Pills and power ups: How in-game substance shapes players’ attitudes and real-life substance abuse intentions

Document Type


Publication Date

August 2016

Publication Title

Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) 2016 Conference


Objective: Guided by social cognitive theory, this study investigated the effects of in-game substance use portrayals in video games on players’ real-world substance-related cognitions and intentions. Materials and Methods: A custom-designed computer designed game presented 97 participants across two studies with encounters with alcohol and cigarettes. For half of the participants, the in-game substance use facilitated gameplay and for the other half the substance use inhibited gameplay. Results: The first study showed that negative consequences of in-game substance use improved attitudes toward the game, which then impacted attitudes toward drinking under certain conditions. In the second study, participants had more positive attitudes toward the game when the game portrayed positive consequences for cigarette smoking, and this impacted attitudes toward smoking. Conclusion: Mediated portrayals of substance use, like those found in video games, can influence a player’s perception of substance use. We believe that carefully crafted video games could be used to discourage substance use behaviors. However, the effective means of implementation and understanding how users will respond under different conditions merits further study.


Presented during the paper research session, "Technology and Health Communication."

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