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sunandshadow

Game designs of questionable ethics

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I probably shouldn't be surprised anymore when I encounter a game concept which is fun to play but morally horrible. There are many games where the player's goal is to commit genocide/drive species extinct, and many more games where murder and theft are portrayed as fun things the player is encouraged to do. But I managed to startle myself today. I had just come up with a new idea for combining a breeding game with a deck-building card-battling game, and I was all excited and enthusiastic about the game concept... until I suddenly realized I had just designed a game where the player is a eugenicist rewarded for creating racist populations. o_0

A concept which is totally innocent and logical when applied to monsters (e.g. capture an eagle, crossbreed it with your wolf to get flying wolves, each flying wolf gets +1 for each additional flying wolf on your team...) suddenly looks pretty sleazy when applied to humanoids (enslave a winged elf, force it to breed with a centaur (ouch?) to get winged centaurs, then winged centaurs are inherently prejudiced toward, say, cat-people and will never treat them as well as a fellow winged centaur, not to mention that as the owner of this army you are throwing your slaves into gladiatorial combat just for your own amusement and greed...

Anyway, I was just wondering what you all think about a game concept which promises to be fun, functional, yet morally reprehensible. Do you develop it, or choose not to? If it's a game someone else has created, do you play it? Do you recommend it to others? Do you feel guilty for enjoying or promoting it?

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Postal or Manhunt comes to mind. I personally do not consider these games to be fun but I'm pretty sure that quite a few people do. I'm also quite sure both of these are banned in certain countries. Oh, and what about Carmageddon? As I recall that game raised quite a few eyebrows to say the least.

Whether I would develop, play, advertise etc, such a game? Perhaps. It would heavily depend on the subject (Manhunt no. Yours, yes, it sounds interesting)

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Hi there! I'm not used to posting here but this is a very interesting topic so I'd like to share my views.

The whole issue about the morality of games was raised quite recently in the UK where the defence minister criticized the developers of the new Medal of Honour game for allowing players to play as Taliban and apparently kill coalition troops.

That's certainly a morally questionable game play from a generic patriotic / Western democratic / capitalist viewpoint.

But in my experience I've come across a different kind of moral question. I used to work as a developer for a company that made games for well known (childrens) brands. The games were dull, uninspiring with no lifespan. The business model was obvious: cash in on the latest fad while it lasts and move on. I personally found this more morally objectionable than any of the 'cool' violent games that were being developed at the same studio. This was one of the reasons that made me quit.

But my answer to your question is that it depends totally on the person. Would I feel guilt for enslaving and cross-breeding elves? Would I feel guilt for shooting a British soldier in a game? (should be quite a personal issue for me as my brother is in the army) No. I see them as games and only that.

This doesn't mean I have no concern about their influences on other (mainly younger) people.

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If you're too sensitive to handle the topics involved, then you probably won't enjoy developing it.

If all you're worried about is the game's success, then you can be assured there are enough people out there that aren't offended by the same things you are that you won't have any trouble building up a player base.

For example, I still can't figure out what you consider morally wrong about breeding racist populations. Sounds like real life to me.

Or are you saying that the only games that don't offend you are the ones that portray only the positive aspects of reality?

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That'd make a good game-making contest - take an existing game and pull it into human reality!
Even pokemon and mario are pretty bad after this transformation:
-- 'Trainers' collecting different races and forcing them to fight.
-- A fat plumber eating psilocybin mushroom, declaring that certain people are 'demons' and stomping on their heads, searching through 'castles' for his 'princess'...
[edit]
Quote:
Original post by sooner123
For example, I still can't figure out what you consider morally wrong about breeding racist populations. Sounds like real life to me.
He's talking about Eugenics. The US stopped this practice in the 60's, and supporting it is likely to result in Godwins law being invoked.

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I think the main problem is how the game is perceived and how you, as developer, manage this.

If clearly a game is perceived as funny, comical or... well, just a videogame!, whatever is the background or story, the effect will be just fun and nothing else.

But if the game is perceived as something very related to morality and reality, then developers should be careful with such issues.

I think that the correct answer is finding a balance between reality and fiction in the videogames.

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Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
Anyway, I was just wondering what you all think about a game concept which promises to be fun, functional, yet morally reprehensible. Do you develop it, or choose not to? If it's a game someone else has created, do you play it? Do you recommend it to others? Do you feel guilty for enjoying or promoting it?


As usual: it depends.

First, it's a computer game. Nobody is actually harmed. It's just happening on the screen! Second, moral isn't absolute. Moral views differ from culture to culture, from person to person. An alien species may view the brutal annihilation of a rival species as an extremely moral, honorable, merciful act to do. Third, a state of martial conflict can quickly transform civilized, good, moral people to savages only caring for their own lives - because everything else would be idiotic.
In the sci-fi/fantasy context, I mean, who feels guilty for reducing swarms of cute Zerglings to pizza covering.

I recently read some military science fiction books (online) by John Ringo (which I heartily recommend) which I think gives a good perspective on intergalactic and inter(xeno)racial relations, from both the diplomatic as well as the military viewpoint.

[Edited by - Konfusius on August 25, 2010 10:53:51 AM]

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Quote:
Original post by Traveler
Postal or Manhunt comes to mind. I personally do not consider these games to be fun but I'm pretty sure that quite a few people do.
Manhunt was a very well made stealth game. I played through it start to finish several times.

The gameplay part of the product was very fun and very well put together. It would have been just as fun if it were people sneaking up on each other with nerf guns imo, but Rockstar had to go and try and make it as offensive as possible as a gimmick to sell it. It didn't bother me, but I can see how it was over the top.

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Quote:
Original post by Hodgman
Quote:
Original post by sooner123
For example, I still can't figure out what you consider morally wrong about breeding racist populations. Sounds like real life to me.
He's talking about Eugenics. The US stopped this practice in the 60's, and supporting it is likely to result in Godwins law being invoked.

I'm a she actually. [smile]

I was talking about eugenics, yes, but also the idea of a race that is universally and unchangably racist is both unpleasant and unrealistic. It's a cliche of cad worldbuilding to make all the individuals of a race have the same personality and politics, especially if this is true of many or all races in the setting. In a realistic setting people always run the gamut - a few will be severely bigoted, most will be either mildly racist or neutral, and some will be xenophiles who think foreigners are hot. But in the context of a newly-created hybrid race with no cultural history, realistically they wouldn't even have a concept of themselves as a race. And as a separate issue, rewarding the player for having several similar creatures on their team seems a bit inconsistent in the context of a breeding-based game where 'miscegenation' is the major means of making progress outside of combat.

One possible fix is that story-wise I could treat all creatures of the same type as being literally siblings or cousins. Getting a bonus from working with a family member instead of a stranger is a much less objectionable idea. Or, I could treat the bonus as applying to their gear instead of the individuals themselves - it's logical that it would be more efficient to produce armor and weapons for three centaurs than a centaur, a winged humanoid, and a cat person.

Might even be interesting to make the player a crusader on behalf of halfbreeds everywhere, who is leading them in combat to create a homeland where all the misfits can live together happily and not have others treat them with prejudice. That's not flexible enough to fit what all players will want to do though. It's predictable that most players will have one or two favorite creature types they want to use several of, and the players will be telling themselves a little story about how all the creatures of a type are either a team or relatives, or if they are a type of creature available wild in the game, they might in fact have a cultural history and not be hybrids at all... I think with both pet monster games and deck building games a lot of the reason people love the game is if it gives the player the opportunity to do a little storytelling about the names and personalities of the individual team members and the history of the team and reason why the team is structured the way it is.

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What a great topic of discussion! I can't help but put in my two cents.

I've pondered this exact question many times: as a game designer what kind of moral limitations should I set on game content? As alluded to in the above replies there can be many different facets to this question.

The most obvious thing to consider is whether a significant fraction of your target audience is likely to be offended, and this will depend largely upon the backgrounds, morals and values of the people that will play your game. Good research and planning should help you avoid this kind of moral blunder.

But really the difficulty comes into play with the less-than-obvious moral questions. "Does my game promote questionable or downright reprehensible moral actions?" For multiplayer games: "does my game permit or even promote negative social interactions?" Or perhaps a more troubling question: "is my game *too* addictive? Is it difficult for players to pause or suspend the game? Will players skip dinner, school/work, social gatherings or even forsake all physical activity just to play my game?"

I think the truly objectionable game titles out there were developed without much thought to moral issues - the company/developers just wanted to make money at any cost. Of course anyone can demonize anything with enough thought: e.g. "Harry Potter promotes satanism"; "the Purple Teletubbie is a homosexual role model for kids"; "Mario is a shroom-addicted rapist and serial murderer" (thanks for that image BTW O_o). You're not going to be able to avoid that kind moral criticism no matter how hard you try.

I don't think that this kind of moral questioning is exceptionally difficult for game designers alone. Movie and TV producers deal with these sort of issues all the time (or at least they should...), as do writers, public speakers and many others. The fields of ethics and philosophy were developed to grapple with exactly these kind of questions, and they may be a good place to start looking for answers.

So that's a lot of conjecture, but what do I *really* think? In the end, I think individual game designers have to sit down and make serious decisions about which moral lines they are willing to cross, and which they aren't. That's really the best we can do IMHO.

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