How can playful experiences support the practice of ethical thinking skills? This question drives my new edited collection, Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values through Play, published last month by IGI Global.
First off, what is ethical thinking? It is the ability to analyze, assess and reflect on our decisions and actions, and to understand the consequences and complexities of social issues. It is knowing how to use appropriate judgment in diverse situations. This involves two higher-level thinking skills: reasoning and empathy.
Ethics matter so much in how we live our daily lives – whether in the workplace or school. In today's world, we need to be able to navigate in both physical and digital environments. For example, how do we know how to act appropriately on Facebook? Or in World of Warcraft? The MacArthur Foundation and the Pew Internet and American Life Project have identified ethics and civics as essential needs for 21st Century citizens.
As ethics and values are reconfigured online and offline, we need ethical citizens who can think through complex choices and decide what is right for them, their families, their communities, and the world. The notion that play can help people reflect on values is both innovative, and as old as humankind. Play has always been a way to allow people to experiment, explore and reflect. It allows us to try on new perspectives, reenact scenarios and possibilities, and act out different identities, systems, world views, and roles.
One way to support play is through new gaming environments. Research on this topic has started to emerge from labs such as Values@Play, Parsons' PETLab, and Harvard's GoodPlay Project, as well as organizations such as Games for Change, which will be hosting a conference in New York City in late May on the social issues surroundings games. My book seeks to bring together these voices and perpectives, and to further support the discourse and interdisciplinary dialogue surrounding ethics, play and games.
As we delve deeper into this exciting new field, it ultimately invites us to reevaluate what it means to be human, and to gain insight into our own humanity. This type of research is not about whether games are good or bad, wrong or right, but about their potential to supporting ethical thinking and give us a better understanding of our own humanity.