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The Power of Completely Conscious Bias as Illustrated by … a Video Game?

Unconscious Bias.

This conspicuous concept in the circles of Diversity argues that our bias-driven choices and actions are, in large part, driven by lack of awareness. In other words, if we knew the errored assumptions we were making, we could avoid those errors. That makes the solution easy – add awareness, remove bias.

But … is that really true of human behavior?

That question became the center of a little experiment that all started when I noticed my own odd behavior while playing a video game.

Conscious Bias with Digital Birds and Bees

So, I was playing a video game … specifically, I was playing Starfield – a single player open world role playing game (RPG).

For those who are not familiar with video game genres; in this type of game, you play a character of your own choosing (within the boundaries of the game). There are tons of options for what you look like (including choosing your own demographics), what you want to do, where you want to go, and what choices you want to make, all within a realm populated by video game characters (i.e., there are no other humans playing with you). One of the core objectives of Starfield, like many in this genre, is the process of leveling up your character so you can do more things. There are also all sorts of mechanics in the game to help or hinder this leveling up process.

Now, here’s where my odd behavior comes in.

One of the mechanics of the game to help with leveling up is to ‘romance’ one of the video game characters. In this game, there are four options – two men, two women. It doesn’t matter which one you choose to get the leveling up help. However, each comes with its own strengths which can either help or hinder your character depending upon your play style. And one more quick point of note – in this game, there is no visual representation of this ‘romance’ (i.e., no kissing, hand holding, or other physical interaction. All that changes is some basic dialog options).

As a video game enthusiast, I did my research. I knew exactly which characters enhanced my play style, and which characters would ultimately get in the way and hinder progress.

So which character did I choose?

The one I liked the best within my gender preferences … who also happened to be the WORST match for my play style.

A fake person in a game that no one else sees with no visual representation of a ‘romance’… And yet, with complete awareness, I failed completely to choose the logical choice, deferring to my preferences instead.


This begged the question, am I the only one with such ridiculous consciously biased behavior?

Conscious Bias of Digital Flocks and Hives … I am Not Alone

To answer this question, I called every gamer friend I could think of to ask what they have done (or would do) in this scenario.

I collected 16 data points with the following demographics:


  • Majority male (I don’t know many female gamers)

  • Majority over 40 (like me).

  • Mix of LBGTQ / non-LBGTQ

  • Mix of race / ethnicities

  • Over half are in Talent Acquisition, HR, or Diversity professions.

And here are the results:

Answers verified widely:

  • "The most attractive [gender preference]”

  • “Oh no, not a [opposite of gender preference]”

  • “I want to believe I would choose the right one for the game… but not if it’s a [opposite of gender preference]”

  • “I would choose the best play style. But if it’s a [opposite of gender preference] … I don’t know, maybe…”

  • “It depends. On my first play through I would probably choose the one with the most interesting story…”

  • “I go for the best advantage. I don’t care the gender.”

As it turns out, I am not alone!

For the 16 people who agreed to partake in my little research project, the majority would either do as I did and select on gender/personal preferences or would like to think they would select the best for game optimization but were not sure they would be able to click that “I love you” dialog option when the moment came.

In other words, fully aware of our preferences (and biases) and how they align or misalign with the goals of the game, the majority of us went with our preferences anyway. What makes this more interesting; over half of those represented in that data are DEI/HR/TA professionals well versed in the concepts of bias and awareness.

If we, as DEI/TA/HR professionals, can’t override our biases when we are well-aware of both the concepts and the consequences, how can we expect it to be so simple for our workforces?

Awareness is only the first step

For choices within video games or within organizations, awareness is not enough.

Awareness is a good foundation, a good first step, a good place to start. But organizations with DEIB initiatives that begin and end with awareness are likely not changing much (if they are changing anything at all).

To be effective, awareness must be paired with action in the form of change to process and behavioral habits. There are many ways to do this. For example, for selection processes (like hiring, promotions, and project assignments), add objective, measurable criteria to squeeze out subjective preferences. For example, for meeting behaviors, add an agenda item to ‘go around the room’ giving everyone an opportunity to voice their thoughts uninterrupted for at least 2 minutes. And, for example, to help drive adoption of any changes, schedule practice in the form of training, feedback sessions, and ‘mock’ experiences to help hone skills.

These are just a few examples of many ways to remove bias and increase equity within your organization. Need more ideas? We are happy to help!

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