An online video game to reduce ethnic bias

An online video game to reduce ethnic bias

The discussion about ethnic bias is more heated than ever these days. Since the 1950s, social psychology has been concerned with defining what stereotypes and prejudices are and understanding how they are formed.


Social psychologists also investigated whether and how bias can be reduced. Some ways of reducing injury have been identified, including intergroup contact (Pettigrew and Tropp, 2006) and perspective taking (Dovidio and colleagues, 2004), which could be translated as “perspective taking”. Perspective taking allows you to understand the experiences of a person from a social group other than your own. It is what would commonly be called “putting yourself in another’s shoes”.

Perspective taking has proven effective in reducing intergroup bias, for example between white and colored Americans (Dovidio, 2004). However, Simonovits, Kézdi and Kardos (2018) wondered how to implement concretely achievable, economically sustainable injury reduction interventions involving a large number of people.

The authors then carried out an experimental study, in which they used an online video game to induce participants to take on the perspective of the Roma ethnic minority. Roma are a social group marginalized not only in Hungary, where the experiment was conducted, but also in other European countries, including Italy. The main objective of the study was to verify the effectiveness of the video game in reducing prejudice towards people of Roma ethnicity.

This study is innovative compared to others that apply perspective taking to reduce injury. In fact, the participant generally listens or passively watches stories that report the experience of a person from a social minority. In this study, however, the participants voluntarily play the video game online and actively identify themselves with the protagonist of the video game. The video game is of the “choose your adventure” type and tells the story of an eighteen year old teenager of Roma ethnicity, who arrives in Budapest to start a new life. The video game tells the story from the perspective of the Roma teenager. The player must therefore make decisions and act as if he or she were the protagonist of the story.

The study involved 385 participants aged between 24 and 26 years old. Each participant completed, in 2009, a scale of measurement of ethnic prejudice towards the Roma. Participants were divided into two conditions: in the experimental one they played the video game described above, in the control one they played a video game irrelevant to ethnic prejudice. The same measurement of ethnic bias towards Roma was administered immediately after playing the video game and even a month after the experiment.

The results indicate that the video game has effectively reduced prejudice towards Roma people not only immediately after playing online, but also after a month. It is possible that the reduction of injury is related to having empathized with the character, but the exact mechanisms of reduction of injury should be further investigated.

The authors also assessed whether the reduction of prejudice towards the specific group of Roma also had effects on other stigmatized groups. The results indicate that this has happened for refugees, but not for the homeless. Consequently, it can be assumed that assuming the perspective of a stigmatized group may help reduce one’s own injury in general, but this also depends on other factors. For example, how intense is the prejudice towards homeless people or refugees, or how much they resemble Roma, that is, the social group targeted in perspective taking.

Finally, the study showed that online video gaming also affected participants’ behavioral intentions. In particular, the participants in the experimental condition had a lesser intention of voting for a far-right Hungarian party, whose propaganda was discriminatory towards the Roma, compared to the control group.

Further studies are needed to better understand the mechanisms that make video games effective in reducing injury. In addition, future studies may involve older participants, who may have greater resistance to changing their prejudices than young adults. Finally, it would be useful to extend the study to other socio-political contexts.

The experiment by Simonovits, Kézdi and Kardos (2018) remains a useful example of injury reduction intervention. In fact, it represents an intervention that can be particularly effective given its interactive nature and which, being online, has low costs and can reach a large number of people.