The case of PeaceMaker as an effective persuasive videogame (Alhabash & Wise, 2012)

My advisor was contacted, several months ago, by someone from Games for Change who intrigued him with these persuasive videogames they have in store. Unfortunately, my knowledge in persuasive videogames is poor and many of them relate to political issues, such as human rights, environmental issues among others. Political communication scholars, who have the proper tools and knowledge, should examine these videogames’ effectiveness on attitudes and beliefs. My advisor was interested in examining PeaceMaker’s effect, but Saleem Alhabash (Michigan State University) and Kevin Wise (University of Missouri) published their findings in the International Journal of Communication just a few months later.

Abstract

An experiment investigated the effects of video game role-play on change of students’ explicit and implicit attitudes toward Palestinians and Israelis. Sixty-eight participants played PeaceMaker, a video game in which people play the role of the Palestinian president or the Israeli prime minister and respond to various scenarios through diplomatic, economic, and military decision-making. Results showed that participants, before playing PeaceMaker, expressed higher favorability toward Israelis than Palestinians. Participants who played the role of Palestinian president reported positive changes in explicit attitudes toward Palestinians and negative changes toward Israelis, while those who played the role of Israeli prime minister reported no meaningful attitude changes toward either national group after playing the game. Implicit attitudes were more positive toward Palestinians at the baseline, yet did not change significantly as a function of the treatment for both national groups. Results are discussed in relation to self-persuasion, persuasive games, and attitude change.

I was once intrigued by another persuasive videogame (Grace’s Diary), but my interest floundered.

PeaceMaker is a persuasive videogame which is defined by the videogame’s procedural rhetoric in changing attitudes through self-persuasion. I recommend Ian Bogost’s book “Persuasive Games: The Expressiveness of videogames” as a primary source on this topic. As I understand it, this self-persuasion process is achieved by playing the videogame and understanding the meaning behind each action and its consequences, thus synthesizing meaning through first-hand simulated experience. Although, the psychological side needs more elaboration, perhaps Petty & Cacioppo’s Elaboration likelihood Model (okay, bad joke).

The level of self-persuasion is dependent on three factors: message autonomy, integration and overlap. Message autonomy is defined by the “level of explicit arguments presented within the game” where higher autonomy leads to greater self-deliberation and, in turn, greater self-persuasion.  Integration is the extent to which the subject is embedded in the game design and content, in the case of PeaceMaker peaceful conflict resolution is integral in the game play. Finally, overlap is between the game’s goal and the intended educational goal of the game. In the case of PeaceMaker, the goal is peacefully end the conflict and the game gives a score at how well players ended the conflict.

The authors explained this self-persuasion is achieved by role play and through cognitive dissonance. Participants who role play changed their attitudes much greater than who passively receive a persuasive message because role playing requires active thinking and argumentation in contrast to passive participation where regurgitation is more likely. This, I believe, is also used in anti-bullying activities where bullies role play as bully victims to encourage empathy. Cognitive dissonance happens if one does something that they do not believe in. Thus, someone who is an ardent fan of Xbox games who pretend to like steam games is facing a cognitive dissonance and he or she is likely to change attitude in order to resolve the cognitive conflict.

Thus, the goal of this study is to investigate the persuasiveness of PeaceMaker through role-playing as one of the leaders in the conflict and the changes in attitudes, explicitly and implicitly, towards Israelis and Palestinians.

Method

Participants: 68 American undergraduate students. Average age is 20, 74% are female. Bad data, such as outliers and technical problems in data collection, reduced that number to 58 for explicit attitudes and 60 for implicit attitudes.

Measures

National attitudes: Participants were asked to rate seven statements regarding both Israelis and Palestinians regarding their favorability, sympathy, belief about the national group’s intention for peace, intentionally targeting civilians from the other side, being democratic, being responsible for the violence and having the right to sole control over the city of Jerusalem. The measure was used in previous studies.

Implicit attitudes: The affective misattribution procedure task. Participants were shown random photos of Palestinians (12 photos) and Israelis (12 photos) before seeing Chinese pictographs. They were tasked to rate whether the pictographs were pleasant or unpleasant and to rate the pictographs as quickly as possible since they were warned that these photos could influence their ratings of the pictographs.

Videogame used: PeaceMaker.

Procedure

Participants completed the national attitudes and implicit attitudes measures as a pre-test. They played PeaceMaker for 20 minutes and they were randomly assigned to play either as the Palestinian president or the Israeli prime minister. Their gameplay was recorded. After gameplay, they completed once more the national attitudes and implicit attitudes measures as a post-test.  The problem with an experiment that deals with controversial issues are the issue of demand characteristics, whether the result of the experiment is from the stimuli or the experimenter’s expectations.

Results

On the pre-test measures, t-test revealed participants favoured the Israelis more than the Palestinians because of current political knowledge of the conflict from the media and several other factors that a political scientist would know.

A repeated measures ANOVA was conducted to test the effects of playing PeaceMaker. With role (Palestine vs. Israel) and time (pre-test vs. post-test) as the between-subjects and within-subjects, respectively. The ANOVA revealed that main effects for both role and time and leading to an interaction effect. This interaction effect revealed that those who played the Palestinian president had more negative attitudes towards Israelis in their post-test scores from their pre-test scores. Those who played the Israeli prime minister, their attitudes did not change.

In regards towards Palestinians, the same repeated measures ANOVA revealed both main effects and an interaction effects. As expected, those who played the Palestinian president had more positive attitudes towards Palestinians from their pre- to post-test scores whereas those who played the Israeli prime minister had shown no attitude changes.

They conducted an additional ANOVA in a comprehensive way, but I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. A 2 (role) X 2 (time) X 2 (national group) ANOVA. I do not understand the third factor as they referred it to include attitudes towards both Israelis and Palestinians in the ANOVA model. Shouldn’t it already be included in the time factor since they have pre-test and post-test scores and I don’t understand how a variable can be at once an independent and dependent variable at the same time? Am I misunderstanding something? A three-way interaction was found in that those who played the Palestinian president showed significant favourable attitudes towards Palestinians and significant unfavourable attitudes towards Israelis.

Their analysis on implicit attitudes using the same repeated measures ANOVA revealed no statistically significant results. The authors did noted that participants at pre-test tended to rate Palestinians-primed pictographs as more pleasant than those of Israeli-primed pictographs, the same occurred at the post-test and yet none of the independent variables had any effect.

Discussion

The take-home message is that the procedural rhetoric of PeaceMaker did change players’ attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestine conflict, specifically a more favourable attitude towards Palestinian and not much or negative change for the Israelis. The role-playing of the Palestinian president sends quite a dissonant message to the player which resulted in the attitude change whereas those playing as the Israeli prime minister did not change their attitudes, the authors argued that it went in line with their current knowledge and stance in the conflict.

The authors argued that future research should use previous theories, such as my advisor’s General Aggression Model and cultivation theory. Can they explain how? I can’t see how. I think they should look into theories of empathy, such as examining the role of perspective-taking or persuasion theories like the Petty & Cacioppo’s Elaboration Likelihood Model.

My reasoning is that empathy or lack thereof is a necessary element in prosocial behaviours and intentions, the General Aggression Model and its related theories are good enough, but I believe specific empathy theories have greater explanatory power for prosocial videogames (see Hoffman, 2000, Gibbs, 2010).

The authors spent some paragraphs about their findings about the non-statistical difference for implicit attitudes change which is in contrast to the changes in explicit attitude change.  The authors argued that it support the associative propositional evaluation model (never heard of it) where explicit attitudes are changed by cognitive dissonance, but not implicitly. They argued that PeaceMaker reduced bias and prejudice thinking, although the authors argued for further research by using more sophisticated measures like psychophysiology and other implicit measures.

The authors noted several limitations. Short-term effects were observed, the long-term effects are unknown. IMO, participants who still receive information that originated their pre-test bias will likely return to their original attitude level. Second, American students may have a hard time distinguishing the Palestinians and the Israelis because they might be unfamiliar or the pictures lack any distinguishing features. Third, 20 minutes may be too short and may not reflect what gamers would have played it. My additional limitation is whether people would choose to play this persuasive videogame as it might be difficult to engage certain demographic group to play it.

Alhabash, S. E., & Wise, K. (2012). PeaceMaker: Changing students’ attitudes toward palestinians and israelis through video game play. International Journal of Communication, 6 . URL http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1056

One thought on “The case of PeaceMaker as an effective persuasive videogame (Alhabash & Wise, 2012)

  1. Sounds like a lot of the same stuff that I came across when I was writing a piece about the psychology of game avatars. Specifically, self-perception theory which argues that we are motivated to change our attitudes to match our behaviors, even when we’re doing something like role playing. “I’m doing X so I must be the kind of person who believes in X.” It’s a pretty common technique in behavior modification therapy (e.g., bullying, like you mention).

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