What’s better than sitting down in front of a game and not knowing that you’re taking part in a social experiment? Probably not taking part in a social experiment to begin with, but in today’s socially conscious world, “social experiments” could be a way for gamers to make a connection.  

In the world of video gaming, social experiments have become catalysts for social awareness endeavors. Entire projects have been created to give a gamer a taste of what it’s like to be, say, a blind girl searching for her cat (Beyond Eyes) or a teenager in the midst of leaving for college, packing his or her belongings and saying goodbye for, perhaps, the last time (Reflections).

Are video games a good medium for experiencing these emotions and other lives that elude you? Are they a good gauge for determining the climate of a society in which social justice is a bubbling cauldron?

Take Nintendo’s latest hit, Mario Maker, a sandbox romp through the world of Mario and Luigi wherein players literally craft their own world using every possible scenario, villain and obstacle that ever was in Mario lore. After creating their own level, gamers can upload these levels to the online world where other gamers can test their skills against creations that have neither existed nor been imagined in the Mario world canon.

One particular level has given gamers pause in that their choices have dire ramifications, although fleeting, in order to complete. Yoshi, the heroic sidekick dinosaur used for riding and stomping, is often used as a sacrificial booster when making hard jumps in custom levels. It’s become so cliché that a YouTube user by the name of JayHez decided to attempt one of these Yoshi-murdering levels without murdering Yoshi — and succeeded.

As  players progress, the level’s designer forces the player to abandon Yoshi mid-jump in order to cross chasms, avoid being crushed and traverse boxes that revert to coins after a particular amount of time. JayHez, however, figured out that by timing it correctly, the multitude of Yoshi dinosaurs available in the level can be spared. Not a single Yoshi met a terrible fate by the end of his run-through.

But the level isn’t designed for Yoshi to survive . . . or is it? Coins placed in particular fashion spell out “MURDERER” and “YOU’RE A MONSTER” as you reach the finish line, all assuming that you’ve sent many a Yoshi to his death.

After the video was posted, creator of the level and noted YouTube personality Ross O’Donovan called its creation a “social experiment” to see if gamers could feel enough guilt, remorse or shame to alter their paths to the finish line.

This type of choice is not new to gaming. Recent roleplaying games like Mass Effect, Bioshock and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic give players choices that either direct them toward the light or far from it into the realm of, well, evil. Moral distinction has become such an ingrained concept in modern gaming that any RPG would be considered incomplete if, say, there weren’t an option to abandon the hypothetical puppy instead of rescue it.

Can video games be used as a barometer for a person’s nature? Some gamers believe so, but then again, as a child, I witnessed the death of many a Yoshi in Super Mario World. What does that say about me? Am I a monster?

Or is it that the real world is creeping into our gaming consciousness and we’re no longer able to separate in-game choices from real-world events?

It depends whether or not you feel guilty watching Yoshi fall to his death as you hop to safety. Or not. It’s just a game, right? 


Chris O’Neal was messed up by some of his choices in Mass Effect. Follow him on Instagram @atchrisoneal.