Category: Design Ethics

Ethical decisions and dilemas when designing software

Ethics of Online Gaming

Ethics of Online Gaming

Online gaming comes with a slew of ethical issues. Whether you’re talking about ethics within the virtual world, the ethics of the game designers, or the social consequences of the players themselves, online gaming has both destroyed and taken life.
How can an online game actually take life? Not directly, but the addiction causes deaths to online games each year. Some deaths are caused by pure exhaustion from not sleeping. Others are from bladder infections by not getting up and using the restroom. There have also been suicides directly linked to gaming addiction.

The addiction is mainly a result of the design of the game. World of Warcraft (WOW) has different statuses you can achieve while playing the game. World of Warcraft used to have a status called Grand Marshal that a player could achieve. According to a former player, it took about a month of dedicated game play (12 – 16 hours a day) and the help of others in the game. The player who achieved this rank quit the game shortly afterwards. Many other former Grand Marshals also ended up quitting the game entirely. Even addictions have a point where you get burnt out.

The decision by Blizzard, the makers of WOW, to even have a title of Grand Marshal brings ethical questions. If the designers of the game knew that the player would have essentially have to devote their life to the game for a long period of time, were they not concerned for the players health or the social consequences from the player? It seems pretty clear to me that Blizzard was only concerned with making money, and had no regard for the social consequences the players were going through.
South Korea has seen the destruction online games can have on a society, and they’re doing something about it. South Korea is well known for its love of video games. Starcraft is very popular there, drawing thousands of people to watch gaming competitions, much like we do here in America for a basketball or football game. Over the past few years the South Korean government has started passing laws against online gaming. Limiting availability by age, giving parents control over the amount their children can play, and influencing design decisions with the game makers themselves.

With more than half of the nearly 50 million people in South Korea playing online games, it becomes a threat to the productivity of the society. I think the government has every right to implement these laws. The addiction is real, and the government should step in to try and curb the number of people who become addicted.

Personally, my Wife and I are already struggling against games with our children. According to a report, the most addictive games are the ones that have no end. My 9 year old son plays Minecraft on the Xbox, and also downloaded a version for the PC. From what I can tell, in Minecraft, a player keeps collecting more things, and building new things. The more they collect, the neater things they can build. My 6 year old also plays, and he has already peed his pants twice from not going to the bathroom while playing. We do limit their play to only the weekends, and then limit time on the weekends. We hope this helps them out by not becoming addicted to gaming.

I recommended this article from a former WOW player. He does a great job explaining how the game got a hold of him, and why he eventually quit (


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Dr. Brent Conrad. Why are video games so addictive? Retrieved from
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Tassi, Paul. New Korean Law Lets Parents Decide When Their Kids Can Play Games. July 2nd, 2012. Retrieved from
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