measures of violent video game use in the United States, Singapore, and Germany. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 4(2), 97–111.

Holz Ivory, A., Ivory, J. D., & Wu, W. (2017). Harsh Words and Deeds: Systematic Content Analyses of Offensive User Behavior in the Virtual Environments of Online First-Person Shooter Games. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 10(2), 19.

Lachlan, K. A., Smith, S. L., & Tamborini, R. (2005). Models for aggressive behavior: The attributes of violent characters in popular video games. Communication Studies, 56(4), 313–329.

Smith, S. L., Lachlan, K. A., & Tamborini, R. (2003). Popular video games: Quantifying the presentation of violence and its context. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 47(1), 58–76.

Tamborini, R., Weber, R., Bowman, N. D., Eden, A., & Skalski, P. (2013). “Violence is a many-splintered thing”: The importance of realism, justification, and graphicness in understanding perceptions of and preferences for violent films and video games. Projections, 7(1), 100–118.

Thompson, K. M., Tepichin, K., & Haninger, K. (2006). Content and ratings of mature-rated video games. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 160(4), 402–410.

Weber, R., Behr, K.-M., Tamborini, R., Ritterfeld, U., & Mathiak, K. (2009). What Do We Really Know About First-Person-Shooter Games? An Event-Related, High-Resolution Content Analysis. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14(4), 1016–1037.



How to Cite

Wulf, T., Possler, D., & Breuer, J. (2021). Violent acts (Video Games). DOCA - Database of Variables for Content Analysis.



Fiction / Entertainment: Variables for Content Analysis

Most read articles by the same author(s)