Players New To Violent Games Feel The Need To Go Wash Away The Moral Distress After

Players New To Violent Games Feel The Need To Go Wash Away The Moral Distress After

Many years ago, researchers confirmed the existence of the “Lady Macbeth Effect.” The gist of it is that we humans really do associate metaphorical uncleanliness with the more literal sort: if we’ve done or witnessed something immoral or unethical, we are often likely literally to want to go wash or bathe in response. Like Lady Macbeth and her infamous, “Out, damned spot,” when we say, “I kind of want a shower after reading that,” we mean it.

So other than the obvious stereotypical hygiene jokes, how does the Macbeth Effect relate to gaming? It turns out that video games can cause it. Science Daily reports that a team of psychologists at the University of Luxembourg have observed the Lady Macbeth Effect in “inexperienced” study participants who played violent video games.

There’s a lot of violence in many genres of video games. Researchers have spent decades going back and forth wondering whether violent games inspire violent behaviour in the real world. The verdict on that seems to be “probably not,” but it does seem, according to new research, that those of us who are regular players are desensitised to and unfazed by the virtual acts we perpetrate on digital people. But players unfamiliar with the conventions and on-screen blood react differently.

Participants played a violent game for 15 minutes, and then were asked to select a “gift” from a list of items. Subjects who were not accustomed to playing violent games showed a strong tendency to go for “hygenic” items, or items related to cleaning the self: shower gel, toothpaste, deodorant, and the like. Subjects who had more experience with playing violent games were not particularly likely to choose the hygenic items. Additionally, players not accustomed to playing violent games “felt higher moral distress” than their counterparts.

Dr. André Melzer, one of the scientists conducting the study, explained that the Macbeth effect “is a psychological phenomenon in which a person attempts to purify oneself in order to cope with feelings of moral distress,” and suggested that gamers who have more experience pulling the virtual trigger on hi-def people have developed an alternative coping strategy of some kind.

Most of us don’t think of our pastime as something that requires complex psychological coping mechanisms to enjoy. But it’s possible, the research indicates, that violence in gaming may have a stronger effect on us than we think.

The full findings of the study will be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology later this year.

Inexperienced Video Gamers Show Macbeth Effect [Science Daily, via GamePolitics]

(Top photo: Shutterstock)


  • I dunno how true it is. I know that if given a good or evil option I will always pick the good option and will tend to feel bad or guilty if I have to kill a person. I know they’re not real, but I still feel bad.

    • Violence in games doesn’t phase me. Halo, COD, DMC, any-fighting-game-in-the-history-of-fighting-games, have no noticeable effect on me.
      Games (or should I say, experiences, be it a game or not) that present me with an attachment or connection to the protagonist, and the environment they find themselves in, has a far greater effect.

      In short, I’m fine with popping off headshots and 360noscopetriplekills, but give me an interpersonal narrative, and I’m hard pressed to actively partake in the misfortune or death of a character.

      • Mayhaps the fact that it has no effect on you is evidence that it already has?

        Shampoo before conditioning is what my mom always says.

  • I’ve always found that whenever I play competitive games, my nose gets itchy and I feel compelled to wash my hands more often.

    It’s not exactly related, but it is a bit of an odd thing that I’ve noticed.

    • In competitive games with downtime (respawn, for example), I’ll have a quick stretch, sit down and get back into it. I don’t know if it relates much to this, or if I just do it to strengthen my focus by being more comfortable.

  • I’m honestly surprised by this correlation. It’s an interesting argument in favour of the idea that regular gamers are desensitised to violence (at least violence in video games), and perhaps modern games have progressed to the point that it can be distressing to a newcomer.

    I wonder what would happen if someone’s first game since the 16-bit era was Spec Ops: The Line.

    • Playing online multiplayer, I need to have a smoke every few games to calm my nerves and drink some water 😛

  • I always feel the urge to wash my hands after I have to kill bugs. I don’t like doing it (I try to herd them outside etc) but if I have to I always always have to wash my hands regardless of if I used a bug spray or whatever.

  • I never feel anything about violence in video games.

    I guess the main reason is because its pretend, fantasy, its not real, and has nothing to do with actual violence.

    The people who associate videogame violence with real world violence, have some real serious farken mental issues.

  • So they get this because the ‘People who don’t play video games’ prefer the free gift from Bath and Body Works, whereas the ‘People who play video games’ prefer anything else….

    Regardless of age/gender/race/creed/etc. everybody I know who plays games somewhat regularly is just not the kind of person who feels like personal hygiene items are a desirable gift…
    Could it not just be a personality issue? I wonder what their spread of participants was like.

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