This week we explored the heady subject matter of ethics and morality in games when we asked you, our readers, "Do game creators have any moral responsibilities in teaching values to their audience?" The response was overwhelming ranging from yes and no answers with different degrees of vehemence to more philosophical delvings.
Those who replied, "Yes", cited a variety of reasons from the inherent duty of a human being to teach morals to others to the inherent responsibilities of creating an interactive medium targeted at a younger generation.
Absolutely. It is our job to teach civilized traits, education and ethics to the young and old at any time, through any means possible. The video game industry has at its disposal the ultimate education tool: stealth education - learning while playing is an evolution in teaching that cannot be ignored or misused.
- Liam McMahon, RedZone SCEA
Yes, but what those responsibilities are can vary greatly. Obviously, who the audience is will matter - a game marketed for pre-teens will bear a greater burden than one marketed to adults. (Assuming that games intended for an adult audience aren't being consumed by pre-teens ... whoops, there's a can of worms.) It also depends on how the values taught within the game world relate to reality. Sometimes shooting invading aliens to save the planet has nothing to do with teaching one to use violence to solve real-world problems.
The question is a bit double-sided. I don't think it's a big deal if games don't teach positive values, but I do think it's an issue if games teach poor values. After all, we wouldn't fault Tetris for not teaching us higher moral standards, or Pac-Man for failing to present a higher meaning to life.
- Josh Giesbrecht, Electronic Arts
Of course they do. Like most responsibilities, however, there's no external motivation to take it upon oneself to fulfill them. The only way we will begin to accept responsibilities like that as an industry is when we can grow up enough to accept that all games, including violent ones, affect people. They don't turn kids into stark raving serial killers, but it's not all safe exploration of fantasy either. I dare you to play Grand Theft Auto for four hours and get into your car and NOT think about side-swiping or stealing other cars on the roadway. The issue, as always, is more complex than the two extreme viewpoints would suggest.
Of course games affect people. We're betting our livelihood on it, aren't we? We can only be taken seriously when we take ourselves seriously.
- Borut Pfeifer, Radical Entertainment
Yes. Game entertainment should be viewed in the same light as other media such as television, and should adhere to a Code of Conduct to ensure that they do not compromise the moral values of their audience. This is even more important to the games industry, since the bulk of their audience are children between the ages of 6 and 18, and these are normally the same time in a child's life when they form opinions and build the foundations of their moral values.
- Henry van Eyk, Bytes Specialised Solutions
Absolutely, game creators do. I, personally, have obtained nearly all of my morals from video games, especially playing RPGs. Any form of media, from literature to television to video games, influences those who view it and shape who these people are. Although I cannot think of any specific games to point to this, many games present moral values to the player, either blatantly or subtly, and imprint themselves onto the player. Of course, how much the game influences the player depends greatly upon age and how permanent his/her current mindset is. Some players, like me, are still largely moldable and adaptable, but others might be less so. The best way to present good morals to the audience would be with a powerfully grasping storyline that shows the player, through the conflicts that the player character goes through, just how important and right certain morals are.
- Alex Marsh
"Legislating morality" is always a sticky wicket, but in the main, I think so. However, determining what is seen as being moral or immoral is a subjective task, in that not all people think alike. Thus my only suggestion for how to go about that is to let "common sense" be the guiding rule, rather than submitting that grosser or sexier is inevitably going to make a game more attractive to its target population. To what extent game developers own and have exercised common sense is still going to be questionable with respect to some titles that make it through production and into the marketplace. So, this is a VERY tough question to answer in a manner that will "make sense" to all. Some won't care in pursuing the attraction of sensationalism and will go beyond the bounds of taste and reason, anyway. Inevitably, if done to a large extent, then governmental rules will be emplaced and an attempt made to enforce them. Legislation by government(s) often goes beyond the pale of common sense, overreacting, so it is a better idea for an industry to develop and enforce its own "values" upon its participant members in some manner, This is basically a circular argument for getting back to the statement: "but in the main, I think so".
- Ken Wood, Wildfire Games
I believe that game creators have a moral responsibility to explore all aspects of the human condition, across the whole ethical spectrum. Human society, much like a human individual, functions best when that its thoughts and feelings are openly discussed, considered, and thoroughly understood rather than repressed, denied or left to fester in ignorance. The purpose of art is to explore these thoughts and feelings in honest and compelling ways - no matter how rational or irrational the thought, or constructive or destructive the feeling. So ideally, games as a whole would convey every value that anyone has ever thought of or acted upon. Of course, many of these values would be (quite correctly) deemed anti-social, evil or amoral - and although these sort of values are just as worthy of artistic expression as any other, only mature audiences capable of responsible contemplation should be exposed to the explorations of such values.
- Nathan Frost, Crystal Dynamics
Yes, they do. Gaming is a type of media, and I think that any type of media shall be responsible for its content.
- Alexandre Luiz Galvão Damasceno, CESAR
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that as creators of entertainment content, we have the responsibility to make the world we live in a better, safer, friendlier place. We should not make games that promote ideas like racism, misogyny or intolerance and we do have a moral responsibility to support our gamers' pursuit of positive behaviors like treating each other with respect, valuing each other's opinions and differences, and supporting the free exchange of ideas and beliefs.
That said, we also have a very real responsibility to our investors, development studios, and families to make games that will be commercially viable. Often, to make a game successful, a controversial feature must be added, which may negatively affect the values expressed by that game. The challenge comes when a game developer tries to satisfy both responsibilities. I am lucky enough to work at a company that satisfies both of those responsibilities, and I am very proud of the fact that we produce commercially viable games that do not impart questionable values upon our players. Then again, it's hard to impart questionable values with a bowling game!
To me, the most impressive games are those FPS, RTS and violent action games that manage to convey a positive moral message, while still delivering an intense, awesome gaming experience. To the creators of those games, I give my utmost respect and admiration.
- Coray Seifert, Large Animal Games
All human beings are morally responsible for their actions. As creators of popular entertainment, our actions in developing a game can have an affect on millions of people. We have a responsibility to ensure our games have a positive impact on the people who play them. Games that teach or reward negative values can have a negative impact on children, and we are morally responsible since it is a direct result from our actions. Several events have happened in recent years where it seems like video games have had a negative effect on young people. We can stop that in the future simply by teaching positive morals in our games, rather than glorifying negative ones. It's easy to say that the responsibility lies with the parents or the retailers to censor children from games that teach bad values, but since we can do something to prevent it (not create them), we share in the responsibility also. Or to put it in a more positive light, we are given an opportunity to teach children good values and positive behavior since games are influential to them. We have an opportunity to do something good, and it is our responsibility to take it.
- Matt Gilgenbach, Heavy Iron Studios
Yes, they sure do. A German psychologist, Jürgen Fritz, describes a mechanism called 'transfer' where information and values in games are transferred into the real world. The more the game tries to simulate reality, the easier the transfer will happen. Off course, this doesn't necessarily refer to shown blood or similar, but to the kind of view of the world. As games gain momentum in the society and become an ever growing influence in every day's life, game creators should also become aware of the values they are incorporating into their creations.
- Jan Graber, 20 Minuten
Many of our respondents that replied, "No," cited one of two related reasons: Games are an artistic medium and as such should not be bound by any moral shackles and that the primary purpose of games is not to teach but to entertain. Some of you also felt that teaching morals falls squarely on the shoulders of parents.
No - parents do. There's a rating system for a reason. Parents - know something about your kid's lives for a change. I can't count how many times an adult will mention their kid's playing video games and say something like, "I can't do those things... my kid can do them all." Yeah, you don't say. Those same parents can barely use a computer for anything more than an occasional email, or a favorite website. It actually excites me that when I have kids I'll at least be able to understand and participate in their computer/video game/technology-esque lifestyles, know what they're talking about, doing and have fun with them all while protecting them and doing my job as a parent.
- Bryan Erck, Shiny
No. Teaching morals and values aren't the realm of game design. They're the realm of parents, of clergy, of family. Certainly we have a responsibility to not include elements that teach poor values and morals in games that are marketed to very young children, but no media should bear the responsibility to act as a parent.
No. I think game creators have a moral responsibility to entertain their audience. It's not a game developer's job to parent their audience.
- Jim Busike, Killergame
No, but they do have an obligation to make the general content of their creations known so that consumers have the ability to make informed decisions when making purchases.
No. A game is a work of art like any epic poem, painting or film, and while the artist may choose to try to teach values to the audience through the work, it is entirely legitimate and responsible to create a game which makes no attempt to impart any lesson. Each new medium that human societies develop has works that are attacked as "immoral" by contemporary critics, and routinely, some of those condemned works are recognized by later generations as masterpieces of that medium. I can't cite any research here to support this, but I suspect it's true that works which self-consciously and overtly attempt to impart a specific lesson are more likely to be artistic failures than those which do not. This may be because the first job of any game (perhaps any artistic work?) is to entertain, and when the player/audience figures out that the game is ham-handedly trying to teach them something, that awareness interferes with their engagement with the work. There's a dissertation in there somewhere, but short answer, no.
- Doug Zartman, Wideload Games
A resounding NO. Do writers have that same responsibility? Actors? What other limitations would we put on them and our freedom of expression, in order to accomplish that lofty goal? Just ask Jerry Falwell, or the embittered ghost of Senator McCarthy for your answer... NO. Leave the morality lessons to the parents and the priests. They are quite good at their jobs.
Moral Obligation is a philosopher's question. I suppose the real underlying question is "whose values do we teach?" To quote Kant, "Duty is the necessity to act out of reverence for the law." In short if the yoke of morality is pressed upon the creators then it would be in a sense not morality at all, nor responsibility, merely duty. At the same time if it were an innate natural urge that all creators held than the question would be meaningless. So to answer the question bluntly: of course not.
- Joseph Carr, Transplace
I don't believe there is any real responsibility in making a game other than making it a good game. I believe exposing players to good values in a game is an option just like in movies, but learning good values is still up to the individual. As a parent I take it as my responsibility to teach good values to my child, I will choose to not let my son play games that expose him to situations in which making poor choices furthers his progress. As a game maker I think my responsibility is to make a game the player wants to play, and give the player value for his money.
- Kent Simon, Novalogic
Do movie creators have any moral responsibilities in teaching values to their audience? Do novel creators/writers have any moral responsibilities in teaching values to their audience? These, and this week's question, all have the same answer (in my opinion). No. The creator(s) have the power to do as they wish, or as they are permitted by publishing agencies etc. There are no restrictions to a creative imagination, and no where is it mandatory for a game, movie or novel to teach any moral values.
- Darren Schnare
No. Game developers do not have a moral responsibility in teaching values to their audience; no game I have ever played (aside from ones that were specifically intended to be educational) was meant to teach anything. Games are a means of expression for developers, just like any other form of art; they are meant to be explored, experienced, and ,occasionally, marveled at. And, as with any other form of art, part of the experience and expression in a game may involve topics and situations that are not commonly accepted as "moral". This does not mean that a developer will not impart some form of values to a player throughout the course of a game (whether conscious of doing so or not); again, as with any other form of art, part of the expression and experience imparted to the viewer is a reflection on the artist themselves, and part of this reflection may well be the views and values of the developer.
Put more simply, games are not meant to impart values, but, as with any other media, they sometimes do. It's possible that developers are less conscious of this than most artists (potentially because the "artist" in question is usually a fair-sized group of people) and that they should reflect more on the messages that their art conveys; however, as with any other artist, developers should be limited only by their creativity and their own sense of social responsibility, and in no way should developers feel a responsibility to teach their audience anything... except how to play the game.
- Matthew Thomas, University of Montana
No. Games tend to act as a recreational escape for players, so tying the creator's palette of ideas to some sort of "moral responsibility" is both limiting and unfair to both creator and player.
- Samuel Villanueva, Crystal Dynamics
No, of course not. If the game creators want to teach values through their games, then they may certainly do so. If they don't want to incorporate values into their games, then they don't have to. Of course I'm assuming that when you say "values", you are talking about positive (i.e. good, moral) values. But it's not their moral responsibility. It's a choice. It's a choice whether or not you intend to incorporate positive or negative (i.e. evil, immoral) values. It's a decision that every game creator should contemplate when designing games. If it so happened that they didn't have any values to teach in mind when designing the game, then that's where the real question lies.
If it so happened that they didn't have any values to teach in mind, who is responsible for the values taught that are eventually discovered by parents, the government, or the world, who may complain or praise the values depending on whether they are immoral or moral values? Are the game creators responsible for it even though they may have not meant it? Or is it just the society that's complaining and lying to its self?
- Taylor Eagy
No. Game creators have a responsibility to firstly entertain their intended audience, and secondly make money. It is the customer's responsibility to seek entertainment in line with their own moral views.
Nope. Save it for your own children. Games can be moral, immoral, or amoral, just as can books, film, TV, etc.
- Brandon Van Every, Indie Game Design
Not any more responsibility than any other creative people, such as artists, musicians, and novelist. Let the audience decide what is worthy of their attention and time.
- TIffany Chu, SCEA
A few brought up the question regarding the subjectivity of morality itself, asking, "Whose morality should be taught?"
Whose values? Your values, my values, President Bush's faith-based values? I enjoy escapism in my games. Car-jacking some sucker's dope ride in GTA, splattering a zombie head at point blank range with my shotgun in Resident Evil 4, and kicking the crap out of innocent townsfolk for loose change in Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath. "He's gone crazy!", all things I would never or could never do in real life. Please don't take away my pleasure of terrorizing pixels and polygons.
What yardstick do we use to determine morality? Do we use Jewish morality? Is our morality dictated by the Bible, Israelites or the Catholic Church? What if I design games in Japan? Whose morality do I use then? The Japanese don't care about the Ten Commandments and yet they have a civil society with an extremely low murder rate ... unless they decide to go to war and hack everyone apart with a samurai sword. When people discuss morality in the West, they want to refer to some kind of Israeli version of what morality should be for everyone else and then justify imposing that morality one whomever they can. Morality exists without religion or even Man himself. Animals are tolerant of members of their own kind for survival of the species. Animals also play. They play for the same reason - survival of the species ... and they usually play fight.
- Daniel Rohan, Activision
Some felt that the question was the wrong question to ask and responded accordingly, yet with a great deal of variance:
That's not the right question. It's like asking whether adults have a moral responsibility to be nice to children, rather than asking whether they have a responsibility not to harm them. The right question is: Do games creators have any moral responsibility to not actively "teach" bad values. The answer is yes.
- Ian Bell, ibell
Each person unto themselves, has the moral responsibility to _have_ values. If someone else learns by example, then good for them. If one has values, then one will show them in the work one does.
- Ken Kavanagh, Electronic Arts/Maxis
No, if the answer were "yes", whose values would they teach? Christian values? If Hitler made a video game, would he be morally responsible for teaching his values? Anyway, the question is neither here nor there. Video games don't "teach" values, they present values, they depict values. It is up to player to learn or not to learn from that depiction.
- John Bolton, Page 44 Studios
Whose values are we teaching again? What morals are we reinforcing? The question itself seems flawed. The goal of most gaming companies is to provide fun games that turn a profit. Unless the title is specifically designed to teach morality (religious games, for example), there is no obligation in the mission statement to form moral values in the customer. That task, it would seem, falls logically to the parents of gaming children.
- Chris Allen, Volition
When I soberly assess myself, I admittedly fall short. God has said through his word that He will forgive us if we repent and accept his saving grace through Christ's sacrifice on the cross. I have humbly done that. I now do my best to be a good steward of whatever gifts and abilities that God has given to me and I try to glorify God in all that I do.
- Darrin Horbal, FSI - US
I wouldn't say that they have any particular sort of responsibility to do so, as they already should be moral people themselves. Thus the real problem isn't with game creators, but the people who were supposed to have taught the game creator's their morals, i.e. their parents. A video game isn't going to replace a parent's job of teaching morality.
I am a father. Like many other fathers, I want my children to grow up with moral values instilled within them. People with these values come to be some of our best leaders and citizens. I feel that it is the parents' responsibility to teach these values to their children. Game creators have no responsibility to teach them. On the other hand, game creators should take responsibility for their portrayal of values, or lack of. If game creators glamorize violence, sex or other forms of immorality, it weakens the values instilled in children by their parents. This makes it harder for parents to teach them effectively.
- Ephriam Knight, Collins College
Games are not created to teach values - they are created to be entertaining. If they also become meaningful to their audience, that's good. The problem lies in making sure the game reaches its intended audience. Games that are intended for adults should not reach an audience of children, and it is not the developer's responsibility to ensure that this happens; it is the responsibility of parents.
Games are in the same boat as movies in this context. If a movie maker wants to send a specific message to a specific audience he is well within his right to do so. If people who are not part of that audience see the movie and are offended, they are free to keep their family away from that movie and warn their friends. If the movie is not for kids and kids make it into the theater, it means either the movie is not rated appropriately, the theater failed to keep the kids out of the movie, or (in the case of parents who let their kids see whatever they want) a failure on the part of the parents to keep their kids away from the movie. It works the same way for games.
The simple answer is no, because of first amendment rights. The game creator has the freedom to depict or display whatever he or she wishes to. However, the potential and opportunity for a game creator to teach values to an audience is always available. If seen as a tool rather than a burden, a game creator can create compelling stories and experiences. I think the easy route for most designers is to ignore any moral responsibilities in regards to the content of their game. Creating a game loaded with violence can compensate for lack of story. Certainly, the more difficult task is weaving morality into the design to make the game more socially relevant.
I find that some of my most favorite movies are ones where I walked away with some gem of wisdom or insight. In The Insider with Al Pacino and Russell Crowe there is the constant struggle of courage and trustworthiness. Russell Crowe's character vacillates between protecting his family and blowing the whistle on the tobacco companies for the wrongs they are committing against consumers. Al Pacino is struggling with the trustworthiness he is earning from Crowe's character in order to break the story and the lack of support from Pacino's news agency in meeting the promises he makes. I don't think you will find these themes woven into many of the games that are lining the shelves at your local EB Games. Have we found a way to turn values into direct gameplay mechanics? Not really. However, the creators who take on the challenge are the ones that will be justifying the right to call video games an "art".
- Amir Ebrahim, Naughty Dog, Inc.
For role-playing, adventure and some strategy games, for myself, there needs to be a sense of something higher, or at least more creative, than the standard "kill everyone and get their money" scenario, if for no other reason than simply to make the game interesting to play. Superb graphics and sound need to be wed with depth and soul for the best gaming experiences. Yet the best gaming experiences also allow you the freedom to choose what you will do. But to each their own.
One of my favorite games of all time was Ultima 4 (Origin Systems, 1983). To the best of my knowledge, Richard Garriott created the first computer game to deviate from the norm and make the player's ethical choices not only matter but be the critical determinant behind how the story evolves. Making selfish choices repeatedly would ruin your chances of completing your quest for enlightenment. He did this not by preaching, but by having natural consequences result from your actions. If you punch an innocent bystander and mock him coldly, he won't treat you very well, nor will any witnesses or friends of his; killing people at random and taking their gold will land you either in prison or pushing up daisies yourself, needless to say. But if you are friendly toward him and care about his plight enough to aid him, he would tell you a story that reveals the key to a sub task you need to fulfill. It was truly a unique and creative moment in the worldof computer gaming when it was released, and it has been a great inspiration for my life and a motivating factor in the games I create today.
- Brian Czaja, Chai Games
Do game creators have any moral responsibilities in teaching values to their audience? That depends. Do cigarette companies have a moral responsibility to tell us that their product kills?
- Michael Hoopes, Art Institute of Phoenix
Whilst I'm sure this question was intended to tackle issues such as violence and crime, I firmly believe games are far better poised to explore moral concepts, than to teach them. The interactive nature of games, by their very definition, allows for both sides of a moral and ethical situation to be traversed and analyzed, opening up massive realms of behavioral experimentation. Games like Black & White, and more recently Half-Life 2, cause the player to form complex ethical standpoints without even knowing it. Calling it a "responsibility" is probably pushing it, but I really think more games should aim to challenge players' moral opinions on every topic, from politics to religion, rather than preach a sanctioned concept of what is right. That, in and of itself, is teaching an important value.
- Dom Ireland, Teesside University
Do game creators have any moral responsibilities in teaching values to their audience? Coming from the industry - I'd say the ESRB has a handle on that issue and as such, it's regulated fairly enough... In my opinion, what producers/developers should really take responsibility for is the mental and physical health of their "worker bees" who are more often than not, forced to work 100+ hours a week on a 7 day work week with no time for family, doctor visits, etc. Yes, I agree they signed up for working for a game company, but if you ran into this kind of practice at a law firm or in another industry, you know that labor law would be all over these people in a heartbeat.
I'd say teaching values is pretty far outside their job description/scope of knowledge. The only people who have a RESPONSIBILITY to teach values are value theorists, philosophy professors, and parents. Game creators are not responsible to teach such things, and they certainly have no moral obligation to do it. Now, that doesn't mean that they cannot or should not strive to teach values. If they want to, then that's their choice. If they want to teach spelling, astrology, or hermeneutics through their games, then that's up to them. But it's absurd to say that they have a moral responsibility to teach anything. That's pretty much the same for video game designers, board game designers, card game designers, or TV game show creators.
- Michael Smith, Arizona State University
Games seem nihilistic and consequence-free because our characters are governed by fragmented finite states. If agents represented social bonds then moral challenges would emerge. Games solely about objects can be alienating to angry teenagers, but games about society can be socially accepted.
- Patrick Dugan, Virginia Tech
Just Like the Movies
Still others compared video games to movies:
No more so than any other medium. However other mediums like film and television have a much broader input from creatives who are able to take on so-called moral issues and present them in an often engaging way. Unfortunately, the game industry currently lacks this type of broad input and therefore is akin to recycling the same old stories gameplay ideas over and over again. Once developers begin to really to take chances with gameplay mechanics and more original storylines are created (e.g.: ICO) then maybe we'll actually see an interesting application of morals within games.
It is not incumbent upon us to be a guiding moral light for today's youth, although that does not preclude games from making such statements, nor individuals from pursuing them as their raison d'etre. As with all media creators, we have a responsibility, not to teach positive values, but to ensure that we do not encourage dubious values.
So far the industry has collectively failed in this respect: the overwhelming majority of games glamorizes violence and revels in gore, nudity and swearing. Although movies can do the same, there are also many examples of 'responsible' movies or movies entirely without violence. Games need to find a way to change their focus, they can still be fun, they can still be action based, but the context it is presented in needs to be examined closely less our unintentional message encourages recklessness in our youth.
- Ben Gonshaw, Distributed Entertainment
Partly. Game creators should not have to make any attempt to teach values to their audience, assuming that the audience is capable of making their minds up for themselves. However, that said, game creators should be responsible for showing the effects of actions, good and bad, that the character in their game has chosen to take. Whilst not teaching values per se, allowing people to take actions (although only virtual ones) without showing them the real consequences can lead them to construe those actions into an illusory, cleaned-up version of the reality (Hollywood-ise). This Hollywood-isation (taking only the bits of an event desired for effect, and ignoring the rest of the facts) is the area that game creators are responsible for and, without taking the fun and excitement out of a game, should at least allude to the consequences (all the consequences) of the actions taken.
It's not our responsibility to teach values. However, games should be tailored to their audience, with mature themes shown only in games targeted to a mature audience. We make a product which is similar in it's consumption to film. Look to film as a guideline.
- Richard Smith, Studio Mythos
As with previous installments, this week's question provided no clear-cut consensus but it supplied some of the longest and most fleshed-out responses we've received yet. With responses ranging from Hollywood to religion to different cultures, there is a ready supply of opinions and food for thought. Thanks again for your responses and be sure to check in next week!
Here are the responses that were just too long or off-topic for us to include in our article, so we have chosen to add them in as a bonus section. Enjoy!
No creator has a moral responsibility in anything other then the act of creation. The more types, methods, processes, and all facets of and even experiments in creation that exists (subjectively then labeled as good creations or bad), allow a greater pool from which natural order [the ying and yang of entropy and order] will conclude the next successful and socially adopted level of acceptance that new creations will then evolve from or tear down and replace.
Quality [and value(s)] is entirely subjective under the eye of the beholder, even so as the evolving mind and intelligence [i.e. the being] continues to build knowledge and understanding based on experience from interaction with all created things (both good and bad.)
For the acceptance of something to be deemed of positive 'moral value' there must equally exist [by sheer nature] a definable counter of demeaning or negative 'moral value' to weigh against. And as reflections in a mirror, both are interchangeable depending on perspective (which side of the mirror are you on?)
This subjective quality [and value(s)] cannot exist without the creation itself, and the interaction with the creation to then form an opinion on quality. The creators 'responsibilities' in this process purely reside only with the act of creation, not with the audience (or lack of) experiencing the creation. Everything else is just make believe... The quality [and value(s)], and associated moral ethics are merely an effect of the philosophical prism, lens, mirror [or whatnot] through which the creation is viewed.
- Jon Galloway, Rockstar Games
A religious person who would not agree to medical attention unless it was spiritual in nature would probably strongly object to playing a computer version of Milton Bradley's Operation. Does Operation lack 'Values'? You really can't create a content advisory sticker for 'Values' even though it is a hot political word. The same applies for 'Moral Responsibility'.
My answer is NO. In regards to the audience, game creators should set their responsibility of content to meet the guidelines of the system that has been put in place by the ESRB. The responsibility of this issue is more in the hands of what the ESRB feels is socially responsible rather than what the developer/consumer feels is moral or immoral.
With my company's target audience of "E" (Everyone: Ages 6 and older) and "EC" (Early Childhood: Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate), we definitely fit the guidelines for our target audience in regards to the ESRB rating system. They have let us know this by awarding us the rating, and that is what the system is in place for.
If a developer specifically wants to limit its audience by either making a religious game (which excludes gamers of other religious/spiritual beliefs), or a morally objectionable title (which excludes those who would morally object) then that is their prerogative as a developer.
The ESRB will sort out what is socially responsible with either type of title through an approved system of guidelines. This is the great trust developers have put in the current system, and the important responsibility that the ESRB has to bear.
- Eric Kinkead, www.gametitan.com
You need to answer one basic question first; who determines what the right values are for consumption? Just looking at North America, this homogenous society is a melting pot of values. Some of these values are the same across the board and some are different. Some games out there appeal to a general sense of values whether or not it's intentional.
The Legend of Zelda franchise is one of these examples (for me at least). When I play the game I get the sense of true heroism, one that is unconditional. Casting a young child in the role of hero solidifies this even more, the burden of such a huge responsibility resting on the shoulders of Link is very inspiring. Was this an intentional design choice by Miyamoto? Maybe or maybe not but this is an example of a game that has broad appeal when it comes to values.
As game creators, our responsibility is always to our consumers, our gamers, some of which are children. I don't think we should be morally obligated to teach values. What we should do instead is understand our target audience better and craft an experience that is suitable for them, let their own value system (be it from their family or cultural background) take over from there.
I am truly shocked that this question is being given any consideration at all, but since the response is so easy, here it is. No, game companies have no such responsibilities, moral or otherwise. We are an entertainment industry in a capitalist society. Our responsibilities lie in producing enjoyable products for our consumers and doing it in a profitable manner.
Would you think to ask this question of Hollywood, network TV or HBO? It's the same question. Does an entertainment industry have a moral responsibility to teach values? No. We don't. CBS doesn't. The NBA doesn't. Hollywood doesn't.
The responsibility to teach values lies with your parents or whoever is raising you. That's it. You may try to argue churches and schools, but those are ultimately the choices of the parents which schools and churches you will be exposed to, if any.
If a game comes out that you feel would be a bad influence on your child, don't allow it in your home. I don't. I also talk with the parents of my child's' friends and I know if they have any of those games in their homes. I also speak with my child about these things.
We self regulate very well. People only have to spend 5 seconds looking at the cover to a game to know exactly what kind of content it has. If you are unwilling to take that time for your children, don't blame us.
Morals are not the responsibility of games. This is not an endorsement of amoral games, I simply think that the morality of a game is not something which is universal. A game rated M by the ESRB is under no responsibility to provide a moral game, in any sense of the word.
Further, morality itself is relative. I there are simply to many moral codes in the world. Further, many moral codes conflict as to what one's responsibilities in certain situations are. In American Christian traditions, we have traditions of nonviolence on the other hand we have other groups who believe in the use of force in certain situations. Which moral code does one ascribe to? This is a question which each individual answers.
Therefore, I cannot see a responsibility, as my moral code would be amoral to some one else. The simple truth is that the audience for games is far too diverse to attempt to force it into a global moral framework.
- Lee Brunjes
Absolutely. More so than ever. Especially for young gamers as the target audiences. Today's game creators place more emphasis on graphics, physics, hardware prowess, rather than stories, creativity, and most importantly embedded value (what we can learn from the game) in their titles. A game creator can choose zero embedded value (Doom 4 comes to my mind), but should never go for negative one.
The games are just like other media that we, adults or kids, women or men, old or young, can reach every day. We watch TV, listen to music, and play games. No matter what form the media is using, they deliver values and teachings. Supposedly games should deliver good values, not bad ones. Nowadays, the bad game values and teachings are disguised under the "fun" camouflage, however.
Typical example: Grand Theft Auto (GTA), a title with negative embedded value, worse than a porno movie. The game should be marketed along side with porno media for adults, never should reach Wal-Mart or Costco or Fry's. All the games involving killing innocent people and outrage social behavior should be reclassified to the same class of adult entertainments and be marketed in the same manner, as required by related laws.
By doing so, game creators can really seriously think about what they are doing, adult/porno entertainment industry, or video game industry. By doing so can game creators think very hard about their titles, stories, embedded values on top of flashy video effects and stunning graphics.
- Kojen Ku
No more than the creators of films, television shows, music, commercials, magazines, websites, or any other medium that the public is exposed to. That's not to say that they don't have a responsibility, but rather that games should not be treated any differently than other forms of entertainment. Modern gaming is still largely in its infancy, and as a result it is still widely misunderstood. The non-gaming public still sees violence in games as being much more influential in society than it really is, if it is at all. The only sure thing that violent video games influence is the groups of people who oppose them. In reality, there is no solid proof that interactive entertainment is the driving force behind violence in society. Sure, there are a handful of people who claim to be driven to violence by games, but those people are already inclined to such behavior. The Son of Sam said his dog made him kill. Does that mean dog breeders have a moral obligation to only produce kind, benevolent canines? Or that dogs should adhere to a self-imposed ratings system? Hardly. In reality, nothing influences everyone but everyone is influenced by something. It is part of the fabric of human nature, and games are no more of a key player than anything else.
- Robert Bierley, Prizm Productions
In the "Time of Mario," you were an abstract Italian guy in overalls hopping around on mushrooms and monsters. It's difficult to imagine children romanticizing a game like that and hoping they, too, could one day do the same. Picture a group of kids with a market-bought bag of mushrooms hopping up and down on the mushrooms. Probably not going to happen.
However, such is no longer the case. Character aren't abstract, they're very realistic. Now a player can be any of hundreds of high-quality anti-aliased concrete "heroes." I say "heroes" in quotes because it is also no longer the case that games are about magnanimous heroic actions. As an example, the Grand Theft Auto series (yes, I know, it's being beaten to death, but the shoe fits...). You play a character who is known to be a thug, and the game permits you, specifically, to kill cops.
I am from a small town in Washington, a fishing/logging community. I eventually lived in Seattle, Washington, and also Kirkland, near Microsoft's Redmond campus. Those areas aren't known for heavy gang activity. Folks who live there don't have to worry about it as folks near where I used to live in southern California. I imagine the same is true for the majority of players of such games.
However, there are people who play such games for whom the depraved sociopathic actions depicted in the games aren't far from reality. They've seen similar things on the news and maybe on their streets outside their home. These games idealize those actions and make those actions more acceptable. Social theorists will tell you that reinforcement is what makes actions good or bad in a person's eyes. These games make those socially bad actions seem to be alright by constant positive reinforcement of them.
Because the line between fantasy and reality is hard to distinguish in these games, I believe those game makers have a responsibility to reinforce behavior that will not result in the real life acting-out of the in-game actions. A game where you play a psycho-killer who suffocates people with plastic bags is probably not the most socially responsible thing, nor is making a game where a good deal of the gameplay focuses on either avoiding or killing local or federal agents that uphold the peace.
While most folks may play those games, eventually put them down, and know to distinguish what is right from what is not, that is not the case for everyone. There are people walking among us for whom gunning down a cop is a fantasy. Maybe they're toying with the idea of suffocating their neighbor's five-year-old daughter with a plastic bag. Game companies who romanticize these actions in their products do us all a disservice.
In summary, the negative actions I've described here must necessarily be seen by members of society as negative actions. If society as a whole had no problems with actions such as these, we would have a much harder life, as we'd constantly have to watch our backs to make sure nobody killed us. Games such as those described here endanger the moral fiber of our society. The responsibility lies in the hands of the makers.
If you're going to make a game, make it one in which the theme of the game and the ongoing gameplay is not something that could disrupt our everyday lives. Make it fantastic enough that it's distinguishable from real life and make it reinforce good behavior traits.
It is unfortunate that it is more likely that such quasi-realistic games are more likely to be realized as a reality than other, more positive, fantasy-based games. If it was as equally likely that any game's contents could come to pass if a player worked hard enough, then I would simply become a light-side Jedi and travel into gang territory to combat this blight. However, such is not the case.
- William Henry
Yes! Games are not just entertainment, they (like other media) are powerful forces that shape our culture, whether we want it to or not. Will one game cause civilization to crumble? Of course not, but the media as a whole has a strong impact on what our culture considers "the norm." We in the media can easily get caught in "edginess creep." What I mean is this: a developer can get increased sales with lower quality work by pushing the edge of what is acceptable: things that are almost shocking. This success causes other developers to imitate that success. After time, the public gets used to it and it's no longer shocking; it's normal. The "edge" has now moved. Shortly, someone else has another concept even further out, and the cycle repeats. This only happens because our culture has been changed by what we produce. This effect is hard to control because we are in a very competitive field and "edginess" creates an advantage. We (in the game industry) could help slow this by concentrating on innovative game play rather than making the "same old same old" with bigger explosions, bloodier guts, creepier NPCs, etc. This will really take self control on the part of publishing execs (riiight...)! They need to be willing to take chances on really innovative games, rather than cranking the same game, only bigger and grosser.
- Stone (Michael) Engelbrite, Inspired Idea
Why should we put video game developers on the spot to teach gamers moral values? It's true that some people may act out violently based on a video game, but how is that different than someone acting out violently because of a movie they've seen. Games have ratings. Movies have ratings. Why isn't the movie industry being targeted in the same way as video games? How can we blame the video game industry for a person's violent actions and not the makers of movies like Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers. I think it would be great if ALL forms of popular entertainment taught moral values, but I see no reason to single out one form as "the cause" and not the other.
Contrary to popular beliefs, as they are held by IGDA in particular and those publishers with a very large budget for producing and or publishing new titles, the answer is "yes".
I am clear on one thing, and that is this, entertainment is one thing, but when it comes to the blurred line between editorializing the consumer and entertaining the consumer, there is a clear demarcation that must be honored; that being, humans are the most easily impressed and manipulated creatures on the face of this planet. The proof of this can be seen every single day on any television broadcasts, cable or otherwise. US consumers, in particular, are most easily impressed by apparent opportunities to fantasize and play out their darkest fears within the supposedly "safe" context of a video game (console or otherwise).
Do not misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with entertainment for entertainments' sake, but when what was once considered "entertainment" begins to manifest itself in the world we live in, one must think twice about the moral and ethical implications of what one does (corporate or otherwise).
A couple of examples that come immediately to mind are the so-called action games being published by various arms of the US DOD. These games are geared to influence and change ones perception of war, ones perception of what it means to go to war (and the corresponding killing of real people) in an attempt to recruit the typically game entranced youth of the USA who are barely old enough to know what hazards lie within the context of sexual interaction, yet are allowed to play M or A games. I do not need to reference the games in question as anyone reading this will already be aware of which games I am referencing. If you choose to deny that you know what I am referencing, then you are clearly unconcerned about the moral or ethical implications of various games that are available on the market today.
At this point, I am almost certain that many of you are saying, "Oh, look there is one of those 'bible thumping' parents of someone who lives in the so-called 'Bible Belt' of the US." I am not. I was, in fact, kicked out of the so-called "Christian Church" because I was unwilling to be passive about my feelings or what those feelings guided me to understand and/or express within the context of the so-called "Christian Belief System".
That activity was, and still remains a violation of Christian protocol, and, such an attitude is beginning to be adapted more and more by the major game publishers; i.e. if you do not think the way that we want you to think, in order to buy our games, then we do not want anything to do with you. Conspiracy? No, quite the contrary. It is clearly an attitude that is beginning to pervade the game industry, and the game industry itself needs to take responsibility, not just for themselves or their profit margins but for the impact and control they are clearly exercising over the U.S. Video Game Consumer. If you can prove that attitude is not what controls any of the U.S. Game Manufacturers/Publishers, then please feel free to speak up.
- Paul Garceau, NewDawn Productions
Do game creators have any moral responsibilities in teaching values to their audience? An utmost generic question, which has no single answer. No. This is clearly one of those questions that raise more questions when seriously thought about. Questions like: which game creators? What is their general aim? What is their audience? Does the game in question asks or even permits pushing of values? Whose values? And more of the like.
I think in this regard the last two questions are the most interesting. Does the game warrant or even permit pushing of values? One can imagine a lecture about values, regardless of content, would quite distract in a game like Tetris. Trying to teach values in a game of that kind could well end up in some cheesy listing of quotes, not really adding to the game-experience. Then there's the obvious catch: whose values? Personally I'm a pretty liberal Dutch person. The last thing I'm looking for in a game is to be harassed by some gun toting right-wing Christian's ideas about abortion. Advocating the right to bear arms while at the same time trying to convince me of the sacredness of life. And yes, these do exist.
Now, this of course is an extreme example but the statement still stands: Values are not universal, far from it, and those who talk loudest about their values often have a hard time understanding this simple fact.
So the question then becomes: do game creators have the right to bother their audience with their own personal values? One would think that those game developers who create games for kids do have a certain moral obligation towards their audience. But even there it should be done with the utmost care: shield them from the horrors of violence? Yes. Make violence non-existent? No. Violence is something common, a part of everyday life, making it non-existent would only create more problems for the kids once they are set loose in the real world. Shield them from pornography? Preferably yes. Alienate them from the naked human body? Preferably not. And where does one draw the line? That's as personal for the audience as for the creator.
Then the question automatically becomes: Do game creators have the psycho-social backing to actually decide on a set of values for their target-audience? Then there's the obvious "Violence in games" discussion. I vehemently believe this is a diversion. Since communication is more often then not a reflection of the real world, violence is to be expected in any form of communication. To only take out one communication-form, in this case games, and start discussing the merits or dangers of its content is really missing the point. Apparently there's a desire from the human population to be entertained with violence, until that is addressed I don't think talking about the "moral responsibilities" of just one group of content providers, in this case game creators, is getting us anywhere.
Turning the question in: Should game creators be singled out to provide some sort of value-teaching type of entertainment? No. I don't really think the question serves any purpose but enticing discussion. Which is really great, don't get me wrong, but a straight, black and white, cut and dried answer? Hardly.
- Patrick Kanne
I believe it is reasonable to assume that games that express values can influence in some ways the culture that is exposed to them. As a game developer, I think it is reasonable to assume a certain level of responsibility for the games that I help to create. The morality of that responsibility is related to the morality of the expressed values.
As a Christian, my understanding of morality is informed by my belief in a personal creator God. I believe that I am ultimately responsible and accountable to Him for everything that I do. That would include whatever influence the fruits of my labor may have on society and culture.
No, they do not, no more than authors of books or movie scriptwriters or even artists do. They often don't, nor is it their job/responsibility/duty to do so, that duty lies with your custodians (i.e. parents) or your own senses. Besides, the bigger question is whose moral responsibility do you want to teach? Morality means different things to different people and different races. The fact that there is no standard is the beauty and richness of the human race (and for those having funny ideas, Law is not morality, law is the mechanism that protects your life, liberty and property). Any time a society 'imposed' its morality and values upon others BAD things have happened! Just like you shouldn't impose your way of thinking on your friends but you are welcomed to share it. Remember dictators routinely use the morality argument when oppressing their constituents and limiting their freedom of speech or production.
If you disagree with a product/painting/movie/game because it infringes on your morality or what you hold dear then simply don't buy it, you don't even have to look at it. You do have a choice, make your choice and take responsibility for it. And more importantly, don't prevent other from buying it, because they should have the choice to do so (just like you have the choice not to purchase). Choice equals freedom (with some realistic limits). If we handicap ourselves with trying not to offend anyone then the 'producers' in society will quickly fade (it's impossible not to offend people sometimes… especially when they want attention - or force you out of your money). The responsibility of morality should lie on the consumer (i.e. the 'would-be-offended') not to purchase or endorse a product if they are not Ok with it, since, the producer (in this case game developer) cannot possibly take into account what would infringe on every possible consumers morality (i.e. anyone that can walk into the store and buy the game).
- Jake Wolf, CleverDesign Entertainment