Press trigger for morality: an exploration into the role of moral development, moral decision-making and video game play.
Authors: Hodge, S.
Due to concerns over the psychological effects of playing video games, research into the role of morality and video games needed to be investigated. Some video games contain controversial, potentially morally questionable content, and numerous video games involve moral narratives or require the player to make moral decisions. Thus, both these features in video games show the importance of understanding the role of morality in this virtual space from a psychological perspective, to contribute to the gap in knowledge. Previous research suggests many inconsistencies in the findings; some research reported decisions in a video game were similar to moral decisions made in real-life, whereas other research found amorality in video games. The research contributed original knowledge, by addressing methodological issues, and examining the relationship with different aspects of morality and video game play.
Phase 1 examined a variety of video game play factors and moral development. Three hundred and one participants from a Secondary school, Sixth form, and a University, aged between 11 and 27 years completed a questionnaire, which included a measure of moral development (the Sociomoral Reflection Measure) and questions regarding videogame play. The results suggest that different factors predicted low and high moral scores: moral narrative and number of genres played predicted higher moral scores, whereas years playing, average content rating, and playing Grand Theft Auto predicted lower moral scores. Surprisingly, moral development was suggested to transition between ages 12–13, which has not been reported in previous research.
Phase 2 examined moral behaviour through the moral decisions of participants as they played a purpose-made game, which was designed and programmed specifically for this research. One hundred and fifteen University undergraduate participants participated. Decision-making was suggested to be slower than expected (not intuitive) which was influenced by the first encounter, suggesting participants were deliberating on their decisions. Overall the in-game instructions were suggested to be the strongest predictor for in-game decisions. Whereas real-life morality, previous game play and post-game measures (e.g. Positive and Negative Affect Schedule and Tangrams help/hurt task) did not significantly predict in-game moral decisions. The implications of the results, moral decision-making and using a purpose-made game was evaluated.
In conclusion Phase 1 and 2 of the research undertook the question of the role of morality in video games from two different but complementary approaches; through examining long term moral reasoning and video game play and short term moral decisions in a purpose-made game. Both Phases of the research demonstrated the complex interaction that takes place between the player, the game and morality; in terms of both moral reasoning and decision making with video game play (i.e. genres) and the design of the game (i.e. in-game instructions). Further research is needed to understand the factors which affect moral engagement and disengagement within this interaction, as these can have important short term and long term effects.