Killing the Dead

Why do people enjoy violent games? Millions of people across the globe play games that revolve primarily around violent acts such as shooting, however many of these people are not violent in real life. So what is it that motivates these nonviolent players to pick up virtual assault rifles and headshot their online buddies? In a paper dedicated to answering this question, Tilo Hartmann, an associate professor in Communication Science at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, points towards a term he calls “moral disengagement” as allowing violent games to be enjoyed by nonviolent players.

Moral disengagement refers to the change in mindset of the player that occurs while playing violent games. In these games if players feel that virtual characters have a mind of their own, they may assign a moral status to them. Due to this moral standing, enacting unjustified transgressions against virtual characters may trigger discomfort in users. However, instead of experiencing feelings of subjective discomfort these players often experience moral disengagement and begin to enjoy the games. (Hartmann, 2017)

The way games accomplish this moral disengagement is by frequently embedding cues that can frame violence enacted against the virtual characters as being “okay.” These cues stem from a dehumanization of virtual characters and a diffusion of the player’s responsibility for their actions. By dehumanizing the victims of violence, their moral status is lessened to a state where the player does not feel guilt for their actions. A similar process takes place with the diffusion of responsibility where the player’s guilt for their actions is removed because of a more abstract idea such as “for the greater good”. (Hartmann, 2017)

The virtual reality shooting game In Death relies on both of these main cues to make the violence of the game enjoyable. It is interesting to see how this is accomplished in a virtual reality setting. There are only 3 types of enemy in the game and all are clearly not human due to a few obvious characteristics. The archers are essentially faceless hovering dementors with bows, while the ground based enemies are either 8ft tall faceless knights or 4ft tall zombie-like demons. The game’s removal of faces and of many human characteristics makes enacting violence against these characters an easily guilt-free action, especially so considering In Death has no dialog.

In Death Official Trailer Screencap- Youtube

In Death is an interesting example of moral disengagement and the processes that it requires. Through the lack of faces and dialog the guilt of enacting violence on the characters is essentially removed. It will be interesting to see how the addition of those characteristics into a future virtual reality game will influence moral disengagement for its players.


Hartmann, Tilo. “Game Studies.” Game Studies – The “Moral Disengagement in Violent Videogames” Model, 10 Dec. 2017,

Being a Superhero

People always look for ways to distract themselves from their daily routines. Throughout human history people have done this by immersing themselves in stories told through many different mediums. Books, music, movies, plays, and most recently video games, have captivated billions with their ability to project fantastic stories into the minds of the people enjoying them. From tales of love, to tragic war stories, people choose to take many different adventures. The ability to interact with these adventures allows them to be more immersive for many.

Contrary to many other forms of media which passively or actively engage their audience and are essentially self-contained, video games are completed through interaction with the player (Papale, 2014). By controlling the character in-game, many players begin to identify with their avatar and react to the game world with very real emotional reactions. This is especially evident in games featuring a human-like avatar.

In his paper on the relationship between player and avatar Luca Papale, a former EA employee and professor in game design at IUDAV, argues that while identification may indeed occur during play, it’s far from being the one and only type of psychological response that a player can have. One response, outside of identification, that he believes plays a crucial role is empathy. Players can experience emotional reactions outside of identification, by empathizing with characters that they are not be able to identify with. He uses the example of feeling empathy for somebody who loses a loved one by imagining the person’s emotions and somehow sharing them. (Papale, 2014) Sympathy works the same way in video games as players are able to imagine the feelings of characters in-game and experience them in real life to a lesser degree.

The concept of player sympathy is crucial to Infamous. The game sports a “karma meter” which is a reflection of moral choices made as the main character. In-game processes change drastically as the player makes different choices that affect the karma meter. The primary motivation to spare enemies and improve karma revolves around sympathetic responses in return to the player.

Infamous Karma Meter-

As a reward for good karma, civilian NPC’s (non-playable characters) will join the player as he fights enemies in battle. The opposite is true with regards to bad karma. This dynamic is enhanced by the dialog enemies present you with when there is a chance to kill them. Many enemies will say, “hey I have a family man” or other responses that are meant to elicit a sympathetic response by the player. Through playing Infamous and experiencing these moral decisions the relationship between player and avatar is shown to go beyond identification.

Papale, L. (2014). Beyond identification: Defining the relationship between player and avatar.Journal of Game Criticism,1(2), 1-12. Retrieved September 11, 2017, from