Mary Flanagan’s talk at the New School on September 15th, 2014, was an illuminating entryway to the world of game ethics. Mary spoke about her own research on how our value systems influence our game-playing (both video and analog) and also about how we, as a society, interpret values across many of our different media types. Her presentation was a clear introduction to why research methods matter, and why questioning our own values was important to interpreting the media we produce and consume.
For our synthesis of Mary’s talk, we wanted to produce something that might both illustrate her concepts and our own judgements. We decided to create a kind of “game” that you can play within this post. The game is meant to be both a bit confusing and slightly difficult to parse, just as is often the case with our own values.
Follow the linked path of one of our group members’ summation to learn what they were able to understand of Ms. Flanagan’s talk, noting the differences and similarities. If you want to return to a previous statement, just click your browser’s back button.
We wanted to ask the questions “What about how we decided to understand this talk reflects our values?” and “How can we present our multiplicity of opinion and bias in a web-based game?” As you click through the streams, you might feel a little mystified. The thought-streams of our group has been muddied and placed deliberately out of its context, an effect designed to disorient the “player” and re-ascertain their position within our decisions. Instead of just “going with the flow,” we’re trying to disrupt it so a reader can decide whether or not they agree, perhaps questioning their own values in the process. –– Designed and coded by Ari Spool
Play “Livia Santos”
Play “Ryan O’Toole”
Play “Ashleigh Ramirez-Cintron”
Do game designers hold a great deal of responsibility as media creators?
Media is constantly shaping society’s values and beliefs. Video games can be considered the “key media of the 21st century” (Flanagan). “Games reflect the player’s action, they allow players to have action, they can activate values in interesting ways” (Flanagan). Are the current most popular games embodying ethical and political values?
“Values at Play” CONTINUE
Yes, many do, but even so, some “do not possess the tools [to create media and take responsibility for it]” (Flanagan) TRY SAYING NO INSTEAD
What are premises of these values? OPTION A /// OPTION B /// OPTION C
— Yes. “Games have emerged as the key media paradigm of the 21st century…those who design digital games have the power to shape our engagement with these values.” (Flanagan) Do all game designers/creators design/create in accordance to this responsibility? YES or NO
“Societies have common (not necessarily universal) values.” (Flanagan) How do we determine what those values are?
— Flanagan offers the example of a West Coast game designer who was faced with this moral dilemma when a user spent $700 in 48 hours of gameplay. The designer considered talking to his design team about implementing a “timeout feature” or something similar to prevent this kind of user activity, even if it was benefitting their game from a business standpoint. (Flanagan) RETURN TO TOP
Yes, because games are mediums of expression that manipulate values, which need newer approaches. Games can be used for constructing and implementing values that can influence its players in a much better way. How can values be more diverse?
We need to come together where we start to help and think about each other. “Everyone has their own personal beliefs and values that stem from their society and environment.”(Flannagan) It is this communion that creates what is important in a given society.It is important to note that these values and beliefs are not necessarily universal and what may be valuable in one society may not within another. This is important to remember when creating games that reach large audiences of different backgrounds. RETURN TO TOP
¨Conscientious designers” are the ones who have intentions of creating games that offer different approaches and challenge values
that mainstream games are creating. However, many designers are afraid of breaking boundaries and implementing newer concepts and
values considering that these would impact the marketing and distribution of games, consequently preventing many
projects from moving forward. What can be done so this can be changed?
— A female designer set out to create a positive, strong female sidekick character in game she was working on. After the major stages of development were complete, it was highlighted by a member of the marketing team that the character was, actually, a stereotypical female character despite its creator’s best efforts. After considering this criticism, the character was redesigned as a stronger female character. (Flanagan) RETURN TO TOP
No, considering that games are meant to be fun and not meant to discuss and approach political and ethical issues. Do you believe that games are awakening actions and relationships that humans have or wish to have in the real world?
“Technologies, including digital games, represent ethical and political values.” (Flanagan) How effective is this in evoking change?
No. For example, Grand Theft Auto V—an extremely popular game—allows players to murder prostitutes and steal their money after using their services to raise their health points. This is “rewarding” problematic, immoral game play. (Flanagan) Are all decisions easy and straightforward for responsible game designers?
Considering that “Grand Theft Auto 5” has been the most expensive game ever made ($100 million) and that Candy Crush Saga has over 93 million players we can conclude that the most popular games aren’t the ones that are consciously exploring political and ethical values. Is there a need to diversify the game-designing field? YES // NO
Games allow us to inhabit different roles and perspectives of other people through immersion. In this way, games can help stimulate empathy towards a belief or value. RETURN TO TOP
Games have shaped and influenced humans ever since the early days of civilization. People´s behaviors are influenced by all kinds of media, and games provide a platform for players to find the freedom to act as they wish. Games are dealing with ethical and political issues. They give players an opportunity to be aggressive and disrespectful, which can influence and impact the way they act and interact with others in the real world.
Do you believe that game designers are taking the responsibility for the values that are being explored and represented in the games they are creating?
No. Even when designers choose to be responsible for their content, they are faced with several challenges. What are some of the value-based challenges that conscientious designers face? ECONOMIC //// PERSONAL BELIEFS /// GENDER-BASED
“Those who design digital games have the power to shape our engagement with these values.” (Flanagan) How is this expressed?
Games are being developed by designers, but marketing has a big influence on the final product. When designing a game, profit is what speaks louder than ethical values.
Whose interest is it to challenge the industry and what are the consequences of doing it?
Personal belief dilemmas: For example, if a game designer is offered money to create a game for a cause or an organization, but they fear that their expertise and work will not benefit the cause/organization, they must decide whether to take the job and hope for the best or inform their potential employer of the likelihood of the product being unsuccessful. (Flanagan) WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A REAL WORLD EXAMPLE? YES
“Games give us a chance to enact our most basic relationship with the world, our desire to prevail over adversity, to survive our inevitable defeat, to shape our environment, master complexity and to make our lives fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.” – Janet Murray. How then do we become a “conscientious designer”?
Economic Dilemmas: For example, if a game is making great profit but the funds are coming from addicted players who are putting a questionable amount of money and time into their game, the designer (especially if they have a say in the distribution) is faced with making the decision to capitalize on these addictions, or to reformat the game in order to prevent this situation. (Flanagan) WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A REAL WORLD EXAMPLE? YES
Games can be more diverse through a variety of newer approaches. Designers can develop the representation of characters as well as the structure of games differently, in addition to changing the point of view that is being presented. As an example, games can empower women and minority groups through different character representation and gaming structure. Thus, different values can come into play and innovate the content of games.
Who is making the games?
Gender-based dilemmas: For example, if a character is a stereotype or negative representation of their gender at the end of the development process but was originally planned to be an empowering figure, the designers must decide whether it is “worth it” to go back and restructure/change that character (or plot point, etc.) to better fit the design team’s morals. (Flanagan) WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A REAL WORLD EXAMPLE? YES
— Flanagan uses the example of a designer who was asked by a cancer prevention organization to create a mobile game that would aim to ensure girls in an impoverished country receive HPV vaccinations. Because of several factors, the game designer foresaw the game being unsuccessful in its noble pursuit. The designer was torn, as he liked the idea of a game educating and helping children, but was quite certain that the game would not be successful in ensuring that these children receive their vaccinations. (Flanagan) RETURN TO TOP
Many don’t, since they are more worried about profits than designing games that will empower essential values, which could impact personal development by implementing kindness, honesty, generosity, integrity, among other values. Whose interest is it to challenge the industry and what are the consequences of doing it?
The realm of play provides us with the tools for creating art. Games are then outlets for imagining the what if and all its possibilities. Through play there is the possibility of changing ideology and goals and in doing so help to reconstruct our world. RETURN TO TOP
An intervention is needed so there is not a replication and continuity of what has been created (referring to games that are often misrepresenting minority groups, in addition to instigating bad, violent and disrespectful actions towards other people). This intervention will allow conscious designers to move forward with socially, politically and ethically minded projects that will awaken different perspectives that can influence its players in a better way. Therefore, anyone can become a conscientious designer by implementing essential concepts through newer approaches that will reshape the values that are being explored through the game designing industry.
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