Thanks everyone for the feedback to my last blog post - there's a lot I want to comment on and the length of my response got to the point which warranted a separate blog post. Firstly, I'll take Andrew S' suggestion on board and expand each of the game design rules I outlined into a separate blog post (Serves me right for pencil sketching some ideas out that I should really have expanded on or saved for other posts anyways). Jonathan, I'll definitely try to address the points you highlight, whether its by agreeing with them, expanding on them or contradicting them, I'm not sure at this stage.
Everyone who pointed out that "moral" is a strong word are undoubtedly correct. There is a lot of injustice in the world to get angry about, and what you choose to get angry about is as much a reflection of who you are as the relative importance of each wrong. But hedging my argument with a weaker word wouldn't have got such thoughtful reactions - sometimes I find overstating an argument is a useful way to think about the problem.
Much of what I write on this blog comes from perspective of trying to design a game with longevity. That doesn't necessarily suppose complexity however. There's a great line of David Sirlin's I've used elsewhere which points out that Go and Chess have been played for thousands of years, but only a few computer games which have been around a decade or more still have a significant player base.
The last few years have proved computer gaming has already passed the cross roads between comic books and rock-and-roll, and we've gone down the path where gaming will be a part of everyone's life and not just a niche. But I firmly believe we have plenty of traps left to fall into, not the least of which is avoiding Fermi's Paradox, and one of them is charting a course between enjoyment and addiction. While I like Dan Cook's beer garden analogy, I don't necessarily find it that useful when thinking about this problem. The most important point to realise with gambling addiction is that gambling doesn't involve any external addictive substance. It is the human mind getting addicted to itself. To me 'Direct provable harm' and 'Lost opportunity' are points on a continuum, not separate categories.
The moral hazard I highlighted is an argument at heart about what it is games should be. I've not seen anyone clearly articulate what this is, although we all have an intuitive understanding that they should somehow be valued (otherwise why would we devote so much time to them). The first question is whether games have intrinsic value in themselves, or whether we should be harnessing them for extrinsic ends (e.g. human based computation)? The second is whether it is more important than games be played to win - i.e. be a skill-based activity, or whether they should be more valued as new social spaces? The third is whether games should aspire to have the best features of other art forms, or whether the most important aspect is experiences that are unique to games and no other medium? The fourth is whether the content of games should be owned and narrated by the game developers or the game players? The fifth is whether game content should be opened up through progression (or purchase) or available immediately? The sixth is whether it is possible for a single player, procedurally generated game to be as valued an experience as multi-player or hand-made game? The seventh is whether a game should provide sub-optimal choices? The eighth is how much of a game should play itself against require an investment of our time and attention? The ninth is whether a games rules should continue to evolve to address issues of play balance, or stay fixed to allow deep exploits to be discovered? And finally the tenth is that can different games fulfill these different values, or is there a hierarchy of 'better' and 'worse' games?
I'm sure you can chart your reactions against each of these questions, and there will be places where we differ in our opinions (and I suspect you can come up with many more questions, and quite happily disagree with the choices I have made). Until we have answers to some of these questions, if we can answer these questions at all, the decisions we make when designing a game are in a sense moral decisions, because they stem from our beliefs about what games should be, and not from an objective reality. To quote Wikipedia:
Morals are arbitrarily created and subjectively defined by society, philosophy, religion, and/or individual conscience.So the design decisions in Bunni making 'bustle' important and to be valued, were made on a number of assumptions about what games should be (or more correctly, what this game should be). My initial reaction was that the decision was incorrect (morally wrong) occurred, because I'm operating on a different set of assumptions about the value of games.
To directly address Dan's response: I want to play games that make me aspire to improve my ability to play them, not hang in a social space. So I'm not your target audience. And undoubtedly, I've conflated bad game design with immoral game design. My apologies. But I'm glad we agreed there's a bad design mechanic waiting to be replaced there, and I look forward to see what you're going to replace it with.