Books  |  ,   |  September 1, 2013

Beyond Choices: The Design of Ethical Gameplay

By Miguel Sicart.
Published by MIT Press.
192 pages.

Today’s blockbuster video games—and their never-ending sequels, sagas, and reboots—provide plenty of excitement in high-resolution but for the most part fail to engage a player’s moral imagination. In Beyond Choices, Miguel Sicart calls for a new generation of video and computer games that are ethically relevant by design. In the 1970s, mainstream films—including The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver—filled theaters but also treated their audiences as thinking beings. Why can’t mainstream video games have the same moral and aesthetic impact? Sicart argues that it is time for games to claim their place in the cultural landscape as vehicles for ethical reflection.

Sicart looks at games in many manifestations: toys, analog games, computer and video games, interactive fictions, commercial entertainments, and independent releases. Drawing on philosophy, design theory, literary studies, aesthetics, and interviews with game developers, Sicart provides a systematic account of how games can be designed to challenge and enrich our moral lives. After discussing such topics as definition of ethical gameplay and the structure of the game as a designed object, Sicart offers a theory of the design of ethical game play. He also analyzes the ethical aspects of game play in a number of current games, including Spec Ops: The Line, Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, Fallout New Vegas, and Anna Anthropy’s Dys4Ia. Games are designed to evoke specific emotions; games that engage players ethically, Sicart argues, enable us to explore and express our values through play.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Introduction

  • What This Book Is
  • The Structure of the Book

Part 2: Defining Ethical Gameplay

  • What I Talk about When I Talk about Ethics
  • The Ethics of Fiction
  • Aesthetics and Ethics
  • Player Complicity
  • Defining Ethical Gameplay

Part 3: Being a game

  • Processes
  • Metaphors We Play By
  • The Elusiveness of Games
  • A Game of Many Players
  • Conclusion

Part 4: The Player, the Player

  • Who Do We Think Is Playing?
  • On Instrumental Play
  • Designing against Design
  • Another Player
  • Ethics Is People’s Play

Part 5: The Design of Ethical Gameplay

  • The Anatomy of Toys
  • A Shocking Toy
  • Play, Design, and Experiences
  • On Methods and Friction
  • Back to the Wasteland: An Example
  • Playing with Wicked Problems
  • No More Safety
  • Wicked Problems for Game Design
  • Beyond Choices
  • Asking the Right Questions

Part 6: Into Play

  • Narrative and Characters
  • Gameworlds
  • Rules
  • Context
  • Failing

Part 7: This is the End

About the Author
Miguel Sicart is Associate Professor at the Center for Computer Game Research at IT University Copenhagen. He is the author of The Ethics of Computer Games and Beyond Choices: The Design of Ethical Gameplay, both published by the MIT Press.