This is something that I have recently began to take an interest in when I was playing Left 4 Dead 2 in an online versus match. In Left 4 Dead very often players have to make decisions that determine the fate of other players, and I was tasked with that decision. I decided to let my teammate die in order to make it to the safe house by myself. Granted, I was doing it so we had a chance of winning, and the player I let die would respawn the next round so it wasn't a lasting impact. But I had still sacrificed this player to help myself. In my mind I thought, “Screw this guy, I want to live.”
That thought alone wasn't enough to make me question my decision; but what did get me wondering was when, in a later round, I was the one left behind. Not some random dude, but me. When that happened was that I found myself asking questions such as “Why didn't he come back to save me?” We would have a better chance of winning the game if he had successfully managed to revive me, but in his mind he considered the risk and decided that no, this douche isn't worth risking my virtual life over. And that's what interested me.
If the previous situation was a real situation with real lives at stake, would I have gone back to save this person and would they have saved me? Based on the decisions made in Left 4 Dead 2, no, we wouldn't have. And hopefully this is where the disconnect happens. I would hope that morality has more importance in meatspace (real life) than in virtual situations. (I mean, it obviously does but to what extent?) How much does one's video game morality reflect their real world morality?
I've heard from people who have seen studies (I heard it from a very reliable person) that say up to 90% of gamers, when given the choice between a good option (Ex. saving a kitten) and bad option (Ex. killing a kitten), will choose the good option over the bad. I think this correlates with the amount of people who choose to use the game as a way to emulate themselves (being the 90%) and as a way to play as a different person entirely (being the 10%). The reason I speculate this is because the people who are emulating themselves onto the game character will generally do what they find to be the right thing to do, because the choices they make are their
choices and the people who do the immoral thing do it because they are playing as someone else
. (I would go into more detail but that gets into non linearity and bad game design)
The general trend seems to be that gamers only have a relatively small degree of separation from their avatars. This degree changes with each type of game played and how meaningful the game makes the actual decisions. So the next time some guy leaves you to strangle to death in Left 4 Dead, know that he would probably do the same in real life if it meant his team would win.