Can Playing Video Games Make You a Better Person?

Recent studies have indicated some interesting ideas about morality and video games

Earlier this month, IGN talked about moral choices in video games in  "Another 5 Reasons Video Games are Actually Good for You." According to the post, a recent study indicates "that antisocial behavior in video games actually may make players more morally sensitive, rather than less (contrary to popular belief)."  

The article explaining this research, written by experts in Communications and Advertising from various universities, found that subjects showed signs of guilt after virtually committing immoral acts, even though they weren't actually doing so. They also found an increase in subjects' "moral sensitivity" after playing, meaning they were more prone to thinking morally in real life.

BioShock 1 and 2 offer a choice to "Rescue" or "Harvest" corrupted beings known as "Little Sisters."

There are many games that allow players to act as "bad guys," or that offer the option to perform immoral actions. Several video games even keep track of your choices, with a "morality system," which allows gamers to choose what kind of character they want to play. Do they want to play a nice character and solve things in a diplomatic way? Or do they want to hit first and ask questions later? 

Ranging in complexity, these systems, allow players some flexibility in their gameplay. In some cases, depending on what you choose, your actions can have a huge impact on later events, how others interact with your character, and even what ultimately happens to your character. Therefore, these systems can guide players to consistently make certain choices to get benefits, or experience alternate playthroughs.

Some games, like the Mass Effect series, do not have a typical Good vs. Evil Morality System.

In other words, a player may not really be a "bad guy," but they want to see what happens when they are, so it makes sense that some players feel guilt for their actions. Especially since they have a counter serving as a constant reminder of their immoral in-game choices, and often have to suffer consequences for those choices. 

The findings in this study only suggest a connection between committing immoral actions in video games and an increase in "moral sensitivity." It does not mean the findings are a proven fact.  It is intriguing, though, particularly for any gamer who has ever had to deal with the "video games are bad for you" complaint. The study also helps shed light on how so many game developers consider morality's significance when making games, and how they allow players to question their in-game choices. 

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I love writing, videogames, books, and movies. I love stories, in any form.

Published Aug. 8th 2014

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