Although people tend to focus on the negative effects of gaming Professor Karen Schrier from Marist College examines how video games can teach morality. Specifically, she reviews literature and analyzes individual games and media to highlight a set of principles for designing moral learning and moral knowledge games. These games, which teach moral thinking through problem-solving, open-ended questions, and reflection are currently rare. However, there is growing interest in moral and ethical development in schools and increasing use of games in classrooms. So Professor Schrier presents 10 considerations for designing moral games.

Moral learning games should strive to:

  • 1) Support problem-solving activities

    Players should have to weigh options and make decisions relating to moral issues.

  • 2) Enable appropriate choices and consequences

    Just like in real life, moral choices might not be black-and-white, but rather ambiguous, with ambiguous consequences.

  • 3) Provide appropriate constraints and rewards

    The game’s limitations and rewards should align with its goal and target audience. This also includes rewarding ambiguous moral choices and openness instead of perhaps the "correct" choice.

  • 4) Consider how to support social interactions, communities, and communication

    A big part of moral decision-making can involve how other people are affected, so it’s important to consider ways players might interact or communicate in the game.

  • 5) Provide opportunities for personalization and expression

    Players should have some autonomy in avatar choice, narrative decisions, or digital environment. As such, they are more likely to feel part of the game, and more likely to empathize with the moral decision-making.

  • 6) Enable teaching, training, support, and scaffolding

    Games should have some light guidance, such as hints, nudges, or reminders, while maintaining a player’s autonomy. They might need some support throughout the game, but ultimately the gameplay should be a consequence of their own decisions.

  • 7) Support accessibility and authenticity

    Moral learning games don’t need to have grand narratives; instead, they might be most effective if they focus on everyday moral decision-making.

  • 8) Provide appropriate story, dramatic, and narrative elements

    Designers must choose whether the game will focus on realistic scenarios or provide situations metaphorically related to real-life moral decision-making.

  • 9) Ensure accuracy and validity

    Designers should be cautious that gamers’ actual learning outcomes match the intended ones. For instance, games that seek to spur empathy inadvertently end up doing the opposite.

  • 10) Be value-conscious and critical

    Games should not only have clear value goals, but designers should also reevaluate these goals on a regular basis and take players’ feedback into account.

    With these ten principles, Professor Schrier believes designers can create more effective moral learning games that can be used in a classroom setting or outside it. Some examples of moral learning games that already exist are 1979 Revolution, That Dragon, Cancer, My Child Lebensborn, and Detroit: Become Human. These examples demonstrate that video games can both entertain and educate us in a deep way that might just benefit our moral decision-making.

    Schrier, K. (2019). Designing games for moral learning and knowledge building. Games and Culture, 14(4), 306–343.

    Image: via Playstation