Ethics in Game Design

What are the ethical responsibilities of a game designer?

That is the question which has been rattling around in my mind ever since a recent discussion in a recent episode of TGDRT regarding the “ultra-violent” Hotline Miami. This article is my proposed answer to that very difficult inquiry.

But let’s first back up a bit – why are we even bothering to ask this question?


Environmental Products

Few of us even think about it, but most of what makes us “us” is the sum of our subconscious wiring. Much of which is, in turn, shaped by our past experiences.

Consider a phrase or mannerism you’ve picked up from a close friend. Or the time someone dragged you along to try out a new type of strange food you now love. Or how  a hobby you just didn’t “get” before has become one of your favorites after your significant other introduced you to it.

Everything we encounter reshapes us, even if only a tiny bit. Needless to say, games are no exception.


Negative Space


Both developers and players spend a serious amount of time and energy focusing on how we might get more out of games. More features. More content. More tough decisions. It’s easy to forget that sometimes… less is more.

Most titles where a single session lasts longer than a few minutes are best served by providing players at least a small measure of downtime. This “negative space” of game design is an important ingredient in proper pacing.


Good Pacing… Bad Design?

Games often incorporate features that might be considered a bit “boring” with the express purpose of giving players  a breather. If a game is 20 hours long and every last second of it from naming your character to the final credits is over-the-top intense, most people would be too stressed out to get anywhere close to the end!


Consequences – Part 1 – Introduction

Making a game that’s fun is the first and last goal of every development team (or it should be, anyways!). This ethereal funness is largely crafted by the consequences that result from player decisions. How punishing or difficult a game is can be the determining factor in what kind of audience it will – or more importantly, won’t – appeal to.

The role and impact of consequences is one of the most important topics in modern game design. And yet, it surprisingly receives very little attention. I actually have so much to talk about regarding this subject that I decided to split this article into three parts. All of them will be up within a week, so don’t fret if you’re just itching for more!

As usual, we’ll kick things off by making sure everyone has a base understanding of our subject and why it’s even worth caring about. The second article in the series will analyze the consequences of death in games, and the third will examine their place in certain unique genres, plus some parting thoughts for designers. Without further ado, let’s get to it!