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See detailMoral Decision-Making in Video Games
Holl, Elisabeth UL

Doctoral thesis (2022)

The present dissertation focuses on moral decision-making in single player video games. The thesis comprises four manuscripts: a theoretical book chapter (Melzer & Holl, 2021), a qualitative focus group ... [more ▼]

The present dissertation focuses on moral decision-making in single player video games. The thesis comprises four manuscripts: a theoretical book chapter (Melzer & Holl, 2021), a qualitative focus group study (Holl et al., 2020), a quantitative case study on the video game Detroit: Become Human (Holl & Melzer, 2021), and results from a large experimental laboratory study (Holl et al., 2022). With more than 2.6 billion players worldwide (Entertainment Software Association, 2018) gaming has become increasingly present in society. In addition to this growing interest, technological advances allow for more complex narratives and deeper character design. Thus, meaningful and morally-laden storylines have become increasingly popular in recent years both in popular AAA (e.g., Detroit: Become Human, The Last of Us 2) and smaller Indie titles (e.g., Papers please, Undertale). At the same time, scholars suggested that not only hedonic but also eudaimonic experiences are an essential part of (gaming) entertainment (Daneels, Bowman, et al., 2021; Oliver et al., 2015; Wirth et al., 2012). This dissertation explores in greater detail one aspect of eudaimonic gameplay, namely single player games that feature meaningful moral decision-making. Prior research on morality and gaming has relied on a variety of theoretical concepts, such as moral disengagement (Bandura, 1990; Klimmt et al., 2008) or moral foundations and intuitions (Haidt, 2001; Haidt & Joseph, 2007; Tamborini, 2013). Thus, the first task of the dissertation was to establish a previously missing model of moral processing in video games the unifies existing theories (cf. chapter 5.13; Melzer & Holl, 2021). Furthermore, the model proposes factors (e.g., moral disengagement cues, limited cognitive capacities/time pressure) promoting or hampering moral engagement while playing, thus fostering moral versus strategic processing. The model not only integrates relevant theoretical publications but was also designed using data collected in focus groups with frequent gamers (Holl et al., 2020). These qualitative results showed that moral gameplay is not a niche anymore. Furthermore, players expressed they deliberately chose between hedonic and eudaimonic gaming depending on their mood and motivation. Lastly, players mentioned several factors influencing their emotional and moral engagement while playing (e.g., identification, framing). To test parts of the proposed theoretical model, the game Detroit: Become Human, which has been praised for its emotional storytelling and meaningful choices (Pallavicini et al., 2020), was investigated in a case study (Holl & Melzer, 2021). Extensive coding of large-scale online data revealed that 73% of in-game decisions in Detroit: Become Human were morally relevant with a high prevalence for situations relating to harm/care- and authority-based morality. Overall, players preferred to choose moral options over immoral options. This tendency to act “good” was even more pronounced under time pressure and when non-human characters were involved. Furthermore, behavioral variations were found depending on what character was played. To test findings of the case study in greater detail and to also gather individual data in an experimental setup, Holl et al. (2022) conducted a laboratory study. A total of 101 participants played several chapters of Detroit: Become Human featuring up to 13 moral decisions after being randomly assigned to one of three conditions (i.e., playing a morally vs. immorally framed character vs. no framing/control). As expected, players again preferred to act morally sound. Contrary to expectations, character framing did not affect decision-making or physiological responses (i.e., heart rate variability). However, time pressure again increased the likelihood of moral decision-making. Unfortunately, anticipated effects of personality traits (i.e., trait moral disengagement, empathy) were inconclusive both regarding the outcome of decision-making and participants’ perceived guilt after playing. In summary, the work of this dissertation further underlines the relevance of eudaimonic entertainment. Studying moral decision-making in games may provide insights for moral decision-making in general. Additionally, the presented results have the potential to defuse the heated debate over violent gaming. Novel insights are gained using a mixed methods approach combining qualitative with quantitative data from a large-scale case study of worldwide user behavior and an experimental setup. [less ▲]

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See detailTo Kill or Not to Kill – An experimental test of moral Decision-Making in gaming
Holl, Elisabeth UL; Steffgen, Georges UL; Melzer, André UL

in Entertainment Computing (2022)

Commercial video game titles with meaningful and morally relevant storylines are becoming increasingly popular and an intensely researched topic for entertainment scholars. In line with this research, the ... [more ▼]

Commercial video game titles with meaningful and morally relevant storylines are becoming increasingly popular and an intensely researched topic for entertainment scholars. In line with this research, the current study investigates behavioral, emotional, and personality patterns of moral decision-making in gaming with a special emphasis on selected contextual factors. In the current laboratory experiment, a total of N = 101 participants played four chapters of Detroit: Become Human for approx. 55 min. A maximum of 13 moral decisions had to be made either under time pressure or not. Before playing, participants were assigned to one of three conditions (i.e., playing morally vs. immorally framed character vs. no framing/control condition). As expected, players generally preferred to act morally regardless of character framing. Time pressure further increased the proportion of moral (vs. immoral) decision-making. Our results underline that moral decision-making is dependent on specific contexts and that morality theories can be applied to virtual gaming scenarios. [less ▲]

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See detailWhen less is more: Investigating factors influencing the distraction effect of virtual reality from pain
Barcatta, Katharina; Holl, Elisabeth UL; Battistutta, Layla UL et al

in Frontiers in Pain Research (2022), 2

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See detailMoral Judgment in Video Games: Effects of Medium, Moral Intuitions and Media-Based Empathy
Grohmann, Lara; Holl, Elisabeth UL; Melzer, André UL

Scientific Conference (2021, September)

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See detailAn Integrative Model of Moral Processing for the Video Game Medium
Melzer, André UL; Holl, Elisabeth UL

Scientific Conference (2021, September)

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See detailAnalgesic effects of interacting with a VR game and associated psychophysiological responses
Holl, Elisabeth UL; Rischer, Katharina Miriam UL

Scientific Conference (2021, June)

Introduction: Virtual reality (VR) has been shown to be an effective tool for pain distraction by redirecting attention away from painful stimuli. Although VR therapy has been successfully implemented in ... [more ▼]

Introduction: Virtual reality (VR) has been shown to be an effective tool for pain distraction by redirecting attention away from painful stimuli. Although VR therapy has been successfully implemented in clinical settings, little is known about the underlying factors that modulate analgesic responses, such as cognitive load, executive functions and VR or gaming experience. Methods: A final sample of N = 90 healthy participants played the VR game Subnautica in a high and a low cognitive load condition. In the low load condition, participants explored the VR along a predefined route. In the high load condition, participants had to additionally memorize eight digits presented along the route. Pain heat thresholds as well as psychophysiological measures (ECG, EDA) were recorded during a non-interactive resting state period prior to playing as well as during the two VR sessions. Furthermore, participants completed questionnaires (e.g., pain attitude) and executive functioning tasks (e.g., go/nogo task). Results: Pain thresholds did not differ for high versus low demand. However, participants achieved higher threshold for the interactive playing sessions compared to the resting state period. Psychophysiological markers (e.g., HRV) indicate lower sympathetic activity during the resting state compared to the playing session (resting state < low load < high load). Moreover, pain catastrophizing and fear of pain were significant predictors of pain thresholds. Discussion: Results shed light on the role of inter-individual differences and psychophysiological markers of VR-based pain sensitivity and indicate factors that facilitate/impair distraction effects. This may have important implication for the use of VR-therapy. [less ▲]

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See detailMotivation to Play Scale (MOPS): Measuring Gaming Motivation With a Comprehensive Instrument
Holl, Elisabeth UL; Wagener, Gary Lee UL; Melzer, André UL

Scientific Conference (2021, May)

With the growing interest in gaming, the motivation why people play has become a focus of research. Scales assessing gaming motivation are mostly based on either motivation theories or on self-constructed ... [more ▼]

With the growing interest in gaming, the motivation why people play has become a focus of research. Scales assessing gaming motivation are mostly based on either motivation theories or on self-constructed items adapted to specific genres. Despite the amount of existing scales, measures often lack validation or leave out important and novel motives. Therefore, the Motivation to Play Scale (MOPS), a work-in-progress project, aims at identifying a holistic instrument validated by systematically collecting and evaluating already existing items. A first evaluation survey (N = 555) resulted in preliminary version of the MOPS measuring 14 gaming motives (e.g., competition, escapism) using 59 items (α = .94). [less ▲]

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See detailVirtual reality gaming for pain distraction - Investigation of attentional and psychophysiological effects
Holl, Elisabeth UL; Rischer, Katharina Miriam UL; Battistutta, Layla UL et al

Scientific Conference (2021, May)

Virtual reality has been shown to be a powerful method to divert attention away from pain (Malloy & Milling, 2010) and has been used successfully to temporally relieve patients from pain in clinical ... [more ▼]

Virtual reality has been shown to be a powerful method to divert attention away from pain (Malloy & Milling, 2010) and has been used successfully to temporally relieve patients from pain in clinical settings. However, little is known about the underlying attentional processes involved in pain processing in virtual reality. Therefore, as one of the first studies, this project investigates the role of especially cognitive factors influencing distraction from pain. N = 90 healthy participants played the video game Subnautica in two virtual reality conditions (high vs. low cognitive load). To assess the distraction effect, pain thresholds and psychophysiological measures were assessed during play. Additionally, executive functions and self-reported measures on, e.g., presence, simulation sickness and pain-related subjects were assessed. Results suggest that interactive virtual reality games are a potential tool to alter pain processing, regardless of the level of cognitive load. [less ▲]

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See detailInvestigating the role of individual differences in the hypoalgesic response to a virtual reality game: An exploratory analysis
Rischer, Katharina Miriam UL; Barcatta, Katharina; Battistutta, Layla UL et al

Scientific Conference (2021, March)

Introduction: Virtual reality (VR) has been shown to be a powerful method of redirecting attention away from pain and is increasingly used in clinical settings as a therapeutic tool for pain treatment ... [more ▼]

Introduction: Virtual reality (VR) has been shown to be a powerful method of redirecting attention away from pain and is increasingly used in clinical settings as a therapeutic tool for pain treatment. Yet, little is known about the underlying factors that modulate the size of the hypoalgesic response to a VR game, such as cognitive load and inter-individual differences in self-reported pain-related cognitions, emotion regulation habits, gaming skills, and executive functions. Methods: 90 healthy participants played two versions of the VR game 'Subnautica', differing in cognitive load (low load vs. high load). In the low load condition, participants navigated along a predefined route. In the high load condition, participants additionally memorized a series of single digits presented along the route. Pain heat thresholds as well as psychophysiological measures (ECG, EDA) were recorded during a passive control condition (in VR) prior to, as well as during, the two interactive sessions. In addition, participants completed several psychological questionnaires and different executive functioning tasks prior to the VR sessions. Results: Pain thresholds were significantly higher in the two interactive VR sessions when compared to the passive control condition, whereas the cognitive load of the game had no effect on pain thresholds. Individual differences in pain-related cognitions, prepotent response inhibition abilities and the level of emotional awareness reported by female participants, but not the level of gaming skills, influenced the size of the hypoalgesic effect. Discussion: In line with a growing body of studies, we observed a robust hypoalgesic response to playing a VR game, highlighting once more the potential of VR as a tool for pain reduction. Importantly, the hypoalgesic effect was not dependent on the participants’ level of gaming skills or the cognitive load of the game, suggesting that the sensory properties of the VR game were sufficient to change the processing of pain. [less ▲]

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See detailCorona and the Media
Holl, Elisabeth UL; Hale, Miriam-Linnea UL; Melzer, André UL

in Mein, Georg; Pause, Johannes (Eds.) Self and Society in the Corona Crisis (2020)

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See detailMediennutzung in den Zeiten von Pandemie und Lockdown
Melzer, André UL; Holl, Elisabeth UL; Hale, Miriam-Linnea UL

in Benoy, Charles (Ed.) COVID-19 - Ein Virus nimmt Einfluss auf unsere Psyche. Einschätzungen und Maßnahmen aus psychologischer Perspektive (2020)

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See detailPlay the Pain Away: Pain Regulation and Attention in Virtual Reality
Holl, Elisabeth UL; Rischer, Katharina Miriam UL; Battistutta, Layla UL et al

Scientific Conference (2020, May)

Virtual reality (VR) has been shown to be a powerful method to divert attention away from pain (Malloy & Milling, 2010). In an ongoing study (data collection will be finished in late December 2019 ... [more ▼]

Virtual reality (VR) has been shown to be a powerful method to divert attention away from pain (Malloy & Milling, 2010). In an ongoing study (data collection will be finished in late December 2019) healthy participants play the VR game Subnautica in two conditions (high vs. low cognitive load). Pain thresholds and psychophysiological measures are assessed during play to measure the distraction effect. Additionally, pain management will be compared to individual executive functions and attention investigated before playing. [less ▲]

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See detailUnderstanding Moral Decision-Making in Video Games: A Focus Group Study
Holl, Elisabeth UL; Bernard, Steve; Melzer, André UL

Scientific Conference (2020, May)

Moral dilemmas have become increasingly popular in video games, although it is still widely unknown why players might find them pleasurable, how they process dilemmas, and which factors affect the ... [more ▼]

Moral dilemmas have become increasingly popular in video games, although it is still widely unknown why players might find them pleasurable, how they process dilemmas, and which factors affect the processing. Therefore, three different focus groups sessions with expert gamers (N = 16) were conducted. Gamers’ expressions of their experience with meaningful and morally relevant game situations were grouped for relevant topics. Topics are supported by direct quotations from participants of discussion groups, referring to up-to-date video game titles and presented together with respective theoretical assumptions. Results show that besides the game-defining theme of interactivity, statements can be grouped broadly into factors that describe why players engage or disengage in the first place (motivation) and factors that shape the moral interaction itself (influencing factors). In summary, our findings support the notion that moral-decision making in video games is a dynamic interplay between several game and user-dependent variables. Findings provide insights into players’ processing of moral dilemmas in video games, which also offers promising suggestions for future research using experimental setups. [less ▲]

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See detailInvestigating the role of individual differences in the analgesic response to a virtual reality game: An exploratory analysis (accepted submission, but symposium was cancelled due to COVID-19)
Rischer, Katharina Miriam UL; Barcatta, Katharina UL; Battistutta, Layla UL et al

Scientific Conference (2020, March)

Virtual reality (VR) has been shown to be a powerful method of redirecting attention away from pain and is increasingly used in clinical settings as a therapeutic tool for pain treatment. Yet, little is ... [more ▼]

Virtual reality (VR) has been shown to be a powerful method of redirecting attention away from pain and is increasingly used in clinical settings as a therapeutic tool for pain treatment. Yet, little is known about the underlying factors that modulate the size of the analgesic response to a VR game, such as task difficulty and inter-individual differences in pain attitude, emotion regulation habits, executive functions and virtual reality experience. Methods: 101 healthy participants played two versions of the VR game Subnautica, differing in cognitive load (low load vs. high load). In the low load condition, participants navigated along a predefined route. In the high load condition, participants additionally memorized a series of single digits presented along the route. Pain heat thresholds as well as psychophysiological measures (ECG, EDA) were recorded during a resting state period prior to, as well as during, the two VR playing sessions. In addition, participants completed several psychological questionnaires and different executive functioning tasks (Corsi block tapping task, flanker task, go/nogo task) prior to the VR sessions. Results: Preliminary results of a subgroup (N = 66) of the total sample revealed that pain thresholds were significantly higher for the VR playing sessions when compared to the resting state period, with a trend of a higher threshold for the high load condition. Moreover, pain catastrophizing and fear of pain were significant predictors of pain threshold measurements. The complete results will be presented at the symposium. Discussion: Results could shed light on the role of inter-individual differences on the efficacy of VR-based distraction from pain, and potentially elucidate factors that render an individual more likely to benefit from VR as a pain-relieving tool. This may have important consequences for the use of VR as a therapeutic treatment for pain patients. [less ▲]

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See detailVirtuelle Realität, das Spiel der Zukunft
Holl, Elisabeth UL

in Amann, Wilhelm; Sieburg, Heinz (Eds.) Spiel-Werke: Perspektiven auf literarische Spiele und Games (2020)

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See detailMoral decision-making in video games: A focus group study on player perceptions
Holl, Elisabeth UL; Bernard, Steve UL; Melzer, André UL

in Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies (2020)

Moral dilemmas have become increasingly popular in single player video games, although it is still widely unknown why players find them pleasurable, how they process dilemmas, and which variables affect ... [more ▼]

Moral dilemmas have become increasingly popular in single player video games, although it is still widely unknown why players find them pleasurable, how they process dilemmas, and which variables affect the processing. Therefore, three different focus groups sessions with experienced players (N = 16) were conducted. Player perceptions of meaningful and morally relevant decision situations in video games were grouped for topics and contextualized with theoretical background (e.g., moral disengagement theory). Our findings support the notion that moral decision-making in video games is a dynamic interplay between game and user-dependent variables. Results show that in addition to interactivity, which reflects the inherent property of video games, statements can be broadly grouped into factors that describe player motivation (i.e., why they morally engage or disengage) and influencing factors that shape the moral interaction itself. In summary, the present findings provide insights into players' processing of moral dilemmas in video games. [less ▲]

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See detailPlayers' moral decisions in virtual worlds: Morality in video games
Melzer, André UL; Holl, Elisabeth UL

Book published by Oxford University Press (2020)

From complex multi-players to casual gaming: video games are the most common virtual environment for entertainment that younger generations spend a significant time in. Although early game titles already ... [more ▼]

From complex multi-players to casual gaming: video games are the most common virtual environment for entertainment that younger generations spend a significant time in. Although early game titles already featured morality-related topics, implementing meaningful eudaimonic playing based on moral decision making has become increasingly popular. Unfortunately, scientific analyses of game-related moral decisions mostly revolve around the effects of players engaging in virtual violence, leading to ongoing heated debates in academia and the general public (e.g., Anderson et al., 2010; Ferguson, 2007). To date, however, only few studies have tried to disentangle the moral aspects of video games from virtual violence (e.g., Joeckel, Bowman, & Dogruel, 2012). The present chapter provides an overview on both established and novel theories on psychological processing of moral decision making in virtual worlds in line with cutting-edge game examples. These theories aim at explaining how games can elicit moral processing as well as the factors that modulate these processes once the player is morally engaged. Based on i.a. aspects of the theory of presence (Biocca, Harms, & Burgoon, 2003; Tamborini & Skalski, 2006), moral disengagement (Bandura, 2002; Hartmann & Vorderer, 2010) and a dual process model of moral judgement (Greene, Sommerville, Nystrom, Darley, & Cohen, 2001; Gubbins & Byrne, 2014; Haidt, 2001), a new model is proposed. Furthermore, individual characteristics such as playing experience, player motivation and moral salience according to the moral foundations theory (Haidt & Joseph, 2008; Tamborini, 2011) are integrated in the model. [less ▲]

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See detailMale vs female gamers: Testing the stereotype threat effect in video gaming
Holl, Elisabeth UL; Wagener, Gary Lee; Melzer, André UL

Scientific Conference (2019, September 17)

Stereotype threat (ST), defined as the risk of confirming a negative stereotype about one’s own group, has been demonstrated in various social contexts. Regarding video games, for example, informing ... [more ▼]

Stereotype threat (ST), defined as the risk of confirming a negative stereotype about one’s own group, has been demonstrated in various social contexts. Regarding video games, for example, informing female participants that men would outperform women in gaming leads to gender differences in performance. To date, however, these studies have not looked into the mechanisms of this ST effect in gaming. In two lab studies (N=186), some participants were confronted with ST-related information before playing a video game. In Study 1, half of the participants read a bogus article confirming the “standard” gender stereotype (“men outperform women”). In Study 2, a reverse stereotype was presented to half of the participants (“women have outpaced men in some game genres”). In contrast to hypotheses, both studies failed to show the expected significant interaction effect of gender and ST condition on performance, although female participants confronted with the “standard” gender stereotype reported greater frustration in Study 1, for example. In sum, results indicate a complex relationship between gender, social identity, experience with the game genre, and behavior. Identifying oneself as a gamer and being experienced in a particular game genre were found to be better performance predictors than reading stereotype threatening information. [less ▲]

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See detail“It felt wrong to me to play that way” Understanding moral decision-making in video games through focus group discussions
Holl, Elisabeth UL; Bernard, Steve; Melzer, André UL

in Nebel, Steve; Pietschmann, Daniel; Schneider, Sascha (Eds.) et al Proceedings of the Media Psychology Division (2019, September 05)

Detailed reference viewed: 97 (9 UL)