The ethics of mayhem: A cognitive bias in computer games!- act 3

Gonçalo Jorge Morais da Costa , Piotr Pawlak and Nuno Sotero Alves da Silva


A computer game is essentially a game activated by a computer, in which gamers control the items visible on the screen just for fun (Feibel, 2006). Is important to identify the unlike games philology, because computer games can be differentiated through several features, as for instance: scenarios, game mechanisms or groups of recipients (gamers) (Kücklich, 2003), existing technologies that allow playing (Filiciak, 2006), or even their bond with cultural and social elements (Jenkins, 2006).

Several computer game creators are legendary for their boldness and it frequently occurs that their products stir up debates, leading to the censorship of their content since these encourage racism, drug abuse, violence, cruelty, rape, mayhem, as Grand Theft Auto exhibits (Kutner & Olson, 2008). Thus, many computer games verge on being unethical or even illegitimate. The judiciary systems in US or Japan ruled on abundant cases of moral ambiguities, because interest groups seek to introduce special acts of law, which would govern computer game market (Jenkins, 2006).

Is among these ambiguities that literature has been approaching the psychological and social outcomes of playing violent games (Sanford & Madill, 2007), namely mayhem engagement (emotional connotation to violence) (Gotterbarn, 2010) and cognitive bias (effect upon social attitudes and decision making) (Kirsh et al., 2005). However, studies acknowledge paradoxical results (e.g. Durkin & Barber, 2002) regarding computers games addiction (Cover, 2006). Yet, a gigantic gap of research remains when the intent is to analyse if violent computer games negatively persuade gamers’ moral intensity and sensitivity, despite the vast work concerning moral development (Reynolds & Ceranic, 2009), or even moral competence (Podolskiy, 2008).

Following Jones (1991), moral intensity is the extent of issue-related moral imperative in a situation, and moral sensitivity is the individual cognitive process; and, moral competence is “the capacity to make decisions and judgments which are moral (i.e., based on internal principles) and to act in accordance with such judgments” (Kohlberg, 1964, pp. 425).

This manuscript endeavours to comprehend if violent computer games persuade negatively gamers’ moral intensity and sensitivity through mayhem engagement and cognitive bias. For that, the authors will reproduce at some extent the work of Schonlau, Fricker & Eliott (2001): questionnaire enabled in September and October 2010 in two geographical locations, Portugal and Poland.

Although, the authors will shed some light over the questionnaire sections and their questions:

  • section 1- aims to understand the participant profile, namely its gender, age, number of gaming years, daily hours of gaming, what computer games categories plays, and if it plays violent games and how many hours (daily);
  • section 2- intends to understand what is considered a violent game through the analysis of their characteristics, which are considered violent (list choice), if agrees with the present legislation concerning age categories for playing violent games;
  • section 3- resumes violent game scenarios versus real life contexts in order to understand if the respondent sustains its moral decision. For that, the respondent has to order his moral decisions from 1 (immediate) to 6 (final decision) in both settings for extreme situations, as well as to justify their position through asks for agreement queries.

The numerical (multiple choice) and content analysis (ask for agreement queries) (Creswell, 2003) will promote a consistent retort about the latent relationship between violent computer games and gamers’ moral intensity and sensitivity, as well as a comparison among both countries. The first empirical results underline that:

  1. Polish are less influenced in their decision making process, because in section 3 most of them has criticized the chosen scenarios contrarily to Portuguese respondents;
  2. Polish respondents choice about the list of games that might be considered violent is much broader.

Although, a sophisticated analysis (numerical and content) will be presented throughout ETHICOMP 2011.


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Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Durkin, K., & Barber, B. (2002). Not so doomed: Computer game play and positive adolescent development, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 23(4), 373-392. Esposito, N. (2005). A short and simple definition of what a videogame is. In Z. K. McKeon & W. G. Swenson (Eds.). Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference, Online at (accessed 10 January 2011).

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Gotterbarn, D. (2008). The ethics of video games: Mayhem, death, and the training of the next generation. In T. W. Bynum et al. (Eds.), ETHICOMP 2008: Living, Working and Learning Beyond Technology (pp. 322-333). Mantua: University of Pavia.

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Jones, T. M. (1991). Ethical decision making by individuals in organizations: An issue-contingent model, Academy of Management Review, 16(2), 366-395.

Kirsh, S. J. (2005). Violent video games induce an affect processing bias. Media Psychology, 7(3), 239-250.

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