Student Papers  |    |  August 14, 2015

“I could never do that in real life” : an exploration of real world morality and moral decision-making in role-playing video games : a project based upon an independent investigation

Masters of Social Work Thesis by Samuel E Flescher. Smith College. School for Social Work.


Video games as a medium for play increase in popularity and participation every year. Around the world, video games are also constantly criticized for depicting violent, gratuitous, and potentially immoral material that consumers can engage in. Yet very little evidence exists suggesting a tangible connection between individuals’ real world thoughts and actions with their in-game experiences. This mixed-methods study aimed to explore the potential relationship between individuals’ real world moral identities with their virtual decisions and actions in singleplayer role-playing video games. Fifty-one people completed an online survey containing qualitative and quantitative questions. Participants provided narrative accounts of in-game decisions and experiences they engaged in, as well as completed the Moral Foundations Questionnaire assessing their personal moral identities. Findings of this study showed that a relationship did exist between participants’ assessed moral identities and how they engaged with single-player role-playing video games. The findings also presented common themes throughout participants’ narratives such as self-consistency, “it’s a game,” resetting, and five moral foundations, as well as correlations between individuals’ assessed morality and preferred ingame moral play styles. This study concludes with implications for how these connections can be addressed in social work practice with individuals who actively engage in frequent video game play.