Video Games, Ethics, and Society – Part 1

Video Games, Ethics, and Society – Part 1

In late September last year, I had the pleasure of being part of a panel at Oz Comic Con Sydney, to discuss building games in an ethical manner – with a focus on positive outcomes. This was spurred on by games getting a particularly bad run in press in recent times, which the games community felt was rather unfair and one-sided. We wanted to focus on the positive things that games developers are doing, and the interesting stories being told through this medium.

The panelists were a diverse group: indie game developer Matthew Lucis, indie and AAA game designer Emilie Poissenot, games journalist and cosplayer Adelaide Naylor, and myself a avid games consumer, podcast host and senior developer – while it was moderated by Thomas Kuzma, an engagement officer and mentor at Autism Spectrum Australia. The discussion was framed around pre-determined questions presented by Thomas, with the rest of us then giving our thoughts on the topic.

Games have always, and continue to, tackle a wide range of social issues. God of War (2018) for example, explores what it is like being a single father, and moving on from one’s past all in a mythology-based setting. In line this this, we were asked what issues we would like to see portrayed in games, and, while we didn’t really delve into specifics, we agreed that more diversity in themes would improve the industry. There is a tendency to make the same types of games and tell the same stories in the AAA space – because they sell incredibly well.

This is fine, but it’s generally more interesting to see different stuff come up, allowing us all to see the world from different points of view. It is also clear that more recently, we’ve been seeing a steady increase in diversity in regards to themes, for example the aforementioned themes in God of War; teen fiction and coming of age in Life Is Strange; and mental illness in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

We shared the best ethical practices we’ve seen implemented in games recently, specifically, accessibility in games – which isn’t yet perfect, but is steadily improving. The vast majority of games now release with subtitles for spoken dialogue – although an audience member notably pointed out after the presentation that the opposite is not the case – most games don’t have spoken versions of all text, nor support for screen readers, which makes it difficult for people with visual impairment to play! Clearly, there are still many ways we can improve as developers to make our creations accessible to more people! Another specific example of improvement in accessibility is Microsoft’s new “Adaptive Controller”. This device aims to meet the needs of people with limited mobility – it plugs into an Xbox One or Windows PC and acts as a hub to allow a user to plug in other types of devices to use as inputs. For example, a switch to hit instead of a small button, along with support for full remapping of controls.

We moved on to discussing how game “flow” has changed in more recent times – and how to ensure good exit points so that players can end on a satisfying note. This is not necessarily an easy issue to solve: on one hand, you want to create a game that people thoroughly enjoy; on the other hand, you need to allow for people to take a break, without forcing the issue. One of the core notes here was that in games in which you would reasonably expect a player to spend a lot of time playing, a large-scale RPG, for example, having a system clock visible can help. It was funny to note that every panelist spoke from personal experience where we’d play a game, lose track of time, then realised it was much later than we had thought!

Of course, in all styles of games, it’s important to have frequent “auto-saves”, so a player can resume without loss of progress. Allowing the player to save their game at any point also assists here, as does having clear mission endpoints which allow the player to feel like they’ve achieved something, and be satisfied enough to stop where they are.

Second blog post, coming soon! Proudly produced by: The Project Factory, The global digital development arm of Way to Blue.