Miguel Sicart on the ethical player

The Ethics of Computer Games

I’ve spent the last 3 days on the conference Philosophy of Computer Games. It was really quite intersting, although the different talks were of varying interest to me as a game designer. But this post is not about the conference, but rather one of the speakers.

Miguel Sicart, Assistant Professor of the IT University of Copenhagen, had a great keynote on the last day of the conference. It was called No More Homo Ludens: Designing for an Ethical Player. It was basically about the ethic dimension in (not of) games, a criticism of the current state and thoughts on how to improve designs that deals with ethics. It was not only very intersting, but thought provoking.

I might write more about it later, but for now I just want to mention Miguel’s book The Ethics of Computer Games, which I’m about to order. Quoting the product description on Amazon.com:

In this first scholarly exploration of the subject, Miguel Sicart addresses broader issues about the ethics of games, the ethics of playing the games, and the ethical responsibilities of game designers. He argues that computer games are ethical objects, that computer game players are ethical agents, and that the ethics of computer games should be seen as a complex network of responsibilities and moral duties. Players should not be considered passive amoral creatures; they reflect, relate, and create with ethical minds. The games they play are ethical systems, with rules that create gameworlds with values at play.

If you’re at all interested in the topic, you should look into this man’s writings. I’ll write more on the topic when I’ve read the book.

GCO 2009 impressions

GCO Panel Talk

The Leipzig Games Convention of old died a cold hard death last year, by the hands of some of the biggest publishers in the world (who instead created GamesCom, in Cologne). But Leipzig didn’t want to give up that easily, and resurrected it as Games Convention Online. It was supposed to be a convention aimed towards the growing online market, searching for a niché trying to survive the loss of support from so many in the industry.

The world’s first GCO ended last saturday, and I was there. So what can be said about this new beast?

1. It’s far smaller than GC last year, as expected. GC 2008 had 203 000 visitors, while GCO 2009 had 43 000. Now, that’s by no means a small convention, even though it had less than a quarter of the visitors of last year. But it also has to be said that while there were quite a lot of visitors, few of them were professionals who attended the trade part of the convention. Some of the lectures had no more than 10 attendees.

2. The conference was confused about its own focus. The “online” part wasn’t sure if it refered to (massively) multiplayer games, digital distribution or simply games played on websites. Those are 3 very different topics, and (despite all requiring a internet connection) aren’t connected in the way the conference pretended them to be.

3. None of the big (western) publishers were there. We had a lot of Korean publishers showing off their games, but the differences between eastern and western gaming meant that it was unimpressive and not very interesting.

4. It was still worth the visit. While there were quite a few tired lectures, some of them were really interesting. I learned a few new things and got to know some cool people. All in all, I’m glad I went.

Knee-deep in the dead

Doom.

No, not the third one. Or the fourth, currently in development. I’m talking about the original. Doom 1.  One of very few games that completly changed the gaming industy.

I bought it a couple of weeks ago. For the Xbox 360. Am I crazy? Well yes, but that’s beside the point.

It’s true that I’m better at playing FPS games on the PC . You cannot compare the gamepad to a mouse when it comes to aiming. The user interface of a game should be invisible, but playing an FPS with a gamepad sometimes makes me feel like I’m struggling to do what I do with the PC-setup. Of course.

Ok, let’s get back on track.

Is Doom violent? Hell yes. But that’s beside the point (to some degree, at least). The reason I’m playing Doom in the year 2009 is the purity of the gameplay.

Lately I’ve been playing ARMA 2 – an advanced soldier simulator, emulating an enormous island torn by continous, dynamic battles. A game whose developers probably considered shipping an extra keyboard with the game at some point, just so that they had another 104 keys to bind commands to. I really like the game, but it’s more complicated than it needs to be. Playing Doom after ARMA 2 is a lesson about simplicity.

You don’t have intricate puzzles. The story is barely there. There is no cover mechanic. There are no grenades to throw. You have no vehicles to drive. You can’t even crouch!

You aim, and you kill. The absence of features (including the inability to look up and down) is what makes this a great FPS to be played with a gamepad.

Doom, 16 years after its release, is still a lot of fun! The game’s purity has allowed it to age well. It has proven to be a timeless classic.

We are the music makers

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Arthur O’Shaughnessy, “Ode”.

My heart comes undone

For some reason, I happen to rediscover the same pieces of content throughout the years. Websites, videos, images… They seem to hide in the depths only to sporadically return back to the surface, to expose themselves and make me smile. Perhaps it’s a sign I spend too much time online.

This is a video with Björk I’ve found at least twice, and I think you too should spend a few minutes with it. If you don’t like this, then I pity you. Not because you’re too dumb to understand how good it is or any such nonsene – no, only because you’re missing out on something wonderful.

Through the noise

Here’s another batch of interesting links that got through the noise of the tubes and wires.

The “Raiders” Story Conference
The blog The Mystery Man on Film gives us the highlights from a transcript of a creative meeting on the story of the first Indiana Jones movie. The participants are executive producer George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg and the script writer Lawrence Kasdan. It should be an interesting and fascinating read for anyone who works with story, inside or outside the film industry.

Color Theory for Cinematographers
This one is about color theory in film, but just like the last link it applies to games as well. It explains some basics about color theory, and shows how effects can be achieved by breaking traditions.

Battleship Island – Japan’s rotting metropolis
A fascinating journey to an abandoned and decaying japanese city island, which was once the most densely populated place on earth.

Where everything is right

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Warning: Serious Fable 2 spoilers.

I love Fable 2. It is perhaps a flawed game, but few games has given me such a sense of adventure, and even fewer games has made me care so much about one of its characters. From all the great moments in the game, this is the one that touched me the most.

In your quest to avenge the death of your sister, you ultimately die by the hands of her murderer. The world fades to black.

Fading back, you’re on a farm. You are once again a child, and your sister is with you. It doesn’t take long until you realize that the farm is your childhood’s home. It is a beautiful day, and your sister is happy. The day is spent playing around on the farm. Everything is right. Everyone is right.

Once the night comes, you both wake up from a mysterious sound down the road. It is intriguing, but if you decide to investigate rather than to go back to sleep, your sister tells you that it is dangerous and asks you to go back to sleep.

The next day is again a perfect day, best spent playing with your sister on the farm. But, again, as the night falls the sound returns. Again, she asks you to go back to sleep. Perhaps you don’t, perhaps you decide that you want to see what’s out there. If you do, she will follow you, ask you to go back inside, plead with you to stop. The closer you get to the gate leading to the forest, the more desperate she gets. And that’s when she says it.

“I don’t want to be alone again”.

She knows. You know. This is not your childhood. This is not life. But it’s a place where you can be together. And if you walk through that gate, you’ll leave her. She will be alone, again. You will lose her, again.

Despite her cries, you leave the farm, and continue the adventure as a grown man.

But this is not how it must be. Each night you could choose to go back to sleep. You could stay in that farm, and forever be with your sister, forever sharing that perfect day with her. Forget revenge, forget saving the world. The game could be left unplayed at that point, the player content knowing that they are together.

Yet, as more or less all players of the game (I assume), I went through the gate and never saw her again.

This section of Fable 2 has no focus on gameplay or mechanics. The point is not to fight or to gain points. No, the mechanics are now simply tools used to tell a powerful story, to provide the player with a choice filled with emotional impact.

Perhaps it could be argued that the choice is false, but maybe that’s part of the point. You have to let go to continue.