I don't find all conversations about ethics and games interesting. Controversies surrounding the effects of violent games on juvenile behavior or restrictiing access to content that challanges the dominant cultural mores in general bore me. It isn't so much that there aren't interesting things to say about these issues, but the public discourse is too polarized to be very interesting.
There are, happily, some topics that do make for scintilating conversation. Say, the ethics of cooperating with strangers in an online game, how intellectual property and DRM work in online game transactions, or culture affects in-game and real-world decision making. Still, when it comes to analysing ethics I feel pretty strongly that talking about ethical conclusions before we talk about ethical methods is a dead end. Contrary to what the polemicists and demagogues would have us believe, very few ethical disagreements are conflicts between good and evil. Rather, they are conflicts between competing sets of priorities or competing ethical methodologies. This is not to say that there is no such thing as a poor ethical choice, there is a wealth of prima facia evidence for that! Instead I'm just pointing out that when someone disagrees with my strongly held ethical position, automatically assuming that they are motivated by evil isn't the most thoughtful response. So, in order to give our conversations about ethics more depth than what we'd find in a drunken confrontation between Bears and Packers fans, I'm going to try to focus on the underlying methods that lead to certain ethical choices rather than comparing the choices themselves apart from their various contexts.
In order to examine some of these lines of thinking, I'm planning on a series of posts that examine particular aspects or controversies in games and ethics. In separate posts I'll try to examine a few areas that hopefully with shed some light on how we think about ethics in our games.
- Violence: This certainly is an issue that gets a lot of press. For whatever reason, there are a lot of violent games consumed by our culture. Examining games that I've played and enjoyed, I'll try to discover different approaches for explaining, justifying, and portraying violence as a theme in computer games. I want to look at how the games themselves justify the simulated violence and
- Sexuality and Gender: These are two very distinct topics. However, western video games portray an adolescent view towards sexuality and gender portrayals, enough so that it seems fitting to talk about sexuality and gender roles together. In this post I'll try to answer why it is acceptable to simulate beheading in games but not orgasm. I'll also examine how games I've played deal with avatar appearance and starting stats with both male and female characters.
- Ethics of Gamers: Many games are played online with other players. So, questions about how communities of gamers self-regulate, how certain behaviors and rewarded or stigmatized, and how these gamer ethics correspond to other social ethics will be investigated. Also: I'll look into John Gabriels Greater Internet F*ckwad Theory. (NSFW: Language, obviously. The theory posits that a normal person plus an audience plus anonymity equals bad behavior. Given how online gaming brings all those ingredients together, how do gamers regulate their environments and behaviors?
This is what information. games. has in store for the immediate future. Hopefully this will be more interesting than silence or nattering on about conference presentations. If not, blame Elizabeth and Matt who met me in a dive bar and asked me interesting ethical questions last week.