Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ethical Decision Making in Quandary

Screenshot from Quandary
My latest PopMatters article is now live: Ethical Decision Making in Quandary.

I want to put this out there right from the beginning. If you're reading this right now, you probably won't enjoy Quandary all that much. The game is not particularly thrilling, the systems not terribly complex, and the story not incredibly well crafted. The game was made by a group of educators and psychologists to educate, and, like an unfortunate amount of "edu-games", it's just not that exciting.

That being said, it's interesting and makes some procedural arguments that I adore. Quandary manages to be deeply political without being overly didactic or preferential towards one paradigm over another. The core arguments the game makes promotion critical, thoughtful, community informed judgments free of deceit or personal gain. It advocates a type of conversation about tough decisions that, at least for the targeted age group of 8-14 year old kids, is all too rare.

I also think anyone interested in ethical decision making in traditional games give the game a look. It may not solve the problem if meaningful decisions in games, but I think it offers an interesting, albeit not always applicable, method of systematizing decision making in games. In particular, the input, sway, and opinion of NPCs in the game are fundamental to the decision making process. While BioWare games and the like create repercussions around decisions that affect secondary characters, rarely are choices inherently influenced or confined by the input of others.

I'm always looking for interesting ways to explore choice, particular meaningful ethical dilemmas in games, so when something simple and unique like Quandary pops up, I am compelling to recommend it to others. The game is free to play here. Also, if you have kids, I'm especially interested to here your thoughts about the game whether you play it alone or as a family. There are definitely features worth exploring further.


  1. Jorge, thanks for your review! As someone who worked on Quandary, I just wanted to add some thoughts.

    Our general game design thesis is that "playful" and "educational" don't always have to be at odds, and in fact they can be part and parcel of one another, but it's always a challenge to find that sweet spot where educational rigor and great gameplay meet. So while it's not an expansive, action-driven game world — "Mass Effect for edutainment," I've heard it called — in some ways that wasn't our priority. We really wanted to really zero in on a playful mechanic that acknowledges the complexity of making decisions when they are dependent on the people around you. And hopefully, the fictional world would be intriguing as well.

    While educators and psychologists certainly played crucial roles as content experts on our team, we would be remiss if we didn't recognize our game designers (led by Scot Osterweil of Zoombinis fame!) who were also there from the very start, and the main drivers of the awesome community-informed decision-making mechanic.

    TL; DR: I hope the commercial, indie, and learning game spaces can have more conversations with one another.

  2. "I hope the commercial and learning game spaces can have more conversations with one another."

    I've been saying this for years. Thanks for making an interesting game and I'll be sure to check in on your upcoming additions.