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Controversial Humane Game Design

What is “Socially Responsible Design (SRD)”

“The use of design to address social, environmental, economic issues and focuses on a move to move beyond first world consumer demands towards a more holistic and responsible approach to product design that embraces ethical, cultural and humanitarian values; simply termed ‘design for good’ or ‘design for need’. SRD responds to all stakeholders (not just clients and customers) and examines the consequences of design activity and the potential for design to contribute positively to societal aspirations and expectations, health and lifestyle”

For several decades the gaming industry has been the controversial subject of a lot of scrutiny on Socially Responsible Design (SRD) and how powerful impact of the industry having to society narrowing down to the impacts of gaming design with the living of families. If you google do video games make you more violent you’ll be hit with over 121,000,000 results centred around this very subject. It’s such a divisive subject that the gaming industry as a whole has spent a significant amount of time-fighting and can be unbelievably defensive of. 

The link between violent behaviour and video games has never been proven but the accusation is so strong and constant that the industry could be said to have fallen into a pattern of denial at all costs. So entrenched in this denial are they, that it seems that even mild scrutiny is met with vitriol and venom. Well, I think it’s time we pushed back because games are starting to get toxic and it’s not okay for the industry to just deny it exists. 

How are games getting toxic?

Every game you’ve ever played in your life: mobile games triple-A video game, web game whatever is, in fact, a product, manufactured and shipped by a business and that business needs to make money to survive and grow. It may seem pandering but I think it’s easy to create a disconnect when it comes to art and consumption. I use the term Art purposefully here to encapsulate the creative side of games design, the storytelling, sculpting, character design etc. 

The other side is the business side. It’s important to make this definition because these are often the two forces that are diametrically opposed when it comes to the process of making games. Artists / Game Designers are focused on crafting an experience for the gamer that maximises their enjoyment, or is as fulfilling as possible. The people involved in the business of making games, however, are more responsible for ensuring a product is profitable and generates enough return. In simplistic terms, these are always the two ends of the scale where changes or compromises to one could have a detrimental effect on the other. 

The toxicity in games comes when more compromises are made to the art in order to maximise profits. So how do they do it?

Microtransactions

Microtransactions have been very heavily reported on in the press. Micro-transactions are a game mechanic that is put into games that allow players to buy additional premium digital content or power-ups. That could be additional characters, equipment, or in-game power-ups. Now, these are often attainable by earning some kind of in-game credit or currency that can then be spent on these items so theoretically they can be ‘earned’ by playing the game and when they were originally implemented that is generally how it worked. If you didn’t want to wait though you could simply pay money and get there faster. Over time though this inevitably morphed into the beast we have today. It is now impossible to practically earn all of the content as it would require an inhuman amount of playtime to earn enough points to unlock all of the content, meaning if you want to have access to all of the game you purchased you would have to spend potentially thousands of dollars after the fact in order to access the remainder of the game held under lock and key. 

“The pinnacle of this practice is “Start Wars Battlefront II” by EA games and is also the catalyst that sparked the largest backlash from the gaming community. The game originally retailed for $60 but in order to unlock all of the games, content required a player to play for 4,500 hours or shell out $2100. This is where the Toxicity really rears its head, any game that requires 187.5 days of gameplay or just under the average UK monthly salary (£2417) to play isn’t healthy for anyone except the executives at EA”

Time-based player punishment

This is really the opposite to time-based player rewards and is where a player is punished for not logging more time with a game as opposed to being rewarded for playing the game. Both are malicious tactics used by games designers but the outcome or user experience and outcome is very different for both. Mobile games are particularly notorious for this tactic. Essentially the mechanic works by scheduling events that have to be completed at certain times, regardless of the end-users commitments, or willingness and by missing this event the user either won’t progress and will be left behind or is actually punished. Games such as Clash of Clans allow players to ‘raid’ your village and destroy your work whilst you are away. The longer you are away, the greater the potential damage caused, or they also schedule events at certain times of the day that are only playable at those set times which could lead to negative impacts on the user’s life. 

How can we combat this?

This is where Humane game design comes in. If you remember my scale analogy from earlier, where on one end you have Art, and the other is Business; humane game design looks to balance this scale by asking the question does this negatively affect the end-user, or could this cause real damage to people playing our game? If the answer to that question is yes then that mechanic shouldn’t be allowed to exist within the gaming industry. Video Game addiction is a real disease that has resulted in a number of deaths as a direct result of the addiction. More and more young people are checking into addiction rehab centres such as The Edge Young Mens Rehab to combat their gaming addiction. In the US it has been found that :

  • The average length of time spent playing video games was 20 hours per week
  • An estimated 72 percent of American households play video games
  • An estimated nine percent of the 3,034 participants in the study showed signs of video game addiction
  • Four percent of study participants were categorized as extreme users who played video games 50 hours per week on average

As we might not know, the video game industry as a whole is worth more than both the Music and Film industries combined. So as video games/online games become a more prevalent part of our everyday lives for ordinary families and gamers out there, Design teams at Detekt hope the game designers will make the decision to create something more ethical respecting to Socially Responsible Design (SRD) and inclusive games that have less detrimental effects on those who play them.