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Morality In Board Games

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Ark1t3kt
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It seems like although board games generally explore fairly diverse topics, there are not many (if any at all) that cast you as the player(s) in the role of an extremely immoral and twisted character.

I find this interesting because there are countless books/films wherein the protagonist is immoral, and they are widely accepted and fairly popular. Obviously, these forms of entertainment can more easily support this kind of thing because viewers/readers do not directly interact with the story and therefore do not feel responsible. However, there are also many video games which cast you in the role of an immoral/evil character...

...My hypothesis is that board games are different because you are playing them with other people who are sitting across the table from you: I think the reason why people feel extremely uncomfortable doing horrible things in board games may have something to do with this - perhaps we feel ethically judged when we are with others in person...

This raises an interesting question of morality: Are we less likely to behave morally if no one is looking?

But back to board games: Do you think that there is room in the industry for these types of games? In your opinion, is it immoral to design a game about other people's suffering, or can games be somber and thought-provoking story-generators that aren't necessarily "fun"?

Can board games be used to explore these horrific topics with a message that is even more potent and impactful to people than movies/books/video games?

questccg
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To be honest...

I am "currently" working on a Game title called "Monster Keep". The idea is to become the "Lord of the Keep" by using minions to battle opposing minions. This Medieval Dystopian setting ... is in a way "immoral" since all players are competing against each other to be the sole "Lord"!

Much like the rules of war, player's are expected to be ruthless in their decision making, when sparring off against opposing minions.

I guess you could kind of say: "The Gloves are Off!"

It's pretty much as competitive and resource "hungry" game where EACH HAND you play varies to how well you have built your deck (Engine Building) and the plans you have made (Deck Constructions) in laying waste your opponents.

I'm still in a "re-design" phase... To see how I can adapt an older, unsuccessful design -- into something more light and nimble with a Micro Deck of ten or twelve cards. Still plenty to explore but I must admit that I am "fascinated" by the setting of the game and it's cards.

They YELL out to me: "Cool Game!", "Was FUN to play", "Would Play Again", etc.

But I still have a lot of "thought" to put into this design - especially considering the "newer" elements/mechanics. I'll post a BLOG entry when I have more definite ideas about how all of this is going to come together.

Cheers!

Ark1t3kt
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Was Thinking Even Darker

That game sounds cool, give me a shout if you ever need a blind playtest!

However, I was thinking of themes that are even darker - themes that may not even be fictional. I'm talking games where you do unspeakably horrific things...

For example: An alternate history game where the Nazis won WWII - where you play as the Nazis.

questccg
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I think the creed goes something like this...

questccg wrote:
They YELL out to me: "Cool Game!", "Was FUN to play", "Would Play Again", etc.

How about Kingdom Death: Monster (The cooperative game)?
(https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/poots/kingdom-death-monster)

Watch the Intro Video -- It's pretty dark too.

There is a Nazi game called "Secret Hitler" too
(https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/maxtemkin/secret-hitler)

That game is also a Top Funder on Kickstarter too... But I don't think it is as Dark of a theme as you are suggesting.

The key is NOT how "Dark" the theme, instead how much FUN the game is to play. If you put something too Dark, you won't find many players willing to give the game a try. You need to balance with the fine line you are trying to walk.

Bottom line: Not FUN, not a success.

Update: And why do I ADVOCATE that the RELATIVE Factor of FUN be the predominant aspect ... Is that is what most player around the table are looking for. I think too "Horrific" might be a turn off. Much like game with a Bible setting -- Many people steer away because of the basic nature of these game (Preaching Faith).

While that is the OPPOSITE direction you are going for, I think it's a BELL CURVE: Too Preachy vs. In the Middle vs. To Horrific. You want to be somewhere in the middle to attract a larger crowd of people who will LIKE your game. I'm not so sure people will like "too horrific" games...

But of course that remains to be seen!

Ark1t3kt
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I feel like this is not

I feel like this is not necessarily true...there may be room for games that provoke thought more than they provoke fun...

For example, when you watch a movie like Schindler's List, you are like "wow, what an amazing film", but you're not like "I had a great time watching that".

I honestly think that since board games have more potential to make you uncomfortable, they also have more potential to drive home a message...

questccg
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Start a POLL!

I think your best bet is to ASK the other designers what they quantify as a GOOD game. Perhaps you could start a POLL ... and see what people generally feel about games (different genres).

I'm not saying my opinion is RIGHT. And I may well not be in the majority either...

But if you want to see what BGDF thinks about more *serious* games... That's the best way I can see it. Because voting is ANONYMOUS versus posting on a THREAD is Public... You may get more HONEST and forthcoming results...

Cheers mate.

Update #1: And I personally don't like Eurogames. I'm also a card-game-aholic too! LOL So anything with cards a cool theme and mechanics that SEEM "fresh" ... is something that I would TRY.

I'm bored with all those "Train laying" (think Ticket-To-Ride) or "Track laying" (think Metro) game where you are in some sort of vacuum where you are trying to score the highest amount of points.

I prefer Ameri-Trash where there is usually a bit of a Story component and the games are more fiction than reality.

Update #2: Yes FUN is subjective... But I think it's hard to say something was BAD if you had FUN playing it. Like: "Oh my god this game was terrible, it sucked so bad; but I beat all my opponents so I think it rocks!" Would someone ever say something like that?! Maybe. Not me... but maybe someone else with a more cynical view of life may...

Corsaire
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Fun is subjective

Some people find it fun to play counter to themselves or to contemplate dark thoughts. There are quite a few games that explore morality through theme, actions, and even personally.

Consider Murder in Hong Kong or Fury of Dracula or playing an evil character in a role playing game.

For in game mechanics and dark thoughts and lying you have Battlestar Galactica, Dead of Winter, and Diplomacy as examples. Games with take that mechanics are popular to a subset of gamers. Much of early boardgaming was playing wargames which could be considered questionable morally.

Cards Against Humanity, Kittens in a Blender, Nuclear War/Escalation.

A bit frightening are the games where optimal strategies are conceptually immoral but the player is distanced from the morality of the decision like deciding to let meeples starve to death.

A game of serial killers competing for a world record would probably find a large and cross-over audience.

Worst gaming experience I ever had was playing Diplomacy the first time and being totally backstabbed by two friends n the first round. So beyond my ken.

FrankM
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Can slip the horror under a thin veneer of silliness

Corsaire wrote:
A game of serial killers competing for a world record would probably find a large and cross-over audience.

A game of supervillains competing to out-do each other might have broader appeal, but it'd be important for them to have relatable-yet-twisted ideas on the proper way to gain supervillain fame. These would vary from character to character (or even be randomly assigned), giving the players multiple perspectives on uncomfortable goals and actions.

X3M
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This is more or less, a story

Sometimes, you can create interesting choices for the players. When morale comes in play. Most of them, I put in the bonus objectives.

For example, choose between the following:
- Shoot the hostages, the enemy squad and get to the spy in time to kill him.
- Don't shoot the hostages. But do kill the enemy squad. But chances are 99% you fail to kill the spy.

If the player gets the spy, the enemy gets less reinforcements.
If the player spares the hostages, the player may trade them for extra soldiers.

Choices made in previous mission weight on in next. It might sound weird. But the reinforcements on both sides show an advantage to the enemy. They get twice as much. So players might choose to shoot the hostages as well. The map layout actually makes it so, that the player has roughly the same chance as the no reinforcement choice. But in the mission after this, you can use some extra hands as well.

The player is also in a grey area. If some hostages are shot, you can actually get reinforcements and still kill the spy. But that is for the experienced to find out.

let-off studios
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Games n' Behaviour

Ark1t3kt wrote:
...My hypothesis is that board games are different because you are playing them with other people who are sitting across the table from you: I think the reason why people feel extremely uncomfortable doing horrible things in board games may have something to do with this - perhaps we feel ethically judged when we are with others in person...

This raises an interesting question of morality: Are we less likely to behave morally if no one is looking?

Can board games be used to explore these horrific topics with a message that is even more potent and impactful to people than movies/books/video games?

Long story short, I think you need a role-playing game. Find a good referee who agrees to present you and your other players with ethical and moral dilemmas. Then force the players to stick to their particular alignment (or whatever the game system calls its abstracted mishmash of personal ethics and morals).

Personally, I think any media (tabletop games included) presents at least an ethical framework in which players must agree and participate, else they do not "succeed." How a player feels about "losing" at that game is up to them, though I do admit each game a person plays allows them to test their own adherence to morals, and their weight of ethical considerations in a relatively safe environment. This is why I do not like games such as Sheriff of Nottingham, and why I can watch films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Look of Silence and not like what I see and hear.

Also, I personally do not conflate ethics and morals either, and hopefully it's not just me. I'd rather not jump into a question of definitions here though. I think I understand what you're talking about in your original question.

Mosker
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A wavering line and responsibilities

FrankM wrote:
Corsaire wrote:
A game of serial killers competing for a world record would probably find a large and cross-over audience.

A game of supervillains competing to out-do each other might have broader appeal, but it'd be important for them to have relatable-yet-twisted ideas on the proper way to gain supervillain fame. These would vary from character to character (or even be randomly assigned), giving the players multiple perspectives on uncomfortable goals and actions.

Been thinking about this issue a lot, and I'll use this example as a launch point.

A serial killer game: your targets are innocent, your primary resource is time (to select, execute, publicize). The line comes with incentivizing cruelty. Even if it's part of a meaningful decision, I don't want to see points for creative extended deaths, gathering victims' family members and making them watch, creating law enforcement panic that destroys lives, rights...

"I don't want to see" is the key phrase here: games as art, product, communal activities, and the responsibilities of players and producers--to whom?--is beyond the scope of this response, maybe this website (which is not a bad thing--focus is good.)

Gabe
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Games can also be social

Games can also be social experiments that deal with morality issues.

I think the game "Train" is the best example of this in which players try to load passengers on trains as efficiently as possible only to realize later the trains are headed for Auschwitz.

Here's a good article about it: https://venturebeat.com/2013/05/11/brenda-romero-train-board-game-holoca...

Ark1t3kt
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Yes, as a matter of fact I

Yes, as a matter of fact I have heard of this game, and it is one of the designs that got me thinking about this whole concept originally.

It's a great one to bring up, though: If any of you haven't heard of it, you should check it out!

Ark1t3kt
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Yes, as a matter of fact I

Yes, as a matter of fact I have heard of this game, and it is one of the designs that got me thinking about this whole concept originally.

It's a great one to bring up, though: If any of you haven't heard of it, you should check it out!

Corsaire
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Really Interesting

That's definitely another way to think on the subject. I hadn't heard of that Train game (makes me think of the Milgram experiment.)

Monopoly was designed to be that sort of game.

I think there is room for this sort of approach. It's probably best served through one shot structures like Time Stories. The idea of encapsulating an abstract experience has got me thinking.

Might be really interesting to do a thread to attempt one as a group.

Ark1t3kt
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Legacy Game?

I think that a legacy format would be ideal for this one-shot type of game. Especially because those games are often heavily driven by narrative and plot twists...

I would be excited to try to attempt something like this as a group...count me in!

Juzek
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Interpretation of immorality

Sherrif of Nottingham is mostly a bluffing game. Sometime I feel pretty guilty about lying so well.

I think a lot of the social game mechanics like bluffing and trading can have some moral aspects as well as the theme of a game

I totally agree that it's more personal playing a game than watching a film. And in general people like to think they are morally upright individuals.

lewpuls
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Morality in games?

One of the defining features of games is that they are separate from the real world. If you can't keep the two separate, maybe you shouldn't play games.

Separating Games from Reality, Part 1
https://youtu.be/xMW3xaiseHQ
"Games are the epitome of separation from reality, as we set up "the magic circle" and agree to follow a set of rules. Yet some people cannot separate games from reality, taking everything involved very seriously down to wanting to censor games (though they won't admit this)."

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