Another Study Suggests Acting Immorally In Video Games Actually Makes Players More Moral

from the then-i-must-be-a-saint dept

As the evolution of video games as a major entertainment medium marches on, you would expect to see more and more studies done as to their effects. And, since the chief topic among those having this conversation seems to center around the effect of violence in games, that’s where much of the focus of these studies is going to go. Now, we’ve already discussed one study that linked violent video games and the so-called Macbeth Effect, in which the gamer feels the need to cleanse themselves of the wrong-doing with a conversely benevolent action. That study was important because it demonstrated that the effect of violent games might have the opposite effect of the all-to-prevalent theory that virtual violence begets real-life violence.

A recent study appears to boil this down even further, indicating that instead of feeling any kind of desensitizing effect, immoral actions taken in video games produce a more sensitive, compassionate person.

A study led by Matthew Grizzard, assistant professor in the department of communication at the University at Buffalo, reaffirmed previous research saying that committing immoral acts in games can cause players to feel guilt. Moreover, the study found that players would become more sensitive to the specific moral codes that they violated while playing — and according to Grizzard and his co-authors, that may eventually lead players to practice prosocial behavior (that is, voluntary behavior for the benefit of other people).

The study was done at an unnamed Midwestern university, sampling nearly 200 individuals for testing purposes. The game used was Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, an older game that was previously used in a study that first tried to measure guilt in the gaming population. The methodology used by several researchers from major universities is interesting, to say the least.

First, the researchers randomly assigned the participants to play a game or perform a memory recall task. They randomly assigned the gaming segment to play Cold War Crisis in two ways: Either they would play as terrorists (the “guilt condition”), or as U.N. peacekeepers in the “control condition.” The researchers also split the memory recall participants into two groups: They asked the guilt condition people to write about a time in which they felt particularly guilty, while they requested the control condition folks to write about a normal day.

What they found is that feelings of guilt were more profound in those gamers who played as terrorists compared with those that played as peacekeepers. The rationale at work is that terrorists are unjustified in killing the U.N. characters, but not vice versa. What that demonstrates is that players taking what they deem to be immoral actions within a virtual environment are emotionally stimulated in thinking about those actions and develop thoughts and opinions based on those actions, building generally towards empathy through guilt. Coupled with other research, this is important.

Research has shown that guilt and increased moral sensitivity in real life often lead to prosocial behavior. Thus, the study’s authors concluded, there’s some likelihood that the same could be true for guilt resulting from immoral virtual behavior. In other words, playing violent games can make you feel guilty, which may cause you to do nice things for other people.

It’s important to note that still other research has shown that with increased play at relatively high rates, these feelings of guilt tend to lessen over time. That likely has more to do with the player’s comfort level in accepting that their actions are all just part of a game and having already settled their feelings on those actions. In the meantime, for the vast majority of gamers who play games at what we’d consider normal intervals, violence in games may actually lead to pro-social behavior rather than the stereotype result that’s blasted around our media.

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Comments on “Another Study Suggests Acting Immorally In Video Games Actually Makes Players More Moral”

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Jay (profile) says:


I can’t tell anything about the study because it’s behind an accursed paywall.

You have no idea what this research entails save for a “trust us” abstract which only tells us so much?

Who’s brought idea is it to put this behind an exclusive window and jack up the price disproportionately to the fact that this is research done for the BENEFIT of the public?

What benefit do we get from not being able to read and critique the study?

I don’t want a damn abstract. I want the study to read and assess. Why do I get a friggin paywall when my tax payer dollars went to pay for this damn thing already?

Anonymous Coward says:

As a game player I call Bullshit!

I still have to deal with impudent creatures online.

As with most things, humans need practice to be good at something and being unmoral is one of them.

Being unmoral and selfish may be inherent and require no practice to do, but just like baseball anyone can play it… but you really want to be ‘Good At It’ then you need to practice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: As a game player I call Bullshit!

Back then Doom was viewed as the Ultimate Evil, the game was 18+, I played it at 12 years old. The midi metal songs + the demon and zombie shooting and chainsawing never made me do the same thing. Cos you know, first enemies you encounter are possessed humans. My dad was like “this is insane” when I was using the chainsaw on those guys and I told him, they’re zombies/possessed dad, not actual guys.

Nobody complained about Wolfenstein 3D before that, because they’re nazis! They’re not humans!

Lars says:

Not so sure

This is sort of a biased study … forcing people to play terrorist for the day is different than someone who chooses to do it for fun.

I played everquest a while ago and i had a few friends would would spend their days running around killing innocent people just because they enjoyed harassing them. Those people were all assholes in real life too.

Like most things, its ultimately a question of motivation, rather than the action in question.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Not so sure

forcing people to play terrorist for the day is different than someone who chooses to do it for fun

Suggesting that the people claiming video games CAUSE violent behavior have the causal relationship backwards. That’s the point here – while politicians and other nuts are jumping up and down claiming that violent video games are turning people into raging killers, this study has shown the opposite results. It’s obviously not conclusive, but adds more to the growing pile of evidence suggesting that our society is not crumbling because of Super Mario Brothers.

Lars says:

Re: Re: Not so sure

Yeah I agree. I don’t think that video games inherently make people worse or better than before they started playing. I do think that a virtual world allows people to practice and reinforce thought patterns and behaviors, that could extend outside of the virtual world, but again, the reinforced thought patterns are likely to be far more based on who the person is intrinsically rather than any characteristic of the game.

That being said, I do think that games CAN influence behavior, though its a complex thing. Specifically, I think that many of the medal of honor type games are designed to prep kids for military service, and they probably do a good job at it (though, my opinion on this is pretty uninformed since I rarely play shooter games).

Candid Cameron says:


I’ve been affected in this way, so it’s probably accurate. The next step is to use a game where players are constantly presented with both a moral and immoral solution for any given problem. I’m betting the guilt is even more acute when gamers choose the immoral path, knowing full well they had the much more reasonable alternative. How disturbing the consequences are likely has an effect too. Definitely worth studying in more depth.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Choices.

There are a lot of games like this already.

Fable series, Mass Effect series, Dragon Age series, Alpha Protocol, Game of Thrones, infamous… And many more i can’t remember now.

At those games, you are presented with moral choices, both with advantages and disadvantages and different outcomes.
Some are very well put… Like “choosing between the needs of the few you do really care about and the needs of the many that you don’t care so much” you see in Infamous at one time.

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