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Gaming the gamer? – The ethics of exploiting psychological research in video games

Johnny Hartz Søraker (Department of Philosophy, University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 9 May 2016




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the ethical implications of video game companies employing psychologists and using psychological research in game design.


The author first argues that exploiting psychology in video games may be more ethically problematic than familiar application domains like advertising, gambling and political rhetoric. Then an overview of the effects particular types of game design may have on user behavior is provided, taking into account various findings and phenomena from behavioral psychology and behavioral economics.


Finally, the author concludes that the corresponding ethical problems cannot – and should not – be addressed by means of regulation or rating systems. The author argues instead that a more promising countermeasure lies in using the same psychological research to educate gamers (children in particular) and thereby increase their capacity for meta-cognition.


The importance of this lies in the tremendous effect these behavior-modifying technologies may have upon our self-determination, well-being and social relations, as well as corresponding implications for the society.



The author is heavily indebted to Jamie Madigan and his excellent web resource, which provided inspiration, pointers and resources for several points raised above. The author would also like to thank the audience at CEPE/ETHICOMP 2013, TEDxUtwente and Scott Robbins for helpful suggestions and improvements. Finally, the author is indebted to the very constructive and helpful referee comments.


Søraker, J.H. (2016), "Gaming the gamer? – The ethics of exploiting psychological research in video games", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 106-123.



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