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 thatdemonstrates 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.
Interesting research. Not what one would expect but makes sense. At least for people who are empathetic.
I’m sure this only works for normal people and not psychopaths. But it is interesting that that “immoral virtual behaviors are capable of eliciting guilt.” And that guilt usually results in taking actions to assuage the feeling, often by doing pro-soical things.
So now do this with a group of Wall Street financiers some CEOs and politicians. Compare with public defenders, firefighters and doctors. I’d be interested in any differences.
They will have to do more work to see if this lessens as time goes on but, as a strictly anecdotal observation, I almost always hate playing the bad guys when given the choice. In Dungeons and Dragons I could not abide anyone who was evil. Heck, even in Angry Birds I refuse to play the Pigs.