My Topics

1 October 2013

To Shoot or Not to Shoot - Teen’s Moral Decisions in Video Games

Keywords: characters, games, moral, teens, North America, Western Europe, gaming,

Morality decisions are a popular way to give videogame players choices in gameplay. The player determines how the story unfolds by making moral decisions. The game decisions are based on either the player’s own moral rules, or rules created by the game. A study in the Journal of Children and Media examines whether German and American teens’ moral decisions are influenced by their morality in real life. Interestingly, the study shows that German teen’s moral decisions in video games are related to their ideas on morality in real life, while American teens moral decisions are not.

Take aways

  • The moral decisions teens make in video games can be related to their ideas on morality in real life.
  • However, this is not the case for all teens: German teens do link their own morality to moral game decisions, while American teens do not.
  • Social marketers and educators should know that games can be a promising tool in educating teens about morality, teaching them to make the right choices. 
  • However, before doing so they should test the link in their target group.

Study information

  • The question?

    Is the morality of American and German teens in real life linked to their moral decisions in video games? And do these two groups differ?

  • Who?

    91 American teens between the ages of 12 and 14 years (mean age: 13 years old); 46% girls
    94 German teens between the ages of 12 and 14 years (mean age: 13 years old); 55% girls 

  • Where?

    United States and Germany

  • How?

    Teens played a modified version of Neverwinter Nights for about 20 minutes. Players interacted with virtual non-player characters in a role playing environment. Their moral decisions were recorded by the game’s internal log. After game play, the teens completed the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ), with questions about fairness, loyalty, authority, and purity.

Facts and findings

  • German teens with a high morality in real life made fewer decisions to commit moral violations than those with a low morality.
  • American teens’ moral decisions in the video game were not linked to their morality in real life. 
  • An explanation for this finding is that American teens felt more present in the game environment and therefore made more game decisions. 
  • Teens’ game enjoyment was not linked to their morality in real life.