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Ethical Issue in Gaming Industry

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1. Ethical Issue in the Gaming Industry

Gaming addiction is becoming increasingly prevalent in recent years. While “gaming addiction” has not yet been labelled as a legitimate mental health disorder, we definitely cannot take it lightly as it is believed to be linked to other mental disorders like depression and anxiety (Pies, 2009). Allowing gaming to take precedence over all other aspects of life has severe repercussions on personal, family, social, educational, occupational and other important areas of functioning (Palumbo, 2017), which is a huge problem enough that cannot be ignored. The question of whether it is ethical to develop games with addictive aspects then arises.

A game is considered to possess “addictive” aspects if it exploits the psychology of gamers to cause obsessive and irrational behavior. This usually leads to gamers’ continued spending of time, money and/or energy on the game even if it is detrimental to social relations, health, important obligations and/or subjective well-being.

Game developers commonly employ the concept of variable schedules through the use of rewards with successful attempts (after unpredictable number of trials) to “hook” gamers (Søraker, 2016, p. 109). This is akin to gambling, and makes it hard for gamers to control their activity levels by reinforcing the fact that the next trial may be the one where they get rewarded. Another method they use is manipulating players’ ability to assess the value of in-game items (Søraker, 2016, p. 114). After the significant amount of time spent on games, awarding players the opportunity to bypass the mind-numbing process of completing the tasks for rewards triggers waste aversion. They will be willing to invest money instead of time for something they regard as meaningful. This concept is often used in free-to-play games, to get as many players as possible addicted, so that they will keep buying in-game content.

Some feel that it is unethical for game developers, with profit-making motives in mind, to develop games with these addictive aspects. It is unjust to “exploit” some feature of their players’ compulsive psychology by encouraging addiction to their games, just for the purpose of milking as much profits from their games as possible. There is a difference between playing a game more because they find the game fun, and playing more because of obsession.

Yet, others hold the stance that the game developers should not be blamed if their players get addicted, since ultimately, there is nothing forcing anyone to be so obsessed over playing a game, at the expense of time and money, except their own lack of willpower (Wilson, n.d.).

2. Ethical Framework

2.1 What is Ethical?

To guide us in determining the right (ethical) course of action, I will be using the utilitarian framework and virtue framework to analyze the issue.

2.2 Utilitarian Framework

In the utilitarian framework, we focus on the effects of possible courses of action, and determine which outcomes are most desirable in a given situation. The “correct” course of action would be one that maximizes human welfare or well-being.

There are 3 courses of action:

(i) Game developers can develop games with addictive aspects;

(ii) Game developers are not allowed to develop games with addictive aspects;

(iii) Game developers can develop games with addictive aspects, but a limit has to be drawn

In (i), addicted players will withdraw from their social contacts including family and friends, neglect hygiene, diet, and other important areas of functioning, ultimately risking their health, or even invest in money instead of time. Game developers, on the other hand, will be benefitting from profits.

In (ii), this will cause potential players to miss out the fun and enjoyment of playing such games to relieve stress, for entertainment, etc. Game developers will also be challenged with retaining the same level of gamer involvement, as games that lack the “addictive” aspects could be “less fun” in nature. Hence, non-addictive games may not appeal to gamers and may cause game developers’ profits to suffer.

In (iii), there will be fun, and otherwise “addictive” games in the market that provide entertainment and enjoyment to players. However, as game developers ensure that the “addictive” nature of the game does not go too overboard (i.e. to the extent of using psychological phenomena as discussed above to hook gamers into spending time and money), the games will serve as a healthy dose of entertainment for the players and not affect their other areas of functioning in a negative manner.

Through my analysis, action (iii) is the option that gives rise to the most desirable outcome as players will not fall prey to getting “addicted”, yet fun games as a source of their entertainment is not eliminated.

2.3 Virtue Framework

In the virtue framework, we identify character or value traits (both positive and negative) that might motivate us in any situation. We seek to develop similar virtues to a virtuous person. An ethical behavior would be one in which we act in the same way as a virtuous person would.

A virtuous person would be someone who possesses characteristics of selflessness, integrity and compassion.

To be selfless, game developers will not only think about benefitting themselves (profit-making), but will also care about bringing about games for gamers that are fun, but not at the expense of making them obsessed by exploiting psychological research. Enabling self-destructive behavior through gaming is unacceptable.

In having integrity, game developers will be transparent about the effects of the design of their games.

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