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No market for 'good games'?

Embassy of Time


No, this is not about the quality of modern games, don't worry.

At the start of the year, a small handful of 'business angels' gave me a limited budget to come up with a game, both in concept, gameplay, and code. The basic idea was "a game that makes it fun to do good deeds", and the money was meant to allow me to work part time on it for the first half of the year. Through a lot of meetings, a lot of research, and a ton of different outlines and mockups, we got a few concepts moved into the very early test stages. The period laid out is now coming to an end, so what is the verdict?

"There really is no point in trying to push a way of living (doing good deeds) on people who don't want it, and the ones who already live that life don't need it."

Although this is paraphrasing a lot, it is pretty on the nose. Making good deeds fun is pointless, because those who disagree won't be swayed by a game, and those who agree don't need the game as a reason to do good deeds. I understand that, perfectly. I even, much to my displeasure, agree mostly with it. But it SCARES THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF ME, nonetheless.

It basically means that it is highly unlikely for anything positive to change negative behaviour, in my mind. Games won't make you try to be a better person, or healthier, or more informed in your decisions. Part of it is the flipside of "violent games don't make kidsviolent". Bad things in games don't inspire bad things in people. But apparently, good things don't inspire good things, either.

I want to make the world better. I honestly hoped to find a way to press my foot inside the door somehow on that, with this project. But it seems that there is a hardcore psychology side to trying to MAKE a trend rather than just make something that follows trends blindly. I don't know how to work with or around that, or even how to fit it into my head, but it saddens me, greatly.

My work with this small group will likely not end with this. They have ideas, I have ideas, they have a bit of money, I have bills to pay and hopes of doing it through something I enjoy, like making weird games. But I honestly cannot see this particular angle going much farther, and it bothers me. There are at least 5 small projects on the table now, though not all strictly games. We'll see where those go.

Right now, I have allergies and cats (not related) to attend to!


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While I have no way to evaluate your conclusions (they could be right or wrong, but I expect the picture to be a lot more complicated), I try to foster humility in myself about this. First and foremost what we're doing is entertainment (unless it's a training simulator of some sort).

Let's also not forget about the death of the author, which is arguably the weightiest factor in gaming, considering increased agency in comparison to other art forms.

Edit: Also, do players usually even have a way of verifying that what is suggested is in fact good deeds? Is it going to say in a note that "such and such study has found this"? Not every action (or rather, very few) is unambiguous in its moral outcome, and teaching it in a useful way can be very complicated, especially taking the aforementioned death of the author into account.

Yeah, I'm still in favor of extreme humility of the auteur, in this regard. Making things entertaining is hard enough as it is.

Edited by supermikhail

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Oof, I guess it's a bit of an issue of mine, because I want to rant some more.

I'm not saying that you should stop trying to influence the world through your art, but be level-headed in evaluating the priorities. I'd say that 80% of the value lies in entertaining and 20% in the message. Be that the amount of effort you put into each part, or how much of an impression your work makes.

Also it seems to me that what makes more of an impart is satire or counter-examples, such that a work of fiction depicting atrocities of war in grisly detail is more effective than a work showing how nice it is to live in a peaceful society.

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Making good deeds fun is pointless, because those who disagree won't be swayed by a game, and those who agree don't need the game as a reason to do good deeds. I understand that, perfectly. I even, much to my displeasure, agree mostly with it. But it SCARES THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF ME, nonetheless.

You know, I think you should revisit this portion of your thought process and address some potential inconsistencies in your analysis. 

For one, if the aim is to persuade, we must start with an understanding that one is able to be persuaded. Now we might attempt to persuade another person and fail, but I do not then assume that person categorically non-persuadable (perhaps we cannot know if another is both a person AND cannot be persuaded). Many things can go wrong without successfully persuading another person. People who don't agree, don't necessarily not agree under all conditions. I take it that video games can be used to engage the user to another perspective or frame of thinking, sometimes that reframing is all it takes for someone to bring consistency to their worldview. Sometimes that process results in people being persuaded, sometimes that does not. 

In either case, we can't think of this situation as some kind of grand binary. First, we obviously have some kind of overly simplistic conception of "good" if we think that we can undeniably convert every person we confront about it. That seems like a pretty dogmatic view of the world. If we are in the game of persuading, then we must understand our efforts in terms of proportional effectiveness. Set up an expectation to change A SINGLE good deed behavior, and run tests with real players who do good things. 

Now, there is a totally different way of viewing the problem. Thus far, it seems we've always assumed the "good deed" doing is preceded by some sense of internalized "good understanding." In this model, we think of people as consciously and rationally engaging in discrete good-acts. Well, if we think of goodness as reducible to discrete good acts, I'm not entirely convinced the subjective opinion of the user is all that important. If you made a game that conditions people with lots of resources to distribute their wealth to those less fortunate, I really don't care what those rich people are thinking of their own actions - there seems like a good behavior going on right there. Of course, the games industry is riddled with controversial mechanics getting people to do unwanted behavior - it's unclear how we think of games manipulating people as agents of good.

IMHO, any case where a game is actively trying to manipulate the user is walking on questionable moral ground. You might yourself be doing evil to accomplish what is perceived as a good thing!

There is a lot of moral philosophy that can help conceptualize the goal you're even trying to obtain. Not sure what sense of "good deed" you're referring too, and us humans have all sorts of different ideas of good. 

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Making good deeds fun is pointless, because those who disagree won't be swayed by a game, and those who agree don't need the game as a reason to do good deeds.

I think it'd be more correct to say that, people who disagree with whether a deed's outcome will prove positive, to them and the world, will resist the call to that deed and probably resent the implication that in resisting they are not "good" themselves. And given the number of times good intentions has caused further problems, it's not just a self centered concern. Social engineering is serious business.

To "make the world better" through a game, my suggestion is to produce a game such that your audience has something they feel connected to or something they can relate to and yet helps them to see something that they never understood before. Likely it'll turns out that some of your audience will get the depth of the experience that you intended while most don't. It's not necessary to be all things to all people. But at least trying to produce a game that is something other than the equivalent nutritionally of junk food (great to consume but not really going to benefit your health much) would be an effort to make the world a little bit better through your craft. Give people something of quality to consume. Create an experience that not only entertains but elevates.


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There are a ton of things that I feel that I should do, but I can't motivate myself to get off my ass and actually do.  Motivation is actually a huge problem for lots of people.  Doing good deeds in a game isn't going to get me to do good deeds in the real world - on the contrary, anything that eats up my time is going to leave less time for other things - but the gamification of good deeds in the real world could make a real difference for people who want to do good deeds, but just need that extra push of motivation to get started.

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Posted (edited)


The basic idea was "a game that makes it fun to do good deeds"


Making good deeds fun is pointless, because those who disagree won't be swayed by a game, and those who agree don't need the game as a reason to do good deeds.

What are you trying to do? Make "a game that makes it fun to do good deeds" in game or make a game that sways people to do good deeds in real life? The basic idea that was given to you is one constraint, it seems you have added the second.

Edited by fleabay

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Concept of a game where you need to do only "good deeds" is questionable. First of all, if there are "good deeds" in games at all? People in games kill each other and then write "gf". Real life ethics can't be transferred into games. Nothing to worry about.

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I'm still chewing on some of the many interesting things people have commented here, it's more philosophical than I anticipated. As for the game, no, the good deeds were meant to be done in real life. It was a social experiment, of sorts, to motivate more real life action around 'good work', humanitarianism, environmentalism and such.

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You have left out people who haven't made up their mind one way or the other.  "Fence sitters" who hem and haw about whether they should or shouldn't do something.  Ignorant people who don't even know there's something they could do, who haven't even thought about the moral dimensions of their action or inaction.


You haven't discussed any calibration of what you actually want people to do, how large these "good deeds" are.  Are you trying to get someone to volunteer at a food bank every weekend?  Are you trying to get people to refrain from using racist, sexist, orientational, or biological slurs at other people's expense?  Just how many hours of effort do these good deeds cost someone?

Personally I also believe that abstract discussions of things like this are pointless.  Any specific desired behavior takes a lot of insight and work to try to get anyone to do it.  Just one area of do-gooderism can surely fill up a game.


You haven't discussed the importance of showing up and being represented, with a point of view that is otherwise unpopular, marginal, or invisible in society.  Concrete example: I used to be involved in the Western North Carolina Humanists, before it fell apart due to various people's lack of effort.  Churches would show up at public events all the time, putting out their usual messages.  Some positive, but some hateful, because it's the Bible Belt.  And of course, churches are there to push God and the value of religion.  When we showed up, with the Secular Humanist point of view, some people would get really bothered by us and call us devil worshippers.  But others would be awfully glad that we were out there, having a presence, stating that there are other ways to look at life and more importantly to do good than viewing everything as some kind of divine struggle.

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Games are supposed to be fun, first, and then have meaning, second. I don't know of anyone who picks up a game out of social responsibility. People play games to get into a flow state and have a feeling of control (potentially mastery). People play games for purely selfish reasons, their own entertainment. 

Asymmetrical multiplayer could be a way to get around this. Mechanics like protection and retribution could be ways of engaging players.

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Games are actually a medium.  Nobody says the point of reading a book is to have "fun".  Books are put to many purposes.  The challenge of course is getting people to play a game.  Same as getting people to read a book.


There is very little to say about whether games can or can't influence people's behavior, because very few game developers make any effort to try to do that.  It is equally clear that trying to influence people is R&D, not something that is generally done or that people generally know how to do.


This again is why I say the discussion has to become specific.  Generalized problems of human motivation and action are intractable.



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3 hours ago, bvanevery said:

There is very little to say about whether games can or can't influence people's behavior, because very few game developers make any effort to try to do that.  It is equally clear that trying to influence people is R&D, not something that is generally done or that people generally know how to do.

I think that's a very debatable philosophical point (that very few game developers try to influence people's behavior). You could even say that the vast majority of game developers are occupied by trying to make players play their game some more. And then play another game in that genre.

Then also can it be denied that at least a portion of developers includes complex moral decisions in RPGs to make players consider them? Not simply because they're fun.

Also "This war of mine". You could say there's no evidence they change anyone's behavior, and while that's true, it seems to deny the simple fact that we are changed by every interaction in our lives.

And finally, in general I think we've sort of achieved peak technology of influencing people's behavior in the form of the advertising industry (which is very present in gaming).

I guess yeah, it could be unexplored territory due to specifics. But I tend to disagree that in general we are in the dark.

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People have different phases in their life where they are more open to ideas and morals than in others.

There are times when we need to be selfish in order to survive,  but other times we have plenty yet those around us are struggling and we need to make sure they are okay. 

Remembering an old japanese cartoon; "sometimes we fight as five individuals, others together as one."

A good deed is still found - and rewarded - in some violent games.  In Star Wars:Republic Commando, your role is to guide and recover your team, in order to accomplish a goal and to ensure their survival.  Sometimes in order for them to accomplish that, you need to think more about yourself. 

A good deed in a computer game is believeable when the player can apply that same deed in the real world and have a positive impact.  Sometimes we manipulate others for their own good, yet as a result will resent you for having done so - with the best of intentions or not.

There is definitely an old saying I believe in; "No good deed goes unpunished".  If your players detect this in your game, then they will find it far more believeable.  Good deeds are born out of sacrifice; you give up your time, effort or money to do something good for others.  In that respect, can we truely say we find it rewarding doing a good deed?

As for hoping your game can change someone;  a game allows someone to experience something if the real world is not allowing that.  For example, in my early years I was not given an opportunity to manage money for myself,  but one day I came across Sim City for the ZX Spectrum.  It wasn't my kind of game at all, but it was the first time I was given a chance to be in charge of money and be responsible for it. It became one of my favourite games and carried on with Simcity 2000, which I play to this day.  I'd actually say that Simcity is the reason I became better with handling my own money, which in turn has allowed me to help others.

Oh, Warcraft 3 is another great example of a beneficial game in violent clothing!  If you rely on just one gold mine at a time, your money dries up quickly and you have to find another - usually end up fighting for it, but if you can open up another much earlier - even with just one minion doing the mining on that second mine, it produces a healthy income stream.  This taught me the concept of passive income!

Anyway, thats drifting off the topic and I hope it helps! ^_^



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Seek not to instill virtue.  Instead, -challenge- the virtue.

I view games under the definition of "challenge without stakes" (ancient Roman newspeak notwithstanding), so can't help but wonder; what skill does your game test/refine?
Convincing someone to "be good" is about as tricky and complicated as would be convincing that person to want to play your game, but if you take someone who is already good and present a challenge that requires a certain virtue to pass, that person is much more likely to improve himself in that virtue.

That's also why I have no qualms against currently making a game where the player controls unapolagetic villains as they rampage across a world.  I feel no risk that it will convince anyone to "be evil."

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