Job opening: PhD position in Video Games and Moral Improvement (21728)

Artificial IntelligenceCognitive ScienceComputer EngineeringData AnalyticsData ScienceSoftware programming
Tilburg University, the Netherlands
Oct 01, 2023 21:59:00 GMT+00:00
Apply Now
Online Application
Save 0
  • Department- Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence
  • Location- Tilburg
  • Full-time equivalent- 1.0 FTE (40 hours per week)
  • Monthly full-time gross salary- €2.541 (first year) – €3.247 (fourth year)
  • Duration of employment contract- 12 and 36 months 

Your position

The Cognitive Science & Artificial Intelligence department at Tilburg University invites applications for one fully funded PhD position in the area of video games and moral improvement, embedded within the Human-AI Interaction Research Unit.

The PhD researcher will use methods from cognitive science and artificial intelligence to better understand how mechanisms of moral decision-making are engaged in video game decisions. The goal of this project is to leverage these insights to improve moral decision-making with a serious video game. Game design and hypotheses will in part be influenced by rigorous review of existing interdisciplinary literature on moral decision-making, moral education, moral improvement, etc., as well as consultations with stakeholders, including researchers in universities that are a part of this project’s research network and public/private stakeholders.  

The PhD candidate will be expected to use machine learning and player modelling techniques, which are currently not represented in the extant literature on moral game design or in experiments with them, to perform cutting-edge research, publish on these topics, and be an active part of the research community associated with Human-AI Interaction Research Unit. 

Project description

We have reason to believe that at least some video game players engage with video games morally. We know, for example, that if given an opportunity they are more likely to make in-game decisions that are in line with their moral values, even if it will lead to in-game net loss. In that sense, they engage in moral decision-making during play.

The key factor in designing games that engage players morally is to facilitate breaking out of the “magic circle”, that is, the state of mind when players treat their in-game decisions as inconsequential. Game designers can do this by increasing immersion, creating narratives that players relate to, and by taking advantage of sensors that monitor player reactions. 

One reason to create games that engage players morally is to better understand the cognitive processes behind moral decision-making. Another is to facilitate the development of skills relevant to moral decision-making.  Recently, video games have been considered as tools for moral education, especially when their design “facilitates ethically significant gameplay – defined here to mean in-game actions that provoke moral reflection” (Staines, et al 2019, p. 272). Design strategies for such games focus on one or more of the four lenses for engaging moral psychology through video games (Moral Focus, Moral Sensitivity, Moral Judgment, and Moral Action) (Staines, Formosa, and Ryan 2019; Ryan, Staines, and Formosa 2017). The ultimate goal of this project is to improve one of these aspects of moral decision-making with a video game developed in Tilburg University Game Lab.

Project Team

Prof. dr. ir. Pieter Spronck (Promotor)Dr. Michał Klincewicz (Daily co-supervisor / PI)Dr. Paris Mavromoustakos Blom (Daily co-supervisor) 

Your qualifications

  • Master’s degree in computer science, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, data science or related fields.
  • Strong algorithmic and programming skills (Python / C# / C++ / JavaScript / Or similar).
  • Excellent knowledge of English and good academic writing skills.
  • Interest (and ideally, research and coding experience) in machine learning techniques and frameworks (e.g., scikit-learn).
  • Interest (and ideally, research and coding experience) in game development frameworks (e.g., Unity, Unreal engine, or similar)
  • A plus, but not required: prior experience in behavioral research methods, developmental or cognitive psychology, and/or moral philosophy.

 Our offer

This is a position for 1.0 FTE (40 hours per week) of the full-time working week. The selected candidate will start with a contract for one year. Upon a positive outcome of the first-year evaluation, the candidate will be offered an employment contract for the remaining three years.

The salary amounts to a minimum of €2.541 and a maximum of €3.247 gross per month for full-time employment contract, based on UFO profile PhD student and salary scale number PhD’s of the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities


Tilburg University uses a neutral salary system for scaling that is based on relevant education and work experience. You are entitled to a vacation allowance of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% of your gross annual income. If you work 40 hours per week, you will receive 41 paid days of leave per year.

Researchers from outside the Netherlands may qualify for a tax-free allowance equal to 30% of their taxable salary (the 30% tax regulation). The University will apply for such an allowance on their behalf. We offer assistance in finding accommodation (for foreign employees).TIU has fine benefits such as an options model for terms and conditions of employment and reimbursement of moving expenses, also including excellent technical infrastructure, savings schemes and excellent sports facilities. 

The collective labor agreement of the Dutch Universities applies

Tilburg University offers excellent employment conditions. We think flexibility, professional and personal development, and good employee benefits are important. We make clear agreements about career paths and offer all kinds of facilities and schemes to maintain an optimal balance between work and private life. You can also follow numerous training courses, for example, in the areas of leadership skills, personal effectiveness, and career development.   

Tilburg University values an open and inclusive culture. We embrace diversity and encourage the mutual integration of groups of employees and students. We focus on creating equal opportunities for all our employees and students, so that everyone feels at home in our university community. Tilburg University has a lively campus in beautiful green surroundings that is easily accessible by public transport. We are committed to a sustainable society and challenge you to make an active contribution. Please visit working at Tilburg University for more information on our terms of employment.  

Information and application

More detailed project information can be provided on request: please contact Dr. Michal Klincewicz ( To apply, please submit:

  • a motivation letter in which you describe why you want to do this research, and why you are the right person to do it; 
  • a full curriculum vitae, demonstrating academic excellence, including publications (if applicable);
  • academic transcripts of your Bachelor and Master’s degrees;
  • a sample of writing, such as your Master’s thesis or a relevant paper;
  • contact details of two academic referees.

The only way to apply is online. The position will remain open until filled; if no suitable candidate will be found, it will close on September 15th, at which point no further applications will be accepted. The first application interviews will start on a rolling basis from July 4th onward. The starting date of this position is negotiable but should be in the second half of 2023.

Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences

Research and education at the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences (TSHD) has a unique focus on humans in the context of the globalizing digital society, on the development of artificial intelligence and interactive technologies, on their impact on communication, culture and society, and on moral and existential challenges that arise. The School of Humanities and Digital Sciences consists of four departments: Communication and Cognition, Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence, Culture Studies and Philosophy; several research institutes and a faculty office. Also the University College Tilburg is part of the School. Each year around 275 students commence a Bachelor or (Pre) Master Program. The School has approximately 2000 students and 250 employees.

Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences

Recruitment code

Tilburg University applies the recruitmentcode of the Dutch Association for Personnel Management & Organization Development (NVP).


The text of this vacancy advertisement is copyright-protected property of Tilburg University. Use, distribution and further disclosure of the advertisement without express permission from Tilburg University is not allowed, and this applies explicitly to use by recruitment and selection agencies which do not act directly on the instructions of Tilburg University. Responses resulting from recruitment by non-contractors of Tilburg Universities will not be handled.