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Designing Games for Ethics: Models, Techniques and Frameworks

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Designing Games for Ethics: Models, Techniques and Frameworks

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As games become increasingly embedded into everyday life, understanding the ethics of their creation and use, as well as their potential for practicing ethical thinking, becomes more relevant. Designing Games for Ethics: Models, Techniques and Frameworks brings together the diverse and growing community of voices and begin to define the field, identify its primary challenges and questions, and establish the current state of the discipline. Such a rigorous, collaborative, and holistic foundation for the study of ethics and games is necessary to appropriately inform future games, policies, standards, and curricula.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Section 5
Designing for Social Change
and Civic Engagement
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Chapter 16
Power to the People:
Anti-Oppressive Game Design
Andrea Gunraj
The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, Canada
Susana Ruiz
University of Southern California & Take Action Games, USA
Ashley York
University of Southern California & Take Action Games, USA
With contributions from Mary Flanagan, Barry Joseph, Wendy Komiotis & Paolo Pedercini
ABSTRACT
This chapter denes basic principles of anti-oppression and its ethical implications. Anti-oppression is
a framework used in social work and community organizing that broadly challenges power imbalances
between different groups of people in society. This chapter positions these principles in the realm of
game creation and argue for their use—particularly in the development of social issue games that in
one way or another seek to spotlight and challenge social power imbalances. While the chapter outlines
some essential theory, it ultimately takes a practice-based perspective to make a case for and support the
incorporation of anti-oppressive principles in game design and development. It features the work of ve
organizations from around the world about their strategies for implementing equity in game/interactive
design and development, and closes with broad guidelines to support integration of anti-oppression
principles in game creation.
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-120-1.ch016
Designing Games for Ethics : Models, Techniques and Frameworks, edited by Karen Schrier, and David Gibson, IGI Global, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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254
Power to the People
INTRODUCTION
In 2009, a Danish advocacy group that initi-
ates public awareness and education campaigns
released an online game entitled Hit the Bitch.
Produced by Børn og Unge i Voldsramte Familier
(Children Exposed to Violence at Home), the
game allows the player to enter the experience
from the perspective of a man’s hand, which can
be swung to strike a woman’s face by proxy using
a mouse or webcam. A slider appears at the top
of the screen. As the blows multiply, the slider
creeps from one end, labeled “100% pussy,” to
the other, “100% gangsta.” The woman in the
game becomes increasingly upset, bruised, and
bloodied. She eventually falls to the ground in
tears, and a caption, “100% IDIOT!,” concludes
the playing experience. Following the end of the
game play, players hear the voice of a woman
issuing scolding words in Danish and on-screen
statistics, presumably about the prevalence of
violence against women in Danish communities.
Unsurprisingly, the release of Hit the Bitch
evoked a flurry of commentary beyond borders,
given its content and the group behind its develop-
ment. In fact, traffic to the website was so heavy
that access to it was limited to users from Denmark.
A surface examination of online reactions reveals
a common underlying question: is Hit the Bitchs
approach successful in denouncing, challenging
or preventing violence against women? Amelia
Thomson-DeVeaux writes that, despite noble
intentions, “the method it uses is so offensive,
misguided and disgusting that the message gets
completely lost within sexualized violence and
abuse” (2009). A blogger on Feministe says that
the game “is supposed to convey to everyone that
hitting women is bad. After you’ve played a game
that rewards you for hitting a woman. Color me
unconvinced” (Jill, 2009). Hit the Bitch “seems
like the end result of some people sitting around
a table trying to figure out how to make domestic
violence edgy and attention-grabbing,” another
blogger writes, although she goes on to say, “then
again, no one in mainstream media talks about
domestic violence unless it happens to a good-
looking famous person are they on the right
track by trying to be aggressively controversial?”
(Ganeva, 2009).
Like other games on social issues, Hit the Bitch
incorporates controversial messaging open to a
wide range of interpretations. Just how the game
fulfills presumed advocacy, awareness and/or
educational goals concerning violence at home is
difficult to determine. Players may struggle with
those goals as much as critics have, given that the
game places them in an abusing role and the game
play does not delve into complexities inherent
to violence against women. While a number of
reviewers explore the controversy that surrounds
Hit the Bitch, most of them do not comment on
the game’s use of “pussy” and “gangsta” or its use
of background hip hop music. Besides a note that
the music is “sad rap” and that the word “gang-
sta” is “an offensive stereotype of a black man,”
incorporation of “urban” artifacts into the game
and their inescapable race and class implications
seem to have gone unnoticed (Ganeva, 2009).
While satirical in its approach to violence,
Hit the Bitch’s ambiguity does not sit comfort-
ably in the context of anti-oppression. A game
on gender-based violence designed with anti-
oppressive principles in mind would open space
for players to rethink the commonness of this
violence—most often perpetrated by men against
women they know and trust—with the goal of
challenging, reducing and/or preventing it. Hit
the Bitch’s uncritical inclusion of stereotypical
“urban black” culture, whether intentioned or not,
is at odds with an anti-oppressive approach. In the
process of designing an anti-oppressive game,
developers would be conscious of inserting any
uncritiqued stereotypes into the game’s look, feel,
and play. They would resist associating gender-
based violence with any single group of people,
for example, challenging the Western tendency to
blame violence against women on communities
of color (Jiwani, 1997).
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255
Power to the People
In this chapter, we argue that applying
anti-oppressive principles in game design and
development results in more purposeful, direc-
tive and transparent messaging and game play.
Anti-oppressive practice, typically associated
with social work and community activism, openly
challenges discrimination and promotes rights and
voice of those groups on the margins of society. It
is grounded in specific understandings of equity
and incorporates a sense of ethics that requires
an individual to reflect upon their own behavior
and assumptions, as well as society’s norms. It
encourages an individual to work toward closing
the “power gap” between those who experience
oppression and those who hold greater social
privileges (Clifford & Burke, 2008, p. 16-23;
Global Exchange, 2006, p. 2; Strier, 2007, p. 858).
This chapter introduces the application of
anti-oppression principles to game creation, first
defining basics of anti-oppression and touching
upon various implications for individuals who use
it. We discuss anti-oppressive principles in the
context of video game design and development,
particularly games that in one way or another
spotlight social issues and seek to promote social
change. Next, we share insights and examples
of game partnerships and collectives, including
those of Take Action Games (TAG) and the Met-
ropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against
Women and Children (METRAC), who partnered
to develop RePlay: Finding Zoe/ReJouer: Où est
Zoé? The contributors to this chapter speak to
how they implement anti-oppressive practice and
equity principles in their development and design
processes. Finally, we conclude with broad guide-
lines to support integration of anti-oppression
principles in game creation.
We outline essential concepts of anti-op-
pression as a starting point. However, a com-
prehensive overview of anti-oppressive theory
is beyond the scope of this chapter. We take a
practice-based perspective to support incorpora-
tion of anti-oppressive principles in game design
and development. Despite some critiques of the
mainstream game industry, our intent is not to
disparage dominant practices of game design
and development. Instead, we wish to encourage
alternatives that ultimately support transformative
social change and build the voices and access of
marginalized communities.
BASICS OF ANTI-OPPRESSION
As already noted, the fields of social work,
grassroots activism, and community development
typically use an anti-oppression framework. It is
broadly defined as efforts and actions to end so-
cial injustices and inequalities, particularly those
based on factors like race, gender, sexuality, age,
class, ability, and religion (Dumbrill, 2003, pp.
102-104). We can view the term and practice of
“anti-oppression” as an umbrella concept with
a great deal of variability. It encompasses ideas
found in a number of theories, frameworks, and
perspectives, including: feminism, critical race
analysis and anti-racism, disability analysis and
postmodernism. Theorists and practitioners often
distinguish anti-oppression by contrast and by
what it works against. Therefore, the concept of
oppression deserves analysis. In the next section,
we define oppression and its corollary, privilege.
We then move to a definition of personal “reflex-
ivity,” an important concept in anti-oppressive
practice, and touch upon anti-oppressive ethics.
Oppression and Privilege
Clifford and Burke (2008) define oppression as
“the exploitative exercise of power by individuals
and groups over others” and “the structuring of
marginalization and inequality into everyday rou-
tines and rules, through the continuing acquisition
and maintenance of economic, political and cul-
tural capital by dominant social groups over long
periods of time, reflecting the existence of major
social differences” (p. 16). Oppression entails a
great deal of “baggage.” Individuals who face it
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Power to the People
often experience exploitation, marginalization,
powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and outright
violence (Young, 1990, pp. 48-63). Mullaly (1997)
also pulls oppression out of the individual experi-
ence, describing it as domination of subordinate
groups by a group or groups more powerful in the
realms of politics, economics and culture (pp. 104,
145-146). To understand how oppression works,
we have to recognize how groups interact with
each other (Frye, 1983, pp. 8-10).
Groups that hold more money, political clout
and sway over mainstream culture tend to become
more powerful. By virtue of their power, the world
they live in suits their needs, ideas and interests,
undoubtedly undermining the needs, ideas and
interests of groups with less power (Young, 1990,
pp. 56-58; Chater, 1994, p. 102). Quite simply,
“power is the ability to act” and “the more access
to resources one has, the more options one has.”
Power is unequally distributed and impacts how
people interact as individuals and groups (Adair
& Howell, 1993). Clifford and Burke (2008) note
that unequal distribution of power leads to the
experience of everyday oppressions against groups
with less power, and this oppression further exas-
perates social divisions between those with less
and more power. They show that the experience of
oppression is both constant and in flux, impacted
by the changing circumstances of different groups.
Usually resilient over long periods of time, the
divisions between groups can vary quickly in
intense periods of social change (p. 16). Young
(1990) says that oppression is “a central category
of political discourse” (p. 39) for contemporary
social movements and activist organizing, even
if many in the Western world hesitate to apply
the term to injustices they perceive around them.
Anti-oppression activists and thinkers have
identified different forms that oppression takes—
racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism
and ableism, to name the most common. Despite
the heady analysis, we can view oppression more
simply. Some groups of people are considered
less worthy of power, rights and respect than
others. Those “less worthy” of power, rights and
respect in today’s society are racialized, women
or transgendered, living in poverty, physically or
mentally disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer,
elderly, and/or young (Young, 1990, p. 40). Other
social divisions factor into a person’s experience
of oppression, such as their immigration status,
their HIV status, and the social isolation or con-
nectedness of the region where they live (Clifford
& Burke, 2008, p. 19).
Since oppression is based on “unquestioned
norms, habits, symbols, in the assumptions un-
derlying institutional rules and the collective con-
sequences of following those rules,” it occurs on
both a personal and systemic level (Young, 1990,
p. 41). It impacts how individuals and communities
view and treat themselves and others; how they
behave and communicate; and how they envisage
their position, worth, entitlement to resources, and
validity in the world. Women, for example, share
a collective experience of discrimination where
they tend to be paid less for doing the same jobs
as men (Johnson, 2009). Women are also statisti-
cally more likely to be murdered by male intimate
partners or family members—the violence is a
manifestation of systemic sexism women face in
society, reproduced in their individual lives and
most intimate experiences (Bureau of Justice
Statistics, 2005; Porter, 2006, pp. 25-27).
People who employ anti-oppression principles
name, dissect and challenge society’s mainstream
systems and structures, that is, the “normal” way
of life or the “way things are”, making visible the
invisible. They acknowledge that what most people
view as normal is determined by the perspectives,
interests and desires of powerful and dominant
groups. Dichotomies are often used to define
groups and assign characteristics to them—white
and black, man and woman, gay and straight,
and rich and poor. This is how individuals and
groups who are less powerful are placed on the
far end of the spectrum of normalcy (Collins,
1986, p. S20). Those who are less powerful may
be labeled exotic, special, fringe or different, but
Designing Games for Ethics : Models, Techniques and Frameworks, edited by Karen Schrier, and David Gibson, IGI Global, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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257
Power to the People
in dominant thinking, they tend to be marked as
“Other” (Young, 1990, pp. 58-59). Individuals
who face oppression can internalize this other-
ness and develop negative understandings about
themselves, taking them in even if they logically
know them to be untrue. In a similar way, people
who belong to dominant groups learn favorable
messages about themselves. They internalize their
own dominance and privilege (Sinclair, 2003, p.
127). Anti-oppression, on the other hand, argues
for multiplicity of voices, opinions and ways of
thinking and being of marginalized groups in order
to counter the narrow dichotomies. Dalrymple and
Burke (2006) explain that “different perspectives
on the truth” are necessary because “no one group
or individual possesses the theory or methodology
that allows it to discover the absolute truth about
other people’s experiences” (p. 11).
Personal “Reflexivity” and
Anti-Oppressive Ethics
Employing anti-oppression as an individual re-
quires reflection about the power one holds and
oppression one faces. It requires sensitivity to the
reality that anyone can unintentionally oppress
other people and experience oppression at the same
time (Clifford & Burke, 2008, p. 18). It encourages
an individual to examine personal values, internal-
ized dominance and oppression, and deeply held
stereotypes, biases, and prejudices—the same ones
so often reproduced in systems like the media,
government, law and education.
Making reference to social workers, Kondrat
(1999) says that self-awareness involves un-
derstanding one’s own “social location”—that
is, where a person’s membership in various
groups places them in society’s matrix of power,
privileges, oppressions and access to respect
and resources. It is an examination of personal
values and behaviors, how they may reproduce
oppression or challenge it (p. 464). Those in
grassroots, community, and activist circles have
stressed that anti-oppressive self-reflection, or
“reflexivity,” cannot be left to theory. It must
penetrate the very core of who one is and how
one thinks of themselves and their place in the
world. Barbara Findlay reveals that scrutinizing
her own social location “in the world as a white
person” was “painful and shameful” and that “the
work of looking at internalized dominance is very
difficult” (1992, p. 47).
Anti-oppression practice is often referred to
as a conscious decision, an individual choice to
be challenged in order to promote values like
equity, justice, inclusion, and a shared quality
of life. Clifford and Burke (2008) note, “the aim
of anti-oppressive ethics is to provide guidance
to oppose, minimize and/or overcome those
aspects of human relationships that express and
consolidate oppression” (p. 16). While they do
not assume that a fully articulated position on
anti-oppression ethics exists, they speak to a
useful approach to ethics using anti-oppressive
concepts that incorporates a critical analysis of
power, social differences and divisions, the im-
pact of social systems and relationships, and the
histories of individuals and groups.
In general, then, anti-oppression involves an
analysis of power imbalances between groups and
involves thinking and action, where individuals
understand their place in groups and the broader
society. Anti-oppression is deeply personal. People
must consider the privileges they hold and op-
pressions they perpetuate in order to act ethically,
based on reflection and critical thinking.
ANTI-OPPRESSION AND GAMES
Anti-oppression’s encompassing analysis can
extend beyond the realm of activism and social
work. “Practitioners” of anti-oppression argue
that the areas of governance, education and policy
development should implement anti-oppressive
principles. And while a range of opinions may
exist about how to implement anti-oppression
into life and society, practitioners have noted
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258
Power to the People
that anti-oppressive principles support equity,
justice and inclusion to the benefit of marginalized
groups. We assert that game makers may apply
the principles of anti-oppression to the design of
games and their development, particularly games
that in some way call attention to and/or seek to
challenge unequal power dynamics and inspire
players to contribute to equitable social change.
Theorists have spoken to how oppression tends
to get reproduced in the media and entertainment
industry, in those dominant ideologies reproduced
and disseminated by it. Stuart Hall (2003) argues
that the media is “part of the dominant means of
ideological production” and that it produces “rep-
resentations of the social world, images, descrip-
tions, explanations and frames for understanding
how the world is and why it works as it is said and
shown to work” (p. 90). Popular media, including
popular digital games, tend to mirror the power
imbalances of society, privileging the interests
and perspectives of those in power.
Paolo Pedercini, the designer behind the Mol-
leindustria game collective that develops online
games that seek to express alternatives to domi-
nant forms of gameplay, explains that the game
industry “relies on a highly trained workforce,
which is produced by universities.” The industry’s
“[technologies and processes] are inaccessible
to most people” and democratizing the system
proves difficult because its structure lacks personal
connection and original contribution by most
participants (2010). Unequal power dynamics
infuse the mainstream game industry’s develop-
ment practices and human resource processes and
norms, as well as its most familiar perspectives.
Yet digital games, particularly those designed
outside of the industry, are ripe for the incorpo-
ration of anti-oppressive principles. Ian Bogost
(2007) explores how video games embody a “pro-
cedural rhetoric” that shifts opinion or motivates
action of players (pp. 28-29). Video games make
arguments about a social system’s structure that
can help support or challenge it. In the words of
Clay Shirky (2005), games “offer the opportunity
for players to change their worldview rather than
to impart mere information.”
Because video games have the ability to
persuade or inspire people to critically examine
mainstream norms and behaviors, we embrace
the implementation of anti-oppressive principles,
practices and ethics. Game makers can design their
work to identify and challenge society’s everyday
dynamics of oppression and privilege. They can
inspire players to act in new ways to break down
those dynamics and divides. They can illustrate
what players can do to affect anti-oppressive
change in the real world, allowing them to practice
and share their strategies for change with each
other. By applying anti-oppressive principles in
the process of building games, game makers can
consciously provide a frame to alter the main-
stream’s typical modus operandi, where a small set
of experts determine content and methodology. An
anti-oppression-inspired process can seek out and
incorporate the ideas and perspectives of players
and non-players who do not usually have voice in
game creation in order to challenge assumptions,
stereotypes and norms that inform the look, story,
arguments and rule sets of games.
In the next section, we move out of the realm
of theory to explore insights of game collectives
and partners. Their goals, thoughts and design pro-
cesses enlighten how anti-oppression principles
have been and can be applied in game design and
development.
INSIGHTS AND EXAMPLES
FROM GAME COLLECTIVES
AND PARTNERSHIPS
To build an applied understanding of anti-
oppression in game design and development, we
interviewed individuals from game collectives
and game development partnerships. This sec-
tion includes contributions from Susana Ruiz
and Ashley York of Take Action Games, Wendy
Komiotis of the Metropolitan Action Committee
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259
Power to the People
on Violence Against Women and Children, Mary
Flanagan of Values at Play, Barry Joseph of Global
Kids, and Paolo Pedercini of Molleindustria. Their
insights and examples enrich this chapter’s prac-
tical application and inform the anti-oppressive
guidelines outlined at the end. Given the novelty
of anti-oppression language in the field of game
creation, we asked each contributor to answer
general questions about “equity” in game and
interactive design and development. An important
concept in anti-oppression theory, Lopes and
Thomas (2006) define equity as “equal access to
goods, services and opportunities in society” (p.
267). We asked game collective and partnership
representatives how they implement equity in their
design process, challenges and lessons they have
encountered in the process, and advice they would
share with other developers to increase the inclu-
sion of equity in game creation. In this section, we
highlight these game makers and explicate some
examples of their games.
Take Action Games
Take Action Games (TAG) specializes in casual
games for change. It uses games to address topics
of social and political significance, employing
design and content that traverses computational
art, narrative, documentary, activism, and eth-
ics. Susana Ruiz, Huy Truong, and Ashley York
co-founded TAG in 2006 and launched their first
game that year, Darfur is Dying, an activist game
they developed as an MFA graduate thesis project
(with the support of a number of students and
colleagues) at the University of Southern Cali-
fornia. Its development was sponsored by mtvU
in partnership with The Reebok Human Rights
Foundation, The International Crisis Group, and
interFUEL.
They designed Darfur is Dying as an infor-
mational entryway to the humanitarian crisis in
the Darfur region of western Sudan and the initial
development resulted from a call by mtvU to mo-
bilize university communities to raise awareness
about genocide through digital games. Stephen
Friedman, general manager of MTV, explains
that they wanted to extend awareness of the cri-
sis beyond a relatively closed circle of experts,
activists, and non-governmental organizations.
Says Friedman,
It was an attempt to expand a campaign that
already existed and to create a game that would
spark a conversation and raise awareness beyond
what our other programming was doing. We went
in not knowing what we would get and with the
goal to create something that would linger and
would have more of an impact than a PSA or TV
show. (2010)
Responding to the request, Ruiz and York
sought to use “uncomplicated, immediate mech-
anisms” in Darfur is Dying’s gameplay. They
wanted to inspire players to effect real world
change by taking part in letter-writing campaigns
and learning how to initiate divestment strategies
in their college campuses. More than 700,000
people played it in the first month after the game’s
release on April 30th, 2006—the day of the Save
Darfur Rally in Washington, D.C. That number
grew to more than two million. Tens of thousands
of players utilized “activist tools” that TAG wove
into the game’s reward structure. This includes
the ability to write letters to the President and
petition Congress to enact legislation to support
the people of Darfur. Says Ruiz,
We were guided by a three-step design methodol-
ogy. First, we wanted to construct an experience
in which the player could become emotionally
invested via personal narratives and testimoni-
als. Secondly, we wanted to pull back and be able
to offer her a broader context of the extremely
complicated issue. Thirdly, we wanted to ensure
that she had an immediate and simple means to
make a difference in the real world in some small
way, especially given the government and media’s
stark silence on the genocide in Darfur at the
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260
Power to the People
time. In this case, playing through a portrayal of
genocide would be entirely disheartening were it
not for a chance to spread awareness about the
crisis, learn about divestment, sign a petition, or
write a letter with the goal of evoking decision-
makers to respond. (2010)
Ruiz presented the game to members of
Congress and Pulitzer Prize winning New York
Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (2006), who
has worked extensively in the region, says it is
“one of the best presentations of life in Darfur” (p.
12). In contrast, immediately after mtvU posted
an early prototype of Darfur is Dying, Julian Dib-
bell wrote an article for the Village Voice entitled,
“Game From Hell.” Dibbell writes,
Folks, I’ve seen some sick and twisted video
games in my day, but I hereby award the cake to
a dark little perversion of the human imagination
entitled Fetching Water, a finalist in the MTV/
Reebok Darfur Digital Activist contest… Currently
playable in demo form at MTV’s new college-
targeted broadband site, mtvU, Fetching Water
casts the player as a cute Darfuri child dodging
heavily armed militia gangs through the five ki-
lometers of desert between home and the nearest
well. Fail to outrun the militiamen and the game
ends, with “kidnap, rape, and murder” listed as
your likeliest fates; make it to the well and back,
and maybe your family survives another day of
drought. Is there even a rating for something this
f***ed-up. (2006)
Ruiz and York were mindful of their position
in addressing issues in Darfur and anticipated
the potential for negative reactions. They noted
that Dibbell’s response was to a work-in-progress
version of the game that was put online with little
context. “We were leading a group of privileged
college students from a private university to
develop a game about something so far from our
own daily realities. It’s understandable that people
would react viscerally to that,” says Ruiz (2010).
The team consulted with various individuals
and groups, including those with expertise on the
genocide and those who spent time in the region.
Paul Freedman, a Peabody Award Winning docu-
Figure 1. Darfur is Dying game screenshot of the internally displaced persons camp. (© 2006, MTV,
Take Action Games. Used with permission)
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Power to the People
mentary filmmaker who was directing Sand and
Sorrow, a film on Darfur at the time, provided
invaluable consultation about the logistics of the
camps inside Darfur, as well as imagery for the
game’s aesthetic modeling. Ruiz and York also
consulted with activists and scholars such as
Donald Miller, Executive Director of the USC
Center for Religion and Civic Culture; and Brian
Steidle, a former U.S. Marine, unarmed military
observer and U.S. representative to the African
Union. Additionally, the International Crisis Group
and International Rescue Committee provided the
team with information, perspective and imagery
that proved critical to an understanding of the
situation. Ruiz says,
These were incredibly helpful to game develop-
ment but we didn’t get the opportunity to speak
with Sudanese experts who may have witnessed
what was happening. It was an element that didn’t
quite match up with our understandings of equity
in game design. More people from outside of the
situation were contributing to content than those
internal to it. There’s no doubt that the game
would have benefited greatly from the perspective
of Sudanese experts who were much closer to the
politics and history of the region. (2010)
Following the production of Darfur is Dying,
TAG co-produced RePlay: Finding Zoe/ReJouer:
Où est Zoé? along with the Metropolitan Action
Committee on Violence Against Women and
Children (METRAC), a Canadian non-profit
organization that prevents violence against di-
verse women, youth, and children. METRAC
approached TAG to develop an online game on
healthy relationships amongst children and youth
aged eight to fourteen with the goal of challenging
gender stereotypes and gender-based violence.
Ruiz says that the partnership with METRAC was
TAG’s first opportunity to work so closely with
those engaged in community development work
on the issues. Ruiz says that METRAC brought
invaluable knowledge about the topic and the
target audience that the design team would not
have had on its own as game developers (2010).
RePlay/ReJourer tells the story of two friends
searching for their friend, Zoe. After hearing sexist
and stereotyping rumors about her, they conclude
she is caught in an abusive relationship. During
their search for Zoe, her friends navigate through
their neighborhood and are challenged by situa-
tions that encourage them to work together and
be respectful, confident communicators. Success
in these situations equips them to find Zoe and
cheer for her. The game includes information on
the warning signs of violence and community
services relevant to Ontario youth.
Funded by the Government of Ontario,
METRAC assembled an Interdisciplinary Advi-
sory Committee for the project that included
educators and school board members, experts in
technology and communications, violence preven-
tion organizations, and people who work with
youth. The committee provided guidance for all
stages of the project. METRAC also completed
a literature review on best practices for video
game design and conducted focus groups with
more than 250 diverse young people in the prov-
ince of Ontario. Youth were asked about their
game playing behaviors, ideas and preferences,
information directly utilized in the game’s design.
Wendy Komiotis, METRAC’s Executive Director,
comments on the importance of focus groups:
As an organization that operates from an anti-
oppressive framework and values equity so much,
we knew we needed to find out what youth wanted
in this game. Instead of settling on the advice of
literature and adult experts, we thought it was
important to listen to youth themselves. Not just
the ones who could afford their own game consoles
at homes. We made sure to ask what they liked in
a game, digital or not, whether played at home
or a friend’s house, whether played every day or
not. (2010)
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Power to the People
Komiotis explains that METRAC discovered
new things about the way young people play
games:
They told us that it was action, not violence so
much, that they looked for in a good game. This
was interesting because we were totally new to
the world of social issue games and had heard
all the hype about how games promote and teach
violence. The youth also shared that they wanted
a lot of control, even in the process of playing a
simple online Flash game like RePlay/ReJourer.
They wanted to control the look of their characters.
They wanted to play with characters that looked
like them and looked nothing like them. Choice
is important. In contrast to all the research on
media violence we had read, these youth were
not playing like mindless sponges. They applied
a lot of their own agency in the process. (2010)
The ideas and preferences of the youth who
participated in focus groups directly informed
RePlay/ReJourers design. For example, a feature
was included where players choose their character,
and conscious effort was dedicated to represent-
ing characters in non-normative ways. Ruiz says
that METRAC and TAG worked hard to reflect
the youth they had met in their focus groups, their
“many skin and hair colors and types, their differ-
ent physical abilities and body shapes, their dress
and styles… The game does not place gendered
limitations on characters, which was important
in creating a game that challenges mainstream
gender roles and stereotypes.” (2010) In addition,
a feature was included where players answer ques-
tions about issues of abuse and gender before and
after they play the game and through an abstract
graphic representation, they can view how other
players answered as well. Komiotis explains the
significance of this feature:
It helps us collect data about players’ opinions.
But, perhaps more importantly, it helps players
contextualize themselves with other players. They
get the opportunity to see that, for example, most
players answer the question of whether or not girls
can do anything boys can do in the affirmative.
They understand that most people do have some
positive ideas about gender and ending abuse.
Even if it doesn’t always translate to peoples’
actions in relationships, seeing that most of us
don’t believe abuse is okay is a start to support
Figure 2. RePlay: Finding Zoe/ReJouer: Où est Zoé? game screenshot of title page. (© 2007, METRAC,
Take Action Games. Used with permission.)
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Power to the People
positive attitudes in youth and help them form
healthier behaviors in their relationships. (2010)
Since its release in 2007, more than 10,000
people have played RePlay/ReJourer. It won
three awards for its design, two from Ashoka
Changemakers and one from Adobe. Of the 353
players who chose to answer the post-game survey,
45 percent identified learning “something new.”
Additionally, RePlay/ReJourer was translated
into French and updated for Francophone cultural
competency in 2008 through a partnership with
Centre ontarien de prévention des agressions
(COPA), given the bilingual nature of Ontario.
Komiotis explains,
It was important for us not to do a word-for-word
French translation, because it would not be cul-
turally competent. We partnered with COPA, who
used their peer networks across the province to
connect with Francophone youth and make sure
the game’s language reflected how they commu-
nicate. (2010)
Komiotis says that the incorporation of youth
voices in the game’s content and its diverse im-
agery are two of its greatest strengths. “If youth
were the ones who developed the game” Komiotis
notes, “if they had learned the skills to make the
games and actually did it, equity in the design
process would have been even stronger” (2010).
TAG’s current work, In The Balance, consists
of a documentary film and a game. In The Bal-
ance explores the story of six Kentucky teenagers
who were incarcerated for murder more than a
decade ago. The game began as an experiment in
computational documentary and evolved into an
investigation of broader dynamics and personal
stories embedded in America’s criminal justice
system and prison industrial complex. Some of the
questions In The Balance provokes relate to the
issue of ethics and documentary filmmaking and to
one of the form’s longstanding ethical concerns –
the burden of responsibility documentarians have
as they seek to represent, model and simulate real
lives and situations.
In The Balance’s core team engaged in five
years of research. They visited prisons in Tennes-
see and immersed themselves in research on issues
such as capital punishment, life sentencing of
juveniles and the over-incarceration of America’s
poorest citizens. York, a trained journalist, notes
that “objectivity is always a constant struggle” in
the process of developing the documentary and
Figure 3. In The Balance game screenshot of a prison modeled after the Tennessee Prison for Women
in Nashville. (© 2008, Take Action Games. Used with permission.)
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Power to the People
game and “the range of opinions on it is something
we were cognizant of and were always negotiat-
ing” (2010). In referencing Brian Winston’s essay,
“The Documentary Film as Scientific Inscription,”
York notes documentary filmmaker Frederick
Wiseman’s assertion:
[Films] have a point of view that allows you—or,
hopefully, asks you—to think, to figure out what
you think about what’s happening. I don’t know
how to make an objective film. I think my films are
a fair reflection of the experience making them.
My subjective view is that they are fair films. (as
cited in Winston, 1993, p. 49)
In contrast, documentary scholar Bill Nichols’
believes that a subjective approach can help an
audience examine their preconceived notions
and assumptions. “Subjectivity itself compels
belief: instead of an aura of detached truthful-
ness we have the honest admission of a partial
but highly significant, situated and impassioned
view.” (2001, p. 51)
Adopting Nichols’ “documentary modes,”
York says,
Our discomfort with calling In The Balance ‘ob-
jective’ will be reflected in the game’s rules and
the game’s design. It mirrors the idea that there
is no one ‘true’ perspective and the fabrication
inherent to a documentary is purposefully and
self-conscientiously exposed. One of the most
challenging and problematic aspects of the project
is discerning what the goals for the player should
be. James P. Gee’s [2007] concept of projective
identity requires that we think clearly through
the structure of identification for the player. This
is challenging because ultimately, we don’t feel
we’re making a project about either one “truth”
or about what other outcomes may have been
possible. Rather, it’s about how multiple voices
tell their versions of the story—from individuals
directly involved and affected, to scholars that
speak of broader systemic elements. (2010)
Values at Play
Values at Play (VAP) is a National Science Founda-
tion research project whose principle investigator
Mary Flanagan believes that technology has the
power to transform human behavior, shift cul-
ture, and shape institutions. Flanagan directs the
Tiltfactor game research lab at Hunter College,
which harnesses video games in the service of
humanistic principles, with the recognition that
games hold great potential to educate and inspire.
VAP investigates how designers can be more
intentional about integrating human values into
game systems. VAP seeks to assist designers to
create games that further the understanding and
appreciation of equality and diversity.
In the 1990s, VAP’s principle investigator
Mary Flanagan focused on gender equity, creating
software for female players and initiating after-
school programs to build the technology skills of
girls. She says that equity and inclusion have been
essential to her work as a woman designer. The
work of her game laboratory, Tiltfactor, empha-
sizes how white, male, and heterosexual partici-
pants dominate the world of software development
and game design. Flanagan explains:
As a consequence, those who are not white/ male/
heterosexual often feel like they have to conform
to the mores of the dominant culture. A core
principle in the laboratory is to create a space
that celebrates and legitimates difference and
diversity, rather than conformity. A corollary of
this approach is that our games tend to fall outside
of the mainstream (which is where we like them
to be!)—they spotlight voices and perspectives
that are usually found only at the margins. (2010)
VAP develops games as well as game creation
tools. For example, the Grow-A-Game Cards is
a simple and engaging tool that broadens access
to game design by helping people brainstorm
game ideas on social issues and societal values.
Non-designers can also use the cards to create
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Power to the People
powerful, expressive ideas. More importantly,
Flanagan notes, Grow-A-Game Cards help non-
developers view game design as an interesting,
accessible and fun medium for personal, political,
and artistic expression. She believes that increas-
ing contributions of non-programmers and other
non-experts will ultimately contribute to a more
inclusive game development community. Says
Flanagan,
It is relatively easy to see the benefits to a given
design when enhanced by new ways of thinking
due to the diverse voices of the design team and
the player group. These arguments for innovation
are often stronger to those in the industry than
arguing for diversity’s sake, just to be inclusive. In
the end, the principle is served, and hopefully, new
ideas, perspectives, technologies, rewards, points
of view, and the like are actively developed. (2010)
Molleindustria
Molleindustria, founded by Paolo Pedercini, aims
to “reappropriate” video games as a popular form
of mass communication. It investigates the per-
suasive potentials of the medium by subverting
mainstream video gaming cliché. Mollindustria
produced a number of online games that explore
issues such as abuse perpetrated by clergy, cor-
porate food production and sexual and gender
fluidity. With respect to incorporating equity in
games, Pedercini says there is a risk in viewing it
as a mere implementation issue, which can lead
developers to creating little more than a series of
guidelines for “politically-correct design practice”
(2010).
For instance, he notes that The Sims allows
players to design characters from every conceiv-
able race and allows characters to form same-sex
relationships with each other. However, gender,
skin color, and sexual orientation are cosmetic op-
tions as the “family” portrayed in the game always
conforms to the same parameters and is always
contextualized into a North American suburban
environment. He says that the game reinforces the
“narrative of the American Dream” by depicting
equal career and opportunities despite race and
gender differences in characters. In this way,
Figure 4. Screenshot of Tiltfactor’s Grow-A-Game Cards web page. (© 2010, Tiltfactor. Used with
permission.)
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Power to the People
Pedercini questions if The Sims actually reflects
progressive design or just cultural mystification:
Certainly I prefer the highly politically incor-
rect world of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to
the utopian suburbia of The Sims at least it
provides a complex representation of the urban
environment. The city of San Andreas, modeled
after Los Angeles, is a space characterized by
inequalities. Social and racial tensions inform
the overarching plot, the player is continuously
confronted with moral dilemmas that arise from
being disempowered as citizen. (2010)
Pedercini refers to the “posturing of equity”
in games when power and access to resources
is so skewed (2010). Pedercini cites the recent
alternate reality game, EVOKE, and how many
of the problems the game purports to solve are
directly or indirectly created by two decades of
Washington consensus. Says Pedercini,
At first sight it appears a great initiative, the comic
that introduces the online game is full of empow-
ered men and women from developing countries
and the promoters are actively trying to recruit
a diverse player population. Except you notice
that the game is sponsored by the World Bank,
the infamous super-national institution controlled
by the richest countries. The same institution
that, together with the World Trade Organiza-
tion and International Monetary Fund, imposed
free-market policies to a number of developing
countries with catastrophic consequences. (2010)
While the developers of EVOKE may be well-
intentioned and there may be positive outcomes
to the game, Pedercini warns about the “photo-
shopped diversity” found in the marketing of
universities and corporations (2010). He notes
that, when there is a large disconnection between
the object of inquiry and the subject producing
the text, misrepresentations and mystifications
are difficult to avoid.
Pedercini explains that Molleindustria’s Oili-
garchy game exemplifies radical game design
by allowing players to be the “protagonist of the
petroleum era,” where they fuel the world’s oil
addiction with the goal of successfully exploring,
drilling, bribing and halting green energies as they
run their oil company with limited resources. As
an “oiligarch,” the player manages the extraction
business in the homeland and overseas and lobbies
the government to keep the carbon-fossil based
economy as profitable as possible. Oiligarchy il-
lustrates what Pedercini believes to be the main
potential of game systems. Pedercini says,
Their main potential lays in their ability to easily
represent complex systems such as the economic
and the political ones. Observing and interacting
with a system “from above” allows the player
to abstract from her everyday experience and
think about the invisible threads that connect
our globalized economy. In order to create an
“ethical” game you just have to set up a system
of rewards and punishments that force the player
to be “good.” I wish it was that easy! I believe
players are smarter than lab rats in a Skinner box.
If we dismiss the simplistic relation violent games
= violent behavior, we also have to acknowledge
that we need more than good scout simulations
to foster critical thinking. (2010)
Global Kids
Global Kids in New York City reaches out to
marginalized youth, primarily young people
of color, in low-income neighborhoods. Barry
Joseph, director of the organization’s Online
Leadership Program, stresses that Global Kids
identifies the potential of young people to learn
and view themselves as global citizens and com-
munity leaders. The Online Leadership Program
builds on youths’ existing strengths and assets,
at the same time that it does not underestimate
the impact of internalized oppressions they may
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Power to the People
face. “We look to the youth whenever we can to
shape the content of the games—they pick the
issues, they work out the core mechanics … but
we never leave them to do so on their own and
provide more guidance with some groups than
others” (2010).
Educators and professional game designers
partner with youth throughout the game design
process. While Global Kids cannot expect youth
to have design skills that take experts years to
develop, Joseph notes that youth bring unique and
valuable assets and insights. For instance, a team
of first and second-generation youth Caribbean
immigrants developed Ayiti: The Cost of Life. The
partnering gaming company, GameLab, wanted
to locate the game in China, but the youth team
wanted the game to reflect issues with which they
were more familiar. Joseph explains that the youth
were not shy in contributing their ideas, opinions
and knowledge at key points in Ayitis develop-
ment. For example, during the first play test, the
youth team noticed how game characters that fell
into debt immediately died. They pointed out that
positive elements should be worked into Ayiti to
more accurately reflect real life in Haiti, that it
was not as stark as the game suggested. The team
advocated for changes to game play, including an
opportunity for players to build things in their
communities. When the question arose about
including cheat codes in the game to get out of
debt, a team member aptly noted: “In Haiti, they
don’t have a cheat code” (2010).
Joseph speaks to challenges Global Kids faces
as they seek to incorporate equity in collaborative
digital media and game projects. He notes that
time is often a limiting factor, which hinders the
depth of game design skills they are able to de-
velop. “This pressure means at times we need to
move forward on the project and get youth buy-in
after the fact,” he says, a less-than-ideal process
for equitable game development (2010). Time
constraints can also limit learning opportunities
for the young people as well. He offers an example
from the design process of another Global Kids’
game, Hurricane Katrina: Tempest in Crescent
City, noting that the majority of youth on the
design team originally shied away from giving
the game’s main character a name that they felt
would be “too black” (2010). Joseph felt that the
team did not get to explore or dissect this issue
fully due to scheduling concerns in the develop-
ment process.
GUIDELINES FOR ANTI-
OPPRESSION IN GAME DESIGN
AND DEVELOPMENT
An overview of anti-oppression principles, as well
as insights provided by collectives and partners on
equity issues and games, informed the guidelines
we suggest in this section. These guidelines serve
as a starting point to understand practicalities in
building anti-oppressive games.
Figure 5. Oiligarchy game screenshot. (Public Domain)
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Power to the People
1. Disrupt Stereotypes
On a preliminary level, anti-oppression in game
development and design entails making conscious
efforts to disrupt the reproduction of oppres-
sive assumptions in the look, feel, and play of a
game. Makers must avoid uncritical stereotypes
and “othering” depictions, especially of groups
that are most marginalized in media and society.
Richard Dyer (1996) draws connections between
stereotypes and unequal power relationships be-
tween groups. He writes that “stereotypes express
particular definitions of reality, with concomitant
evaluations, which in turn relate to the disposition
of power within society” (p. 248). In questioning
“who proposes the stereotype” and “who has the
power to enforce it,” Dyer demonstrates how
stereotypes tend to reinforce the worldviews
and position of dominant groups (p. 248). While
stereotypes of dominant individuals and groups
certainly exist, the full harm of stereotypes play
out against those who have less power to define
Figure 6. Ayiti: The Cost of Life game screenshot of title page. 2006 Global Kids. Used with permission.)
Figure 7. Hurricane Katrina: Tempest in Crescent City screenshot of gameplay (left) and main character
(right). (© 2008, Global Kids. Used with permission.)
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Power to the People
reality, to deem who and what is “normal” and
“abnormal.”
For example, in creating RePlay: Finding Zoe/
ReJouer: Où est Zoé, mainstream understandings
about gender—how girls and boys are “supposed”
to look—the designers provide players with a
wide range of options in choosing the look of their
character. Given the invisibility and vilification
of dark skin in media and negative connotations
having dark skin carries in mainstream society,
the game makers made a conscious decision to
provide players with the option to choose a dark
brown skin color for characters. However, as
alluded to by Pedercini above, diversity that ap-
pears “photoshopped” can be problematic where
it is tokenizing or exists on a purely surface level.
When consciously representing groups of people
typically underrepresented, game creators should
not simply use a window dressing approach.
Game makers must adopt intentionality and
conscientiousness when broadening diversity and
challenging mainstream stereotypes in games.
The Diner Dash franchise provides an interesting
example. Many incarnations of the game have a
young female character as the diner’s server, Flo.
While some may consider this a stereotyping de-
piction, deeper complexity is embodied in the char-
acter and her role. Flo is a former stockbroker who
quit her job to run the diner. She is an entrepreneur
who must utilize a variety of strategies and skills
to successfully manage and expand her business.
In many ways, Flo’s portrayal moves beyond a
one-dimensional understanding of women’s role
and qualities even if she engages in service and
nurturing work in the game. Dyer (1996) distin-
guishes “social types” from stereotypes in media.
“Although constructed iconographically similarly
to the way stereotypes are constructed,” he writes,
“social types can be used in a much more open and
flexible way” (p. 248-249). They can “figure in
almost any kind of plot and can have a wide range
of roles” while stereotypes “always carry within
their very representation an implicit narrative”
(p. 248-249). Inclusion of social type characters
like Diner Dashs Flo is a helpful way to disrupt
stereotypes in game representations.
2. Consider Players and
Communicate with Them
Careful consideration of a game’s target players
and their unique experiences—power they may
hold and oppressions they face—is critical to
anti-oppression in game creation. It entails mov-
ing away from the assumption that only one type
of player exists or that all players use games the
same way. Game designers and developers must
think reflectively about assumptions they make
about target players’ ideas, preferences, and needs.
Before creating Darfur is Dying, for example,
Take Action Games sought out information about
mtvU’s audience and network, as well as the evi-
dence that pointed to their lack of knowledge about
the situation in Darfur. Only then did the team feel
equipped to start designing a game to expose these
complex issues to American college-aged youth,
with the intent of provoking and inspiring those
players to take real-world action.
Communication with target players must have
real implications for the shape a game takes; it
cannot consist merely of testing pre-formed ideas.
For the development of RePlay/ReJourer, focus
groups with diverse Anglophone and Francophone
young people were essential to conceptualizing a
game targeted to youth aged 8 to 14. METRAC
dedicated a segment of the development budget
to travel across the province of Ontario and meet
with children in schools and community settings.
METRAC incorporated principles of community-
based participatory research when it directed
focus groups (Israel et al., 2005). Among other
features, community-based participatory research
“facilitates a collaborative, equitable partnership
… [It involves] an empowering and power-
sharing process that attends to social inequities”
(p. 7). Community-based participatory research
computes with anti-oppression and proves useful
in the design process for anti-oppressive games.
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Power to the People
3. Attend to Multiple and
Hidden Perspectives
An essential element to anti-oppressive practice
involves multiplicity, and game makers should
open space for marginalized communities to share
their ideas, opinions, and perspectives. Developers
cannot assume that their own perspective is defini-
tive and need time in the development process to
proactively search out and reflect upon other per-
spectives, particularly those hidden in mainstream
discussions. Through an anti-oppressive lens, it
is clear that academics and professionals are not
the sole experts on a subject. In the case of Darfur
is Dying, they do not only consist of Westerners
with particular perspectives on the crisis.
Game makers should converse with a diverse
body of experts and witnesses. Chris Swain (2010)
advises game developers to conduct needs analy-
ses with the support of experts, to yield a list of
pertinent concepts. These concepts contribute to
the learning objectives of value-based or ethical
games.
Game makers face a challenging and time-
consuming task of identifying and opening space
for hidden and marginal perspectives, which can
require significant resources. In the Balance’s
developer, Take Action Games, experienced a long
and costly research phase because of the difficultly
the creators faced in accessing criminalized people,
especially those implicated in serious and highly
newsworthy crimes. Beyond that, the process of
building trust and comfort between criminalized
youth and the game’s developers presented its own
difficulties and implications for project timelines.
Interestingly, hidden perspectives do not only
lie with marginalized groups and can be found
among those who have a great deal of socio-
political power, whose perspectives, understand-
ings and actions may be clouded by anything from
propaganda and mainstream mythology to the
sheer complexity of what they do. Molleindustria’s
Oiligarchy highlights oppressive practices of the
oil industry by exploring a dominant perspective
not often addressed in media, government, or
policy development. Some may accuse the game
of exaggerating the predatory intentions of the
industry, but Oiligarchys depiction of the oppres-
sion and degradation that arise from oil addiction
provokes players to reflect on a complicated and
mystifying system, one with far-reaching but
often hidden impacts on most peoples’ daily lives.
4. Marginalized Groups Guide
Design and Development
Applied to games, anti-oppression entails looking
to marginalized groups to guide the process of
design and development. Mary Flanagan speaks
to how the Tiltfactor Laboratory has created op-
portunities for marginalized students, designers,
and collaborators to participate in game design
and build games that better reflect their ideas and
play preferences. Since anti-oppression is a power-
sharing perspective, one that seeks to decrease
the divide between those considered experts and
those viewed as non-experts, it is essential that
game makers provide opportunities for laypeople
to contribute to a game’s development. The Grow-
a-Game Cards make the specialized process of
game development accessible and meaningful
to people without game expertise. Global Kids’
community-based initiatives exemplify how game
makers can engage marginalized people to lead the
game design process. Some Global Kids initiatives
transfer programming skills to young people who
may not otherwise have access to them, allowing
them to plan and build their own digital games
and interactive experiences.
Of course, sharing programming skills cannot
be undertaken lightly or quickly. It may require
significant resources and time, and unexpected
issues that directly relate to oppressions margin-
alized people face may arise. A telling example
comes from Joseph, who says they did not have
adequate time to support a young development
team who wanted to find a less “black” name for
a game character. The harms, pains, and internal-
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Power to the People
ized concerns that oppression creates in the lives
of marginalized people reveal themselves in many
ways. For people who do not experience the same
oppressions, it can prove difficult to anticipate
these concerns in the planning process. As a result,
allowing for flexibility in time and resources to
process these concerns proves essential to anti-
oppressive game design.
Game makers can establish balanced partner-
ships with non-governmental organizations and
groups who work to support and learn from diverse
communities as a means to get guidance from
marginalized people. The partnership between
Take Action Games and METRAC was not only
instrumental in accessing funding for RePlay/
ReJourer, it also supported information-sharing
between game developers, Ontario youth and
violence prevention advocates.
CONCLUSION
Anti-oppressive principles are amenable to games
with social issue content as well as commercial
games. Henry Jenkins suggests:
The issues are complex because oppressive as-
sumptions may be more deeply encoded into the
genre norms of commercial games, while serious
games may start from a pro-social agenda. But all
the more reason why you want commercial design-
ers to start reflecting on these concerns. (2010)
Beyond challenging “taken-for-granted” ideals
and ideas about groups with lesser and more access
to power, anti-oppression explores the structure of
the world and how it functions to maintain social
power imbalances between people. Root causes
of society’s contemporary dynamics are sought
out and exposed through, among other things, the
very mechanisms explained above—disruption of
stereotypes, connecting with target communities,
listening to multiple and hidden perspectives, and
opening space for the guidance and direction of
marginalized groups.
For all of its heady theoretical underpinnings,
anti-oppression is designed for practical applica-
tion in building societal equity and flattening
hierarchies. It requires reflectivity and holds strong
ethical implications for those who practice it. It
also holds a sense of urgency that changes must
happen and that people on the margins as well as
people with higher access to power and resources
must be involved. A core goal of anti-oppressive
games, then, is to inspire players to contribute to
equitable social change.
Game collective members and partners in-
terviewed for this chapter provided key starting
points to support equitable principles in game
and interactive design and development. These
guidelines only scratch the surface of the poten-
tial anti-oppression principles hold to transform
game design and development, especially games
that seek to expose unequal power dynamics in
society. Anti-oppression can support the process
of giving players space to re-envision a more eq-
uitable world, where, as Flanagan says, working
and fighting for equity, justice, and inclusion is
learned and practiced, where players are agents
of change who can create and share tools for
social change.
REFERENCES: LITERATURE
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atmosphere where everyone participates. In Anti-
Oppression Reader (pp. 11-12). San Francisco,
CA: Global Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.
globalexchange.org/about/AO_Reader_2007.pdf
Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: The expres-
sive power of videogames. Cambridge, MA: The
MIT Press.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (n.d.). Homicide
trends in the U.S. Retrieved from http://bjs.ojp.
usdoj.gov/content/homicide/gender.cfm
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272
Power to the People
Chater, N. (1994). Biting the hand that feeds
me: Notes on privilege from a white-anti-racist
feminist. Canadian Women’s Studies Journal,
14(2), 100–103.
Clifford, D., & Burke, B. (2008). Anti-oppressive
ethics and values in social work. Basingstoke,
UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Collins, P. H. (1986). Learning from the outsider
within: The sociological significance of black
feminist thought. Social Problems, 33(6), S14–
S32. doi:10.1525/sp.1986.33.6.03a00020
Dalrymple, J., & Burke, B. (2006). Anti-oppressive
practice: Social care and the law. Buckingham,
UK: Open University Press.
Dibbell, J. (2006, February 7). Game from hell:
Latest plan to save Sudan: Make a
Dumbrill, G. C. (2003). Child welfare: AOP’s
nemesis? In W. Shera (Ed.), Emerging perspec-
tives on anti-oppressive practice (pp. 101-119).
Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.
Dyer, R. (1996). The role of stereotypes. In Mor-
ris, P., & Thornham, S. (Eds.), Media studies:
A reader (pp. 245–251). New York: New York
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Exchange, G. (2006). Anti-oppression reader.
Retrieved from http://www.globalexchange.org/
about/AO_Reader_2007.pdf
Findlay, B. (1992). Breaking the colour code:
A white woman un-learns racism. Our Times,
11(4-5), 47–48.
Flanagan, M. personal communication, February
25, 2010
Friedman, S. personal communication, March
1, 2010
Frye, M. (1983). The politics of reality: Essays in
feminist theory. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press.
Ganeva, T. (2009, November 17). ‘Hit the bitch’:
Domestic violence PSA goes very, very wrong.
AlterNet. Retrieved from http://www.alternet.
org/blogs/reproductivejustice/144018/%27h
it_the_bitch%27%3A_domestic_violence_psa_
goes_very%2C_very_wrong/
Gee, J. P. (2007). Pleasure, learning, video games,
and life: The projective stance. In Knobel, M., &
Lankshear, C. (Eds.), A new literacies sampler
(pp. 95–114). Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang
Publishing.
Hall, S. (2003). The whites of their eyes: Rac-
ist ideologies and the media. In Dines, G., &
Humez, J. M. (Eds.), Gender, race, and class in
media (pp. 89–93). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Publications, Inc.
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screens/game-from-hell/
Israel, B. A., Eng, E., Schulz, A., & Parker, E.
A. (2005). Methods in community-based partici-
patory research for health. San Francisco, CA:
Jossey-Bass.
Jenkins, H. personal communication, May 10,
2010
Jill. (2009, November 17). “Hit the Bitch”? Femi-
niste. Retrieved from http://www.feministe.us/
blog/archives/2009/11/17/hit-the-bitch/
Jiwani, Y. (1997, March). Culture, violence, and
inequality [Keynote speech]. FREDA workshop,
Violence against women: Meeting the cross-
cultural challenge, Vancouver, Canada. Retrieved
from http://www.harbour.sfu.ca/freda/articles/
culture.htm
Johnson, D. S. (2009). Webinar on 2008 income,
poverty and health insurances estimates from the
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www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2009/
djohnson_remarks09iph_revised.html
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http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/marist-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3310865.
Created from marist-ebooks on 2019-04-26 07:11:18.
Copyright © 2010. IGI Global. All rights reserved.
273
Power to the People
Joseph, B. personal communication, February
1, 2010
Komiotis, W. personal communication, March
1, 2010
Kondrat, M. E. (1999). Who is the “self” in self-
aware: Professional self-awareness from a critical
theory perspective. In Social Service Review (pp.
451–475). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago
Press.
Kristof, N. D. (2006, May 7). Heroes of Darfur.
The New York Times, p. 4.12.
Lopes, T., & Thomas, B. (2006). Dancing on live
embers: Challenging racism in organizations.
Toronto, CA: Between the Lines Press.
Mullaly, B. (1997). Structural social work: Ide-
ology, theory and practices. New York: Oxford
University Press.
Nichols, B. (2001). Introduction to documentary.
Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Pedercini, P. personal communication, February
24, 2010
Porter, A. (2006). Well meaning men … Breaking
out of the “Man Box”. New York: A Call to Men.
Ruiz, S. personal communication, March 1, 2010
Shirky, C. (2005, October 21). Keynote. Presented
at the Games for Change conference, New York.
Sinclair, D. (2003). Overcoming the backlash:
Telling the truth about power, privilege, and op-
pression: Exploring gender-based analysis in the
context of violence against women: A resource kit
for community agencies. Durham Region, Ontario:
The Violence Prevention Coordinating Council.
Strier, R. (2007). Anti-oppressive research in social
work: A preliminary discussion. British Journal
of Social Work, 37(5), 857–871. doi:10.1093/
bjsw/bcl062
Swain, C. (2010). The mechanics is the message:
How to communicate through the mechanics of
user action and system response. In Shrier, K., &
Gibson, D. (Eds.), Ethics and game design: Teach-
ing values through play. Hershey, PA: Information
Science Reference.
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game is supposed to deter domestic violence?
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causes/womens-rights/blog/hit-the-bitch-game-
is-supposed-to-deter-domestic-violence/www.
hitthebitch.dk/
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documentary. New York: Routledge.
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ference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
REFERENCES: GAMES AND
GAMES INITIATIVES
ArtsElectronic. (2002). The Sims.
Børn og Unge i Voldsramte Familier. (2009). Hit
the bitch. Retrieved from http://www.hitthebitch.
dk/
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Global Kids & Gamelab. (2006). Ayiti: The cost
of life. Retrieved from http://ayiti.newzcrew.org/
globalkids/
Kids, G. Creating leaders through experience.
Retrieved from http://www.globalkids.org/
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274
Power to the People
Kids, G., & Creations, D. (2009). Hurricane Ka-
trina: Tempest in Crescent City. Retrieved from
http://tempestincrescentcity.ning.com/game
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molleindustria.org/en/home
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Against Women and Children. Retrieved from
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Against Women and Children, & Take Action
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Où est Zoé? Retrieved from http://www.metrac.
org/replay/index.html
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mtvU, Susana Ruiz, Huy Truong, & Ashley York
[collaboratively with colleagues from the Uni-
versity of Southern California, & InterFUEL].
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darfurisdying.com/
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takeactiongames.com/TAG/HOME.html
Values at Play. Designing social values in computer
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World Bank Institute (Producer). (2010). EVOKE.
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Chapter 17
INTRODUCTION
Babies are in. Between the Octomom, Jon and
Kate, and the Jolie-Pitt brood, baby stories are
leading media sales (Washington, 2009). Often
missing from these stories, however, is the ever-
increasing use of Assisted Reproductive Technol-
ogy (ART) and the ethical complexities that come
with it. With new technological approaches to
reproduction, such as in-vitro fertilization, pre-
implantation genetic diagnosis, and the use of
sperm donors, egg donors, surrogates and gesta-
tional carriers, come emergent ethical situations.
Ethics, as a socially accepted notion of right and
wrong, have not yet been defined in the United
States as it pertains to ART. The field of fertility
medicine is one area among many in the modern
world where technology has vastly outpaced our
ethical, legal, and social systems leaving us in a
snarl of gray morality. We are becoming increas-
ingly aware of the physical risks that come with
the luxury to control the specific circumstances
The Doctor Will Be You Now:
A Case Study on Medical
Ethics and Role-Play
Nahil Sharkasi
University of Southern California, USA
ABSTRACT
In the eld of fertility medicine, technology has vastly outpaced our ethical, legal, and social frame-
works leaving us in a quagmire of gray morality. Seeds is a role-playing game and ethics simulation
about Assisted Reproductive Technology and its effect on 21st century medical decisions. Players play
the role of a fertility doctor and must make difcult ethical decisions through courses of treatment while
balancing economic, emotional, and scientic concerns. With Seeds, the goal is to foster meaningful
decision-making that may transfer from the game world into the real world through stimulating role-
play and by creating a safe space for exploration of ethical issues. This chapter offers critical reection
on the design choices made in the process of creating this ethical exploration space on the subject of
Assisted Reproductive Technology.
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-120-1.ch017
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276
The Doctor Will Be You Now
of the process of birth— chief among them
multiple births and pre-maturity (Mundy, 2007).
The rapidly growing population of parents and
caretakers of premature children, and children
conceived using ART, face unique challenges and
may benefit from a game experience that allows
them to explore these ethical issues.
At the core of each ethical conflict surround-
ing ART is the essential question of life and death
that resonates intimately with each individual.
Regardless of whether players have specifically
considered this topic before, everyone has an
opinion. The conflicts that arise from the avail-
ability of new reproductive technologies are
receiving more and more coverage in popular
media. While the drama unfolds—how many
embryos to implant, or which donor to choose,
this project, Seeds, specifically explores what it
would mean to more actively engage with these
ethical situations.
Ethics simulations are a niche in the field of in-
teractive media, and are becoming an increasingly
necessary tool to navigate the murky waters left in
the wake of speeding technological advancement.
Ethics simulation software is currently available
for training in corporate ethics, financial ethics,
biomedical ethics, and many other fields. Last
year, the United States Office of Government
Ethics developed their own ethical training soft-
ware CD-Rom based on their established ethical
training protocol (USOGE, 2009).. Laws often
represent a society’s commonly agreed upon ethi-
cal standards, though legal codes cannot always
be equated to ethical codes. Like most ethics
simulation software, this CD-Rom uses some
multimedia and limited interactivity to teach users
a pre-determined code of ethical behavior, which
is already established by law. For example, in a
sexual harassment training simulation, the goal of
the experience is to clarify the established right
and wrong codes of behavior, even within socially
ambiguous situations.
In areas of emerging technology, however,
there are many ethical questions to which a right
or wrong has not yet been commonly agreed upon
and codified by law. Whereas the goal of many
current ethics simulations for established fields is
to direct audiences to a so-called correct answer,
role-playing games can provide alternative ways
of understanding and evaluating ethics (Simkins,
2010). There is an increasing need for a virtual
space for ethical exploration that lets the user
understand their own ethical decision-making
process and the implications of the choices they
make to help navigate areas like ART where new
technology yields emergent ethical conflict. Fur-
ther, the model for ethical exploration outlined
in this chapter may also be useful in revisiting
areas of established ethical codes, as well as with
emergent ethical codes.
In the next section, I will discuss my approach
to creating a virtual space for ethical exploration
in a role-playing game about fertility medicine
called Seeds. I will describe the game and my
design process, as well as my results and obser-
vations. Finally, I will discuss challenges I faced
and outline directions for future research.
SEEDS OVERVIEW
The challenge of using role-playing game me-
chanics in an ethics simulation emerged from
my graduate thesis project at The University of
Southern California’s Interactive Media Division
with a game called Seeds. Seeds is a thought-
provoking, interactive experience that positions
players at the center of bio-ethical debate. Part
serialized medical drama, part online role-playing
game, Seeds prompts players to assess their own
beliefs to determine an ethical treatment solution
using Assisted Reproductive Technology. Through
engaging role-play in which players treat and di-
agnose infertility using controversial technologies,
players learn how each decision shapes their world
and the fate of the characters in it. By illuminating
some of the consequences of using ART, this game
could prove instructive for people facing some of
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The Doctor Will Be You Now
the real challenges these technologies give rise to
(Levitt, 2010). The goal of Seeds is to provide a
compelling narrative environment that facilitates
reflection and safe exploration of ethical issues.
I developed Seeds over the course of one
year with a team of graduate and undergraduate
students, and with fellowship funding from Fox
Interactive. Seeds was developed using Adobe
Flash and Flex and can be run as a stand-alone
Adobe Air application or in a web browser.
Where Seeds differs from other ethical simula-
tion software is in the fact that the ethical code
for the field of fertility medicine is emergent. In
other, more established disciplines, where the ethi-
cal standards are widely known and agreed upon,
the purpose of ethical training and simulation is
simply to educate the users on those established
ethical standards. In the United States, within the
field of ART, a sharp distinction between right
and wrong has not yet been fully established and
codified by law. The primary need is to better
understand the implications and consequences of
ART, rather than to train an audience on a code
of ethical behavior. Thus, Seeds is designed more
as a space for safe exploration of ethical issues
than a simulation that drives players to arrive at a
pre-determined conclusion. The goal of Seeds is to
spark an “Aha!” moment that lets the user under-
stand their own ethical decision-making process
and the implications of the choices they make.
Seeds utilizes standard role-playing game
structures: multiple characters (patients), quests
(treatments), resources (money) and inventory
(eggs, sperm, embryos). An embodied first-person
experience puts the player in the decision maker’s
shoes for them to face making personal, gut-level
decision. Seeds begins with the premise that the
player is a new doctor at a top fertility clinic. The
player is asked by “The Board of Directors” to take a
survey as part of the new-employee paperwork. The
results of the survey cast the player as one of three
profile types, described in detail below. Next, the
game starts, and the player consults with patients,
treats them and follows-up with the results, making
critical ethical decisions at each step of the way.
Meanwhile the game system tracks each decision
the player makes and evaluates it to see whether
the player’s behavior is consistent with his or her
beliefs as declared in the introductory survey.
GOALS AND MEASURES FOR
SUCCESS
When the goal of an interactive experience or
game is more than to entertain, game designers
Figure 1. A screenshot from Seeds
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The Doctor Will Be You Now
often invoke the notion of meaningful play. As
described by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman,
meaningful play “occurs when the relationships
between actions and outcomes in a game are both
discernable and integrated into the larger context
of the game” (2003). The communicative and
persuasive power of a game lies in the game’s
mechanics, or procedures (Bogost, 2007). While
the in-game procedures of Seeds are not faithful
representations of what a doctor does, they are a
comment on the mechanization of reproduction,
and are prompts for ethical reflection on conflicts
that are representative of conflicts outside the
game world. Miguel Sicart defines players of
computer games as ethical beings interested in the
actions and goals defined by a game’s design and
therefore implicitly interested in “how that design
can affect our moral fabric as ethical players”
(2009). Whereas meaningful play is contextualized
within the “magic circle” of the game, meaningful
decision-making is about connecting the player
as an ethical being to the game world’s actions
and consequences.
The goal of Seeds is to evoke not only mean-
ingful play, but also meaningful decision-making
that may suggest parallels between the game world
and the real world. The strategy employed in the
service of this goal draws parallels between the
fiction and actions of the game world that exist
within the magic circle to the conflicts and ac-
tions of the real world that the player inhabits.
Meaningful decision-making is a necessary ele-
ment of ethical reflection, and both meaningful
play and meaningful decision-making are best
fostered when contextualized within a rich and
immersive narrative world.
To address this objective, Seeds uses role-play
that involves the player’s own personal beliefs.
The game system challenges those beliefs through
traditional role-playing game mechanics. The deci-
sions the player makes are then evaluated within
an ethical framework that is constructed accord-
ing to real ethical situations from the scholarly
literature in this field of medicine. The result is
an immersive narrative-driven game experience
that both educates and provokes thought without
leading players to a predetermined resolution.
There are several user cues and behaviors used
to evaluate whether or not each design decision
serves the goals of the project. The first is the
experience of the “yuck” factor.. The “yuck”
factor is described in this field of medicine as the
gut reaction against a particular decision, case, or
procedure, and is a key factor used to determine
the ethical soundness of treatment decisions (Kohl,
2007). Doctors rely on an elusive gut reaction
to inform their ethical choices, and if the player
experiences the same reaction, this indicates that
they are engaged with the content and the connec-
tion to the doctor role is successfully established.
The second cue is the “aha!” moment; an emo-
tional response that would indicate a revelation
or surprise where the game compels the player
to understand an ethical issue in a different way,
or change their mind. An “aha!” moment could
also result when the consequences in the game
reinforce the decisions made and strengthen a
player’s convictions. The key in either case is an
emotional response that confirms that the player
is engaged and is somehow connected into the
network of responsibility in the game world.
In the next section, I will describe in detail
my approach to designing a way for players to
arrive at a point of ethical reflection created by an
emotional response to the content and game play.
METHODOLOGY FOR PROVOKING
ETHICAL DECISION-MAKING
The methodology used in Seeds to elicit emotional
response and ethical reflection has four parts.
First, the game assesses the user’s ethical point
of view; second, it challenges that stance through
rich media; third, it solicits a response to that chal-
lenge; and fourth, it compares that response to the
initially declared ethical point of view.
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The Doctor Will Be You Now
Survey
Three opposing forces frame the ethical issues
surrounding Assisted Reproductive Technology:
scientific advancement, economic constraints,
and patients’ desires (Hull, 2005). These three
vectors shape the exploration space of the game.
Upon starting the game, the player is asked by
“The Board of Directors” to take a survey assesses
the player’s general point of view on some key
ethical issues surrounding Assisted Reproductive
Technology. Each of the choices to the multiple-
choice questions in the survey represents one of
these three opposing forces. Based on the survey
results, the player is assigned one of three player
profiles: The Entrepreneur, The Mad Scientist,
The Miracle Worker-as well as a mission state-
ment appropriate to that profile.
The Entrepreneur believes fertility medi-
cine is a service industry where the cus-
tomer is always right.
The Mad Scientist supports the advance-
ment of science, experimental technolo-
gies, and research.
The Miracle Worker favors strong familial
relationships.
These profile types, as coarse as they are,
provide necessary boundaries for the explora-
tion of ethical conflict. The main function of this
survey is to calibrate the player’s ethical position
to evaluate the decisions he or she makes, and
to determine whether they are indeed consistent
with their declared mission statement. This also
allows the system to track whether the player has
changed their mind over the course of play. The
tertiary function of the survey is to prime the player
to own the role and decisions he or she makes,
supporting the player’s embodiment of the role.
The survey contains 8 questions that each cor-
respond to the ethical decisions the player will have
to make in the game. These questions touch on the
key areas of controversy in the field of Assisted
Reproductive Technology as outlined in Ethical
Issues in the New Reproductive Technologies, and
other literature.
These topics include:
Right to treatment—Is reproduction an
inherent right? Should treatment be cov-
ered by insurance? Who sets the price for
treatment?
Risky technologies—Should ART be
regulated?
Donor anonymity—Does a donor’s right
to anonymity trump a child’s right to know
his or her biological origins?
Third party parents (donors, surrogates,
gestational carriers) —what is the legal and
social status of these individuals? Does a
social, legal, or biological relationship take
precedent?
How many embryos should be created in a
course of treatment? How many should be
implanted with each transfer?
Table 1. Phases of play in Seeds
Introduction Consultation Phase
(Act I)
Treatment Phase (Act
2)
Results Phase
(Act 3)
4-part Methodology Survey Challenge Response Evaluation
Game Interface Player completes introduc-
tory survey.
Player watches consulta-
tion scene.
Player responds to prompts
and makes decisions about
treatment.
Player receives results
and feedback on his or her
actions.
Internal Mechanics System assigns player a
profile type based on survey
answers.
System delivers patient
cases that specifically chal-
lenge the player’s profile.
System collects data on
each response.
System compares player’s
pattern of decisions against
his or her profile type.
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When is the best time implant the embry-
os? An early, three day transfer is riskier.
Waiting until blastocyst stage (ve days)
is safer but could ultimately lead to more
disappointment.
Selective reduction— is this practice ethi-
cal? Can you risk the life of one to save
many, or many to save few? On what ba-
sis can we selectively reduce a pregnancy
(gender, health, ease of access)?
What to do with leftover embryos? Can
they be used for scientic research? Should
they be destroyed or kept frozen in perpe-
tuity? (Hull, 2005)
Challenge
Once the player’s profile is established, the sys-
tem delivers custom content to challenge their
particular stance. For example, if a player in the
intro survey states that donor anonymity should
be outlawed, once the game starts that player will
receive a patient case with a compelling request for
an anonymous donor. These cases are presented as
integral stories told in three acts: 1) consultation,
2) treatment, 3) follow up, and presented using a
variety of media. The first act of each patient case
is told in a brief Consultation scene with actors
playing the patients. The second act, Treatment,
consists of interactive game play, and the third
act, Follow Up, is told in images and text with
mild interactivity.
Response
Once the player’s ethical stance has been as-
sessed and challenged, the final step is to codify
and systematize their reactions, and the risks and
rewards associated with each decision. In uphold-
ing the design goal of creating a safe space for
ethical exploration, it is vitally important that the
game’s reward system not reflect the designer’s
own personal ethical stance. Rather than simply
rewarding morality points for some actions over
others, the system is entirely context specific,
ensuring that ethical decisions can be evaluated
differently depending on what the player’s mission
statement is. The player’s pattern of behavior is
tracked and each decision is tallied into the score.
One conceit of the game is that the player, as
the doctor, is the sole decision maker. In reality,
the critical decisions featured in the game are
made by doctors, patients, sperm and donors, and
a variety of other stakeholders. For the purpose
of maintaining a compelling single-player experi-
ence that exposes the player to a range of ethical
decisions, the game assumes that the doctor has
the final say, and the patients will always agree
with the doctor’s recommendations.
Evaluation
An essential part of the player feedback system
is meaningful consequences for each action taken
in the game. Each action deserves a substantial
reaction from the game system, however all
actions are not weighted equally. The game’s
evaluation system is based on ethical and legal
frameworks currently in use in this field, such
as the guidelines issued by the UK’s Human
Fertilization and Embryology Authority (Deech
and Smajdor, 2007). Each decision in the game
is evaluated by the game system for both its
magnitude, such as how many people it affects,
and directionality, such as which profile type the
decision favors. For example, a decision to sup-
port the donation of leftover embryos to scientific
research involves a group of people, such as the
family, doctors, and researchers, and favors the
Mad Scientist player profile, while a choice of
an open donorship involves only the family and
favors the Miracle Worker profile. These decisions
are then aggregated and compared to the profile
type chosen by the player.
The game becomes more complex when play-
ers make choices counter to their declared profile
and mission statement. Once the system satisfac-
torily tracks and evaluates each ethical decision,
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the next challenge is to provide feedback and
consequences so that the player feels the weight of
their actions in the world. Players receive feedback
in the form of letters from the Board of Directors,
which either congratulate them for upholding the
mission statement or reprimand them for diverging
from it. When a player’s decision pattern skews
too far in one direction, the player is presented
with consequences in the form of news events or
correspondence from non-player characters, for
example, a headline related to recent game actions
that may have positive or negative implications
for the player. Again, it is important that the game
not steer the player to make one decision over
another, but provide an engaging environment to
make different decisions and see the repercussions
for those decisions in world.
In the next section, I will describe the internal
logic of the system for weighting and evaluating
ethical decisions made in the game.
MECHANICS OF ETHICAL
EVALUATION
The treatment phase of the game, also the sec-
ond act in each patient case, is where the player
practices his or her ethical decision-making. The
game’s evaluation system is influenced by the
ethical and legal frameworks currently in use
in this field, such as the guidelines issued by
the UK’s Human Fertilization and Embryology
Authority (Deech and Smajdor, 2007). Ethical
decisions are classified as having consequences
in personal, professional, group, and government
arenas (Hull, 2005). Each decision in the game is
weighted based on sphere of influence, and how
many people it affects (See Table 2).
Each ethical decision in the game is tracked
with three indices for each of the three profile
types. Each decision is evaluated on which profile
type it favors as well as by how many people it
affects. The treatment phase of game play intro-
duces the use of an ethical decision-making
weighting matrix (Table 3). The matrix assigns
point values to each decision in the game accord-
ing to level of impact of the decision, and which
profile type it favors. For example, a decision in
favor of the Mad Scientist profile that only has
impact on a personal level is valued at +1 (a deci-
sion that just passes the Yuck test), while a deci-
sion that impacts governmental policy, such as a
life-defining policy decision, is valued at +4.
Conversely a decision that hinders the cause of
the Mad Scientist on the Government level would
receive a -4, and a decision that doesn’t pass the
Yuck test is given a -1.
The first decision the player makes in consult-
ing with a new patient is the decision to accept
or reject the patient for treatment. The only infor-
mation the player is given at that point is narrative
information about the patient. The game is solic-
iting a pure gut-reaction, and this decision should
be made purely based on the player’s personal
feelings. Since financial information does not
factor into this decision, it can be classified as a
decision that only affects the personal sphere. In
applying the above-mentioned ethical framework
as a weighting system, a personal decision has
less weight than a professional, group or govern-
ment decision. The “accept/reject” decision is
weighted as either a positive or negative 1, given
which profile type the case naturally favors.
Table 2. Weighting decisions for level of impact
Level of decision’s impact Point value weight
Decision For Government +4
Group +3
Professional +2
Personal +1
Neutral 0
Decision
Against
Personal -1
Professional -2
Group -3
Government -4
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The second decision the player impacts on
a professional level. After accepting a patient,
the player must then prescribe a treatment. The
player is given two options for treatment. Each is
described in terms of how much revenue it will
generate for the clinic and what the likelihood
of success is. This decision is about balancing
economic concerns and professional concerns,
while still not violating a player’s personal gut
choice that made them accept the patient in the
first place. The choice of treatment is weighted
at a positive or negative 2.
Once a course of treatment is prescribed, the
next set of decisions is about considering the family
as a group. This is called the Check List phase,
and is where the player verifies that the patient
has all the right components in order to proceed
with treatment. The ethical decision presents itself
if the patient requires the use of a sperm or egg
donor, surrogate, or gestational carrier. When third
parties are involved in the reproductive process,
the consequences can often be unpredictable for
the doctor who may, in some cases, be held re-
sponsible for facilitating the relationship. In the
Check List phase of the game, the patient has two
ethical choices to consider: the donor agreement
and the choice of donor.
The donor agreement is the contract that details
the relationship the donor is to have with his or her
offspring. In the real world brokers, or agencies
outside the medical establishment often negotiate
this contract, but for the purposes of including this
Table 3. Ethical decision making weighting matrix
Decision Entrepreneur Mad Scientist Miracle
Worker
1 Accepting a patient** -1/+1 -1/+1 -1/+1
Rejecting a patient* -1/+1 -1/+1 -1/+1
2 Prescribing experimental technology 0 +2 -2
Prescribing more expensive treatment +2 0 -2
3 Choosing Donor Anonymity 3 3 -3
Choosing Open Donorship -3 3 3
Choosing Delayed Disclosure 0 0 3
4 Harvesting the maximum number of gametes 3 3 -3
Harvesting the minimum Number of gametes -3 -3 0
5 Fertilizing the maximum number of eggs -3 3 -3
Fertilizing the minimum number of eggs 3 -3 3
6 Choosing 3 day transfer 3 -3 -3
Choosing blastocyst-stage transfer 0 3 3
7 Choosing to selectively reduce a multiple pregnancy 4 0 4
Choosing not to selectively reduce a multiple pregnancy 0 0 -4
Reducing a multiple pregnancy to a single 4 0 4
Reducing a high-order (quadruplets +) multiple pregnancy to low order
multiples (twins, triplets)
4 0 4
8 Keep Leftovers Frozen 4 0 4
Donate to Science -4 4 -4
Donate to Adoptive Family -4 -4 4
Destroy 0 -4 -4
* The specific value of these decisions depends on the nature of the patient case, and which profile would favor it.
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important ethical choice in the game, the player
is asked to advise his or her patient on a donor
agreement. The three choices are 1) anonymity,
2) open donorship, and 3) delayed disclosure. In
choosing anonymity, the player is effectively plac-
ing the rights of the customers, the parents, above
the rights of the child. This decision is weighted
positively for the Entrepreneur and Mad Scientist
profiles, because studies show that anonymity
encourages donation (Mundy, 2008). In choosing
open donorship, the player is supporting a child’s
right to know his or her biological parent. This
decision is weighted positively for the Miracle
Worker profile and negatively for the Entrepre-
neur. Choosing delayed disclosure is somewhat
of a middle ground, it is considerate of a donor’s
privacy for a limited time, but ultimately favors
a child’s right to know his or her genetic origins.
This third choice is weighted as a neutral for the
Entrepreneur and Mad Scientist and positively
for Miracle Worker. Regardless of the choice, the
decision is based on a consideration of another
person or small group, and is thus weighted with
a positive or negative 3.
Similarly, the decision of how many eggs to
retrieve and fertilize, how many embryos to trans-
fer, and when to transfer them is most relevant to
the patient family as a group, so this decision is
also weighted as a positive or negative 3.
The decisions in the remaining portion of
the treatment cycle, through the Conception and
Results phases, are weighted the highest, with a
positive or negative 4 because of their relevance to
an ongoing national dialogue on the nature of life
and death, and have implications for policy deci-
sions in those areas. These decisions are weighted
much more heavily because of legal precedents
that link fertility medicine to the abortion and
end-of life debates.
One of the most common risks of Assisted Re-
productive Treatment is the possibility of multiple
pregnancy. When a patient has multiple embryos
implanted successfully or an implanted embryo
unexpectedly splits (as becomes increasingly
common with age) (Mundy, 2008), the doctor
and patient are faced with the difficult decision of
selective reduction. They must consider, especially
in the case of high order multiples, reducing the
pregnancy to ensure the health of the mother and
the remaining embryos. In the game, if a patient
has a multiple pregnancy, the player has the choice
to reduce or not, and is also asked on what basis to
choose the fetuses that will be reduced—gender,
health, or location in the uterus.
The final ethical decision in the treatment cycle
comes up after a positive result is achieved from
IVF treatment. As multiple embryos are often cre-
ated in the process, the player must advise his or
her patients on what to do with left-over embryos.
There are four choices: keep them frozen, donate
them to science, donate them to adoptive families,
or destroy them. Each choice has advantages and
disadvantages for each profile type. For example,
donating leftover embryos to adoptive families
is favorable to the Miracle Worker but not to the
Mad Scientist who would rather use the excess
embryos for research. Destroying leftover embryos
seems like a waste to the Mad Scientist and the
Miracle Worker, but to the Entrepreneur it’s seen
as the elimination of a liability.
In the next section, I will describe how the
above described ethical evaluation system is
employed to issue consequences to the player for
his or her actions.
ETHICS AND CONSEQUENCES
Ethical game play arises when the game world
responds to the player’s values, and the player is
positioned within the “network of responsibility
of the game” (Sicart, 2009). Consequences tie
the player to the game world and the network of
responsibility. The evaluation process described
above is hidden from the interface, and feedback
on the player’s ethical choices and behaviors is
presented in terms of consequences. Periodically
throughout the game, when a pattern of behavior
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emerges (i.e., behavior favoring one profile be-
comes dominant), the player is given feedback
about the decisions he or she has been making.
There are two tiers of consequences in Seeds:
the player level and the level of the game world.
On the player level, the system tracks the ethical
decisions made in the game, and periodically as-
sesses whether or not they are consistent with the
player’s profile. If the two scores are consistent,
and the player indeed is acting according to his
or her stated beliefs, he or she is awarded a finan-
cial bonus from the clinic’s Board of Directors.
If, however, the player’s pattern of decisions is
inconsistent with his or her stated profile—if the
self-declared Miracle Worker is behaving more
like an Entrepreneur, for instance—the player
takes a financial penalty accompanied by an ad-
monition from the Board of Directors. This penalty
or bonus is small and serves less to encourage or
discourage specific choices, but rather to point
out to the player what their beliefs and choices
might look like if manifested in real scenarios.
The second tier of consequences is in the game
world. News Events arise periodically from the
game world indicating what the world would be
like if the decisions the player has supported were
proliferated throughout society. For example, if
a player consistently decides against anonymous
donorship, he or she might get a News Event that
anonymous donorship has been outlawed.
An advantage of playing through different
ethical decisions in a virtual space is the abil-
ity to compress time, and explore the diverse
consequences of different choices. In Seeds, the
consequence of making one ethical choice over
another is framed as pushing the game world’s
ethical position towards the worldview of one
of the profile types. I wanted to be careful not to
impose my own opinions on the content, but to
allow the player to use the game system to see
what would happen if everyone in the world made
the same decisions they had made in the game.
Consequences in this game are not inherently
positive or negative, but are relative to the player’s
profile and the choices he or she has made.
As a formal game element, consequences ap-
pear like chance cards in Monopoly. Every so often,
the player is dealt a consequence event that carries
a financial penalty or bonus, or other rule change.
As a narrative element, it appears in the player’s
in-game inbox as a news article, message from
a colleague, or other correspondence. If a player
consistently chooses an open donor agreement
for his or her patients, he or she might receive a
consequence event with a headline declaring that
anonymous donorship has been abolished and sub-
sequently the inventory of donors has decreased.
The system tracks which profile type the player is
most closely following, and issues consequence
events related to the worldview that each profile
represents. For example, the Entrepreneur favors
a world with an unregulated fertility industry; the
Mad Scientist favors a world with government
funding for human embryo research; the Miracle
Worker favors a world with laws that support and
protect children and families.
In the next section, I will discuss the challenges,
as well as the positive and negative results of the
design decisions described above.
ENHANCING A POSITIVE
PLAY EXPERIENCE
Many designers who create games whose goal is
to educate or inform (sometimes called Serious
Games) face the challenge of reconciling these
goals with player’s expectations of having an
entertainment experience when playing a game.
Though it may not be appropriate for this type of
game to be “fun” in the same way many enter-
tainment games are fun, the experience must be
engaging, and the reward structures must encour-
age continued engagement with the system.
By the time of the second round of playtests,
all the ethical content points had been incorpo-
rated, but balancing the content with compelling
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The Doctor Will Be You Now
game play remained a challenge. In the initial
playtests of the paper prototype, the probability
of successful treatment in each patient case had
been set at 60% to 90%. In reality IVF usually has
a 30% probability of success per cycle. As much
as ART has become a game of skill and resources,
conception still holds an undeniable random ele-
ment that needed to be represented in the system.
The question presented itself: can a game still be
engaging if there’s only a 30% chance of success?
Paper-prototyping was re-introduced at this stage
to try to reach a design that would simulate a 30%
success rate and avoid frustrating game play. First
a statistical 30% for each round over multiple
rounds was tested without much improvement
on the original design. In the next attempt, the
probability of success was increased slightly each
round, so that by the fourth round, the player had
a 75% chance of achieving a positive result. This
solution was a little more satisfying to the player
but still lacked a strong enough sense of agency.
In the next iteration of tests, a more nuanced
approach to calculating success rate included the
specifics of the patient case factored in with the
user’s inventory (power ups) and experience (the
player’s success rate). The quality of the sperm,
egg, and womb each comprise 30% of this score;
5% was given to power-up inventory items such as
fertility drugs, new equipment, etc.; and 5% was
given to the player’s own success rate indicating
the doctor’s experience in the game. This became
known as the Check List Score in the game. The
science on infertility supported this breakdown,
but it still did not give the player much agency.
To address the problem of user agency, I
decided to introduce a series of skill-based mini-
games that simulate the various reproductive
technologies featured in the game: In Vitro Fer-
tilization (IVF), Intra-uterine Insemination (IUI),
and Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI). Each
game presents a variation on a targeting or shooting
mechanic, whether the player are targeting eggs
in petri dishes, sperm cells under a microscope,
or an egg traveling down a fallopian tube. The
simple mechanic is a rhetorical comment on the
mechanization of reproduction and makes players
Figure 2. A screenshot from Seeds related to IVF
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The Doctor Will Be You Now
aware of the doctor’s hand in the reproductive
process where ART is used.
The results of treatment would be decided by
a combination of statistical data and performance,
giving the player much more of a sense of agen-
cy than would a simple dice roll. The mini-games
also provide a break from the rhythm of the game,
creating a more dynamic and varied experience.
The success or failure of a patient’s treatment
would be calculated by multiplying the mini-game
score by the Check List Score mentioned above.
The Check List Score was turned into a percent
value that is used as a multiplier for the mini-game
scores.
The scoring system for each mini-game is
slightly different depending on the mechanic. The
IVF mini-game is an inverted shooting gallery
where the player must inseminate eggs in Petri
dishes as they move along a conveyor belt. In
this case, the final results would be calculated as
follows: if the patient’s checklist score is 85%,
each of the Petri dishes that the player successfully
targets would be given an 85% chance of survival.
The system would generate random numbers for
each, and calculate how many embryos were
successfully created.
The Intrauterine Insemination (IUI, also known
as Artificial Insemination) mini-game uses a more
standard shooting mechanic where the player must
target a single, slowly moving egg at the right time.
Once again, the patient’s checklist score would
be multiplied by the player’s accuracy score in
the mini-game, which would in turn be used to
calculate final results.
Another challenge of creating a positive play
experience while staying true to the content and
balancing the ethics goals of the project was
providing rewards for each unique player profile.
Was it sufficient to have money be the key scoring
mechanism in the game and reward system? The
Entrepreneur player type would certainly play to
earn the most money, but what would motivate
the other two profile types?
To address this, other achievements and narra-
tive awards were incorporated that would appeal to
other player types. To appeal to the Mad Scientist
profile, the content of the game inventory was
adapted into reward badges and achievements so
this player profile could be rewarded with new
equipment, technologies, and scientific honors.
A Mad-Scientist player who would be motivated
by these rewards, rather than focusing on earning
money to purchase these items and thereby behav-
ing out of character, could focus on the aspects
of game play that he or she finds compelling and
subsequently be rewarded for that.
Similarly, to appeal to the Miracle Worker
player, narrative rewards in the “Baby Wall”
feature. Almost all fertility clinics display pho-
tographs of patients who have been successfully
treated along with their new children. In the game,
when a patient is successfully treated, their pho-
tos go up on the Baby Wall. Players can visit the
Wall at any time and review their achievements.
Clicking on the photos in the wall also reveals a
flash-forward-style follow-up that tells the final
chapter in the patient’s story, so players can con-
tinue to visit with patients as time passes. This
is also another way to illustrate consequences
on a smaller scale than the formal consequence
events, but still keeps the player involved with
and responsible for these characters.
The user interface of Seeds is presented as a
first person view of an office, with interface ele-
ments representing items that might be commonly
found on a doctor’s desktop such as and email
inbox and patient files. The player is meant to
feel like doctor and what he or she sees on screen
is what the player character would see seated at
his or her desk in the game world. In addition,
during playtests and presentations, players have
been given the option of wearing lab coats. The
embodied first-person experience increases the
player’s subjectivization as the agent in the game,
and thus increases the player’s installation in the
player character role (Sicart, 2009). This subjec-
tivization is key for both the ludic experience of
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The Doctor Will Be You Now
the game, but also for the player to own his or her
actions as an ethical player.
DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
The project has been through three phases of
development. The first stage of development
consisted of paper prototype. The second phase
of development saw the implementation of the
system developed with the paper prototype in a
digital form. The integration of the ethics meth-
odology also happened in the second phase. The
third phase of development was about refining
the digital prototype and testing the methodology.
Paper Prototypes
The first iteration of Seeds was developed as a
paper prototype that was played by teams with an
emphasis on discussion and cooperative decision-
making. The goal was to see if the narratives based
on research with fertility specialists and patients
were compelling enough to sustain engagement
in the system. The focus was on the potential
for episodic narrative and dramatic suspense to
motivate game play.
In the first playtest, three teams of two people
each played. They first agreed on a name for their
clinic and a mission statement. Asking players to
first agree on something helped established a core
game mechanic and inviting them to customize
their clinic added a sense of ownership that adds
to the weight of the choices.
Each team was asked to keep track of their
revenue and success rate. On each turn a folded
slip of paper was distributed to each team. The
first paper revealed the first act of each patient
story, the Consultation. It also indicated a dol-
lar amount for revenue and a percentage for the
probability of success. The teams were asked to
read the consultation and decide whether or not
to take the case. If they decided not to take the
case, it was thrown into the center for another
team to pick up. After they made their decision,
they were dealt another patient. The turn lasted
five minutes, and scores were tallied at the end.
At the end of the turn, each team calculated the
revenue they had received from each patient, and
then began “treatment.”
In this early paper prototype, treatment con-
sisted of a random draw of a coin out of a bag,
given the statistical probability for success for that
patient. The treatment phase introduced a branch-
ing narrative, where the next act of the story was
revealed and would be different depending on
positive or negative results. After all the patients
in the round were treated, teams were assessed
based on which had earned the most money, and
which team had the highest success rate. Winning
teams were rewarded with ‘follow up’ points,
limited resources they could use in subsequent
rounds to reveal the final act of each patient arc.
The goal was that players would seek the follow
up points so that they could learn the final act of
each story.
The results of this early play test provided a
proof of concept for player engagement in ethical
decision-making. In deciding whether to accept
or reject patients, players were considering the
mission statement they had declared during game
set up, and basing their decision on those criteria.
This was an important moment that informed the
use of mission statement and the design for the
decision evaluation system in the final digital
game. Players were indeed engaging in social
discussion within the team. Players also found
the narratives compelling, and were successfully
motivated by the desire to reveal each successive
act of the patient’s story.
One unanticipated mode of play emerged out
of the discussion of patient stories. Players began
to discuss other similar stories that they had heard
in the news. They were asked to write down the
stories in the same format as the patient profiles
and those were added to the deck for the next
round of play testers. As a result, the addition of
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user generated content feature was subsequently
incorporated into the final design.
Digital Prototypes
The first playtests confirmed that the content
was compelling, and it did map well onto a game
system. The system that emerged began to seem
more and more like a role-playing game system.
More elements from the role-playing game genre
were added, including an inventory of machines,
drugs, and technologies that could improve the
probability of successful treatment. Inventory
items could then be purchased with the money
earned. The three specific aforementioned player
roles were defined, each with their own mission
statement, and unique ability.
This increased detail and specificity made for
more interesting game play, but it did not address
issues of player agency, and ethical choice. The
random assignment of positive or negative results
of treatment left players feeling unsatisfied. After
researching the subject further, the simplicity of
basing the success/failure outcome of treatment
on one statistic was both unsatisfying and untrue
to the sophistication of the science and system
being modeled. To avoid creating a manage-
ment simulation about running a fertility clinic,
ethical decisions and consequences need to be
incorporated into the game’s core mechanic. The
complexity of the treatment phase of the game
was increased to match the content, specifically
by including all the key ethical decisions that a
doctor and patient would have to consider in the
course of fertility treatment.
Testing
Seeds was developed using an iterative process,
with informal testing integrated at each stage of
development. In the ongoing formal testing of
the methodology for ethical game play, behav-
ioral cues from the players supported what the
research suggested—that role-play and emotional
engagement with rich content is a sound strat-
egy for encouraging ethical reflection. If, upon
responding to the ethical challenges each patient
posed, players developed a play pattern that was
inconsistent with their profile type, and the players
recognized their behavior in the new play pattern,
the system is working.
Proof of concept for this project came early
on during the paper prototyping phase. During a
playtest, a player self-identified as an Entrepre-
neur, believing solidly that, like any other medical
service, fertility medicine was primarily a busi-
ness. She began by accepting all lucrative patients
regardless of their low probability of success. By
the fifth patient, her behavior suddenly changed,
and she began rejecting patients with low prob-
abilities of success, stating that she was “feeling
like slime” for taking advantage of patients and
giving them false hope. The player confessed to
changing her mind about one aspect of Assisted
Reproductive Technology.
Players often voiced a conflict between their
own beliefs and the beliefs of the character role as
they understood it. Though the performance of the
Entrepreneur, Mad-Scientist, or Miracle-Worker
role sometimes influenced how players made
decisions during the game, this also provided an
experience to explore a point of view that was not
their own. During a later playtests of the digital
prototype, one player exhibited a struggle with
the introduction survey. With each question, she
vocalized what she thought the “correct” answer
was, though her personal opinion differed. This
illustrates recognition of an ethical debate with
multiple valid points of view. This player was
profiled as a Mad Scientist upon starting the
game. After losing money early in the game, she
began to consistently prescribe the more expen-
sive treatments. Her play pattern cast her as the
Entrepreneur profile type. Similarly, another play
tester who was profiled as a Miracle Worker type
at the start of the game, found herself playing more
like the Mad Scientist, when she wanted to her
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The Doctor Will Be You Now
patient to donate her leftover embryos to science,
rather than have them adopted.
As players are confronted with more developed
characters, rendered in video and images, as well
as text, players were less inclined to reject patients
casually illustrating an emotional connection to the
characters and the ethical struggles they present.
Where players do consistently reject patients, it is
because of a clearly stated moral objection. This
at least proves that players are ethically engaged
in the content.
FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS
As testing continues, it has become apparent that
the project would benefit from a more sophisti-
cated method for assessing player’s ethical point
of view at the start of the game. A method that
captures the nuance of each ethical conflict and all
the gray areas in between the three major vectors
outlined in this iteration of seeds may provide for
a more credible and stimulating experience. The
three profile types currently featured in the game
represent the primary archetypes and viewpoints
in this field of medicine. Expanding upon these
three roles and increasing the level of detail and
nuance would enrich the experience.
Future possibilities for expanding on Seeds
also include further developing the narratives
featured in the game. Further, developing the
patient characters and their narrative could also
increase empathy for the characters and enrich the
experience. Similarly, the addition of rich non-
player characters, or a return to the social play
model tested in the early phases of development
may also increase the level of engagement
Further, as the methodology for ethics evalu-
ation continues to be rigorously tested, it may
prove useful to apply this methodology to other
fields of study with emergent ethical conflict,
such as financial ethics or military ethics, to better
understand where the strengths and weaknesses
of this methodology lie, and if it indeed is an
improvement on ethical simulation software as
it stands today.
CONCLUSION
Assisted Reproductive Technology allows us to
create life in ways that have never before been
possible, however the long-term risks involved
in using this technology are not fully understood.
The fertility industry is largely privatized and un-
regulated. Profit motives lead to rapid growth and
sometimes irresponsible and reckless treatment
of patients. Also, as a consumer industry, doctors
are often compelled to honor patients’ requests,
even where they conflict with the patients’ best
interest. These three forces map very clearly onto
traditional role-playing game elements. Players
earn money by treating (or cheating) patients.
Doctors advance science by taking risks, and
putting your patient first may help or hurt you.
Each patient the player treats presents a unique
ethical conflict, and within each treatment cycle
the player must make an array of decisions ranging
from choosing donors to what to do with left over
embryos. Regardless of what a player’s ethical
stance is upon entering the game, there is enough
provocative material to challenge a wide range of
beliefs. Also, knowing the player’s profile allows
us to customize the experience so that that we can
challenge their specific beliefs.
Further, few of the currently available ethics
simulation software products take advantage of
the natural affordances of interactive digital media
and the game literacy of modern audiences. Role-
playing games, for instance, focus on developing
characters through experience, accumulating
wealth and status, and managing resources or
inventory (Fullerton, 2008). Map the real world
concerns of growing a business and personal
character growth to this type of framework and
you have a natural fit for an ethics simulation
game. In this case, however, rather than leveling-
up the status of your player character, you would
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The Doctor Will Be You Now
be developing your own moral character. Digital
games, virtual spaces, and interactive media
are commonly used to place the user in another
character’s shoes, to experience his or her world
and conflicts from a designed point of view. As
a passive spectator it is easy to pass judgment on
the right or wrong choice, or the obvious ethical
choice given a particular narrative. Actions, how-
ever, speak louder than words. Ethical choices are
simply easier said than done.
As the ethical complexity of our world in-
creases, so does the need for our instructive and
entertainment media to engage that complexity.
For centuries people have used drama to engage
and discuss ethical struggle. Interactive media has
the capacity to not only involve us directly in the
drama, but more deeply into the ethical conflict.
By feeling, rather than watching, the dramatic ten-
sion over these ethical questions, we may better
prepare ourselves to answer these questions when
we come to face them in our own lives.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
The author would like to thank her thesis advi-
sors Professors Tracy Fullerton, Steve Anderson,
and Topper Lilien of The Univeristy of Southern
California’s School of Cinematic Arts, as well as
Laird Malamed, Senior Vice President of Produc-
tion, Activision. This project was funded by a
fellowship from Fox Interactive.
REFERENCES
Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: The expres-
sive power of video games. Cambridge, MA: The
MIT Press.
Deech, R., & Smajdor, A. (2007). From IVF
to immortality: Controversy in the era of
reproductive technology. Oxford, UK: Ox-
ford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:o
so/9780199219780.001.0001
Fullerton, T. (2008). Game design workshop.
Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
Hull, R. T. (2005). Ethical issues in the new re-
productive technologies (2nd ed.). Amherst, NY:
Prometheus Books.
Kohl, B. (2007). Embryo culture: Making babies
in the 21st century. New York: Farrar, Straus and
Giroux.
Levitt, P. (2010). USC Zilkha Neurogenetic Insti-
tute. Interview taken on February 3, 2010.
Mundy, L. (2007). Everything Ccnceivable: How
assisted reproduction is changing our World. New
York, NY: Anchor Books.
Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2003). Rules of
play: Game design fundamentals. Cambridge,
MA: The MIT Press.
Sicart, M. (2009). Ethics of computer games.
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Simkins, D. (2010). Playing with ethics: Expe-
riencing new ways of being in RPGs. In Schrier,
K., & Gibson, D. (Eds.), Ethics and game design:
Teaching values through play. Hershey, PA: In-
formation Science Reference.
United States Office of Government Ethics.
(2009). Technology saves time and money in eth-
ics training. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from
http://www.usoge.gov/ethics_docs/agency_mod-
el_prac/tech_saves.aspx
Washington, A. T. (2009, February 18). Babies,
pregnancy, grab media’s glare. Washington Times.
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Chapter 18
INTRODUCTION
Within the following chapter we use two simu-
lation games to focus on better understanding
ethical ambiguities that arise from the design and
play of games whose themes and content relate
to contemporary social and political conflict.
Building upon Shaffer, Squire, Halverson and
Gee’s (2005) argument that games are “...most
powerful when they are personally meaningful,
experiential, social, and epistemological all at the
same time” (Shaffer, Squire, Halverson & Gee,
2005, p. 3), we believe a specific subset of games—
simulations—offer particularly rich and textured
opportunities to explore the ethical ambiguities of
design and play. As game designers and research-
ers, we borrow our definitions of simulations from
Aldrich (2006, 2004), de Freitas (2006), and Frasca
Games, Ethics and Engagement:
Potential Consequences of Civic-
Minded Game Design and Gameplay
Sharman Siebenthal Adams
University of Michigan-Flint, USA
Jeremiah Holden
InGlobal, USA
ABSTRACT
This chapter examines ethical ambiguities confronted by the design and play of serious games focused on
civic engagement. Our ndings derive from our examination of two educational simulation games that
focus on contemporary issues related to social and political conict. We believe game simulations are
complex in nature and offer particularly rich environments for cognitive learning. Within the following
chapter we examine the relationship between games and learning, specic approaches to game design,
and the ability of games to encourage civic engagement. While we found that game participants gained
knowledge of curricular content and practiced democratic skills during their experiences with the online
simulations, there also occurred unintended consequences. In turn, we believe it is critical to analyze
deeper ethical ambiguities related to the consequences of civic-minded game design and gameplay and
support research efforts to further recognize and expand upon the development and research of serious
games involving civic-minded educational online simulations.
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-120-1.ch018
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292
Games, Ethics and Engagement
(2003), noting that participants in these types of
games adopt and interact through defined roles,
often work collaboratively, solve problems based
upon real-world dilemmas, and are immersed in
virtual and in-person experiences with outcomes
not easily categorized by wins and losses. Having
created and studied games and simulations, we
believe that when the dynamics of design and play
intersect, the opportunities for learning are as rich
as the possible ethical conflicts are complex. As a
result, we argue that the importance of games to
learning is deepened when the ethical ambiguities
associated with design and play are studied and
better theorized. In particular, it is our hope that
the present research contributes to a growing dis-
cussion about the importance of learning, games,
and ethics as applied to serious games involving
civic-minded simulations.
In this chapter, we first exam and substanti-
ate our position on the type of game ‘play’ found
within our case studies. In doing so we delve
into the role of serious games and the triad that
exists between ludology, narratology, and affect.
Examination of this triad sets up analysis of our
work further by first pulling apart the importance
of the third component of the triad, that of affect.
In turn, we examine important aspects of affect
related to game design and gameplay to further
substantiate our research work on civic-minded
game design and gameplay. These include; (1)
the relationship between games and learning, (2)
specific approaches to game design, and (3) the
ability of games to encourage civic engagement.
Following these sections, our research describes
and analyzes two case studies involving educa-
tional online simulations that focus learning on
civic engagement through participants’ exposure
to simulations that place individuals in ethically
challenging contexts. These case studies are The
Arab Israeli Conflict (AIC) and First Wind (FW).
Findings from these two case studies are then
presented in the form of intended and unintended
consequences that affect both game designers and
players. Following summation of our findings, we
offer important avenues for scholars to consider
in terms of potential future research involving
serious games and the inclusion of civic content
and action. Finally we provide concluding remarks
in the form of ethical concerns that we believe
should be considered by game designers, play-
ers, and individuals who use serious games for
learning purposes.
Defining Gameplay
Once thought of as simply opportunities for “play,”
games have proven to be far more complex than
initially given credit. As Malaby (2007) points
out, it is often our misinterpretation about the
power of games that impedes our greater under-
standing of these resources. One salient entrance
into our examination of ethical ambiguities and
game simulations begins with Frasca (2003) and
her discussion of ludology, the formal discipline
of game studies. While primarily concerned with
introducing ludology within contexts of game
authorship and narrative, Frasca differentiates
between the design of games and the design of
simulations as experiences for “experimentation
where user action is not only allowed but also
required” (Frasca, 2003, p. 229). Building upon a
discussion of ludology, Simkins and Steinkuehler
further posit that working in combination, “...
the triad of ludology, narratology, and affect can
help us understand how story, play, and feeling
intertwine to create effective gameplay” (Simkins
& Steinkuehler, 2008, p. 19).
As we move to examine the second aspect of
the triad, we see that narratology within the role
of game design and gameplay is described by the
differences between “narrauthors” and “simau-
thors” (Frasca, 2003). Within contextual settings
where “winning” a game is seen as a primary
objective, and threat of loss is a motivation for
rigidly defined success, games are designed by
narrauthors who base their narratives upon fixed
sequences of cause and effect events. Alternatively,
games that allow for different degrees of fate, or
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Games, Ethics and Engagement
possibilities of outcomes, are akin to simulations
and are designed by simauthors. Importantly,
simauthors “‘educate’ their simulations: they
teach them some rules and may have an idea of
how they might behave in the future, but they
can never be sure of the exact final sequence of
events and result” (Frasca, 2003, p. 229). The
ambiguity surrounding unknown events and re-
sults derives from a key characteristic of simula-
tions–the role of rules. As Frasca notes, “Rules...
can be manipulated, accepted, rejected and even
contested” (2003, p.229). Consequently, simau-
thors become similar to legislators who “craft
laws,” as “they do take more authorial risks than
narrauthors because they give away part of their
control over their work” (Frasca, 2003, p. 229).
We agree with Frasca and believe that simulations,
the simauthors who design them, and the events
of play all have complex relationships related to
rules, control, and outcome. Indeed, we propose
it is because simulations invite rule negotiation
and the relinquishing of control that they become
ripe locations for the study of learning, games,
and ethics involving civic engagement.
The third portion of Simkins and Steinkuehler’s
triad, affect, guides game designers and players
in their ability to further effect the game itself.
It is this aspect of the triad we feel most greatly
impacts the following two case studies. Simkins
and Steinkuehler (2008) note that the “...ability to
make choices that affect the game world is one of
the most basic in creating opportunities for ethi-
cal decision making” (Simkins & Steinkuehler,
2008, p. 16). As a result they argue that their “...
first criteria for fostering ethical decision mak-
ing within the context of a game is fairly simple:
Player choices must have the potential to effect
change in the world of which they are a part”
(ibid, p. 16). Within the case study portion of
this chapter, we describe and analyze two cases
of educational online simulations that illustrate a
variety of ethical conflicts associated with affect,
and most notably the effects of game design and
play. In critically examining this area of research, it
is necessary to first review three important aspects
of affect related to game design and gameplay: (1)
the relationship between games and learning, (2)
specific approaches to game design, and (3) the
ability of games to encourage civic engagement.
Games and Learning
During the past few decades researchers have seen
increased scholarship related to the educational
value of games; from who plays games and what
is played, to how games are played and designed,
to where games are played (including within
school environments) to myriad connections
between games as social media and their role in
digital literacy. Games can now be defined as “…
applications using the characteristics of video and
computer games to create engaging and immer-
sive learning experiences for delivering specified
learning goals, outcomes and experiences” (de
Freitas, 2006, p. 9). As a result, games are now
recognized as “…more than a multibillion-dollar
industry, more than a compelling toy for both
children and adults, more than a route to computer
literacy, videogames are important because they
let people participate in new worlds” (Shaffer,
Squire, Halverson & Gee, 2005, p. 105).
While we do not concentrate on proving
whether games should in fact reside within social
or educational contexts, or a mix of both, it is
worth citing Gee’s argument that the “...theory
of learning in good videogames is close to...best
theories of learning in cognitive science” (Gee,
2007, p. 4). As a result, we argue that this anal-
ogy also applies to simulation games and while
many would acknowledge that there are in fact
both “good” games and “good” school learning
environments, the opposite of both is also pos-
sible. Further, it is not only possible, but prob-
able, that one could envision a poorly designed
and/or underutilized game as much as a poorly
planned and/or under-implemented classroom
curriculum; one or both of these scenarios may
not in fact support strong learning practices. Gee
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argues that “...good videogames build into their
very designs good learning principles and that
we should use these principles, with or without
games, in schools, workplaces, and other learning
sites” (2007, p. 214).
Because games allow players to think, talk, and
act in new ways (Shaffer et al, 2005), educational
videogames and simulations are frequently being
utilized in school settings as “...learning happens
best when learners are engaged in learning by mak-
ing, creating, programming, and communicating”
(Bers, 2008, p. 145). Bers (2008), Kafai (2006),
and Peppler and Kafai (2007) have built upon
Papert’s (1981, 1980) long argued stance about
the differences between “constructionist models
of learning” and “instructionist models of learn-
ing,” with the former placing learning more in
the hands of the learner. Games and role-playing
simulations allow for constructionist learning,
providing students as players with strong identities,
the opportunity to see the world in new ways, and
“a real sense of agency, ownership, and control”
(Gee, 2005, para 7). Additionally, game cultures
feature participation in a collective intelligence,
are designed to foster knowledge through creative
productive acts (Squire, 2008), emphasize exper-
tise rather than status, and promote international
and cross-cultural media and communities (Squire
& Steinkuehler, 2005). The educational benefit of
constructionist games and simulations as learning
experiences is well documented (de Freitas, 2006;
Gee, 2008, 2005, 2004; Squire, 2006; Games for
Change (n.d.); Papert 1981, 1980).
Since Clark C. Abt’s Serious Games (1970),
game studies researchers have increasingly ex-
amined the intentionally designed educational
purposes of games in contrast to more traditional
understandings of games as activities played
primarily for amusement. Bogost’s Persuasive
Games: The Expressive Power of VideoGames
(2007) defines serious games as “videogames
created to support the existing and established
interests of political, corporate, and social insti-
tutions” (Bogost, 2007, p. 57). In turn, serious
games engage learners, keep motivation for
gameplay high (de Freitas & Griffiths, 2007),
and have led to the emergence of communities of
practice that share practical knowledge in pursuit
of social change.
Despite growing acceptance that videogames
and simulations proactively contribute to learn-
ing, some scholars have contested the ability
of educational videogames to produce concrete
learning outcomes and suggest that if the impact of
computer games is to shift from malign to benign,
issues of learning versus play, transference of game
knowledge to other contexts, and the surrounding
social environment must be concretely addressed
(Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2005).
With respect to ongoing discussions about the
relationships between games and learning, this
chapter examines the ethical ambiguities resulting
from games designed to support civic content and
action while generating constructionist learning
experiences.
Approaches to Game Design
The overall importance of game design is evi-
denced by the fact that serious games have become
rigorously “designed experiences,” capable of
achieving a variety of educational objectives,
including recruiting diverse interests, promoting
creative problem solving, creating productive acts
such as game modification and modeling, and es-
tablishing digital literacies that produce meaning
and tangible artifacts (Squire, 2008). If serious
games are to serve a purpose greater than play
and amusement, effective design elements must
guide players’ specific behaviors and attitudes,
as well as influence the substantial relationship
between players and game knowledge.
Squire (2006) argues that a game’s learn-
ing objectives, whether perspective-taking or
creative problem solving, are dependent upon
a game designed and sustained by “powerful
constraints” that promote engagement and foster
learning (Squire, 2006). Such powerful constraints
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acknowledge the thoughtful approach taken to
serious game design, an approach aptly summa-
rized by Squire and Jenkins (2003); “Ultimately,
educational game design is not just about creating
rules or writing computer codes; it is a form of
social engineering, as one tries to map out situa-
tions that will encourage learners to collaborate
to solve compelling problems” (p. 30).
Collins and Halverson (2009) cite Squire’s
research on the game Civilization, noting that
students who played strategy games based upon
history began to “...check out books on ancient
cultures and earn better grades in middle school”
(2009, p. 132). Gee argues that gamers are required
to “...draw on resources that reside in other gamers
and their associate websites, and social interac-
tions, resources such as strategy guides (‘faqs’),
cheats, boards, game modifications, magazines,
review sites, Local Area Network (LAN) parties,
and even schoolyard trading of Pokemon secrets”
(Gee, 2007, p. 8). Effective and intentional game
design can encourage a variety of learning activi-
ties, from reading broadly across a range of related
fields (Squire & Jenkins, 2003), to the self-initiated
research gamers are motivated to engage so as to
improve game performance (Gee, 2007).
While some have noted that “we are a long way
from having tapped the full pedagogical potentials
of existing game hardware and design practices”
(Squire & Jenkins, 2003, p. 30), designers and
researchers have begun to proactively address the
question; “How do good game designers manage
to get new players to learn long, complex, and
difficult games?” (Gee, 2004, p. 15). One possible
answer to Gee’s query is to approach game design
through a framework sensitive to and supportive
of specific values. Both simulation case studies
examined within this chapter were significantly
influenced by the role of values as an influence
upon the design process. In terms of design, the
creation of certain serious games can be analyzed
using the Value Sensitive Design (VSD) frame-
work, a methodology that examines the relation-
ship between human values and computer systems.
Historically, the VSD framework emerged from an
interest concerning the inclusion of human values
in the design of computer systems such as digital
media. VSD primarily focuses upon “enduring
human values” (Friedman, Kahn & Borning,
2006, 2001), values such as autonomy, welfare,
and accountability–and how these personal
orientations are incorporated into the technical
development and design of interactive technolo-
gies. Accounting for human values in the design
process by integrating ethical considerations
in development, for example, is accomplished
through the VSD approach (Friedman, 1997).
The methodological approach to game design
offered by VSD is useful for examining various
elements and dynamics central to serious games
as educational technologies, and aligns well with
the two simulations examined within this paper.
In addition to gameplay that encourages com-
petitiveness and perseverance, a game’s content
or play might be designed to promote a set of
values aligned with equality, conflict resolution,
and advocacy–values directly associated with the
ideals and practices of an engaged citizen. Game
creators and researchers Flanagan and Nissenbaum
(2007) argue in favor of such a complementary
relationship between game design, values, and
civic-mindfulness, demonstrating how game
design may inherently incorporate certain social
and civic values. Educational technologies such
as serious games can promote values and engage-
ment “to which the surrounding societies and
cultures subscribe. These values might include
liberty, justice, inclusion, equality, privacy, se-
curity, creativity, trust, and personal autonomy”
(Flanagan & Nissenbaum, 2007, p. 2). In turn,
serious games can be designed to offer play ex-
periences promoting distinct sets of values, and
as such value orientations may directly encourage
role-play and democratic skill building in support
of civic engagement.
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Games, Ethics and Engagement
Videogames and Civic Engagement
As game designers and players, we are encouraged
by the opinions of individuals such as Michael
Mino, director of the Education Connection’s
Center for 21st Century Skills, who believes that
“if we have any hope of saving the real world from
real problems, we must embrace teaching students
through computer games and virtual simulations”
(Libby, 2009, p. 2). As games studies researchers,
however, we must critically examine such hopes
by further investigating the possibility of games
that may lead students towards “saving the real
world from real problems.” Scholars such as
Bennett (2008) have examined the relationship
between digital media and civic engagement,
noting the emergence of new paradigms such
as “Actualizing Citizens” who demonstrate a
higher sense of individual purpose, personally
define meaning associated with civic acts such as
consumerism and volunteering, and favor loose
networks of community action maintained by
interactive technologies.
Critics, however, have questioned how tradi-
tional or novel conceptions of civic engagement
may be related to or supported by games. Given
such concerns, our research draws upon current
interest regarding videogames and civic engage-
ment. In addition to designing games to promote
democratic and civic values (Flanagan & Nis-
senbaum, 2007; Flanagan, Howe & Nissenbaum,
2008), games may be designed to include content
that is political in nature–such as the activities
and tasks characterized by the two simulations
within this chapter. Importantly, research has
now confirmed that the processes of gameplay,
regardless of whether game content is specifically
political, can promote dispositions towards civic
engagement (Lenhart et al., 2008). In regards to
our present research, we define civic engagement
gameplay as play that is based upon civic content
such as politics, economics, and society; play that
encourages democratically oriented skills such as
communication, negotiation, and problem solv-
ing; play that fosters responsibility to co-create
the game; and play that provides advocacy op-
portunities.
Research by Jenkins (2007a) and Jenkins,
Clinton, Purushotma, Robison and Weigel (2006)
has documented how digital, internet-based games
and other media represent one concrete means to
facilitate and engage in interactive participatory
cultures that support artistic expression, informal
mentorship, collaboration and sharing, social con-
nections, and civic engagement. More specifically,
virtual environments and games may be designed
to provide “access to a wide range of informa-
tion and resources, communication mechanisms
for engaging in critical debates, and tools for
supporting collaboration and for enabling new
expressions of social life, [and] they can serve
as powerful platforms for developing educational
programs to promote civic education” (Bers, 2008,
p. 141). The process of playing digital videogames,
especially those games whose content explicitly
relates to political and social issues, parallels the
dynamic and complex nature of the real world and
real problems, and “understanding [these social
and political problems] involves analyzing cause
and effect, multiple viewpoints, and rapidly shift-
ing scenarios. Games easily mirror this fluidity”
(Platoni, 2009, p. 1). Indeed, the growing rela-
tionship between games and civic engagement is
further inspired by the belief that our society can
“reimagine the relationship between participatory
culture and participatory democracy, embracing
new political language and images that mobilize us
as fans as well as citizens” (Jenkins, 2007b, p. 1).
The ability of digital videogames to mobilize
players as citizens invested in civic engagement
is highlighted in the recent Teens, Videogames
and Civics (Lenhart et al., 2008) study. This study
offers a mixed assessment related to specific civic
engagement indicators such as following politics,
persuading others how to vote, contributing to
charities, volunteering, or staying informed about
politics and current events, and reveals some
encouraging signs related to the relationship
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Games, Ethics and Engagement
between videogames and teenage civic engage-
ment. Some critics noted that the study found no
positive correlation between the frequency of
gameplay or amount of time spent playing games
and a significant increase in civic and political
outcomes. However, findings did confirm that:
Certain kinds of gameplay do appear to foster
higher levels of civic engagement. The social
context of gaming offers opportunities for “civic
gaming experiences,” in which players have op-
portunities to help or guide other players; learn
about problems in society; think about moral or
ethical issues; help make decisions about how a
simulated community, city, or nation should be
run; and organize game groups or guilds. (Perkins-
Gough, 2009, p. 94)
Perhaps the most significant finding of the
Teens, Videogames and Civics study relates to these
“civic gaming experiences.” Study participants
who identified themselves as encountering these
types of gaming experiences “sometimes” while
also having several experiences “frequently”–a
full 25 percent of all respondents–reported “much
higher levels of civic and political engagement
than teens who have not had these kinds of ex-
periences” (Lenhart et al., 2008, p. 75). Specifi-
cally, these game players were “more likely to go
online to get information about politics or current
events, to raise money for charity, to say they are
committed to civic participation, to express an
interest in politics, to stay informed about current
events, and to participate in protests, marches, or
demonstrations” (Perkins-Gough, 2009, p. 94).
Findings related to civic gaming experiences were
statistically significant for all eight of the civic
outcomes considered (Lenhart et al., 2008), and
have been further supported by additional studies
confirming that videogame play can lead towards
civic engagement (Library Technology Reports,
2009a, 2009b). Similar to the constructionist edu-
cation tradition helping to establish meaningful
relationships between learning and videogame
play, so too has research begun to prove a positive
relationship between games and civic engagement.
CIVIC ENGAGEMENT THROUGH
GAMEPLAY: TWO CASE STUDIES
Overview of Cases
We believe games are more than playful distrac-
tions or theoretical exercises in narrative construc-
tion; rather, they can be designed to introduce
players to real world problems through content
and play processes that are serious, a benefit to
learning, and a means to engage in civic action and
discourse. To design and study games as experi-
ences central to constructionist learning processes,
we draw upon Malaby’s (2007) analysis of the
relationship between games and society. Writing
about games as social artifacts characterized by
process, Malaby notes, “Ironically, it is how we
have sought to account for what is remarkable
about games by setting them apart (as play-spaces,
as stories) that is the largest roadblock to under-
standing what is powerful about them” (Malaby,
2007, p. 96). We wish to remove that roadblock
and place games front and center in a discussion
concerning learning, play, ethics and real world
civic engagement. The following two case studies
aim to demonstrate how power and meaning are
generated as games promote civic engagement and
create ethically ambiguous consequences related
to principles of design and practices of play.
As game designers and researchers, we inves-
tigate simulations that draw upon a tradition of
constructionist education, invest players in solv-
ing problems based upon real world social and
political conflict, and—we hope and believe—
encourage civic engagement and mindfulness.
Simulations, unlike some games, allow players
to “replay” history (Collins & Halverson, 2009;
Squire 2008, 2006), and this “replay” factor is of
particular importance as it can repeatedly expose
students to content about political and social
conflict, and allow for repetitive participation in
play processes and game activities that encourage
civic engagement and discourse. Additionally,
the play of simulations—which we believe is
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Games, Ethics and Engagement
both powerful and valuable for learning–is, as
noted earlier when discussing Frasca’s (2003)
distinctions between narrauthors and simauthors,
textured with dynamics of control and negotia-
tion. Consequently, gameplay of these interactive,
educational experiences is inherently ethically
ambiguous.
Just as the simulations we describe offer players
opportunities to adopt and interact through various
roles, the authors have themselves “played” many
roles in the creation, implementation, and study
of each simulation. These roles included game
player, mentor to other players, administrator and
designer, developer and programmer, professor,
research supervisor and finally research assistant.
Following the presentation of these two case
studies, we offer a comparative analysis related
to learning, civic engagement, and the ethical
conflicts and consequences that arose from design
and play processes.
Case Study One: The Arab
Israeli Conflict (AIC)
The Arab Israeli Conflict (AIC) is a web-based
game that simulates geopolitical crises and ne-
gotiations associated with various Middle East
conflicts. Hosted for nearly two decades by the
University of Michigan Department of Education’s
Interactive Communications and Simulations
(ICS) group, teams of students are assigned roles
as politicians and other influential government
and cultural leaders who work together in coun-
try and organization-specific teams to role-play
a variety of political, economic, and social sce-
narios through online interactions. For example,
three students may play a team representing the
Israeli government, with students role-playing the
prime minister, foreign minister, and chief mili-
tary commander, while another team of students
represents the United Nations and various offi-
cials within that organization. Nearly two-dozen
teams, comprised of students at K-12 schools in
numerous countries around the world, play the
various countries, international organizations,
and political entities critical to the negotiation of
conflict throughout the Middle East. Amongst
its goals, AIC exposes players to civic-minded
social studies content such as history, politics, and
culture while simultaneously managing the use
of this content in simulated teamwork and com-
munication challenges that facilitate processes of
conflict resolution and non-resolution.
Before the play of AIC begins, participating
students prepare for gameplay by conducting
research about the political figures whom they
will be role-playing, the countries they are repre-
senting, historical events critical to understanding
tensions within the region, and policies that cur-
rently shape society and governance in the
Middle East. After preparation concludes, play
begins for a period lasting approximately ten
weeks. While AIC is based upon real world cir-
cumstances, once gameplay begins only decisions
and events internal to the game change the course
of action. For example, were a real world Syrian
politician to be wrested from office due to scandal
a week after play commenced, the role of the
politician within AIC would remain unchanged.
As students communicate and propose actions in
the best interest of their countries, organizations,
or political entities, various groups of adults sup-
port and facilitate the progress of play. Classroom
teachers provide immediate assistance with both
content and decision-making, and an additional
group of advisors comprised of faculty and stu-
dents at the University of Michigan provide
technical assistance, guidance in strategy, and
determine final actions within the game.
When looking specifically at the interactions
between players, AIC is characterized by a variety
of play patterns. These forms of interaction occur
both in-character, as students play various politi-
cians and government officials, as well as out-of-
character, as students make decisions based upon
their own ideas or motivations when working with
their country teams. In-character communication
most frequently occurs online as students commu-
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Games, Ethics and Engagement
nicate with other teams by sending communiqués
between characters (a simplified form of email),
write and publish press releases to a game-wide
audience in order to report on events or comment
upon policy proposals (similar to blog posts), and
submit action forms (a plan outlining a team’s
proposed action), which, upon approval from a
game mentor, determine actions related to various
game scenarios. Out-of-character communication
most frequently occurs offline between players
on the same country team, and is often related
to decisions about the game content and future
interactions with other characters and teams.
Case Study Two: First Wind
First Wind, also a web-based game, simulates the
economic supply chain of product creation and
consumption as these processes relate to fair labor
and globalization. First Wind was developed in
partnership between the University of Michigan-
Flint’s Masters Level Global Program: Technology
in Education, and the Fair Labor Organization
(FLA), an international nongovernmental organi-
zation dedicated to ending sweatshop conditions
(Fair Labor Association, 2008). The game was
named after the real world Chen Feng silk factory
outside Shanghai, China, a factory itself in partner-
ship with the FLA. First Wind was piloted for a
single semester in the spring of 2008 between four
teams of high school and college students in five
different locations throughout the United States.
Teams of players were assigned to various roles
in the supply chain, including factory workers and
managers, business executives, code compliance
officers from the Fair Labor Association, and
American consumers. The goal of First Wind was
to provide players with opportunities to construct
understandings of economic and political issues,
negotiate the complexities of globalization and
Figure 1. A screenshot from AIC that shows an example of the game
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Games, Ethics and Engagement
fair labor, and encourage the translation of learn-
ing experiences into advocacy for social change.
Like AIC, First Wind began with weeks of
preparation as players researched issues and sta-
tistics related to labor, production and consump-
tion, learned about the political and economic
history of China, and researched the history and
policies of fair labor practice. Players also all
learned about the Fair Labor Association and its
role as arbiter of compliance code, policy, and
business partnership related to international fair
labor standards. Play in First Wind was structured
around successive rounds of interaction, with each
of the four role-groups leading a weeklong round.
Rounds began with a specific action initiated via
interactive tools based upon a design structure
similar to that of AIC, where action forms proposed
a single event or a series of events to alter game-
play within a round, and press releases reported
on actions or policies to the entire game com-
munity. Once one role-group began a round with
an action, the three other groups reacted to the
initial action, establishing cause and effect inter-
actions between players and teams. Actions and
their related communications and press releases
began, sustained, and concluded weeklong rounds
of play, all of which were guided by classroom
teachers serving as simulation facilitators. After
completion of four rounds of play, players re-
flected on lessons learned and created a fair labor
best practices document suitable for submission
to the FLA and real world businesses as a form
of political and economic fair labor advocacy.
Online player interactions and communication
in First Wind were distinguishable between those
that were distinctly in character versus those that
were considered out-of-character. In character
communication was facilitated online through
messages using a simplified email system much
like that of the aforementioned AIC communiqués.
Such messages allowed players to communicate
with other teams in order to discuss events and
send messages to fellow role-group members to
help in decision-making processes. In character
communication also occurred off-line as players
worked as a team to make decisions about game-
play, such as submitting action forms or writing
press releases. Out-of-character communication
also occurred both online and offline. Online, out-
of-character communication took place within a
reflection forum (modeled after typical blog posts)
that allowed players to comment on the progress
of the game throughout the four rounds of play.
Semi-structured reflection questions facilitated
this out-of-character communication within the
reflection forum. Offline out-of-character com-
munication occurred as players commented on the
progress of the game and reflected upon conse-
Figure 2. A screenshot from FW that shows an example of the game
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Games, Ethics and Engagement
quences of action and patterns of interaction that
emerged over the four rounds of play.
Similarities of Games Encouraging
Civic Engagement
We define civic engagement as play based upon
content related to politics, economics, and society;
play that allows for the practice of democratic
skills such as communication, negotiation, and
problem-solving; play that encourages a sense of
responsibility to co-create the game; and play that
provides game-based and real-world opportuni-
ties for advocacy. The following chart outlines
similarities of game-based civic engagement
that exists across AIC and FW. Similarities of
civic content and action included play with civic
content, democratic skill building, co-creation of
gameplay, and civic engagement opportunities.
Case Study Methodology: Game-
Based Civic Engagement
Our case study methodology draws upon the
qualitative research work of Miles and Huberman
(1994), as well as a variety of narrative analysis
devices that constitute what Lincoln and Guba
(1985) call an “audit trail.” Constructing audit
trails for both AIC and FW occurred over many
months, and in one case over many years, and
included field notes, participants interviews,
digital audio recordings, digital video recordings,
and reflection and process notes. The following
examples of game-based civic engagement draw
from this primary research, with information
about play and patterns of interaction in AIC
from Kupperman (2002) and in FW from Chao
and Holden (2008). Each are salient instances of
engagement with civic content and action, and
Table 1. Comparing characteristics of AIC and FW
Characteristic/
Game
Playing with Civic
Content
Democratic Skill-Building
Through Play
Responsibility to Co-
Create the Game
Opportunities for Civic
Engagement
The Arab Israeli
Conflict
Players wrote proposals
and actions with best in-
terests in mind, selectively
analyzed data and history
to support political agendas,
manipulated allegiances and
international governance or-
ganizations, and introduced
facts or reports to create
bias and/or support of play
actions.
Players debated actions, pro-
posed solutions, and solved
problems while working
as a team. They also com-
municated, negotiated, and
resolved conflicts with those
who disagreed, both on-line
and off-line and between
their own teammates and
across other teams.
Players actively introduced
content, made decisions
based upon interpretations
of content, and produced
strategies in order to win.
Winning required the re-
sponsibility of creating
innovative strategies. Also,
players initiated advocacy
and introduced negotiation
to manage content and game
interactions.
Players advocated for policy
positions and specific action
plans, argued in support of
agendas and policies with
both team members and with
members of other country
teams. Advocacy was seen
as an essential component
of successful strategy.
First Wind Players manipulated civic
content to fit the “world
view” of specific group role.
Players both disregarded and
promoted the importance of
selective content and back-
ground information. Players
and teams relied upon hierar-
chical systems of economic,
social, and political power,
whether real or imagined.
The action and reaction,
cause and effect, structure
of the four-round game
provided unique engagement
with the democratic practices
of negotiation and commu-
nication. This trial and error
approach to problem solving
and conflict resolution paral-
leled democratic processes
of decision-making used in
a variety of simulated and
real world contexts.
Players had a responsibil-
ity to test and implement
effective strategies as the
four-round structure of
play allowed players to
reflect upon the successes
and failures of actions.
This provided repetitious
“replay” opportunities to
advocate for policies and
actions, and further enforced
cyclical learning processes
that players created, owned,
and controlled.
Participants were provided
with formal advocacy oppor-
tunities post game play after
having developed fair labor
best practices. These best
practices were presented to
the Fair Labor Association
and, in turn, real world busi-
nesses invested in practicing
and promoting fair labor as
one aspect of a commitment
to greater corporate social
responsibility.
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