PLATO Empire - Responsibility in Game Design


Does a Game Designer accumulate negative Karma* for the lost hours of valuable time 'wasted' by players?

Does a Game Designer accumulate negative Karma for all the people who flunked out of school or got divorced or lost friends because of their game?

At first I enjoyed seeing many people really thrilled and enjoying themselves while they played Empire and the other games I wrote. It gave me a sense of accomplishment of a job well done; after all, it was a struggle to mould a playable game out of a timesharing system not designed for game playing, with so few resources of memory and processing.

But then, I would hear of someone no longer at college because they flunked out playing too much Empire. Friends got divorced. Others fired.

I started feeling Responsible. It was my fault because I put this temptation in front of them.

This was one reason I stopped designing games. I decided to not make any more games unless they had some socially redeeming value; and that was a very tall order. Playable, addictive games seem polar opposite from valuable to the person or society.

Eventually I got over (most of) the pangs of guilt. Each person is responsible for their own actions. However, that mantra rings similar to that heard from casino operators, drug pushers, and others. Not exactly the crowd I first think to go to for philisophical wisdom.

Yet, ultimately, each of is truly responsible for our actions. If/when I decide to design a new game, it will be when I feel it does have some value, but value can also be ranked by how much enjoyment a person receives. No different from other arts. If a person allows themselves to become addicted to going to the opera, was that (solely) the fault of the composer and the players?

Game Designers, I suggest you at least consider whether it is of any value to have a player's role be that of a car jacker or other violent criminal, for example. Try to develop nicer games, ones that can have conflict, not unlike reality, but that also allow for and possibly cause players to strive to do the better action. In the strategy-level versions of Empire I was striving for the player to get excited about building a great economy and trade. That aspect was tough to implement and make as exciting as the tactical shoot-em level.

(*Here I used "Karma" in the commonly used/understood sense.)