Moral Disengagement In Violent Video Games Case Assignment
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Moral Disengagement In Violent Video Games Case Assignment
The present studies provide a first step in the empirical study of moral disengagement in violent video games and related feelings of guilt, negative affect, and game enjoyment. The studies build on literature on moral disengagement (Bandura, 1990, 2002) and moral exclusion (Opotow, 1990) that we have incorporated in the present approach to moral disengagement in violent video games. Our perspective argues that contemporary video game characters are automatically perceived as quasi-social entities, and thus hold the potential to ‘‘fall into the scope of justice’’ (cf., Opotow, 1990, p. 3). Consequently, aggression against video game characters may be considered unjust harm, which triggers guilt and negative affect that may undermine enjoyment. We argue, however, that cues implemented in contemporary violent video games effectively help players to disengage from moral concern (cf., Raney, 2002; Zillmann, 2000).
Of the four cues that were tested experimentally (justification of violence, neglect/distortion of consequences, dehumanization of opponents, condemnable action of opponents), only condemnable action of opponents leads to less negative affect in Study 1 and justification of violence diminished both users’ feeling of guilt and negative affect in Study 2. According to the latter finding, fighting for a just rather than an unjust cause reduces guilt and negative affect. Independent from the manipulated moral disengagement cues, users’ familiarity with violent games reduced guilt and
112 Journal of Communication 60 (2010) 94–119 © 2010 International Communication Association
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negative affect in Study 1—perhaps due to learned cognitive strategies—and users’ awareness of the situation as ‘‘just a game’’ or ‘‘just an experiment’’ reduced guilt and negative affect in Study 2—in accordance with the proposed second mechanism of moral disengagement in violent games.
Users’ familiarity with violent video games deserves further examination. Par- ticipants in the present studies expressed a remarkably low interest in violent video games. Accordingly, many participants had only little experience with playing violent games. The lack of familiarity with violent games may have implied that the sample overrepresented participants that could not readily access strategies to cope with game play that evokes negative feelings, including guilt. In addition, experienced players may be more desensitized than novice players (Carnagey et al., 2006) and may therefore be less responsive to information that is morally disturbing.3 Accordingly, the present sample may have produced stronger levels of guilt and negative affect in response to the applied manipulations than a sample of experienced players would have produced. Future studies need to examine the influence of familiarity on guilt, negative affect (and eventually game enjoyment) further. One approach would be to simply compare experienced versus novice users of violent games. Another approach would be to apply a longitudinal design.
Both experiments found mixed results regarding enjoyment and suggest that the presence of moral disengagement cues may not only decrease aversive costs, but also diminish the pleasurable gratifications of virtual violence at the same time. While players’ game enjoyment seems to decrease slightly if guilt and negative affect increase, results of Study 2 suggest that enjoyment is greatest if the virtual violence is deviant enough to induce excitement, but defensible enough to be considered just. Related research supports the hypothesis that media users sometimes simply enjoy being bad (‘‘norm-violation theory,’’ Raney, 2004; Tamborini, Stiff, & Zillmann, 1987), identify with bad guys (Konijn & Hoorn, 2005), and enjoy observing wrongdoing (Raney et al., 2006). Players of violent games may enjoy the thrill of socially unacceptable behavior as long as they have some reason (e.g., remembering that this is ‘‘just a game’’ or believing one’s intents are good) to free themselves from guilt.
However, the present studies provide only the beginnings of the study of moral disengagement in violent video games. Future studies should avoid a couple of limitations and flaws of the current experiments. The two studies this paper presents were always applied in the same order to the student sample. Thus, we cannot rule out order effects (such as fatigue). Also, two of the four experimental manipulations failed. Future studies should pretest experimental manipulations with care, particularly because this area of research is still undeveloped. As the theoretical model proposed is still being formed, we are faced with the challenge of controlling all of the factors that may affect moral disengagement in a video game. Controlled factors may be confounded with the manipulation, as it happened in Study 1. Uncontrolled factors may overshadow the effect of experimentally manipulated factors. That may have occurred in the present studies as well, because we did not control all of the factors suggested in the theoretical model; for example, users’ perception of opponents
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Moral Disengagement T. Hartmann & P. Vorderer
as a hostile outgroup (Leyens et al., 2001). Controlling this and other factors may have helped to unwrap the complex processes of moral disengagement a better way. Finally, the suggested relationship between guilt, negative affect, and game enjoyment needs further elaboration. On one hand, a closer look into emotion regulation and experience of conflicting emotions (Scollon, Diener, Oishi, & Biswas-Diener, 2005) may help substantiate the argument that negative emotions, including an aversive feeling of guilt, undermine game enjoyment. On the other hand, manipulations of moral disengagement that suppress aversive costs of virtual violence but leave the pleasurable gratifications of virtual violence need to be considered.
In any way, pursuing the question of why virtual violence is enjoyable further promises to lead to both relevant and inspiring research.
The authors thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper, the USC Annenberg Games Group for their support, and Luciano Nocera, Harishkumar Narayanan, Tyler Fiddle, and Thomas Lewis for their efforts to develop the video game stimuli applied in this study.
1 We followed traditional approaches to aggregate the data of both the DES-IV and the PANAS. Scores obtained by the DES-IV are usually aggregated in a mean index. The PANAS scores are traditionally summed.
2 Both measures are based on the idea that user’s awareness that ‘‘this is just a game’’ or that ‘‘this is just an experiment’’ switches on or off during the exposure situation (Wirth et al., 2007). However, this binary state is aggregated to a continuum between ‘‘never. . . often’’ or ‘‘not at all. . . very much’’ if recalled in a retrospective questionnaire.
3 As median split may not be considered the best practice, we run additional regression analyses that employed a centered continuous quasi-experimental factor, an effect-coded experimental factor, and the interaction term of both factors. The analyses yielded similar results.
4 Another argument is that familiarity correlates positively with an increased awareness of the ongoing action as ‘‘just a game.’’ Therefore, more familiar users may routinely be more aware that ‘‘this is just a game,’’ and therefore may experience less moral concern. However, the data did not support this argument. Simple zero-order correlation between familiarity (‘‘How familiar have you been with the game you just played’’?) and users’ ‘‘this is just a game’’ belief (‘‘While playing how much have you thought that this is just a game’’?) revealed no correlation in both studies (r = 0.091, ns, in Study 1; r = 0.079, ns, in Study 2). The finding speaks against the argument that familiarity leads to an increased awareness of the artificial character of the gameplay.
Moral Disengagement In Violent Video Games Case Assignment
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