Balancing Player Agency and Social Responsibility

Oh my comment was more based on the General question, If an author has a social responsibility, which I think he has, but I agree with your point, that if the author gives a choice the player should not be critizied for it. If I as author do not like the choices a player takes, shouldn’t include that choices at all.
But generally I think an author is responsible for what he writes.

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Games are escapist fiction. If a player cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy, I propose that no such burden exists on the author to try and fight that. What would one even call that? Burden of ignorance? Burden of irresponsibility? If my game is violent, that is my artistic vision. I will not dampen it or blanket it with reassurance. There is no burden.

“Social responsibility” is a term that also irks me. My work is my work, how you see it and how your mind interprets it is entirely up to you. I am not responsible for any of that as an author. Ever. It also implies that some things that cross that line of being able to control should be excluded entirely from my game or, as I’ve said, artistic vision merely out of some misplaced sense of, again, burden on the writer.

Let’s say someone reads my horror game and dies of a heart attack from the fear it caused them. Am I really responsible for that? How? Why? Should I have made it…less scary?

A rather extreme example, I know, but it’s so easy to see my point with it. Games are stories, and an author should get to tell theirs however they please, no matter what. Telling them their boundaries or trying to force new trendy phrases on them isn’t how you fight the very rare minority of human beings who are so effected by text in an event that something happens that requires discussion. If ever.

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This reminds me of the pro-censorship movement. The Washington wives started in America trying to force self-censorship and block music they deemed indecent.

Writing same like painting or music are ART They should not be forced to follow real-life constraints, and like the author, you shouldn’t be forced to do something you don’t want to do.

That includes not add choices you deemed going against your vision. Period.

But also you have to accept that readers, moreover, if pay for it, have all the right in the world to criticise your world and that they probably will end taking meaning from your artistic work that it was never intended.

You shouldn’t try to make readers apologise for the theories or meanings they pick from your work.

Of course, you can say that X was never your intention, but the view a reader gets is one of the things that makes art, art.

I recommend anyone watch this video about This creative freedom speech and morality

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The author is responsible for what they write but that shouldn’t be confused with being responsible for the reader.

I think “bad” choices are presented a little simplistically in this thread. Most of the time that’s a matter of a debate - is murder still evil if you do it to liberate your people or when you’re fighting a war, or if you’re simply hungry in a setting where you’re a vampire or simply a carnivore? A setting where evil and good are obvious and easy to pick between is an immature setting (not including crack settings where you can be clownishly evil or a saint for the sake of comedy).

I don’t think only evil choices should have consequences - traditionally good choices should have consequences too, because sometimes being good is not the easiest, most rewarding path.

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I definitely agree with this point, if it’s clear that this side is evil and this side is good, then in my opinion that is poor writing and storytelling, it’s black and white morality which is never really good in any setting. There needs to be nuance, to make it engaging, otherwise it’s a powertrip fantasy for the reader.
And to expand it’s more or less what you said, does the setting explain a “bad/evil” choice? Is it the best option available? Would an option that is seen as “good” result in more bad events happening in the future? Those are things that should be more present in stories, rather than a immediate reaction to a “good” or “evil” action.

If that makes sense?

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Some of these threads are old, but the topic has been previously discussed in the forums:

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I agree except when the clearly white and black is an artistic decision for instance a satire game or a over the top kids game. Fable is a wonderful example.

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I think people are kind of not understanding how stories influences us.

Stories influneces us. This is a fact, but it is not a one way street. What most stories does is reconfirm beliefs we already hold. This is way america history x is beloved by some nazies. And why every satirical work of art risk just reinforcing what is it satirizing. Because people will look at what they already believe and read the story from that lens of understanding.

Now that doesn´t mean that stories can´t be harmful. They can be dangerous by feeding into to biases which objectively harm people in the real world. Such as the role of woman, poc, queers and the mentally ill and reinforcing those biases. But they don´t just ping the biases into our brain from nothing.

Personally, I think that what the story assumes is good is much more dangerous than what is assumes is bad. If a story makes an evil route, it has already marked it as bad, by flagging it as evil and nothing else is really needed. If the reader play this because they want to play a villan mc then the reader have already the moral judgement.

It is what is assumed as good, funny or unremarkble which can be a problem. Why? Because it often goes unquestioned by the reader. Like all the many, many bad trans depiction which thought it a funny gag to puke at the reveal of a trans woman. This feed into a transphobic narrative that already exist about transwoman really being men.

As for social respnsobility? Well, I don´t think any author could ever live up to that. It is just not possible if you are also writing about something which touches issues, because the reader will always bring their own understanding to the table and one persons problematic is anothers lived experience. That doesn´t mean you shouldn´t think about the assumptions you are making in your writing and why you are writing what you write, just accept that you cannot predict what every reader is going to get out of it.

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For me personally, it’s just about what I feel comfortable writing. So, for example, in my WIP, the MC can kill people. That’s fine. But I’m not interested in, nor do I think I could write well, a character who gleefully murders civilians… so that’s just not a situation or a choice that appears in my game. Yes, I suppose it does limit what the player can do or be, but I just don’t think I’d be able to write a character that did those sorts of things convincingly or well.

I hope that makes sense.

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Just here to point out that although violent media has been on the rising drastically for decades in America, the largest exporter of this kind of thing, violent crime has been decreasing on average around the world. To blame the existence of violence in the real world on the violent content in movies/books/games, even indirectly, is a mistake as it overlooks the other contextual factors that play a role.

People don’t commit awful acts because the art we consume simply contains violent content, but rather because of the value the individual’s environment places upon those problematic behaviours and attitudes, be that as a result of their family, peers, community, or society at large.

I suppose my point is that there are too many factors to place the responsibility for educating and changing individuals solely on authors/artists. It simply isn’t their job to ensure their audience is mature enough to handle the topics that are presented. Let alone whether they even could. Look at the way people respond to games that get even slightly political. Art isn’t changing the minds of people, it just encourages them to think about that topic, whatever it may be, for better or worse.

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I’ve read a fair share of books with morally grey characters, although I must admit some of them still downright disturbs me to this day. Is it the author’s fault when that happens? I honestly don’t know. There are several factors that could account as to why a book seems to have crossed a line.

  1. The author simply doesn’t care - I don’t know how rare this is, but there are writers who don’t feel any sort of responsibility over their works (glorifying heinous acts while having fun with them).
  2. A question of skill - Maybe the author has a theme they want to get across, but was unable to due to lack of experience. It’s an easy mistake to make when you’re just starting. Sometimes, the writer could be completely unaware that their message actually comes off ignorant or cruel.
  3. Difference in perspectives - Just like how an audience disagrees on how they see a painting, readers could also have differing opinions on what the author has written. It could be illuminating to some - a reminder of a society’s ugliness. But to others, it could be viewed as plain cruel and senseless. This happens a lot, especially with the most controversial classics that are still famous today.

There are definitely other reasons besides those, but the thing is, it’s already hard to judge in the traditional form of books - what more in the world of interactive fiction?

As writers, I do believe we have a responsibility to make a careful effort when traversing these lines. We should be mindful of how our writing will affect our reader - because they can, for some. I’ve learned more about life from reading novels and philosophy as contrary to what my parents had taught me. Words can influence someone, and we need to remember that, especially for those who write about dark themes.

But even that has a limit. We can’t control how the rest of the world would view it. Did we do well in delivering our message? Were we careful enough? In the end, even after all the treading we do, it’s up to the readers how they will see it.

So what I believe is that if you’re writing a story with themes that could be potentially disturbing, just write with care and implement choices that would be more natural with the theme and setting you’re going for. Give reasonable consequences to the character’s actions, good and bad, and set your own boundaries.

I mean, we could all do our best, but sometimes our best still has its limits, and you can’t beat yourself up for that.

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I agree with this to an extent. We talk about the writing portion of this, but the game portion can come into play too. I’ve recently been going through games with the scenes text open, and have been thinking about this.

Should every choice (that is given) be a viable one? Aside from puzzles and questions with specific answers, should a choice only punish a character with stat reductions?

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2 posts were split to a new topic: Deplatforming Discussion

Umm we werent supposed to do that…? Oopsie…
On a serious note i dont think authors need to have a social responsibility , the whole purpose of an interactive fiction is to let player explore different things and also let author explore different styles let their creative genius run wild let stumble and learn and improve their craft.

Also as a reader it will really annoy me if a route is cut short or not given importance due to personal views of author being forced upon us , i like to explore everything in an interactive fiction , if i wanted a linear story i could just go read novels , this is just my personal experience and opinion as an interactive fiction reader , treat it as u didnt see it if you disagree.

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In short: the notion ‘media doesn’t make one violent’ is correct. But so is the statement ‘media can indirectly reinforce convictions, views, etc. and lead to violence’.
these are two statements that are true simultaneously.

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It can reinforce attitudes the person already holds by giving the person something to point a finger at. People would much rather deflect blame, rather than accept it. Which in the case of art, means blaming art for their actions, rather than admitting the problem lies with the attitudes taught to them by the real people that influence them.

A pacifist raised in a household that taught healthy conflict resolution skills at a young age and fostered respect for everyone, isn’t going to start punching people because they can do so in a videogame. just as someone who was raised in a household that taught violence as a reasonable way of resolving conflict won’t suddenly become the nicest person ever because they played a pacifist run in a game.

Ideas in art aren’t presented in a vacuum, but they aren’t consumed in one either.

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true.

But you do have it, due to art being fiction, that choices of how to handle something are made deliberately.
An example (some might know which show I am talking about): there’s a show on amazonprime, in which the protagonist at some point gives a thinly veiled, out-of-nowhere rant against worker’s unions. You can’t tell me this was not shoehorned in because it’s amazon pulling the strings.
If you know what’s going on, you’ll recognize it, if you don’t, it still gets stuck in your head and might influence how you view worker’s unions irl (already happened, so this isn’t a hypothetical scenario)

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You really think Alice, who is pro union could accidentally absorb an anti union stance by watching a short rant spoken on an amazon prime show? Or Bob who doesn’t even think about unions, he would now ardently oppose them because he failed to critically examine the show?

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I don’t think most people spend enough time consuming fiction that this alone could breed biases where no previous opinion (or opposite opinion) existed.

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This is a reminder to keep on topic which not only includes social responsibility but player agency within interactive fiction.

If you have already said your piece then take a step back and let other people have the opportunity to speak. Keep your posts focused on the topic at hand and avoid sniping at other users. It’s not cool, don’t do it, and it doesn’t add anything to the discussion.

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