These are things, Koster says, that the creators of games ought to worry about. People need help and surely it is better to make games that help people than it would be to make games that encourage divisiveness and unhappiness. No?
It sounds very well but in fact the language is deliberately slanted to promote an agenda, that agenda itself couched with idioms like 'channel of communication' and 'imprinting behaviour' - both of which apply to every moment in which one person speaks to another. Whenever I hear of people who speak of art in terms of opening channels, it's quite plain they've become enraptured with meaningless pat phrases that fail to specify what's happening any more than what I do when I ask the barista for coffee. I'm opening a 'channel of communication' there, too. When I'm told to have a good morning as the coffee cup is passed to me, that's also 'imprinting behaviour.'
Looked at closely, arguments like "a substantial proportion of the audience is using it [your game] as a therapeutic tool" betrays a strong, patronizing attitude. It presupposes that anyone who turns to a game for satisfaction, escape or comfort is somehow more needy or weaker than those of us who do not need a video game for that. The attitude is carried further when Koster says,
"Think about what sort of people these are, and how your design affects them. Think about the ways in which your design will be misused, and the ways in which it may impact a player emotionally."
This pervasive attitude that has arisen, that argues game culture ought to be a means for social engineering and not merely a tool for entertainment, is an old, old pariah that has already made its way through prose, film and music. It is the other side of the same coin that derived the Hays Code, sought to ban rock & roll and fears for what the young people are reading. It is an ever-present argument that says, "We know what's best for you, because what's best for you has already been decided by experts who have been stung by the bad side of gaming."
Koster is precisely this sort of pundit. He puts it right there in the article,
"I had seen many players of MUDs get hooked on them to the exclusion of studies, or watched them damage their real life personal relationships while favoring the virtual ones."
To which the reader is expected to have the visceral reaction: "OMG, they ignored their studies? They ruined their relationships? That's awful!"
But how much were they invested in those studies, really? How good were those relationships? We don't know. We're not expected to consider even what specific coursework these non-specific people were involved in. Our minds are led to immediately assume we're talking doctors and people who were married with a whack of kids - because that's the worst possible scenario that can fit the 'facts' - but don't worry, Koster created Ultima umpty-umpth years ago, so he's an expert on how people live their lives and the choices they make.
We're all D&D players here, so we've heard all the lectures about not spending too much time on D&D and how it is going to ruin all our lives. We've heard the lectures on not taking imaginary campaigns too seriously, given by people who have never played or by people in the industry who are holding the next copy of Grakka's Death Castle IV behind their back, hoping to sell it's 32-page format for $40. In the case of the latter, all this concern about the user is just so much lip service paid to people who are neither sellers nor users, just so the business model can include the disclaimer, "But we did warn them!"
It is all about disclaimers. It was unstated in the previous post, but no one really subverts their freedom to write as they will due to this 'responsibility' they share. Moral responsibility is fine, so long as it rides in tandem with what the creator wants . . . but as soon as the creation and the responsibility go their separate way, the creator very quickly argues "Art" and "Freedom of Expression" and the responsibility argument quickly skulks out the door.
Koster's argument carries the same merit. Once a created video game gets off the chain, grows wildly popular and begins to reshape culture in ways the author never imagined, there's no rush forward by the creators to take any real responsibility for the fall-out. It's only a matter of time before these same wee lambs realize they might have a court case if they sue the game manufacturers, based on the exact same 'responsibility' argument that was made prior to the game's success - whereupon responsibility is unceremoniously dropped while the game makers cry "User Accountability" and "Sanctity of the Marketplace."
These moral arguments only matter to people who are not playing the game. For those on the inside, these arguments only apply when the consequences come to call. The game player who realizes that he's been five months in his basement only because the pizza boxes and the bottles of urine are getting in the way of his monitor is happy to applaud Koster's morality. The makers of Axe-Kill, Death in Schnectady, only sees the 'truth' of Koster's position when they've lost the court case against the sixteen families suing over the string of axe-murder deaths that began in Schenectady three days after the release of the game. Until they lose, however . . . all that morality stuff is obviously nonsense. There was, after all, a disclaimer on the box.
I'm pretty sure, however, that if the case ever came up, the defendants wouldn't lose. No one wants a legal precedent that supports the argument that Koster makes. No one, anywhere, wants to make creators - or any of the other manufacturers who have a little TOO much in common with creators - to ever be brought up on charges for social effects resulting from electronics, toys, motor vehicles, alcohol or any of the other things we use to actually affect people. Point to the right of someone to bring me to charges for the consequences of a book I've written and I will point at all the gun manufacturers who should also be put on trial.
So long as they're safe, so am I. And a responsibility without consequences is just air. Nonsensical, self-promotional, moralistic, patronizing, condescending air, but air. Empty, except for the lingering bad smell in the room.