Wednesday, June 9, 2010

EXP Podcast #81: Morality Dilemma

In an effort to explore the depths of choice and human ethics, morality systems have become commonly used tool in game design. Morality can be a deeply complicated and heated topic of discussion, so how do games successfully tackle this subject with players? Recently J. Matthew Zoss asked this question of some influential game designers in his piece on Gamasutra. Fittingly, GameSetWatch's (and Gamasutra's) Andrew Vanden Bossche joins us this week as a guest host to delve into the "rights and wrongs" of morality in games. As usual, you can find the inspirational article in the show notes, as well as links to more of Andrews work. We encourage you to check it out and leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Some discussion starters:

- Are moral dilemmas weakened when tied to in-game rewards/punishments?
- Does isolating moral decision making, and announcing it as such, devalue the decision?
- Morality systems seem very popular. Is this a passing fad or is it here to stay?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking the title. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Run time: 40 min 48 sec
- "Ethics 101: Designing Morality in Games," by J. Matthew Zoss via Gamasutra
- Design Diversions, biweekly column by Andrew Vanden Bossche via GameSetWatch
- Mammon Machine
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. Are your podcasts available via Stitcher?

  2. Long-time listener, first-time commentator -- I enjoyed the podcast when I listened to it last week, and thought I'd mention the browser game Echo Bazaar to you. There's a connected series of what the game calls "storylets" and they culminate in a moral dilemma in the true sense, in which there is no obvious right answer. I'm still going back and forth over whether I did the right thing -- especially since, without starting a new account, that was my only chance at it. I'm wondering whether those are two things a certain kind of game can do to make dilemmas more interesting: no obvious right answer, no take-backs.

    (If you don't mind spoilers --
    The story involved you investigating a missing comtessa, and finding a statue of her with a clay man -- basically a stone golem. When you confront the clay man, he says they're in love, she's undergoing a process to become like him, and it's irreversible. When you look at her eyes they're human and there's fear in them, but you don't know the reason, and she can't speak. You can either leave them or try to smash the statue. I smashed the statue and left the clay man wailing in the dark. Ouch. And there are opportunities later on in the game to be reminded of it. Ouch.)

  3. @ Beer

    Unfortunately the podcast is not available on Stitcher. It is available right here though, every week, so far without fail.

    @ Kylee

    Hi Kylee, thanks for chiming in and sticking with us for so long. Thanks for the suggestion. I'm checking Echo Bazaar out now