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  • Writer's pictureDaniel J. King

Dissertation Blog #11

Citation of the Day

Schrier, Karen. “Designing and Using Games to Teach Ethics and Ethical Thinking.” In Karen Schrier, ed., Learning, Education & Games, Vol 1: Curricular and Design Considerations, pp. 143-160. ETC Press, 2014.

This chapter argues that games should focus on teaching skills associated with ethical thinking rather than merely posit which behaviors are right or wrong. Ethical thinking enables one to think critically and judge the right thing to do in a given context.

Schrier provides best practices for designing games to teach ethical thinking:

  • Players should be exposed to alternative perspectives.

  • Players should be able to deliberate with others.

  • Players should be able to make choices that are relatable.

  • The game’s context should be personally meaningful and authentic.

  • The consequences of players' choices should be clear and appropriate.

  • Players should have time to build relationships with their avatar and with other characters to build empathy for them.

Design and Mechanics

In Field of Cures, the player will need to make ethical decisions at the meso and macro levels of gameplay. The micro level is about cross-breeding plants to derive certain species; in the game's fiction, the player is doing this so their company can then make an experimental medicine out of the derived species and run a clinical trial with it. Every time the company runs a clinical trial, the player's two advisors -- a science advisor and a business advisor -- will come to the player with a dilemma about how to set up some aspect of the clinical trial. The science advisor wants to look for clinical significance in the trial results in order to find out whether the medicine really works. But the business advisor wants to optimize the study setup to produce statistical significance, which will make it easier to get the product to market. Choosing to agree with one or the other advisor constitutes the meso level of gameplay.

Every time the player's company enjoys enough successful clinical trials, the player will be given a choice about how to develop a region of the game world. The player can choose to build a nature reserve so they get bonus biodiversity from it for the rest of the game, or they can choose to build a factory, causing the extinction of the local plant life. The more factories the player has, the more they can decide to either decrease prices for patients or increase their company's profits. When the player's company is profitable enough, the player will also have the option to develop a region of the game world with a luxury villa as an ostentatious display of wealth (which also causes the extinction of the local plant life). Making these decisions constitutes the macro level of gameplay.

When I do the participatory design workshop for my dissertation project, I will have a working prototype of the micro level of gameplay, and the meso and macro levels will be paper prototypes.

I want to make the ethical choices in the game relatable by making the whole narrative of the game about fighting "The Virus" -- an antagonist obviously inspired by COVID-19. The player's company starts out looking for treatments for the various symptoms The Virus causes, with the ultimate goal to create a medicine that can cure The Virus itself.

Current Events

I was feeling morose yesterday evening, but then I played an hour of Breath of the Wild, and it filled me with joy. A well designed game really can enrich a person's life. And I have never played a game as extraordinarily well polished as Breath of the Wild. I have yet to identify something I do not like about it. They put so much care into the design of all of the game's systems and aesthetics.

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