Videogames are a great way to walk in someone else’s shoes, if only digitally. Depending on the game, you can do good deeds for the love of humanity or the love of money. You can swing a sword for freedom or for oppression. According to Dr. Andrew Weaver, your game choices are more obvious than you’d think. When it comes to moral decision-making, how you play your game is how you live your life–and you’re playing morally.
For their paper, “Mirrored Morality: An Exploration of Moral Choice in Video Games,” Dr. Weaver and his fellow researcher Nicky Lewis had 75 gamers (40 men, 35 women, ages 18 to 24) play Fallout 3, a game that starts with relatively little gameplay and multiple character-building decisions. These gamers also took the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (you can take the self-scorable test, here) to evaluate their psychological foundations of morality, such as whether they value loyalty to a group or whether they respect authority. From this, Weaver determined that players used their own moral foundation to make their choices in-game.
In what looks like proof of the goodness of human nature, the paper “Mirrored Morality” described:
Although the game allowed for open-ended exploration and interaction with characters, and the player was equipped with ﬁghting tools (ﬁsts or a gun), just 4 percent (n = 3) of the sample engaged in unprovoked aggression. Just 6.7 percent (n = 5) of the sample attempted theft…. The majority of players (68 percent, n = 51) described themselves as making the same kinds of decisions they would in real life.
In a telephone interview, Dr. Weaver said, “I think the key finding was players largely made moral decisions just as they would in real life, that is, they were doing the right thing. Even when given the opportunity to be violent, they were choosing non-violent acts.”
So what about players who deliberately choose to be unholy bastids who wreak havoc for the lulz?
Dr. Weaver said, “It’s not about morality. It’s about, ‘What kinds of weapons can I get,’ or, ‘What kinds of worlds can I visit if I do this?’ It’s not that these people are being bad. It’s just they’re driven by curiosity and game strategy.”
His paper reflects this:
Only two players (2.7 percent) made choices, because they were different from real life. Just 20 percent of the sample (n = 15) mentioned strategy as a motivator for their decision making, and 12 percent (n = 9) mentioned curiosity as a reason they made the choices they did. Thus, in these exploratory analyses, when looking at both the choices themselves and at the player’s recounting of the choices, the majority of players seemed to treat the decisions in this game much like they would in real life where participants were provoked and had an opportunity to respond with aggression. Despite aggression being justiﬁed and accessible in these cases, over half of the participants (52 percent, n = 39) chose not to engage in violence in either case, attempting instead to reason with the perpetrators.
In fact, in yet more proof of the goodness of human nature, “Mirrored Morality” reports, “We found that those who made antisocial choices during game play reported feeling more guilt at the conclusion of the game than those who behaved morally.”
Of course, I have to wonder: How different would Weaver’s results be had he studied Grand Theft Auto IV instead of Fallout 3?
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