Grand Theft Auto Vice City
Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto series has long been criticised for its sexist depiction of women.Rockstar Games

A new study has linked violent and sexist video games to apathy among young men toward female victims of real-world violence. Using Rockstar Games' notorious series as an example, the study states: "It appears that GTA might make the world a worse place for females."

Carried out at Ohio State University in the United States, the study - snappily titled: "Acting like a Tough Guy: Violent-Sexist Video Games, Identification with Game Characters, Masculine Beliefs, & Empathy for Female Violence Victims" - used games deemed to be violent and sexist (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and San Andreas), games that weren't (Dream Pinball 3D and QUBE 2) and a third control group of violent, but not sexist, games (Half-Life and its sequel).

Participants in the study were male and female, and aged 15-20 years old. After playing the game and answering a few questions about their experience, they were shown a picture of an adolescent girl who had been physically abused by a boy of her own age. They were then asked to rate how "sympathetic, moved, compassionate, tender, warm, etc" they felt toward the victim.

No direct link was found between the games and the behaviour of the participants, but a correlation was discovered between a lack of reaction to the abuse victim and those who said they identified with GTA's characters.

The study's conclusion reads: "One of the best predictors of aggression against girls and women is lack of empathy. The present research shows that violent-sexist video games such as GTA reduce empathy for female violence victims, at least in the short-term.

"This reduction in empathy partly occurs because video games such as GTA increase masculine ideals, such as the belief that "real men" are tough, dominant, and aggressive. Our effects were especially pronounced among male participants who strongly identified with the misogynistic game characters. [Author] Daniel Pink was correct in noting that empathy makes the world a better place. Unfortunately, it appears that GTA might make the world a worse place for females."

Alessandro Gabbiadini, who led the study, told Ohio University: "If you see a movie with a sexist character, there's a certain distance. But in a video game, you are physically linked to the character. You control what he does. That can have a real effect on your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, at least in the short term."

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