The in-game decision making process is really interesting, and indeed, I’ve just reviewed a paper for the Journal of Games of Culture on pretty much that issue, but in many ways I see that as “virtual ethics with virtual characters”. In-game ethical dilemmas pose interesting questions; shall I save the princess? Or slay her rescuers? But in many ways they suffer on two fronts.
The first is that they are a game, and your reactions when playing a character may be incredibly different that your instinctive real reactions. With (secondly) as well there being the possibility of you choosing a specific response for a game related reason rather than your real feelings. For example Dragon Age: Origins once posed me with the ethical dilemma of either having my characters saving the life of a possessed child and region by leaping into the “fade” (an otherworldly place) and completing a set of tasks which would get rid of the possession. Or alternatively, I could just slay the child and quickly save the region. I was just sick of side-quests (a game-centric reason, rather than a moral reason) at that point and so chose the speedier of the actions. So, in-game ethics suffer from, quite literally, having different incentives and embody different nuances.
The business ethics side of how computer games companies treats its customers, how it treats its workers, and how the business treats investors; now that’s real, and for me, that’s the interesting ethical perspective.
Here’s a recent personal customer perspective of mine. A vignette if you will.
On Steam (the PC game purchasing platform) recently a game called Cities XL 2012 was being advertised at a real knock down cost of £7.50. Always liking a good city builder, I decided to purchase. The game (I was subsequently annoyed to discover) however has a flaw which literally makes it unplayable over time. It has a memory leak, which means that over time the game will just use more and more memory until it finally becomes unplayable. This always happens. Even with the most highly specced machine/rig you will still eventually find the game grind to a halt over time necessitating a complete restart of the game to clear the memory buffer. It’s bugged.
I went to the Steam forums. Only to find a large amount of users complaining about exactly the same issue. What’s worse, the forums where clear that not only had the problem been known from launch (6 months previous to when I bought it), but also that the previous Cities XL 2011 had exactly the same memory sink problem as well.
So I go to Steam and look up at “Returns and refunds” to find, they say; I can’t. The Steam subscriber Agreement explicitly would seem to deny any refunds for any reason. I found this very interesting given what is outlined in the "Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000" which enshrine in law my automatic statutory right to rescind or cancel a contract (including a service contract) within 7 days of entering into it online.
So who’s to blame?
- Focus Home Interactive for not providing a working solution to a known issue for a game which I paid money for? Especially a known issue which makes the product unplayable?
- Steam (Valve Corporation) for not being a responsible retailer and checking the produce they sold me didn’t have a bug which quite literally makes it unplayable over time? And should a responsible and ethical retailer explicitly say in their subscriber agreement with a customer something which is completely contrary to a rather important piece of UK legislation?
- Or me? Caveat Emptor? Have I failed myself in not doing sufficient research before purchase? Should my expectation that I would buy a working product be one to be questioned? Or should I not question a contract that I’ve entered into with Steam (despite the fact that UK legislation over-rides the contract…)?
Return and Refund: Cities XL
I recently bought a game via Steam called Cities XL. It has a serious bug which makes it unplayable. I am a UK Citizen, who has bought your game in the UK, and you will find that my statutory rights as outlined in the UK legislation entitled "Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000" cannot be override by your subscriber agreement. Under the statutory rights I have as a UK citizen I would like to return my purchase and have a full refund. The game is unplayable, and should not have been sold to me. Once again, your subscriber agreement does not override my UK statutory rights outlined in the "Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000".
I will see what becomes of it!