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Published October 11, 2019

The topic of ethical decision-making in video games is gaining increasing attention in game studies and game design research. A number of theoretical models (including our own) have been developed based mostly on the study of existing commercial games, but to date there has been relatively little empirical research of the relationship between ethics and play. One problem we have faced is the question of how to actually measure a player’s ethics in a meaningful way.

This paper arose out of our own quest to answer this question. It turns out this is a question that moral psychologists have been asking for years, and they have developed a number of tools for characterising different aspects of a subject’s moral character. These tests arise out of a different theoretical foundations and answer different questions, so they need to be used with an understanding of their design and purpose. The advantage of using these tests is that they are standardised and shown to be reliable. This is important to put our research on a solid foundation.

We wrote this review paper to look at twenty such tests and give advice to games researchers on how they can be used. We suggest a series of questions to consider when choosing the right tool for the job:

  1. What is the causal relationship between morality and gameplay you wish to explore? Are you investigating moral engagement (how morality impacts gameplay) or moral effects (how gameplay impacts morality)?
  2. What theoretical model are you following? Are you looking to investigate Type 1 (intuitive) or Type 2 (deliberative) processes, or the interaction between the two?
  3. Which component of moral engagement are you examining: focus, sensitivity, judgment, or action?
  4. What is the most appropriate instrument that suits your needs? Has it been validated and shown to be a reliable measure? How hard is it to administer?
  5. What in-game behaviours should you measure? This includes in-game choices and actions, and the dynamics of their responses, including speed, mouse movement and eye-tracking data.

We hope this review can provide a useful starting point for people pursuing empirical research in games and ethics, pointing them towards the tools they need to empirically explore the interaction between games and moral choice.


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