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,