How can we better design games, such as role-playing video games (RPGs), to support the practice of ethical thinking? Ethical thinking is a critical component of twenty-first century citizenship and we need to design ways to creatively support its practice. This study investigates how male participants, ages 18–34, make ethical decisions in three in-game scenarios in Fable III, an RPG, and one additional scenario. The decision-making processes of thirty participants were analyzed; twenty were randomly assigned to play Fable III and ten were assigned to a control condition of written ethical scenarios. Results suggested that participants practiced a variety of ethical thinking skills and thought processes in both conditions, including reasoning-, empathy-, reflection-, and information gathering-related skills and thought processes. Three hypotheses were investigated and detailed, and any significant differences or similarities that emerged between conditions and across game scenarios were explored. Based on this analysis, four preliminary design principles were described.
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Special thanks to David Shaenfield, Alyssa Shaenfield, Noah Shaenfield, Charles Kinzer, Sandra Okita, and Joey Lee, as well as to the reviewers of this manuscript.
Appendix 1: Sample journal entry (game condition)
This journal will cover:
From the very beginning of the game until you reach the beginning of the quest named “The Bowerstone Resistance.” NOTE: This is the point in the game when you first get to Bowerstone Industrial, right after you killed Lieutenant Simmons, and first meet Page, the leader of the Bowerstone Resistance. It is when you first need to earn 100 guild points.
If you just do the Main Quest part, this journal will cover about 3 ½ hours of game play, so you may want to take notes as you go along. You do not need to complete this whole part in one sitting. You can take as long as you want to reach each point, and do not have to do it in one sitting. Just fill out a journal after you reach the end of the portion of the game. You only need to complete the Main Quest story line (top quest in the list of quests), but you can
do any other side quests too.
Fill out these questions and send it to XXXXXXX@gmail.com.
Your ID Number (given in the instructions email): ______________________________
(optional) Date/time of day played the game: ________________________
(optional) Approximate length of time playing the game: ______hours________minutes
What are the quests or activities you participated in today? (If you do not know the name, just describe the goal(s) or choice(s) involved.)
Name one, two or three ethical decisions you made as part of the quests or activities. Use your judgment as to what was an ethical decision. Explain why you think these were ethical decisions.
Choose one of the ethical decisions you had to make. Be as detailed as possible. Describe the options you had, the setting and people that were involved, the context, dialogue, situation, and what types of action or behaviors you chose.
Why did you make this decision? What aspects of the game or game play (characters, scenarios, art, dialogue, points, mission, etc.) helped you make those decisions? Was there anything outside of the game you used to help you make a decision (e.g., other people, other resources)? What did you think about? How did you feel? Be as detailed as possible in describing how you made the decision.
If you were going to walk through this scenario with another person, who hasn’t played the game yet, what would you tell him/her? What strategies and tips would you share with him/her?
On a scale from 1 to 10(most satisfied), how satisfied are you with your decision? Optional questions:
Did you think about this decision later, after you already made the decision and acted?
Did you take into account other character’s feelings when making your decision? What about other character’s motivations? What about other character’s perspectives? If so, how did you use this in your decision-making process?
Did you gather any information when making your decision? If so, what did you use? What else would you have liked to know?
Did you discuss the decision with others (other characters or other people) before making it? If so, who? Did you ask questions?
Did you think about the consequences of your decision before you made it? Were you surprised by the consequences when you did experience them?
Did you think about any prior experiences to make your decision? If so, how did they factor in?
Appendix 2: Sample control scenario
Imagine you are living in a time of wizards and dragons, princesses and princes, castles and moats, set in the Middle Ages in an imaginary European city. You are the prince or princess of the land called Albion. You are living in a castle in a kingdom. Your parents have been killed, and your older brother, Logan, is the ruler of the land. You have never gotten along with your brother, and you start to notice some suspicious activity. One day, Logan has the guards capture you. He also has captured your very close friend—a childhood friend whom you have grown up with.
Logan visits you and your childhood friend in captivity. He tells you that he has a few of the Albion townspeople held in a dungeon. Logan says he will release the townspeople if you trade your friend for the townspeople, but he won’t let you sacrifice yourself. What do you do?
Appendix 3: Chart of example ethical decisions made in Fable III
|Name of scenario||Choices in scenario||Associated journal|
|“Surrender a Friend”||
a. Sacrifice friend|
b. Sacrifice villagers
a. Save walter|
b. Leave walter behind
a. Spare brother logan|
b. Kill brother logan
|“Donate the diamond”||
a. Donate a diamond|
b. Keep a diamond
|“Tax the Parents”||
a. Give benefits to parents|
b. Stay the same
c. Raise taxes for parents
|“Mine the lake”||
a. Drain a lake for money|
b. Preserve the lake
Appendix 4: Chart of skills and thought processes (coding scheme)
|Consider another’s character or values||Empathy-related (also arguably reasoning-related)|
|Consider someone’s motivation||Empathy-related|
|Perspective-taking/consider someone’s perspective||Empathy-related|
|Consider another’s emotions/feelings||Empathy-related|
|Consider/assess relationship with another character/person||Empathy-related|
|Consider other’s opinions||Empathy-related|
|Search for other’s opinions||Information gathering-related|
|Gather information not included in scenario||Information gathering-related|
|Choices depend on new information||Information gathering-related|
|Discuss with real people||Information gathering-related|
|Discuss with other characters||Information gathering-related|
|Use evidence to support choices||Reasoning-related|
|Provide reasons for a decision||Reasoning-related|
|Weigh different options||Reasoning-related|
|Evaluate social standing or status||Reasoning-related|
|Evaluate agreement or promise||Reasoning-related|
|Consider one’s role or responsibility||Reasoning-related|
|Consider longer-term effects||Reasoning-related|
|Consider short-term effects||Reasoning-related|
|Identify pros and cons||Reasoning-related|
|Analysis of situation or context||Reasoning-related|
|Prioritizing goals or factors||Reasoning-related|
|Military resource assessment||Reasoning-related|
|Consider own emotions||Empathy-related|
|Consider past events in game/play experience||Reflection-related|
|Consider past events outside game||Reflection-related|
|Consider media (TV, film) outside of game||Reflection-related|
|Reflect after decision||Reflection-related|
|Conduct cost-benefit analysis||Reasoning-related|
|Search for/seek more information||Information gathering-related|
|Prioritization of other’s perspectives when making a decision||Empathy-related|
|Prioritization of one’s personal ethics/morality when making a decision||Reasoning-related; empathy-related|
|Prioritization of individual or self-interests||Reasoning-related|
|Prioritization of safety and people’s lives over all other factors||Empathy-related|
|Prioritization of financial/resource gain when making a decision||Reasoning-related|
|Prioritization of greater good over individual interests||Reasoning-related|
|Prioritization of feelings or emotions to help make decisions||Empathy-related|
|Prioritization of relationships to help make decisions||Empathy-related|
|Prioritization of agreements or promises to help make decisions||Reasoning-related|
|Prioritization of one’s roles and responsibilities in making a decision||Reasoning-related|
|Decision based on number of lives harmed||Reasoning-related|
|Decision based on the evaluation of future value of a person or people as a resource||Reasoning-related|
|Evaluation of long term results over short term results||Reasoning-related|
|Assessment of past experiences within the game, and use it to predict the future||Reflection-related|
|Analysis of prior choices to justify current choice||Reflection-related|
|Prioritization of someone else’s feelings to make a decision||Empathy-related|
|Will not make a decision without first gathering information to predict future outcomes||Information gathering-related|
|Imagining what if scenarios and possible consequences to justify decision||Reasoning-related|
|Liking a character/person as a reason for doing something||Empathy-related|
|Judgment that someone is a friend/romantic partner influences decision||Empathy-related|
|Problem solve from another’s perspective and use it to make one’s decision||Empathy-related|
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Schrier, K. Designing role-playing video games for ethical thinking. Education Tech Research Dev 65, 831–868 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-016-9489-7
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