Revised fall 2008
Ethical Issues In Relation To Social Gaming
Introduction to Video Games
Gaming has been a popular form of entertainment since 1971. Starting in the arcades it was a pastime for everyone from young children to adults of all ages (Herman 2). In the arcades many people would find competition and even friendship. Soon other forms of business began to cash in on this lucrative business. In 1972 a console made by Magnavox was sold to consumers. It had only a few games that consisted of simple shapes on the screen. Finally in the 1980’s a console was made to play all the games you loved in the arcade at home (Herman 3). There were a handful of companies making these home entertainment systems.
Atari quickly became the most popular. Soon people stopped going to arcades. This ushered in a new era of gaming. People could now play the games from the arcade for free. They also could play from the comfort of their own home. This caused gaming to change from a heavily social hobby to a reclusive one. Once this change happened it became increasingly difficult to get people to invest in new consoles. In the late 1980’s it seemed as if gaming was a fad that would soon die out. As Atari struggled to sell consoles and games, it seemed as if people just lost interest, until a newcomer by the name of Nintendo hit the scene.
With a fresh new lineup of games and much better technology Nintendo single handedly revived the gaming community, proving that gaming was, in fact, a new form of entertainment as opposed to a bright new fad. As the 90’s continued the personal computer began to rise in popularity. Soon it seemed as if there was a personal computer in nearly every home. Many game developers saw this as an opportunity. They began to create computers that were capable of playing advanced games. With the maturing of the internet developers began to add a secondary multi-player component to games using the internet. This, quite literally, opened up the world for gamers. Matches could be played across oceans as if opponents were in your living room. Currently Gaming is as varied as it has ever been. Consoles continue to chase computers by adding online gaming capabilities. Now, regardless if you own a computer or one of the three consoles on the market you can play games online.
Gaming is an expensive hobby. While computers continue to lower prices they also lower in power. Brand name gaming computers can cost well over $3000 and are always being upgraded. In as little as a few months computers can begin to show their age. Console gaming is quite a bit cheaper. The most expensive of which costs around $600 and every few months drops in price. Consoles tend to lend themselves to less hardcore gamers. The advantage of a console is that it doesn’t require anything besides the console itself. Assuming you have a television you can play a console. They also have a much longer life then computers. A typical life span would be around five years. They would then begin to die out as a new generation of consoles would be released with better technology.
Socially gaming is becoming acceptable. Over only a few years it’s became just as much for adults as it is for children. It’s still a male dominated hobby, but is quickly becoming a pastime that humans in general can enjoy.
Gaming has lately become a competitive sport. Where there are purses and spectators like at any real sporting event. Gaming as a profession has become viable. The best pro gamers can earn over $100,000 a year.
Gaming, like movies, has a strict rating system, created by The Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB that examines the content of a game and then gives it an appropriate age guidelines. Until just recently stores would use judgment in the sale of games. Most stores had policies prohibiting the sale of games to those deemed underage by the ESRB. The government has been taking action to prohibit, by law, the sale of mature rated games to minors. Selling a mature game to a minor in a state with specific laws to prevent such actions can result in a fine.
Unlike the real world gaming has a unique set of laws that govern you. These laws very, quite wildly in some cases, the can be based on your character or on technical restraints created by the power of the tools developers are working with. Breaking these laws is
often impossible, and when not can result in the game “glitching” and cause the game to crash resulting in loss of progress.
- In some games you play as a “good” guy and thus the game will not allow you to harm an innocent.
- Most games are set in a linear fashion. Thus you can’t do whatever you want based on how the story progresses.
Finally, profanity in gaming is just as common, if not more so, then real life. So in games where text is used as a chat feature there are filter systems that eliminate profanity. Since breaking this law really isn’t possible there really is no punishment for those who do.
Ethical Responsibility of Social Gamers
Ethical issues in gaming are different from that of the real world. In the real world laws regulate many ethical situations. The same is true for games as well. The difference is that in real life laws can be broken. It is as simple as ignoring a law. In a game breaking a “law” is much more difficult. This requires, not only the desire to break a law, but also technical know-how. This keeps most people from breaking them. However, it is possible. These people have to jump through hoops to break these laws and thus know that they are doing something wrong. The punishment for cheating is a ban. It can last anywhere from a few hours to a lifetime permanent ban. It is the responsibility of the players to report cheaters.
When playing a game one must remember who the game is meant for. Take Halo for example. It is an extremely popular multiplayer game. It is also rated for mature users. When using text appropriate language is monitored for you, censoring profanity unless the filters are deliberately turned off. With Halo, and an increasing number of games, a microphone is used. This allows for live chat with all participants. This is impossible to automatically censor. One must censor one’s self in order create the appropriate environment. Giving the frustrating nature of gaming this can be much harder then in everyday life. At no point is there any notice that players should refrain from using profanity, or making racial slurs. It’s completely up to each individual person. There is also no punishment given to violators. This can cause formerly children friendly games to change in rating. Thus the only action taken is to warn gamers that content could change during online play. Since there is no way to censor such speech, and also no punishment for violation this is a purely ethical situation where one must choose what is right or wrong.
Ethics change dramatically in games from the real world. Perhaps the most popular multiplayer game of all time illustrates this nicely. World of Warcraft is a game in which a player, upon joining the game, creates an avatar. With the creation of this avatar the player assumes a certain role within the game. One’s duty becomes that of his avatars. In World of Warcraft players and choose to play on one of two warring groups. When a player chooses a group the other becomes his enemy. It becomes ethically, not only acceptable to kill someone, but the players duty. This can become an ethical issue. The game is created in such a way that the more you play the stronger and more powerful you become. Upon reaching the highest level beginners are nothing. A high level character can easily defeat a beginner with no effort. This is called “ganking” and it is acceptable behavior. The reason this becomes an ethical issue is that it’s widely considered as bad. In fact most players who are high level have actually experienced this during their climb. So they, despite knowing how frustrating their actions are, do it as well. It becomes a vicious circle. The killing of someone much lower then you causes you to gain a slight amount of “dishonor” nothing serious. Once again this becomes a purely ethical decision.
Much like in real life ethical situations can be complicated by situations and the context in which these issues arise. There never really seems to be a true obligation to obey any rule. One must use judgment to determine what is appropriate and behave accordingly. Rarely will there ever be a situation where there is no decision, only obligation.
Escaping Ethical Responsibility
There are two things a gamer can do to escape the responsibility to behave ethically within a social game. The first is obvious. Stop gaming. Unlike in real life when things get to be too much. It can be shut it off.
The other way would be to play a game alone. This would simplify ethical situations. One would only have to worry about himself and can act as he pleases. Unfortunately game creators are becoming increasingly good at telling stories. They can put you into ethical nightmares, effectively throwing you from the frying pan into the fire. One must remember it’s only a game.
Herman, Leonard The History of Video Games 2001 <http://www.gamespot.com/gamespot/features/video/hov/p5_01.html>