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Game Design - Lecture9 - Designers Ethical Responsibilities

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Zaid Bawab

on 18 January 2015

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Transcript of Game Design - Lecture9 - Designers Ethical Responsibilities

In some ways games might be dangerous and as new technologies arrive, there are also new ways for games to accidentally do harm. Of all the dangers that games might or might not contain, the one that is most real and undeniable for players of online games is the potential to meet with dangerous strangers. When most people think about making their online game “safe,” they think about making sure that children aren’t exposed to foul language. But while foul language may be inappropriate, it has nothing to do with safety. No, the real danger is the fact that online games can be a mask of anonymity which dangerous people can use to take advantage of innocents. If you are designing a game that involves strangers talking each other, you must take responsibility for what that might lead to. This is one of the rare cases where your choices in game design could cause lives to be saved or lost. You might think there is a one in a million chance of something dangerous happening in your game, but if that is true, and your game is so successful that five million people play it, that dangerous thing will happen five times.

Many designers decide that they cannot be held responsible for what happens in their game, and they leave it to the lawyers to decide what is and is not safe. But are you content to leave your ethical responsibility in the hands of corporate lawyers?

But you might argue that your game really is safe — there is no way it could do harm. And you might be right. Consider this: is it possible you could find a way for your game to do good? To somehow make people’s lives better? If you know this is possible, and you choose not to do it, isn’t that, in a way, just as bad as making a game that harms people?

This does not mean that the responsibility of game companies is to better the human race, even if it means losing some profits. The only responsibility of a game company is to make money. The responsibility for making games do good lies solely with you. This doesn't mean you should try to convince management that your title will be better if it can somehow improve mankind? Management won’t care about that — their job is to serve the corporation, and the corporation only cares about making money.
What this means is if you want to, you can design your games so that they will improve people’s lives, but you will probably need to do this in secret. Generally, it will not serve you well to tell management about how it is important to you that you use the powerful medium of games to help people, because if they know that is your goal, they will think your priorities are out of whack. But they aren’t. For if you make a game that is really good for people, but no one likes it (the game version of a broccoli smoothie), you haven’t helped anyone. The only way your games can serve humanity is if as many people play them as possible. The trick is to figure out what you can put into your best-selling games that will transform players for the better. You might think this impossible — that people only like what is bad for them. But it isn’t true. One thing people like better than almost anything else is being cared for. And if you can manage, through your game, to make your players into better people, they will feel, appreciate, and remember that rare feeling that someone else cares what they become.

The Secret Hidden in Plain Sight
The secret is not to overkill and put too much consideration into the effect that games have on people? Games are not just trivial amusements. Games are a means of creating experiences, and life itself is composed of nothing but experiences. Moreover, are ones where people live out their fantasies and strive to become what they have always secretly wished to be. Fantasy worlds created for children become modern mythology — shared story worlds that stay with them as a guiding compass for the rest of their lives. Game Designers create utopias: ideal societies to which all nations are compared. It is not enough to think of how games affect people today — Game Designers must consider how they will affect people tomorrow. You are working in, and inventing, the medium that will subsume all others. The medium that a person is immersed in when they are young defines how they will think for their entire lives. As you continue to invent and improve the medium of games, you are defining the thought process of the next generation. This is no trivial matter.
When you think about it, is there any human activity that cannot be viewed as a game, and therefore benefit from the principles of good game design?

The Ring
Have you ever thought about your pinky? How it is strangely smaller than all the other fingers? It almost seems like an accident — like some kind of withered appendage. But it isn’t. It has a purpose that most of us are completely unaware of. Your pinky guides your hand. Every time you pick something up or put something down on a surface, your pinky is there first, feeling things out like a little antenna and safely guiding the hand into position.

Designers Have Certain Responsibilities
Lecturer Zaid Bawab
The Danger of Obscurity
You should be prepared to understand that as a game designer, you are not going to get a lot of respect. If you manage to find a way to design games professionally, you can expect a lot of conversations like this:
FRIEND OF A FRIEND: So, what do you do?
YOU: I design videogames.
FRIEND OF A FRIEND: (clearly uncomfortable) Oh … so, like that Grand Theft Auto ?

Being Accountable
But you really can’t blame people. There is a lot of lurid material in the world of videogames, and lurid stories always get the most press. Slowly, this will surely change, as games become more and more mainstream. But even as it does, and it becomes less embarrassing to be a game designer, it will continue to be a profession where it is difficult to become famous, well-known, or respected. Screenwriters have the same problem: people generally don’t care who makes the things they like, and the publishers would rather you didn’t become famous anyway, because it makes you expensive.

Because you will be able to work in relative obscurity, no one is going to ask you to take responsibility for what you create. And you might say, “It’s not my name on the line, it’s the name of the publisher, and they’re so worried about getting sued, I’m sure they won’t let anything out the door that would hurt anybody. ” but are you sure? Corporations make mistakes all the time. And further, corporations have no ethical responsibility. Sure, they have to follow the law, but beyond that, their sole and single purpose is to generate money, and ethics don’t enter into it, because corporations have no souls. Bank accounts, yes, legal responsibility, yes, but not souls — and that means no ethical responsibility. Only individuals can take ethical responsibility. Are you going to assume that game company managers are going to take on that kind of personal responsibility? They might, but you and I know they probably won’t. No, there is only one person who can take responsibility for what you create, and that is you.
In 1922, Rudyard Kipling was asked by the University of Toronto to create a ritual to help remind graduating engineers of their obligation to help society. At the conclusion of this solemn ritual, still practiced today, the engineer is given an iron ring, placed on the pinky finger of their dominant hand, as a lifelong reminder of this obligation.
One day, game designers may concoct their own ritual of obligation, but you don’t have time to wait for that. Your obligation begins today — this minute. If you truly believe that games can help people, then, here — take this ring. It is invisiblle — that way, you can’t lose it. If you are willing to accept the responsibilities that go along with being a game designer, then you should put it on. Wear it as a reminder to let these responsibilities guide your hand. Think about it carefully before you put the ring on, though, because it doesn’t come off. Oh — and if you look closely, you’ll see it bears an inscription that says responsibility.
To live up to your obligations as a game designer, ask yourself this question:
● Does my game help people? How?
The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Second Edition
By Jesse Schell
If you aren’t willing to take personal responsibility for the games you make, you shouldn’t be making them.
Designers Ethical Responsibilities

Some people are afraid of anything new. This is not unreasonable: many new things are dangerous. Games and gameplay are not new, of course, they have been around since the dawn of man. And traditional games have their dangers: sports can cause physical injury, gambling can lead to financial ruin, and obsession with any pastime can lead to a life out of balance.
But these dangers are not new. They are well-known, and society has methods of handling them. What makes people nervous, especially parents, are the potential dangers of new types of games that have suddenly appeared in popular culture. Parents are always nervous when their children become immersed in something that the parents did not grow up with. As a parent, it is an uncomfortable feeling, because you have no idea how to properly guide your children and no idea how to properly keep them safe. The two areas that cause the most concern are violence and addiction.

Games and stories frequently feature violent themes, because games and stories are often about conflict, and violent action is a simple, dramatic way to settle a conflict. But no one worries much about the abstract violence that takes place in chess, Go, or Pac Man. Worries come about violence that is visually graphic. One focus group was trying to determine where the average mom drew the line about what videogames were “too violent ” for their kids. Virtua Fighter was okay, said the moms, Mortal Kombat was not. The difference?
Blood. It wasn’t the actions that were involved in the games that bothered them (both games are mostly about kicking your opponent in the face), but rather the graphic bloodshed in
Mortal Kombat that is completely absent in Virtua Fighter . They seemed to feel that without bloodshed, it was just a game — just imaginary. But the blood made the game creepily real, and to the moms in the interviews, a game that rewarded bloodshed felt perverse and dangerous.

But there have been many games without any visible blood that have raised concern. The 1974 game Death Race, based on the movie Death Race 2000, was a racing game that rewarded players for running down little animated pedestrians. When angry parents began to protest this game appearing in local arcades, the publisher tried to make people believe that they weren’t people, but “ goblins ” that you were supposed to run down with your car. No one believed that because the dangers of reckless driving are too real.

What accounts for these differences and inconsistencies?

A simple fear: playing games with realistic violent content might make people desensitized to real-world violence, or worse, make them feel that real-world violence is fun and pleasurable. How valid is this concern? It is hard to say for sure. We know it is possible to become desensitized to blood and gore: doctors and nurses must do this to function and make rational decisions during surgery. Soldiers and police officers must take it a step further and become desensitized to wounding and killing others, so they can think clearly in situations where they must commit violent acts. But this kind of desensitization isn’t what parents are worried about — after all, if playing videogames made people grow into better doctors and law enforcement officials, there wouldn’t be much cause for concern. No, the worry about game violence is about the apparent similarity between the videogame player and the murderous psychopath — after all, both kill for fun.

Despite the millions of people who play games with violent themes, it is rare to hear a story about someone who felt drawn to act out a violent game in real life. It would seem that the average person is very good at distinguishing the difference between the fantasy world and real world. With the exception of those who already have violent psychotic tendencies, most of us seem to be able to compartmentalize: We know that a game is just a game. But the concern that most have is not about adults — it is about children and teenagers who are still forming their views of the world. Are they able to safely compartmentalize violent play? We know they can with some kinds of play. Gerard Jones, in his book Killing Monsters, in fact makes the case that some level of violent play is not only natural, but necessary for healthy psychological development. But surely, there are limits. There are some images and ideas that children are not yet ready to deal with, and this is why rating systems for videogames are absolutely necessary so that parents can make informed choices about what their children can play with.

So, do violent videogames change us for the worse? Psychology is too imperfect a science to give a definitive answer, especially with something so new. So far, they don’t seem to have damaged our collective psyche, but as designers, we must be on guard. New advances in technology will continue to make possible more and more extreme types of violent play, and perhaps we will, without warning, find ourselves crossing some invisible line into gameplay that really does change people for the worse. This could seem unlikely, but to say that it is impossible would be arrogant and irresponsible.

Rating Computer Games
Game ratings are set by Entertainment Software
Rating Board. It started in 1994 by the Interactive DigitalSoftware Association (IDSA) and it is a consensus of at least three independent, trained raters, over 1,000 games are rated per year
Content Descriptors
Alcohol Reference - Reference to and/or images of alcoholic beverages
Animated Blood - Cartoon or pixelated depictions of blood
Blood - Depictions of blood
Blood and Gore - Depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts
Cartoon Violence - Violent actions involving cartoon-like characters. May include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been inflicted
Comic Mischief - Scenes depicting slapstick or gross vulgar humor
Crude Humor - Moderately vulgar antics, including bathroom humor
Drug Reference - Reference to and/or images of illegal drugs
Edutainment - Content of product provides user with specific skills development or reinforcement learning within an entertainment setting. Skill development is an integral part of product
Fantasy Violence - Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life
Gambling - Betting like behavior
Informational - Overall content of product contains data, facts, resource information, reference materials or instructional text
Intense Violence - Graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons, and depictions of human injury and death
Mature Humor - Vulgar and/or crude jokes and antics including "bathroom" humor
Mature Sexual Themes - Provocative material, possibly including partial nudity
Mild Language - Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use
Mild Lyrics - Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use in music
Mild Violence - Mild scenes depicting characters in unsafe and/or violent situations
Nudity - Graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity
Partial Nudity - Brief and mild depictions of nudity
Sexual Violence - Depictions of rape or other sexual acts
Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed - Early Childhood Descriptor only
Strong Language - Profanity and explicit references to sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use
Strong Lyrics - Profanity and explicit references to sex, violence, alcohol, or drug use in music
Strong Sexual Content - Graphic depiction of sexual behavior, possibly including nudity
Tobacco Reference - Reference to and/or images of tobacco products
Use of Drugs - The consumption or use of illegal drugs
Use of Alcohol - The consumption of alcoholic beverages
Use of Tobacco - The consumption of tobacco products
Violence - Scenes involving aggressive conflict
The second greatest fear people have about the dangers of gaming is that of addiction; that is, playing so much that it is interfering with or damaging more important things in life, such as school, work, health, and personal relationships. This is not just a concern about too much game playing, because after all, too much of anything (exercise, broccoli, vitamin C, oxygen) can be detrimental. No, this is a fear about compulsive behavior that a person in unable to give up, even though it is clearly having harmful consequences.

It is true that designers do continuously seek to create games that capture and engage the mind — games that make you want to keep playing. When someone is excited about a new game, it isn’t unusual for them to compliment it by saying “I love it! It’s so addictive! ” But by this, they rarely mean that the game is damaging their lives, but rather that they feel some kind of pull to keep returning to it. But there are people who play games so much that their lives suffer for it. Modern massively multiplayer games, with their huge worlds, social obligations, and multi-year play goals definitely draw certain people into self-destructive patterns of play. It is worth pointing out that self-destructive game playing is nothing new. Gambling is one form that has been around for ages, but it is a special case, since it is the exogenous, not endogenous rewards that are so addictive. Even without monetary rewards, though, there have long been cases of people playing games more than they should. The most common cases are college students. Playing so much that it is interfering with or damaging more important things in life, such as school, work, health, and personal relationships
grandparents could talk about classmates who had to drop out of school from spending too much time playing bridge. Stephen King’s novel Hearts in Atlantis is a story (based on true events) about college students who fail out of school due to their addiction to the card game of Hearts and end up drafted into the Vietnam war as a result. In the 1970s, overplay of Dungeons and Dragons led to poor academic performance, and today World of Warcraft serves as an uncontrollable temptation for many students.

Can Games Be Bad For You?
Nicholas Yee performed a very thoughtful study of the factors involved in “ problematic usage ” of games, where he shows that the reasons for self-destructive gameplay are different for different types of people, or as he says: The issue of MMORPG addiction is complex because different players are attracted to different aspects of the game, to different degrees, and may or may not be motivated by external factors that are using the game as an out- let. Sometimes the game is pulling the player in; sometimes a real-life problem is pushing the player in. Oftentimes, it is a combination of both. There is no one way to treat MMORPG addiction because there are many reasons why peo- ple become obsessed with or addicted to MMORPGs. If you consider yourself addicted to MMORPGs and your playing habits are causing you real life prob- lems, or if someone close to you has playing habits which are obsessive and unhealthy, consider seeking the help of a professional counselor or therapist who is trained in addiction problems.

There is no denying that for some people, this can be a real problem. The question is, what can game designers do about it? Some have suggested that if the designers wouldn’t build in such attractive qualities, the problem would go away. But to suggest that it is irresponsible for designers to create games that are “ too engaging ” is like saying that overeating is the fault of irresponsible bakers who insist on making cake taste “too delicious. ” It is incumbent upon game designers, who are responsible for the play experiences they create, to find ways to make game structures fit into a well-balanced life. We cannot forget this or pretend it is someone else’s problem. It should be on all our minds, just as it is on the mind of designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who often signs his autograph for children with the following note: On a sunny day, play outside .

So, do games change people? we aren’t really designing games, we are designing experiences. And experiences are the only things that can change people — sometimes in unexpected ways.
returning to the question of violence, consider, for a moment, what violence really is. Not the violence of stories or games, but real-world violence. In the real world, violence is seldom a means toward an end; instead, it is a form of communication — one that people resort to when all else fails. It is a desperate way of saying “I’m going to show you how much you are hurting me! ”
We are just starting to understand how games can change us. It is imperative that we learn more about how they do, because the more we learn, the more we can use them not just as an amusement, but as a valuable tool for improving the human condition.

Gamification is the use of game mechanics and game design techniques in non-game contexts.

Typically gamification applies to non-game applications and processes, in order to
encourage people to adopt them
influence how they are used

Gamification works by making technology more engaging, by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors, by showing a path to mastery and autonomy, by helping to solve problems and not being a distraction, and by taking advantage of humans' psychological predisposition to engage in gaming. The technique can encourage people to perform chores that they ordinarily consider boring, such as completing surveys, shopping, filling out tax forms, or reading web sites.

Available data from gamified websites, applications, and processes indicate potential improvements in areas like user engagement, ROI (Return Of Investment), data quality, timeliness, or learning.
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