A new Indiana University study looks at whether or not video gamers behave ethically in game environments:
This exploratory study was designed to examine how players make moral choices in video games and what effects these choices have on emotional responses to the games. Participants (n=75) filled out a moral foundations questionnaire (MFQ) and then played through the first full act of the video game Fallout 3. Game play was recorded and content analyzed for the moral decisions made. Players also reported their enjoyment of and emotional reactions to the game and reflected on the decisions they made. The majority of players made moral decisions and behaved toward the nonplayer game characters they encountered as if these were actual interpersonal interactions. Individual differences in decision making were predicted by the MFQ. Behaving in antisocial ways did increase guilt, but had no impact on enjoyment.
So the obvious rejoinder to this, and I’m reminded of the time my undergrad advisor in political science made a poster spoofing a poster made and plastered around campus by the Office of Student Affairs after they conducted survey of campus drinking (my alma mater Belmont University is a dry campus), is that video gamers being observed by other human beings — particularly if they have met those observers/researchers personally — are likely to behave more ethically in a game environment than they might otherwise behave in the privacy of their own home, or playing over the Internet against anonymous nine year olds (and likely losing to those nine year olds).
Similarly, students who drink on a dry campus confronted with survey questions from administration officials about drinking behavior (“breaking the law” as Dr. Griffith’s spoof poster put it) have more incentives to lie about their behavior than tell the truth. The net result of the Belmont drinking survey was a series of propaganda posters that bragged about how awesome Belmont’s no alcohol policies were, and used survey results showing high rates of non-drinking to exert social pressure on people who drank clandestinely. So it’s not really surprising that video gamers being observed by their peers and their teachers behaved nearly as ethically as they would in the real world when Indiana University conducted this study.
Via WSJ, who bought the study hook, line, and sinker. They should hire me to write their Ideas Market blog.