Should PR students promote car crash game to children?

A few weeks ago, in conversation with a 4th year PR undergraduate, I heard that a trendy consultancy with a reputation for controversial practices had set an assignment for the students. 

Nothing unusual in applying studies to practice, but the idea was to come up with a creative approach to promote a new computer game, which has questionable ethics.  Its sole purpose was for the players – target market of young children – to crash whilst driving fast cars.  The more accidents they had, the more points they gained.

Given that ethics is a core part of the degree curriculum, I wondered what would be the outcome if a student submitted a report to their tutor justifying why they would turn down an invitation to pitch for such business. 

Indeed, I would fail anyone studying public relations who didn’t acknowledge the moral issues in such as assignment.

I mention this now as Autoblog reports a study by Peter Fischer at Ludwig-Maximilians University and the in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.  This claims a correlation between playing risk-taking road driving games with poor driving behaviour in real traffic conditions (amongst men but not women apparently).  Although I haven’t been able to track down the actual paper, it follows similar recent opinion research commissioned by .

Whether or not there is any cause or effect, it doesn’t strike me as being very responsible to encourage very young children to “win” by crashing a car – nor for young PR students to be expected to come up with ideas for promoting such activities.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

13 thoughts on “Should PR students promote car crash game to children?”

  1. It’s a bit like the dodgem cars at the funfair. Are the games kids play likely to affect their driving habits as adults though?

  2. Heather, I am the fiendish tutor who set the offending assignment. Surely the relationship – if there is one at all – between public relations and ethics is more complex than your post suggests?

  3. Jill – interesting thought regarding comparison to dodgem cars, although at least there there is some real consequence for crashing in terms of the physical experience. I am all for learning about road skills at a young age, but the concern for me is the lack of consequences in many computer games. Indeed, there has been some discussion on this issue also regarding warfare and how young soldiers are psyched up by playing computer games which depersonalise the enemy and make the player feel invincible.

  4. John – isn’t there any relationship between PR and ethics? I would have thought that was one of the most interesting and relevant aspects for students to consider – especially when they have the opportunity to work with such real life projects.

    The potential for the launch to attract negative attention, even opposition from activists and road safety groups, should require contingency plans regarding issues/crisis management within the campaign. Even if the aim was to be controversial, that requires asking “what if?” and deciding how to deal with it – as the recent cases in the US, such as the “fake bombs” in Boston revealed.

    Also, it was a good case to engage students in their personal ethical responsibilities and the question about whether there are any campaigns where they would refuse to work or at least raise their concerns with bosses. If we are teaching students about ethics, then we should follow through in enabling them to confront times where they are placed in difficult positions.

    Many may not see promoting such games as ethically difficult – but that in itself is an interesting aspect to pursue. Which brings me back to the question about the relationship between PR and ethics.

  5. I had a lengthy coversation with my son’s P6 teacher last Friday. She took a few years out in the 90s to look after her new born daughter. Upon her return to the teaching profession (late90s) she was alarmed at the obvious change in children’s behaviour. Basically, schools can’t cope with playground aggresion and she saw a sharp increase in the incidents involving violence in the playground. Anyway, her daughter has never had a playstation and she would never buy her one….

    I think a nationwide campaign is in order for parents to realise the extent of playgronid violence and the direct consequences such games have on their children moods and to buy relevant age marked games. Grannies, older children etc could all be included in the target audience.

    Some of our kids are out of control.

  6. Jill – it might sound old-fashioned, but my view is that children need to learn the boundaries. They also need to be taught games that they can play safely in the playground to get rid of their energies without being violent to each other. So I’d like to see a campaign that is positive around games – as well as encouraging the computer game manufacturers to take some responsibility with their games. Do we really need to have virtual violence for anyone though?

  7. Heather, could I ask you the same question? At a time when concern over global warming, congestion and transport issues generally has never been higher, how do you reconcile the ethical issues that arise from your work in the motor industry?

  8. John – good question, and indeed societal/ethical issues have been a core part of PR in the motor industry practically since its beginnings. As you know, ethical consideration works at three levels:

    Firstly, reflecting the practices/responsibilities of the industry and organisations with whom we work. Secondly, relating to the responsibilities of public relations as a responsible function in communicating outside the organisation and also counselling managers regarding issues/ethical practices. Thirdly, personal considerations regarding the motor industry and my own values and beliefs.

    I believe that in many respects, the motor industry has benefited society through personal mobility, improving safety of vehicles, and increasing investment in alternative fuels and other aspects of environmental concerns. However, it does have responsibilities to address issues relating directly to the industry, and those created by motorists and society more generally in respect of transport, the environment, safety, etc.

    In terms of PR responsibilities, I am commited to ethical communications and believe I have a reputation for not lying or engaging in propaganda techniques on behalf of clients. I encourage best practice in my role as General Secretary of MIPAA and promote adherence to the CIPR code to members, as well as organising training – including workshops on safer driving and Masterclasses on issues such as the environment and CSR.

    Personally, I feel sometimes the industry (like most organisations) is defensive or reactive rather than open and pro-active. As such, I continue to challenge clients and PR practitioners, at the very least to be aware of the consequences of their practices. I have championed sustainable CSR initiatives, based on my research background, and also declined work when I did not believe it was genuinely responsible. Indeed, my own views on the lack of environmental justification for motorsport are such that I have never worked in this area of PR.

    Unlike violent computer games, I believe that personal transport offers individuals and society many benefits. The motor industry has many issues to address – and I believe that PR can be, should be, and indeed is, part of the solution to ensuring greater responsibility.

  9. Do we really need to have virtual violence for anyone though?

    I don’t think so no, but we do and it’s probably here to stay. I’m with you on playgrond games. Our school is thinking of investing in an architect who is making plans to design the playground environment which, it is hoped, will make the area much more conducive to good old fashioned play.
    We used to have fun as kids playing “balls”, learning to bounce three or four off a wall in unison. Great fun! I’d happily go in and teach the girls a game of two, you never see that game these days.

    To comment on the above, it’s not obvious to me which of the big 4x4s pump out less polution than traditional saloons? Do people realise they are sometimes getting annoyed at the wrong drivers?

  10. I am interested in why people are annoyed with other drivers, in particular those driving 4x4s. We don’t go around the supermarkets berating people for buying strawberries that have travelled half way round the world at this time of year, or put stickers on the front door on neighbours with large houses, or introduce a special tax on anyone who uses a patio heater.

    As ever, it is cars that seem to be a symbol – in this case, of environmental concerns.

  11. I wrote a feature about steeplejacks once. One job they had was to build huge chimney stacks that were to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible because of the concerns the company had received from people berating them on the plumes of smoke and the resulting environmental damage of such constructions. They thought this would settle peoples fears….

  12. Who doesn’t love classic cars? Seems everybody does and hollywood has jumped on the bandwagon too. You see them in just about every movie and TV show now.

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