As gaming technology evolves, industry leaders are working hard to leverage the advances for their good. In seeking to combat negative stereotypes of video games and the gamers themselves, many are hoping to use virtual reality and other immersive game experiences to help users learn to have empathy for others (Helmore, 2014).
For example, participants in a study were taught about the use of non-recycled paper and its role in deforestation. One group was given a written description of a chainsaw cutting through a tree. The other group was actually given the chance to cut down a virtual tree using virtual reality software and a helmet.
Both groups understood the impact of their paper use on the environment – but only the virtual reality participants cut down their paper use as a result of the study.
“This study isn’t all about trees,” said Sun Joo Ahn, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“It’s about how we are able to use an immersive virtual environment to create a change in behavior in the physical world…We showed that just three minutes of an embodied experience could produce a behavioral result” (Gorlick, 2011)
The idea that using gaming and virtual reality can change consumer behavior certainly has merit, but I doubt companies will alter their gratuitously violent video games in the name of ethics – especially as far as money is concerned, as the video game industry is a $21 billion dollar industry (Cox, 2014).
Depending on the perspective, there are several ethical principles one could apply here. One could use a Judeo-Christian ethic of empathy and concern for others to justify limiting or removing violence in video games.
However, one could also use Mill’s Principle of Utility to claim that anything that makes a company money increases happiness, and therefore can be considered good.
Promoting empathy and concern for others seems like what we would want to value as a society, but when there’s money involved, the spirit of capitalism will pretty much always trump ethics.