The original post is here: http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/Daedren/042008/1588_The-Morality-of-MMO-Development
I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank many of the readers here for their thoughtful opinions on this subject. The reason for making this second thread is to continue the discussion on the topic, one that I find very interesting and important in our world of MMO's.
Addressing a couple comments:
whistlelock- Mon Apr 28 2008 4:58PM Delete
Your question, distilled down, is it right to provide an addict with their addiction addresses the symptom and not the sickness. People use the games as escapist material- but why? Why do they need to escape from anything? For me it's not a question of right or wrong about the mmo- but a question of why.
What do the players need to escape from? Have their lives spun so far out of control they need to go somewhere that they can control? Some spot in their lives where the rules are clearly laid out, as opposed to the "real" world that has unknown rules that are ambiguously laid out?
This is good question - one that I think about often - but I think that it's a whole other ballpark in subject material. You are correct about my question ultimately being "why"? - but I'm almost afraid to tackle the subject, lest I anger people. People get extremely defensive when you try to turn their hobby - gaming - into some sort of evil creature and classify it as a true addiction or sickness.
Does that make it any less bad? No, not at all. If anything, the general gaming populous' reluctance to address the issue says a lot about the problem at hand; that it may well be a problem, a true social sickness, that needs to be addressed. I'm no doctor, though, so my judgment comes only from a personal point of view that may or may not be skewed. I'm not even sure I agree with this prognosis yet.
The issue of control is the key factor I believe; an MMO, with it's complex rulesets and such, can be learned and adapted to with relative ease in comparison to other more complex issues like real life. I agree that it can be a sort of "safe haven" to people, a familiar place in a time of despair, which may or may not be the reason for a global escapism mentality that we're starting to see. Perhaps the question needs to be pointed back at society; should we be asking "why has society driven these people away into virtual worlds?" - is it society's fault? What's the reason behind it?
Anyway loved your dissertation! Morality itself has to be worked through and defined by the individual, with Good Morals being defined as those that benefit the whole of society. But ultimately we're not really talking about society, are we? We are asking if you love what you do, if you can live with knowledge that you could have benefited as many as you could possibly hurt, and lastly if you have achieved what you really wanted to achieve.
As the addict I say enjoy what you do, use it to provide for you family, and leave me with the choice, be it to be entertained, escaped, or addicted, which ever fits my needs and desires at the time.
The responsibility of game developers? It's the same as anyone's; act for the best interests of the individuals in the society that you belong to. For you and me, that means everyone on planet Earth. Unfortunately, in a world dominated by the thinking of relative morality, nobody agrees on what 'best interests' are anymore.
I suppose this, in a nutshell, is what I was asking: is the world - is our society - a better place with another MMO? Most would agree that no, it's not really - but it's not much worse of a place either. Oh, and by the way, the game is going to be made with or without moral-policeman Daedren on the job. Could I help make the game a more positive and less unhealthy-addictive experience? No small task.
Echoing what has been said before me, morals are up to the person considering them. While I've always been a personal fan on Darwinism and letting people suffer (or prosper) for the choices they make, this doesn't sit well with a lot of people. This is not to say, however, that I don't have empathy; I just think that people need to learn from mistakes or those mistakes will constantly be made again and again.
This is the outlook I've always had on life in regards to MMO playing. I figured that in some weird example of natural selection, the MMO addicts would be less social, resulting in less real sex or relationships, resulting in far fewer offspring. This means that those truly addicting to gaming won't, for the most part, will be washed out of the gene pool eventually.
However, if the problem doesn't lie on the genetic level (which I don't think it does) - and it's a social problem - the escapist mentality could actually spread. For example, if I have two children, and I am a MMO addict, it might be more likely my children end up being like me. This is a logical conclusion. After, their children will be like them. Eventually, though we'd have to take into account laws of averages and such, we're looking at exponential growth of this escapist society. People will just stay plugged in to their cybernetic uplink instead of dealing with the real world. Enter the Matrix, I suppose. ;)
Almost everything is addictive. It should be the users choice whatever or not to use an addictive product (Television is an addictive product for once, sugar another one).
Do you really thinks a guy that works at Guiness feel bad about people that get drunk? Not likely.
I'm not sure if I agree with this. What about the people that work in the Opiate fields? Or the people that cut the product or make Crystal meth? Surely they know what their product is being used for. Generally, these people are considered "bad people". Why? All they do is pick a plant, refine it, whatever, and sell it to people that have the free choice to by their product. How are they any different than someone who makes cigarettes or sugar? Or someone who makes an addictive game? No one is putting a gun to any of those buyers and saying: use my product or die.
Daedren: "I know quite a few people, mainly my MMO buddies - who don't feel right if they don't spend X amount of hours in front of the computer a day."
Psychological distress can certainly manifest itself in physical conditions. Simple conditioning can lead to physical responses. The classic example is Pavlov's dogs.
Daedren: "I can't truthfully tell myself that the world would be a better place with another MMO."
Certainly not another of the type we see today. Consider that MMOs are vehicles that permit people to interact and it is those very people that are part of the community that we're interested in helping. Will Wright is using games in an attempt to educate, as are other developers. What if an MMO did something as simple as putting links into the game that permitted players to find out more about an object from the web? What if games operated solely on voice, requiring people to get to know each other?
I understand that each of those examples is a drastic departure from the traditional escapist and self-indulgent environment fostered by MMOs. We don't want reality to intrude. But perhaps that's what a healthy MMO is - a game that lets real people interact using game pieces that they could never hope to interact with in the real world.
I think that the important thing to keep in mind is that you really are interested in doing good. If you keep your eyes on that goal, then you won't end up working on Grand Theft Auto XI, and you might just figure out how to make a billion dollars by bringing MMOs into the mainstream of the world's entertainment - instead of being a tool for escapists. You can pursue a lot of social agendas with a billion dollars. Especially when it is earned from worthy efforts.
This is an excellent point that I think should be highlighted. An integrated "wiki" function in the game for real objects is a good idea; teaching things such a real survivalism and combat or military tactics might be another. It's given me something to think about in this regard.
In the end, though, as a developer - I often wonder if gaming and digital escapism is the answer at all. What sort of long term social problems are we looking at if it's ran by people that grew up inside a virtual world instead of the real one? Would a child that was introduced into these environments at an early age - say 6 or 8 - function at the same level, socially, as one of their peers who did not?
Anyway, I'd like to continue the discussion on the topic for those interested.