Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Road Paved with Good Intentions

So I started thinking about how an MMO could increase immersion by translating heroic game acts into real world Good.  The first thought that came to mind was allowing players to choose a charity, and the more they achieve each month in game, the larger the portion of their subscription fee that goes to that charity.  It would diminish the “evil Wall Street corporation” image of the game company, do some real good in the world, and encourage players to play more and do more because they were having a positive impact through their virtual heroics. Seemed alright on the surface, so I took the thought experiment a little further.

Imagine that the charity you are playing for is fighting child hunger and poverty, and for every dungeon boss you slay and level you gain and townsperson you save, enough money is donated from your subscription fee to feed and clothe one child for a day. A new expansion has just come out so you’re playing and slaying like mad, achieving so much that the majority of your subscription fee is going towards feeding starving children.

Then you run out of content.  You’ve maxed out your character, done everything in game you want to do, and are driven to keep playing by nothing more than guilt at the thought of taking your money away from the charity by freezing your subscription or underachieving. 

Troubling Question #1: Is it unethical of you to reduce your achievement level in the game (or cancel your subscription), knowing what that means for the children?

Interesting content wanes as the game company is unable to keep up with the players, and while total subscriptions dip, the overall level of achievement falls much further, so the level of donations drops and company revenue increases.  By making the game temporarily boring, the company has increased their share of subscription revenue and reduced the contribution to charity.

Troubling Question #2: Is it the game company’s ethical responsibility to maintain a flow of engaging content in order to maintain charity levels?

Troubling Question #3: If the company was donating at a certain level, and all that changes in the next month is how many imaginary dragons were slain in the game, is it unethical (or at least publicly frowned upon) to reduce the number of starving children that they feed and increase the amount of money they keep for themselves? Or is it simply good that they’re giving money at all?

I started this idea with good intentions, but quickly realized that it could get twisted in a bad direction and lead to a lot of bad feelings for all parties.  A shame, because at first I really thought I was on to something.

I want to get your answers to these questions and see what you think!

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