The violence often criticized in modern gaming may actually be contributing to better behavior outside of the virtual realm.
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A new study out of the University of Buffalo says the moral issues that confront players in a game can stick with them once they’ve stopped playing, and create a sense of awareness for the societal codes they may have violated.
“Rather than leading players to become less moral, this research suggests that violent video game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity,” Matthew Grizzard, who led the study, said in a statement. “This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others.”
Grizzard and his team found that instead of an illicit thrill, immoral behavior committed in a video game left the players feeling guilty in real life. That remorse makes the players more sensitive to upholding the same moral codes they trampled on during gameplay.
“We suggest that pro-social behavior also may result when guilt is provoked by virtual behavior,” Grizzard said.
The study combined gaming with intuitive morality. Half of the 185 participants were asked to either recall a real event that would induce guilt or play a violent game as a terrorist. The other half recounted non-guilty scenarios and played the same game but as a UN soldier.
In the game, all the players were instructed to violate two of five moral issues — care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity.
After playing the game or recalling the memories, subjects rated themselves on a guilt scale and filled out a moral foundations questionnaire.
“Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments,” Grizzard said.