The Ethics of Computer Games – Miguel Sicart

In Ethics of Computer Games, Miguel Sicart broadly argues that games are ethical objects and that they should therefore be designed to accommodate ethical players. Sicart goes on, in the rest of the text, to analyze systems that are unethical but which are “undertaken by a moral agent who…has the capacity…to develop herself as an ethical being by means of practicing her own player-centric ethical thinking” (17) as well as systems that are, in and of themselves, ethical. Sicart defines an ethically relevant game as one “in which the rules force the player to face ethical dilemmas, or in which the rules themselves raise ethical issues” (49). Sicart describes an ethical system as having both coherent systems and worlds – if one lacks coherency, the system becomes unethical (21-22). Sicart argues that the rules of the system, since they cannot be altered by the player and are imposed by the system, determine the ethicality of the game (22-23). On the other hand, the game world, “has a certain pull over the way the game is experiences because it is the representation of the rules as well as their container” (35). Succinctly, Sicart argues that to interact with the system is to create meaning. Having established the two areas of ethical game design, Sicart goes on to examine the importance of choice as an inherently ethical practice in games. Choice, Sicart states, is the core of any game, and that while players are moral agents capable of making choice, the game should be designed responsibly so that the choices operating in the system impact moral experience, increase the ethics of the experience, and are apparent (not hidden from) to the player (42). Of particular importance to my own work, Sicart states that many games reduce ethics to “a single set of morally engaged challenges” and, as a result, are not ethical according to the criteria stated above. In general, I agree with Sicart but our modes of inquiry differ in that, while he is concerned with outlining the broad criteria for what makes a system ethical, I am more concerned with how such criteria can structured or turned into specific design considerations. Where Sicart outlines broad demands, I am interested in what, specifically, in the design of a game can help meet those demands. Additionally, while Sicart is obviously focused on ethics, and connects those ethics to choices, I am focused less on how ethical the choice is (though, that is of some concern) and more on whether the player interprets the choice is a meaningful one.

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