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Good vs Evil: How the Urge to Win Drives Gaming Decisions

Accepted submission by hubie at 2023-09-08 01:56:44 from the chaotic neutral dept.

Researchers have built their own computer game to test the impact of meters which give players a morality score for the decisions they make while playing []:

Two papers published by a multi-disciplinary research team reveal that most of us ignore the meter when a moral choice is clear, but we use it when the choice is more morally ambiguous. And some of us, about 10 per cent, will do anything to win.

[...] The game story centres on Frankie, an usher in a cinema in regional Australia in the 1940s, who is confronted by a murderous psychopath.

Along the way, players must make choices which affect the progress and outcome of the game. Some are simple black and white decisions, such as whether to take money or not, but others are what developers call 'trolley problems', where players must decide whether they will kill or harm someone if it saves others.

Each choice is labelled with a score of good or evil, and your total morality score registers on a meter at the top of the screen throughout the game. But the moral impact of a choice is not always clear. Do you rob a homeless person of money that could assist you? What happens if the moral score insists this is a good thing?

"Our hypothesis was that under that particular circumstance, players might choose to steal," says Dr Malcolm Ryan.

"But we were relieved to find telling people that stealing money is good doesn't change their response. Although there will always be about 10 per cent who will choose to do it anyway.

"Morality meters, that indicate how good or evil your avatar is, have been around in computer games since 1985 when Richard Garriott pioneered the idea in Ultima IV."

[...] "For me, the entertainment value of games is primary. I want to improve them as a designer, not just because they are fun, but because I want to see them become like more mature works of art and literature, able to deal with serious topics of morality.

"Games provide a way of simulating different moral scenarios and asking what is the right thing to do."

[...] The first, published in the journal Games and Culture, was qualitative, exploring the feelings of players and their responses to the morality meter. It showed a difference between players who made choices simply to maximise their morality score, and others who viewed the meter as some sort of moral guide.

A second paper published earlier this year in Computers in Human Behaviour provides the first quantitative data on morality meters. The results show the meter is generally ignored when a moral choice is straightforward, but it can influence decisions when the choice is morally ambiguous.

Journal References:
    Formosa, P., Ryan, M., Howarth, S., Messer, J., & McEwan, M. (2022). Morality Meters and Their Impacts on Moral Choices in Videogames: A Qualitative Study. Games and Culture, 17(1), 89–121. []
    Malcolm Ryan, et al., The effect of morality meters on ethical decision making in video games: A quantitative study, Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 142, May 2023, 107623. []

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