I was thinking about Ethical Gaming

Today is my sister’s birthday. I’m not the type of person who writes long texts about how much family is important, how sisters can be great best friends (and really get on your nerves sometimes), or how birthdays can be great (I personally don’t pay attention to mine, but let’s leave it to another day). Rather, I often find myself reflecting on random things that emerge from these emotional days.

So, I thought about games.

I’ve been a casual gamer since I was about six years old. Well, I cannot remember exactly to be honest, but I do remember having started playing to learn. I remember spending hours on “My Amazing Human Body” while dreaming of being a doctor. Then I caught myself into “Hugo”, “Tomb Raider: Last Revelation” (never passed after minute 8, though), those driving cars on my father’s pc steering wheel and pedals set up, Pinball, some shooting games, Sims (I used to love building houses for my sister; we also used to play half an hour each and fight for 5 minutes more), minigames at random gaming portals (I’m a big fan of those time management food games and Skull Kid), Club Penguin, Polly Pocket online games, or Pacman in pre-school. At the age of 9, I started playing in a virtual hotel on my cousins’ influence for about 14 years (with some breaks in between). By the age of 10 I got a PSP for Christmas alongside Sims 2: Castaway and Lemmings, but the device was somehow broken and made a lot of noise. I had scored the games, and had no idea the machine could be unblocked at the time, so I left it behind.

About 3 years before that, I used to spend my days on my light blue GameBoy Advanced on MarioParty Advance and Sims 2: Pets (not so great graphics), and a cracked GameBoy Color cartridge of “The Incredibles’’ bought for 5 euros in a fair, which in reality was a pixelated Harry Potter game. I never played The Incredibles, but remember having seen a friend playing it, especially Dash running super fast on water. I didn’t have money at the time, and when I did, I couldn’t find the game anywhere more. But it should have been a good game. Hope so.

At 12, I bought my own Nintendo DSi for 200 euros with money I collected over the years (I used to sell bracelets and handmade things by the age of 10). I still feel very proud and happy when telling this story. On there, I used to play Mario Karts (Yoshi for life), Animal Crossing, NintendoDogs and after discovering you could crack it with a SIMcard, I got tons of games, including other Mario games and Chess, which I played during dinner for about a month (took a bit of time to convince my parents), but believe it or not, I learned to play chess on a Nintendo game in front of my plate. Oh, and I used to own a Tamagotchi as well, not a real console, but still a nice pet game.

I’m currently 23 years old and I don’t play as much hardcore (cof cof) as I used to, but instead find joy in researching and reading about game mechanics, online game communities, and games in general. Although, if I had some spare money, you can bet I’d definitely upgrade my Nintendo.

I came to realize after all these years that Games are not just games. Games can mean whole new worlds for people, can make us discover new passions, develop talents, and meet so many incredible friends. I’m very grateful for all the people I’ve met throughout those years, especially on online multiplayer games. And here is where I’ll start to touch on the wound. Oh, and maybe I should tell you, hypothetically speaking, that I work within the gaming industry, so I’m trying to do my best.

The gaming industry is like an universe in expansion (if the Universe is expanding). According to Reuteurs, this year the global revenue is set to generate almost 160 billion dollars (can you even imagine how much is that?) with over 2 billion players (Earth has 7 billion humans). There are more gamers each day that passes, each day the taboo of gaming falls a little more, and that number keeps increasing and embracing new genders and new ages. There are no limits in the world of games. You can be who you want to be, and play as much as you’d like. Which, of course, opened many doors for business.

I’ll not touch on the subject “we live in a superficial and capitalist society”, because that is more than obvious and worldwide known, and sometimes is not bad at all. But moving away from it, and using the birthday hook to try to give this text some sense, did you know that “Great gifting systems support strong long-term retention, player satisfaction and by extension commercial success”, and “(…)is a powerful system with real emotional weight behind each gift.”?, Ed Biden at mobilefreetoplay.com.

There are so many incredible game mechanics which can water huge communities of millions of players and make them bloom. And there are so many incredible game mechanics which can water huge communities of millions of players and make them bloom, and profit millions of dollars on them.

That’s when I started to research about Ethical Gaming. I’m not a Philosophy or Ethics enthusiast like my mother or many other people, but still, this question wouldn’t let me stay quiet: “do games have a moral responsibility with their players?”. You’ll find this type of questions on Google, like: “Ethically, must game designers respond to all player requests?

So, I don’t intend this article to be an intensive or in-depth approach to it (I’d very much like to but due to the novelty of the subject, let’s consider it a start). My intention is to write it, publish and share it in order to force myself looking into the topic even more. And, engage with like-minded people.

From my view, Ethical Gaming is considering Ethics in a Gaming context. It is a fairly new area that is researching on how to elaborate a guideline code about it by gathering evidence. Cutting from ethicalgames.org, “The code is currently divided in two main sections: guidelines for the benefit of players and the overall game community (with community, design, and business consideration), and guidelines for the benefit of game industry workers (with company values, protection of workers, and diversity and inclusion considerations).”

In an interesting thesis, Lena Bergholm suggests: “It makes me wonder if the intelligence of the gamers as a whole can be questioned. It’s not as simple as stating that gamers are stupid. I think it’s rather the game developers being very clever using working game models to get the most profit out of their games. But won’t gamers figure these tricks out eventually? To some extent they already have.”

And on the video game website Gamasutra, the initiative to create a code of ethics within the gaming industry extends itself further than players’ rights: what happens behind the curtains of development? What issues need to be tackled? “They also called for higher ethical standards within the game industry, calling out harmful examples (like gender pay gaps and the dominance of white men) and encouraging game makers to expect ethical behavior from their employers, their peers, and themselves.“

Celia Hodent, a French expert in game UX with a PhD in Psychology, gave a really good talk on “Ethics in the Game Industry” at the 2019 Game Developers Conference. But, I think I’ll dive into more details and questions on another time.

Thanks for reading this far,

So don’t be tempted by the shiny apple, ’Cause all that you have is your soul
(this song by the great Tracy Chapman was playing in my head while writing.)