Designing Game Ethics: A Pervasive Game Adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo

How does one design a game to make change? How can I design a game that engages players in ethical gameplay? For this project, I used multiple methodologies—research through design, background research, iterative game design, playtesting, and player interviews—to explore strategies that game designers might use to accomplish goals that involve affecting change in players. I designed a pervasive game adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, through which I explored ways to engage players in ethical decision making. I playtested the game, Civilité, with a group of fifteen Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students and affiliates during MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP) in January 2010. The game ran around the clock for seven days and took place throughout MIT campus. Supported through a variety of media, including a website, audio podcasts, physical props, hidden tupperware boxes, and a variety of paper documents, Civilité transformed the players’ everyday campus environment into an imaginary nineteenth century Paris on the eve of Napoléon’s Hundred Days. Along with the ethical decisions confronting players’ fictional characters, players also had to make ethical decisions regarding what was acceptable gameplay behavior. After the playtest, players participated in a group post mortem and individual thirty minute interviews.

This thesis discusses the methodologies that I employed in this project to engage Civilité players in ethical and unethical behavior and to encourage ethical reflection both during and after gameplay. It also addresses the thorny question, “what are game ethics?” by crafting a rough framework for ways that game designers can think about game ethics. Using observations from the playtest, players’ daily reports, the group post mortem, and the individual player interviews, this thesis argues that the ethical issues that players identified fall into three ethical domains: the procedural domain, the diegetic domain, and the magic circle’s domain.


About Rocket Lee

Rocket Lee is a technologist and game designer based in Oakland, CA. They spent their time at CMS focusing on game design and their master’s thesis included designing and running an alternate reality game that explored ethics in games. Thesis: Designing Game Ethics: A Pervasive Game Adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo


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