Ethics at Play: Patterns of Ethical Thinking among Young Online Gamers

Ethics at Play: Patterns of Ethical Thinking among Young Online Gamers

Sam Gilbert (The GoodPlay Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-845-6.ch010
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This chapter discusses how young people think about ethical issues in online games as seen in the GoodPlay project’s interviews with fourteen online gamers, ages 15 to 25. After providing background on the GoodPlay project and relevant moral psychology and video games research, this chapter describes individualistic, interpersonal, and communal models of ethical thinking that describe young players. These observed models suggest that online games are encouraging players to practice sophisticated ethical thinking skills and therefore might be valuable tools for fostering ethical thinking. The chapter concludes with a discussion of future directions in the study and use of games to foster ethical thinking.
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Moral and Ethical Development and Education

The approach to ethical thinking in games used in this chapter stems from research into the psychology of moral reasoning and child development (Gilligan, 1982; Kohlberg, 1981; Turiel, 1998). As opposed to making normative claims about what is ethical or unethical, the field of moral psychology is concerned with characterizing the ways that individuals think about ethical issues and identifying those cognitive faculties that—independent of one’s particular ethical stance—are relevant to ethics. Kohlberg (1981), for example, posits six stages of moral development based on empirical research into how young people reason through various hypothetical moral dilemmas. Each of these stages involves certain ways of thinking about rules and authority, responsibility and obligation, and people and groups.

Character Education initiatives such as “Character Counts!” (Josephson Institute, 2009) have gained prominence in U.S. education in recent decades in an attempt to foster particular values and virtues, but past U.S. moral education movements (Howard, Berkowitz & Schaeffer, 2004) as well as current ethics and citizenship education initiatives (Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont & Stephens, 2003; Fischman & Gardner, forthcoming) draw heavily from the tradition of psychological research discussed above. That is, they focus on developing particular cognitive skills or ways of thinking that are relevant to ethics. In trying to foster ethical thinking, these educational initiatives make heavy use of hypothetical dilemmas and role-playing scenarios, teaching tools that have game-like qualities, but video games thus far remain outside of this domain.

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