If You Didn’t Kill That Zombie Maybe I Won’t Either

This article on fivethirtyeight discussed the information cascades seen in video games made by the company Telltale Games.  In a game based on the tv series The Walking Dead, your character is attempting to survive a zombie apocalypse and must make complex ethical decisions of who to spare and who to kill.  At the end of each round, your decisions are compared to others playing the game, so you can see what percentage of other players have made the same decision you have.

The creators of the game have found that decisions change the second time a round is played as a result of the statistics shown on screen.   In what they refer to as a ‘conformity bias,’ players with choose a more ethical decision the second time around if they see that it was chosen by a majority of users.  Seeing your own decisions weighed against those of your peers causes another level of thought to the decision you have made, and is a form of an information cascade.  Nothing has changed from the first time a round is played to the second except that the player has viewed these statistics and taken into account the choices of other players.  The decisions they make the second time are based, at least in part, by what they saw being played by others.

A teacher who uses this game in an ethics class also found that classmates who have to come to a single decision tend to express opinions that are more similar to each other as the game progresses, which is another example of the information cascade.  Quieter students listened to those voicing opinions and eventually ended up voicing similar opinions, based at least in part on a desire to conform and an idea that if people are making a certain decision, there must be a good reason.

Games like this, though violent, encourage empathy because the player is forced to consider the choices that others have made and the importance of those choices to the character themself. In this particular case, the information cascade can also be seen as a way that players relate to one another and to the game itself.


One thought on “If You Didn’t Kill That Zombie Maybe I Won’t Either”

  1. This is an interesting post. First of all the title of the article was great, it really caught my attention. Anyway, I liked this post. Information cascades was also another topic in the text that stood out to me that if 1 person does something, you are less likely to do the same, but if more people engage in the same activity, then you might be more willing to do the same activity, ignoring all of your knowledge at hand. It is interesting how you incorporated information cascades into a video game, and how you also noted that this behavior is partly due to conformity bias and how the users may make an ethical decision the second time around. Its nice to see information cascades applied to video games. Good Post.

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