New Study Shows "Being Bad" In Videogames Can Make You More Moral In Reality
Gamers have had to deal for decades with assumptions surrounding violent videogames. They are often held up by self-appointed moral crusaders as a sign of moral decay in modern society. More troublingly, many have tried to blame violence in the real world on people playing violent games. Numerous studies have been carried out on the effect of consuming violent media and have been mainly inconclusive. However, a new study which was published at the end of the last month suggested that in fact playing games can have a positive effect on player's real life behaviour.
Rather than talk about violence per se the study concentrated instead on 'immoral behaviour' in games. A popular trend in games today is to allow gamers to make moral choices as part of the game. Games as diverse as Fable, InFamous, Watch Dogs and The Walking Dead allow you to make choices that effect the way the story unfolds. Open-world style games often allow players to play by their own moral code, and allow (although not necessarily encourage) players to do immoral things such as kill civilians. The Grand Theft Auto games are infamous in this regard- with the Fox new baiting ability to rob prostitutes becoming something even non-gamers are aware of. Rather than desensitize players to real life violence however, the study suggests that committing heinous acts in the digital realm causes many to feel real guilt.
The game used in the study was a modified version of Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis that allows gamers to play as UN soldiers or Terrorists. Those who chose to play as "the bad guys" experienced feelings of guilt. This was apparently found to lead the gamers to have increased moral sensitivity. How does this effect them outside the game? The report's authors claim that it might lead these same gamers to more "pro-social behaviour"- behaviour that is for the benefit of others. In stark contrast to the opinions of gaming's detractors, the study carried out by the University Of Buffalo suggests that gaming can have an ultimately beneficial effect on society.
"Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive," was made public on July 20th. It may not convince everyone- after all it's largely speculative as it doesn't provide evidence that these gamers actually followed through and became pillars of society. Still, any study published on the beneficial effects games (and gamers) can have on society can only be a good thing.