Ironyca asked a question I’ve been thinking on ever since I read it. This came to mind again recently in light of supposed suicide of Saldahna, the UK nurse who was prank called by Australian DJ’s. I got to thinking about the ethics of game design. I know, I can’t stop my brain some times.
In Ironyca’s article, the subject was World of Warcraft and the fun factor of dailies. She raised questions about the role of dailies in having fun and this raised three issues for me: addiction quests, fun quests, and whether quests are made to be fun or just addicting. At the time of the reading, I was really struck by the issue or how it seemed like such a non-issue despite it’s implications. On it’s face this was just a short article about daily quests, but the questions stuck in my mind. I’ve spent some time trying to answer those questions and here’s what I’ve come up with:
We’ve got a lot of unethical game design going on. It’s bad. It’s contributing to bad ideas and promoting unhealthy communities of gamers. It’s making otherwise immoral acts normative and therefore acceptable to gamers. I know, this is a really rough indictment, but I think I can show that it’s not an extreme view of things and in fact it’s the normal state of things. This is what makes the problem invisible to us. This is what will make many of you say “I don’t see the problem.”
I think game designers want to make good games that players will love and appreciate. I don’t doubt that is their aim. But this problem of ethics has more to do with the unquestioning widespread of use of devices which are questionable. It would seem that game designers either aren’t questioning these things, blindly employing them to make games, or else they don’t see anything wrong with using them. But designers are also well-aware of what they can gain from designing their games a certain way. This is the fundamental source of the ethics problem. This then leads to questions of responsibility: does the designer feel responsible for impacts her/his creation has on players? Are they responsible? Can a person be responsible for someone else’s behavior? I think yes. I think when a parent is in public with a small child and the child throws a tantrum at the ice cream shop, the parent apologizes to the others for the bad behavior and works to correct it. But how about a grown-up analogy? Corporations routinely provide guidance on the behavior of their employees, violation of which can lead to said employee’s dismissal and which always prompts a legal team into action to correct the mishap. So we do accept that people can have responsibility over others.
Then we get down to discovering how we feel about psychological and behavioral manipulation. Recently on the gaming podcast Cat Context #16, Arolaide described a downloadable game she’s been playing (the name escapes me this moment). The game gives you 5 free attempts to win and thereafter you must pay to have additional attempts. Otherwise you must wait a few hours to have 1 more opportunity to win. Few of us would NOT call this manipulative, money-grabbing game design, fully malicious, brazenly Skinner. Yet most of us would defend the traditional use of daily quests which is precisely the same mechanic; it asks you to remain in the store to entice you to buy more. Why is one acceptable and the other not? Indulge me here; let’s see if we can’t deconstruct some of the problems with these devices.
I’ve intentionally chosen to focus on the less overt features of unethical games. While I acknowledge that violent games raise more obvious questions, the entire point I’m making here is that there are more subtle features we should be paying attention to which are just as problematic.
Also, lacking the ability to physically quote from textbooks (which can’t be freely linked to) which have helped inform my knowledge on the material that follows, I’ve done my best to collect links from reasonable sources which can help readers follow along.
First, say this with me: Ethics is hard. It’s damn hard. And the difficulty is primarily in it’s application. Say it again until this sentence burns in your mind, until you see it’s residual image as you read the rest of this article.
People tend to equate “easy” with “right/sensible thing to do.” It happens all the time, I do it without even thinking and I’ve seen others do much the same no matter where I am or who it is. To some extent, we necessarily make little assumptions like this because it could otherwise make us unproductive (paralysis by analysis). People often are confronted with moral dilemmas and if something seems too difficult, too incredulous, too unbelievable …they might just say that the solution is impractical, is impossible, and therefore the best we can do is what’s easiest: ignore it. Ethics is hard in our world. The right thing to do is incredibly hard to know and standby, and often our system of things discourages it while rewarding bad behavior. Ethics is hard. If we chose the easiest thing, but not the right thing, we must accept that as an immoral action. It’s a choice we consciously make and yet when we chose wrongly (and know the problem) we tend to defend it even if given ordinary circumstances we might see it as wrong. This is why denial is such a predictable reaction to any bad news. It’s offensive to suggest we do immoral things or that our governments/countries are immoral institutions. This equally applies to our video games and what we think of design. The ethics of game design is a very quiet discussion due in part to a belief that their morality can be taken for granted and in part because no one wants to look at the elephant in the room. It’s ugly.
My first premise is horribly subjective, but here goes: We do not live in a moral world. Food surpluses and starving populations could not occur simultaneously in a moral world where everyone knows that both exist. Therefore, moral behavior is exceptional. Therefore, much of what we do in this world is unethical.
Therefore, most of our video games are designed unethically.
Ethics is about morality. It’s not based on man-made statutes nor popular behavior. It is a way of relating to other human beings and of defining those relationships through mutually beneficial behaviors. When we talk about behaving ethically, we’re talking about the Golden Rule at a minimum. However, ethics is about more than doing the minimum required to reach Nirvana or whatever high moral status you strive to achieve. That would diminish the greatness of Nirvana were it to be thought of as doing the minimum; it entirely misses the point. The Golden Rule has profound implications on how we govern our daily lives; it is deceptively simple. It is hard to live by. In recent years (for serious health reasons) I’ve had to become a vegetarian and I’m heading towards vegan as well. The thing is, even though I know the misery created by eating chicken (this link is not for the faint of heart), it was amazingly difficult to stop buying those dead chickens. I knew my actions were wrong by the dread I felt in the checkout line. I felt like a bad person. If this chicken had been kicked, choked, or tortured in front of me I would likely have tried to stop the person who was doing so. Yet, since the chicken is already dead, already seasoned with rosemary and baked to juicy perfection, it is hard not to eat it. I don’t shy away from being wrong for supporting the torture of chickens by eating them. It is what it is. But damn if it isn’t hard to do the right thing. Still, this one immoral act doesn’t make me an entirely immoral person. It means I’ve erred and I need to correct my errors.
To be ethical we should act authentically in our good behavior. Being good in order to avoid the fires of hell or whatever other punishments we might associate with it is not acting ethically. It’s merely self-preservation. And yes, self-preservation is a moral act but if one act could determine our morality we’d all be living saints. This is the reason social/political laws aren’t typically good guides for ethical behavior. They tend to strictly define what a society is willing to accept. Often the rule is constructed in the first place because we aren’t sure how else to solve a problem. Political laws are necessarily arbitrary.
However, morality requires accountability and responsibility foremost and that will be the aspect I focus on here. Without these, it’s impossible to talk about ethics and to apply them. Lacking these two things, it is impossible to act morally. This point will be key throughout the article in showing how institutions and processes can be immoral.
To make my case on the ethics of game design it will take some explaining of a few concepts, but I promise I will tie this all back to why it seems unlikely that most games have been ethically designed. If this is true, then we have a real problem on our hands. One we are often fearful to bring up because of what it says about us.
Having Fun & Play
One of the links in Ironyca’s article helped me to get my little research started. It was a link referring to a study by Roger Caillois, a French Sociologist who took up the study of the definition of fun and games. This quote from the Wikipedia article gives us a summary of what he came up with, emphasis mine:
Caillois disputes Huizinga’s emphasis on competition in play. He also notes the considerable difficulty in defining play, concluding that play is best described by six core characteristics: it is free, or not obligatory; it is separate (from the routine of life) occupying its own time and space; it is uncertain, so that the results of play cannot be pre-determined and so that the player’s initiative is involved; it is unproductive in that it creates no wealth and ends as it begins; it is governed by rules that suspend ordinary laws and behaviours and that must be followed by players; and it involves make-believe that confirms for players the existence of imagined realities that may be set against ‘real life’.
The context of the study is examining how society institutionalizes and corrupts the forms of play (competition, chance, mimicry, and vertrigo) with how we employ it’s principles to our daily lives. To quote some examples from the article: “… [competition] is seen as a cultural form in sports, in an institutional form as economic competition and as a corruption in violence and trickery; [chance] is seen as a cultural form in lotteries and casinos, as an institutional form in the stock market and as a corruption in superstition and astrology …“ I like to think of it as a the gamification of our values. This is especially fitting material for exploring corruption of the ethics of our games.
Just think of all the games we love which turn out to not actually be games if we take this definition as it is. Sorry, Diablo 3 (it’s productive)! Sorry, World of Warcraft (dailies …oh, hell EVERY MMO)! Sorry Farmville! Pretty damning. Now I’m not implying there aren’t some gamey, fun & play aspects of these games despite their violation of some rules. I’m not sure they all need to be applied simultaneously, but maybe they do. I think the point is that if a game violates any one of these, it’s probably not a game about fun & play, but rather it’s something else. This is acceptable since it doesn’t diminish our personal preference for said games nor attack that preference.
So for the sake of argument, let’s accept his definition of fun & games. Suppose his definition is fact, which seems a pretty good starting point anyway even if there exist exceptions or if it’s not all encompassing. Surely we can discuss the ethics of game design from this perspective. The definition is based on leisure.
The important characteristic seems to me that play must be free or non-obligatory, and therefore unproductive. Most of you reading this are gamers, so the implications are probably filling your heads and especially if you’re pairing up your conclusion with daily quests in mind. Daily quests are strictly obligatory and anti-fun & gamey by nature. Their ultimate impact is to remind players to play the game each day to get their reward for doing so. In fact, I haven’t known any gamer who blogs to deny that quests are designed based on Skinner techniques. What’s unsettling is how accepting we are of that, how we believe it’s sort of natural (I hate to use that word but the context seems fitting) that games use quests or features in this way. Whatever we may individually think of this, what’s true regardless is that Skinner techniques have become normative. We accept this because of their ubiquity in games. If that’s true, then many games violate the rules of fun and play, and thus we don’t play them necessarily for fun and leisure. We find dailies to be non-problematic ethically because behavioral and psychological manipulation is institutionalized. We play them because we feel compelled, because it’s easy to be rewarded, because maybe we’re addicted.
What necessarily follows is that games which employ these techniques are, by definition, not fun and they’re potentially not games at all. They’re something else.
If a game is based on Skinner techniques in it’s core design, it’s not a game. It’s a software device developers have created to keep you playing, often because the model is profitable. It’s like tricking the rat in the box into thinking they are winning a game. In fact, they are being controlled in an environment they’re barely aware of.
Another shock is how accepting players are of that. Again, I reference the popular notion amongst game bloggers that many game mechanics are addicting. Few deny this . As a group we just accept this as the way of things. But by making this normative, we accept the implications which are often malicious. Why malicious? Because there are reasons a developer might prefer to make addicting games rather than fun ones, and among those reasons is the incentive to make money. In the age of online games and micro-transactions, of Facebook and Real Money Trading (RMT), companies need to increasingly get their hooks on as vast an audience as possible to cash in as much as possible. No one disputes this either.
That is the power of normalizing dangerous behavior.
So what’s bad about Skinner box techniques? You may have noticed I didn’t point this out, but fear not! Since you’re still reading so far, I won’t disappoint.
Skinner box techniques don’t have a monopoly on contributing to addiction. In fact, addiction is probably a strong word for what the technique attempts. It’s a way of conditioning behavior with rewards — conditioning. This means priming a subject to respond in certain ways by the promise of rewarding them for doing so. This is not addiction, but more akin to training the subject’s behavior. Now this will likely lead to addiction, but the difference is that the technique is devised to train, not addict. Think of potty training when you were a one year old. However, the technique can also be used to create the circumstances for addiction.
In game design, developers use this technique most often when designing what’s lovingly called the fun-loop. The idea is that the more random the reward output (variable ratio), the more steady player participation; whereas fixed reward output (fixed ratio) leads to greater player inactivity punctuated by bursts of high activity. In both cases, the loop serves to promote continuous action (game play) until the win condition (reward) is achieved. So-called “good” game design will use the random technique, because it keeps players playing longer and more consistently. That’s all well and good, so long as a moral dilemma doesn’t crop up. And before I explain that dilemma, let’s get a further grasp on addiction.
I don’t use the term lightly. There are many things to understand about addiction. It’s a very broad term encompassing a range of different kinds of psychological and physical behaviors, all with their own unique characteristics. Even just focusing on addictions common to gaming, there’s no way to harp on a singular manifestation. What I’ll do instead of attempting to write a thesis on addiction in the space of a paragraph is to explain it’s relevance to the topic of ethics. I’ll summarize the ways in which games, by their mechanics, can aim to promote and create addiction. I’ll also argue that developers consciously design mechanics not for the benefit of the player, but for the benefit of themselves. Note that addiction isn’t something that games are especially prone to producing or any other such nonsense.
Those suffering from gaming addiction suffer from Behavioral Addiction (sometimes called Process Addiction). This is when a person becomes addicted to an activity. My point here is only that game design can absolutely encourage addiction. It’s often designed into the fabric of the game with the intent to cash in on a persons compulsion to play the game. This is what can happen when we make gaming a kind of mandatory daily activity which all other things might be scheduled around.
Now some players do dailies without becoming addicted. They just feel compelled to login each day, get their reward and go about their business. Fun & leisure isn’t the point, but satisfaction and reward. They won’t experience withdrawals if they don’t login for a few days or a week or any other signs of addiction. However, moral dilemma begins when addiction would be very beneficial to the company selling the game.
With that explained, I want to add some caveats. Addiction isn’t inevitable by participating in any activity. It’s also not cut and dry, and it can be influenced by other types of addiction. Some individuals are more prone to addiction than others. And so forth. Remember that all of that is irrelevant. The issue at hand is the intentional, deliberate design of games to specifically encourage Skinner behavior and/or addiction in order to make money. The issue is ethical game design. This goes far beyond mere training; it’s raw reprogramming with intent. Perhaps it’s not ironic that game programmers/designers understand how to rewire our brains; perhaps that makes perfect sense in ways we can’t currently wrap our heads around. Let’s also keep in mind the definition of fun and games so that we ask ourselves what video games have become: are they designed for leisurely fun or for compulsion for profit? It’s possible that the truth has become obscured. Somewhere along the line game design went from focusing on fun and play to instead on compelling players to play them more to maximize profit potential. This easily leads one to assume that a compelling activity is a fun activity or that an addicting activity is obviously fun. These are bad assumptions.
Now …can addiction be fun? Well, I don’t know that I’d want to make such a statement. Can a person enjoy themselves in a prison? I’m sure the hopelessness of indefinite captivity can be punctuated by moments of laughter and happiness, but let’s not confuse the indomitable nature of the human spirit with imprisonment being a fun and good thing. If one could agree that imprisonment is generally a very bad thing, then one must also conclude that addiction is also a very bad thing; that Skinner techniques serve to train an individual into a behavioral cycle difficult for them to break. Imprisonment.
“But, but,” you say “what makes you think these are necessarily bad things and why is trying to make money malicious and how do you conclude that just because it’s addicting it’s not fun?” All good and hard questions worthwhile to address. I conclude that a person should feel no obligation to play a game and have fun, and that compulsion is contrary to what it means to actually play and have fun. People should feel no compulsion while participating in leisure activities. “But there are professional poker players!” you say. Yes, but poker for professionals is not, in fact, a leisure activity. However much we might enjoy our work, we don’t do it for leisure. So that while it’s possible to have fun and play at work, to have work is not to necessarily have fun and play. The two are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the example of Pro Poker proves Callois’s point: that we have institutionalized the values of fun and games in corrupt ways.
That brings me to the next part in exploring the ethics of game design: is the game designer responsible for the outcomes of playing their game? A very thorny issue which I don’t even pretend to have the answer to, but which I think I have some questions we can start with. I will say that it’s very problematic, but more parties than the designer are involved and thus the whole of responsibility might not lie with designers alone. I’d also say that if you’re designing your game with the express intent to compel players to play it through Skinner techniques, you’re absolutely responsible. But first, let’s define responsibility.
Having Accountability for Responsibility
Accountability is about answerability and assigning responsibility. Let’s again borrow some definitions from reliable sources:
In ethics and governance, accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving. [...] Accountability cannot exist without proper accounting practices; in other words, an absence of accounting means an absence of accountability.
- The state of being responsible, accountable, or answerable.
- Responsibility is a heavy burden.
- A duty, obligation or liability for which someone is held accountable.
- Why didn’t you clean the house? That was your responsibility!
- The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not to dominate the world – Harry S. Truman
Accountability produces responsibility. Responsibility is the state of being accountable. Individuals have responsibility, not processes, institutions, or objects though it is possible to imbue those things with responsibility. Still, as humans pride ourselves on being intellectually brilliant creatures with freewill and control, we can’t be content with blaming institutions or processes for their failings. Those are ultimately our failure.
Accountability is a process of ensuring an accounting is made. It’s true that sometimes these terms can be synonymous or interchangeable, but what I want to do here is to distinguish making an accounting of and being responsible for that account. If you’ve ever heard the phrases “Oh no one is responsible // no one could have known // it’s no one’s fault” after, say … an economic meltdown caused by companies and banks making outrageous or risky bets using ethereal products …then you have witnessed the difference between lack of accountability and how it leads to a lack of responsibility. In these situations, it’s often unclear where the blame lies precisely because processes have been made so obscure or in many cases processes have been lacking at all to account for the risks and results.
So ethics in games. Where do we go with this information? Well, all combined, we get a scenario in which game developers have cut their teeth using Skinner box techniques and it’s all the “fun” they know how to make. In fact, these developers are highly, highly likely to defend their use and to say things like “Skinner is fun.” Who was responsible for teaching game designers these things? Themselves? Their schools? The industry for setting standard practices? It’s impossible to know given the situation. And there’s the rub. There’s no accountability and no one will therefore claim responsibility. Recall what I said in the introduction that it’s impossible to act morally without the presence of accountability and responsibility. All will defend their honor as moral persons who have their customers’ best interests in mind. Meanwhile the designers themselves are trapped in a Skinner system in which good behavior isn’t rewarded as often as bad ones; best to manipulate people into buying your games and be sure to grab $10 million than to do the right thing, risk going broke, and closing down your studio. These are very real risks and very real problems that are difficult to talk about, let alone solve. But Morality is hard. This does not justify doing wrong things because the risks are too great. The risks are compounded the longer “wrong” things continue to be done. In other words, the longer we operate under this rule-set, the harder it is to right the wrongs.
What we do know is that lacking accountability, people feel inclined to defend the current state of affairs because they reason that devs aren’t stupid, and no one would willfully continue a harmful system; no, they would change it if it was so bad. Therefore, it must not be so bad and the consequences are being exaggerated. In other words, arguments that things are not as they seem. That may be true, but it’s also irrelevant. Systems are perpetuated by its participants and one doesn’t have to carry ALL of the responsibility for the results. We all play our part and we all have a piece of responsibility to claim. The process isn’t corrupt despite the participation of moral developers; it’s corrupt because of their participation. In other words, to act morally, they must reject bad practices and cease supporting them.
The End Result
Ethics is hard. It’s damn hard. And the difficulty is primarily in it’s application. But why? Because ethics aren’t just lofty ideals; morality requires action and sometimes we just don’t know how we should act under the circumstances. This doesn’t absolve us a responsibility to act. Nor can we claim to be moral actors just because the circumstances too hard, the problem too large.
I think we know responsibility best in a practical sense as duty. As being accountable. It means something we must do because we are concerned about the outcomes or impacts of something. Do game designers have a responsibility to their players when it comes to addiction and behavior conditioning mechanics?
Suppose there’s an invisible oil slick on a stairwell. No one can see it but you. You know that if you step on it, you’ll fall down the stair and break your neck. Do you have a duty to put a sign near the stair warning others of the invisible slick? Do you have a duty to clean it up? Cordon it off? If someone who walks there falls down the stair and breaks their neck, do you have some responsibility for the accident? After all you didn’t put the slick there and you didn’t volunteer to be the only person who could see it. All of us would likely agree that you should do something about the slick, even though you didn’t put it there.
Now take it a step further. Suppose $1 million dollars automatically fell down from heaven for every person that fell down the stair. You have the power to just remove it and prevent any accident from ever happening. If you instead leave it there but put a sign next to it to warn people of the oil slick, do you bear any responsibility if a person walks on it and falls to their death? All of you would likely agree that accidents happen, regardless of fore knowledge. Therefore, if you can prevent an accident by removing the obstacle, you should do so. It is immoral to do otherwise.
How about another scenario where I’m walking down the street past a swimming pool. In the pool I see a child drowning. Do I have a duty to save the child? I don’t know them and it’s not my fault they’re drowning. Suppose there are 35 children in the pool and only one is drowning. Do you have an obligation to save the sole drowning child? Or is it OK to say that the most children in the pool aren’t drowning and therefore there isn’t a problem? Most of us would conclude it’s wrong to let the child drown. This is meant to illustrate one point: We have a responsibility to act when we know something is going wrong. There’s no morally significant difference between killing and letting die; abusing and letting abuse; inflicting suffering and letting suffer. If a game you create is having detrimental effects on even a single person in your audience, you have a duty to reexamine the nature of your game and try to eradicate the cause of the bad effects.
But what about those who do see the problems and try to help? What’s the extent of their responsibility?
Let’s assume you’re sailing on your boat fishing and as you’re coasting along the beautiful blue shark infested seas you see a swimmer out in the water drowning. You throw them a life preserver, turn around, and continue to fish. The person catches the life saver, but as stated before the waters are infested with sharks. They get eaten by the sharks as they struggled to crawl into the boat. Are you responsible? You threw them some help, after all so that they could save themselves. What is the extent of your responsibility in this scenario?
Or more to the point. Suppose you design a bridge to allow children to cross an alligator filled bay. You get $1 for every child that crosses. In building it you can choose between two kinds of materials: one which is readily available, easy to assemble, but which has a 90% chance to break; or you can choose a much more difficult to acquire, difficult to assemble material, but which has a 89% chance to break. If the bridge fails, children trying to get to the other side will fall into the bay and get eaten by alligators. You must chose between only these 2 materials. Which one of these materials is the ethical choice? Is that 1% morally significant? Should we strive for the best possible conditions despite the difficulty or disregard progress in order to have it easy?
We can be responsible for things even when we didn’t cause them or create the circumstance. When we know something is wrong we have a duty to act to fix it. It’s entirely possible to bear some responsibility for bad outcomes, even if they are not of your making, even if you didn’t intend them, and even if responsibility is shared.
As for the decisions we make as gamers, many of us know when a game has crossed the line into addiction. Or when it’s feeding our bad habits. We know it to ourselves even if we don’t talk about it publicly. Is it wrong to enjoy a game for the sole reason that it feels rewarding to play? Is it OK to play games NOT for fun, but to get your daily reward in life? Suppose we live harsh lives, have mind-numbing, unrewarding jobs; are usually never recognized for who we are or for our contributions int his life. Is it wrong to get those things from a game? Arguably that’s exactly what we do. And that’s exactly why many gamers demand Skinner, are willing to look for the bright side of addiction or to defend designers who do so. We need to feel rewarded at some point in our day. We need to recognized for some kind of achievement. Usually the world just isn’t so. For the ordinary person like me, we have our triumphs but work can be unrewarding. “Work” in games is usually eager to reward us. Today’s mobile and downloadable games market feeds upon that need. It’s why Zynga is more hailed and loved by Wall Street than it is by gamers themselves.
I’ll grant that because we live in an immoral world, it’s more difficult than ever to discern when we’re perpetrating bad acts. It’s true that we often don’t understand the consequences of our actions. The environment makes it difficult to calibrate our moral compass. Often the best we can do is once we have learned what’s wrong, to accept the duty to act accordingly. Denying responsibility does not make it so. It’s self-deception in the hopes of convincing others of the same so that we can feel better ourselves, validate our belief that we’re moral persons.
Most importantly, just because you perform an immoral act doesn’t make you an immoral person. It’s continually repeating that act despite the consequences that is definitely immoral. We are allowed to err. We’re allowed to make mistakes and learn. But we shouldn’t deny our errors, or we risk not learning and therefore risk repeating the offending acts. This is how games come to be unethical; the unquestioning or the ignoring or the defending of devices which don’t deserve a defense. It’s the defense when we err. It’s the denial when faced with the prospect that something we created out of love and hope has harmed someone.
I conclude that if video games are designed as leisure activities which promote fun & play, then there’s a lot of non-games currently on market; lots of software designed to extract wealth. I conclude that there’s a serious moral dilemma, a conflict of interest between developers making money and the risks they will take to the detriment of gamers. I think we have to conclude that whenever a developer is deciding whether or not to take responsibility for design or else go bankrupt and be reduced to poverty, we have a very serious ethical problem.
Daily quests aren’t the pinnacle of awesome game design fun nor is it the sulfur that fuels the fires in hell. While players may benefit from game play features such as dailies, that feature isn’t likely designed on the basis of player enjoyment, but rather on a financial need of the developer. It’s not OK to profit by manipulating other people into any behaviors.
Psychological manipulation is not a necessary ingredient for making good, profitable games. Deliberate use of techniques by game designers to psychologically condition players into playing the game are questionable at best, downright evil at worst. For now, it seems that it’s inevitable that many of our games are unethical; that they are designed for some other purpose than fun & play, of leisure entertainment, or hobby …ism (?). The end product should be delivering something to the player, not taking something away or even damaging their lives. It’s true that gamers have a responsibility here too, to themselves and to others. This isn’t about dropping the burden solely at the feet of game makers, but rather about pointing out the serious ethical issues plaguing our games, our game designers, and our industry.
How hard could it be to not deliberately manipulate your players in questionable ways?
It would be nice if the Golden Rule were as easy to do in practice as it sounds on paper. Ethics is hard and its application is the hardest of all.
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