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Can online games alter our prejudices?

We do not summarize or talk about researches that talk about ideas that people are generally aware of. We want to put forward articles that empower people, giving them insights or information that is not readily available in the public domain. In many ways, this article stands as an example of the kind of stories we’d like to do — articles that show the interconnectedness of the things around us.

Now, to the story. The research titled, Playing below the poverty line: Investigating an online game as a way to reduce prejudice toward the poor, caught our attention for two simple reasons. Both — online gaming and poverty are on the rise — and involve teens and young adults.

We know that playing games, especially the online ones, can alter social prejudices. But how?

Games affect our prejudices?

Yes, they do. Most of the games involve role-playing and that forces us to immerse ourselves in a fictitious world and adopt a personality. In the process, we acquire and demonstrate behavior that may not be native or common to us in our real life. Games that are designed to help us understand the fact that morality, ethics, etc. are relative concepts may help us understand our biases and prejudices better. When we understand that the world as we see it, is made up ideas that are subjective and relative, we begin to — even without being conscious of — become more empathetic.

The study notes, “To the extent that observing the unique challenges that members of stigmatized groups experience encourages perspective taking (Shih, Wang, Bucher, & Stotzer, 2009) and arouses empathic concern (Batson & Moran, 1999), both participants who watch a video of the poverty game and those who play the poverty game themselves were expected to experience higher levels of empathic concern than participants in the control condition. Greater empathic concern, in turn, was expected to lead to more positive attitudes toward the group and efforts to benefit members of the group (Batson et al., 1997).

This was the hypothesis. The results of study, however, had something different to say on this aspect.

The study examined how playing a game about poverty can influence attitudes toward the poor by comparing participants who played a poverty game to participants who watched a video of the game.

The role-playing game, called SPENT, allows you to take control of a character who happens to poor, play along and help him/her through some difficult times.

Results of the study

The more time that players spend learning about poverty in the game, the more likely they are to feel positively toward the poor and to support poverty reducing policies.

Contrary to the hypothesis, it was found that the ‘role-playing’ ability of the game did not help players become more empathetic. It was the educational aspect of the game that helped players become more empathetic.

A positive outcome in the game also affected the players’ ability to relate to the poor. More money they had in the bank at the end of the game, higher their levels of empathy.

Here’s the interesting find. Overall, playing a game that involves poverty and “thus having control over one’s outcomes led participants to believe that poverty is personally controllable, it did not positively influence attitudes toward the poor.”

Personal ideology is a key influencer!

The results were a mixed bag. But one idea that came out of the study was video games need to provide an immersive experience to make any marked change in social attitudes.  The ‘level of immersion’ is a necessary factor to trump conditioned beliefs and a set value system.

What do you think? Do you think games can be used to make a positive influence, especially among young adults?


Roussos, G., & Dovidio, J. F. (2016). Playing below the poverty line: Investigating an online game as a way to reduce prejudice toward the poor. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace

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