Ethics and I

So the point here is that I delve into what the foundation of my ethical compass is and why I feel that it is justified.

I am going through a n interesting list that should allow me to analyse and portray the greater concepts by which I make decisions that I feel are appropriate and then to consider how I will apply them in the games industry.

Part 1: The Philosophy Experiment

Firstly I am going through a series of philosophical exercises form the website http://www.philosophyexperiments.com/ Most of them seem to be designed to question my sense of morality, which is fine, obviously designed to make me consider where my limits are and would attempt to show any hypocrisy in my method of thinking. Sure.

Working through the four questions I chose, I found them all to be too muddy or undefined to have much bearing on a true circumstance. I know that this is only meant to allow for reflection on the topics but I was too stonewalled by the fact that they didn’t have enough in them for me to do much more than stick to a purely calculated direction, where in real life I consider the quality of the subjects. I do not believe all life is equal. I don’t think a life is sacred in and of itself. I believe merit and accountability

Experiment 1: Should you kill the backpacker.

This thought experiment was focused on the the process of moral justification I employ when faced with similar scenarios under different precedents. I had a bunch of issue with this one from the start.  I noticed a number of terms being used that I didn’t feel was properly portraying the entire situation or was trying to shorthand my responses which resulted in a phrase like my response, but not the same as my response. My answers were being pushed further along the scale than I was satisfied with. I WOULD take one life over 5 but that doesn’t mean I would say it is universally morally justifiable.

The question involved multiple similar occurrences where I would have to choose between one person’s survival over five peoples survival. The main problem I had with it was that it appeared to be trying to discuss some sort of “true morality” rather than whether or not I would be willing to take the actions proposed, while also removing the human element of the situation. This means that the question itself was removing the “quality” of the characters involved and my ability to make such judgements, while also borderline accusing me of treating the test like a numbers game, which at that point it is.

I cannot see the workmen. I believe there is a matter in the quality of a person and the quickest way that I could make a proper judgement in the situations would be to see who I am condemning, and yes it is condemnation when you are the one with the responsibility of choosing life for others.

In all cases I opted for the one to die, rather than having the 5 die, but not the backpacker. That is to say I wouldn’t kill the backpacker. In the question where I am the patient that was not willing to give up my life to save five but the nurse did it anyway and the lives were absolutely definitely saves, I felt that it was a justified event on the part of the nurse. The backpacker was healthy though. I was not. Let’s not waste it.

Experiment 2: In the Face of Death

The first question of this set was to do with cannibalism at sea. I could see themes that matched my first chosen question but there was a great deal more context to these ones. This made me happy but I immediately realised I was up against deeper territory and so went and looked up the definition of “moral,” “morality,” and “justify” to continue the experiment without it feeling like a farce. (I looked up “farce” too.)

Through all of the horrific circumstances described I was satisfied that I was consistent in my responses. Not because of any points system but just that wherever my relative morals lie when it comes to desperation and wellbeing. Again the quality of the lives was what guided my judgement. I believe in the greater good, and where possible, that included the quality of one’s life and the larger impact each decision would have.

Experiment 3: The Monty Hall Problem (Choose a door)

This scenario was about how when you are given 3 options, one of which is correct and the other two are incorrect, having one of the wrong options removed makes the remaining option you didn’t pick, more likely to be the correct one. Got it? Yeah.

This was a question of statistics so I have a really hard time trying to figure out how it is ethics or even philosophy related. I’d heard an explanation of this problem with a different scenario attached a while back but seeing as how I took the time to go through it I thought it might as well be mentioned.  Simply put I don’t think this produces any data that conducive to any meaningful insight here.

Experiment 4: You’re being Tortured in the Morning.

I had a severe problem with this set of questions. Mainly in that it was dealing with technicality over reality (insofar as the hypothetical scenario goes).

This experiment tried to have me justify my feelings over the prospect of being tortured, and subsequently started removing parts of what makes “me” to see if it meant less. Then it tried to suggest that my sense of self was confused because I had decided torture was scary even though I technically wouldn’t be myself at the time, and that it is confusing that I would choose to have my body tortured while I was away from it, rather than being mentally present. The second part also offered money as the alternative to the torture, which muddies the situation further by strongly directing subjects towards a response built on an entirely new set of consequences, rather than the moral implications of the choice.

When the money is brought into the equation, suddenly I am dealing with a set of questions about what my mind would do with that money, as money in and of itself has no value.

Torture is painful, stressful, scary, horrifying and generally uncomfortable during the entire time it takes place. That is its purpose.

The first part of the scenario is questioning my response to anticipation of a certainty in the moment, while the second introduces thoughts of the greater outcomes about what I would be able to do with a vast amount of wealth. The justification for this can be greed, or even more destructive to the question, an altruistic intent for the money. If the scenario posed that one would be tortured and one would get to lie on some pillows for that time, I would still have chosen that my mind gets the pillows. This doesn’t mean  that I won’t be as afraid on the lead up to my body being tortured.

The question is unbalanced. and it feels like the two parts are irrelevant and there is a huge amount of new information in the scenario in the second part.

The bottom line I could see from my responses and general feeling when looking at this scenario and even my problems with it, is that I believe that my feelings are valid even though my decisions may be grounded in pure logic. Bungee jumping is terrifying even though I know I’ll be fine.

So far:

At this point I have no idea how this applies to game design and how I implement it but i guess my mind is in the state to critically think about the portrayal of situations and the relevance of it to the specific decision making process.

Part 2: Existing Issues in Game Development

1 – Loot boxes and gambling regulations

he first article describes the usage of loot boxes in video games, a system where a player can pay real money for a randomised set of items, bonuses and visual upgrades for the game they are playing. The argument being that this is technically gambling as there is no real control over the items that are actually purchased in this transaction. You know, exactly like a lucky dip or a booster pack for any trading card game ever.

There is a push to have enforceable legal restrictions put on these sorts of mechanics in video games. This seems to be centered around kids and how children are being coaxed to find ways to get money to use on the game. In my day we called it an “allowance” and we had to be given it by our caregivers who had all the money. That, or we go and earn it ourselves. The problem is restriction and I don’t think it should be the game developer’s legal responsibility, but it can still be detrimental to implement.

I do not see an ethical issue with a company having loot boxes in their games that can be purchased by it’s players. I also don’t see an ethical problem with players, finding the unbalance now made by the pay-to-win outcome of this design choice, deciding to boycott the game and play something else instead. This is a decision made on the game’s merit and the play conditions created by the company’s distribution method. I say this on the assumption that there are no game elements unique to the loot boxes, in which case I would say it is ethically wrong as a developer to create that kind of imbalance and it ought to be a terrible marketing strategy despite all of the evidence otherwise. I see some grey lines forming that would encapsulate DLC for multiplayer games that function within the same game session as someone who does not have that DLC as well.

2 – Android and Hostage Reviews

This article outlines a running issue where developers have been using in-app bonuses to incentivise users to give good reviews in the app store. This creates a number of reviews that don’t accurately reflect the users’ opinion of the game. In an effort to combat this, Google has developed two responses to employ when these kinds of behavior are detected, rather than trying to develop a series of prerequisites for an app, which would require checking every app that goes up on the store.

I think that they are right to try and remove the precedent for this kind of rating subversion on the app store to crate a more trustworthy system that speaks to the broad user base. I think it is unethical for app developers to use these kinds of cheap tactics to cheat their reviews, even though I understand the difficulty created by not having reliable publicity in the sea of apps out there.
I also think that google’s approach is fair in that it allows for that margin of success still to those that make games with these systems in place. Even though it may be coming from a stark sense of how much effort they will require to exert in order to uphold anything so strict as bans, they have left the window open to success to those trying to be successful in the app store. There response seems to be a halfway point that doesn’t hurt anyone.

3 – SCALE and Kickstarter

The GDC talk given by Steve Swink covered his experience making a kickstarter campaign for his game SCALE. He spoke about some of the lesser known first-time issues that one might run into when they start one and then gives some insight into what it feels like during the process.

In the halfway point he begins to question (rhetorically) the ethics of using the internet to take money from people when you have no legal obligation to deliver.

This is how Hollywood production works. It is not unethical to give someone money to do something they want to do. It is unethical to take money under a false pretense or to use someone else’s money in a way it was not intended for. It is not unethical to take money when you have the intent to use it as it was meant to be used. this is like asking if it’s ethical to make promises.

This talk touched on a topic I mentioned in Part 1 – experiment 4 about the value of money. Swink mentioned that people generally state that they want money as though it is an end goal, which it can’t be. It is symbolic. It is a tool or a quantifiable measure. a hammer is not unethical, mustard gas isn’t unethical, but using them on people when those people would not be willing to do the same is unethical. My point here is that my ethical compass runs on intent and outcome but I am noticing a number of ethical challenges that are asking about the uncontextualised prospect of money.

This may seem like a matter of semantics but as I am reflecting on my own ethical code and processes, I think that being able to define that mine comes from the intent of the situation and characters is a premise to this whole task that can be observed across this task.

Part 3: Ethical Codes in Game Development

Now I have read through several codes of ethics held by International Game Developers Association, IEEE Handbook Ethically Aligned Design – Version 2, GDC Code of Conduct and the Design Institute of Australia. As they are all within the same industry and deal with how they intend to treat other parties, I expected some overlap.

The IGDA covered aspects to do with the shared ideals and principles of their members.

The IEEE on the other hand, describe the actions they will take and the conditions they will meet.

The DIA have set up what is effectively a contract that covers the behavioral conduct of its employees and the repercussions should they not be explicitly met.

And finally,

The GDC listed a set of rules to be adhered to by all people within their responsibility. This also outlines how each person should respond if they see deviation from these expectations.

Among all of them it was common that disallowing discrimination and health & well being were the priority of these rules. Each list was designed to create and reinforce environments where people can feel safe and comfortable while also adding the responsibility of each person that it applies to, to be accountable for their own action and safety and treaty of others around them.

What I thought was most interesting (but completely understandable) is that each has a focus on removing passivity from these situations. Tolerating behaviors counter to the ethical code can not be tolerated.

Part 4: My own code

Below I am going to list some of the most important standards that I will hold myself as I progress in my career and life. I am certainly taking a blunt approach by simply listing them but each contained statement is true within a vacuum.

I know that the decisions I make will take into account context, consequence and the greater repercussions of those decisions. I will always try to add to the world and raise the standard to which people hold themselves accountable. In a professional capacity, though, I will define how these ideals will be expressed.

I will always –

  • Meet agreements on payment on the merit of the work being asked, and not for any other reason such as the provider’s gender, ideology, religion, race, location, culture, disability or impairment.
  • Be part of projects that I feel add to the world and it’s standards, for the good of the future, the security of the planet and the safety and comfort of those on it.
  • Stand up for those that can’t stand up for themselves in the face of injustice, inequality and cruelty.
  • Seek the exchange of skills and knowledge (while protecting intellectual property) for mutual growth between myself and my peers, community, and industry.
  • Be tasteful and respectful in subject matters that may cause harm by their depictions.

I will never –

  • Knowingly deceive those that I lead or that have placed trust in me professionally or personally in my business practices.
  • Engage in or tolerate harassment or abuse, and will actively stand against it in my professional field to the best of my ability.
  • Use anyone’s personal information as leverage in a business capacity.
  • Use my business position to gain power over a person or negatively impact a person in a personal capacity.
  • Remain passive to the willful destruction of property and/or vandalism of common resources. (This means things like tagging, removing or damaging community resources, etc.)

I know that there is a great deal more top my personal code of ethics  and I do live to them but I do not feel writing them here would greatly add to their value or function and would introduce a high likelihood of misinterpretation, most likely brought about by my own inability to articulate the exact meaning in text.

This has been a valuable exercise that has allowed me to cross reference material relative to my field and lead me through a thought pattern allowing me to best analyse my own drives when it comes to making ethical decisions. I expect some of the things I have written will change over the next few years, as I grow and change along with my understanding of the world and my industry. I have no doubt my sense of ethics will be challenged as I am forced to make realistic decisions (as I made my point in Part 1, the ideal and the reality are not necessarily informative of each other) such as whether I wish to uphold my moral direction or keep my job. I like to think my moral center would win, but I haven’t had the displeasure of having to definitively answer that question yet.

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