Growing up, I’ve always been a huge fan of reality competition shows. I loved the concept of strangers being locked in a house or being trapped on an island together, having to do whatever was necessary to escape possible elimination and win the money at stake. I was exposed to these shows at such a young age and I began to idolize the contestants who came up with intelligent lies and original techniques of persuasion, all while being told it was immoral to lie to those around you. Being that I was just a child, I was confused on why others were being rewarded for dishonesty.
The purpose of this editorial is to discuss the effects of mental stress when playing strategic online reality games (“O.R.G.s”). Individuals may suffer from cognitive dissonance, the inability to keep a positive and accurate self-image, when playing a game that requires one to lie to others, make it to the next round and, ultimately, to win the game. ORGs have been created through various social media platforms, e.g. Facebook and Skype, to mimic the process of popular competition-based television shows and films such as MTV’s “The Challenge,” CBS’s “Big Brother” and “Survivor,” and “The Circle.”
Since my interest in these shows has never subsided, I started my journey into the online reality gaming world. With that, I, myself, am no stranger to the feelings of suffering from guilt and cognitive dissonance, and neither are the competitors I’ve observed.
Unfortunately, people do not win these games by being honest and playing fairly. There are instances where they’ll align themselves with others then turn on them, tell someone they are safe and instead vote them out, or pass the blame of their own lie onto someone else in return for safety.
If an individual is one of the lucky few to make it to the final two, their previously eliminated competitors are given the opportunity to discuss their gameplay. This is where cognitive dissonance, self-justification, and even karma come to visit.
While observing the jury ask questions and make statements, there is a popular question that is always asked – “Don’t you have any morals?” It was then made apparent that some players can separate themselves emotionally from the game, while others cannot. The participants that can separate themselves emotionally usually justify their behavior by saying “It is just a game,” or “I did what I had to do to get to the final two.” The others who cannot separate themselves visibly suffer from guilt and apologize for their actions, saying they are not this person outside of the game. Even if they are angry, the jury tends to reward the contestant who owns the game they played. The one who apologized? They suffer from dissonance, lose the game, and maybe even a friend.
So, who buys it? Are these individuals bad people? Is there a right place and time to tell a lie? If accepted in a controlled environment, can it be accepted outside of it?