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I'm working on a 4x, turn-based space game. It's currently in the design phase. Because I'm the Director of Technology for Gamers Against Bigotry, I'd like it to be socially conscious. In other words: I want the game to have features that encourage socially aware gameplay.

I've had some ideas. The first is that some worlds will have aboriginal peoples. Second, there will be some smaller empires (much like City-States in Civ 5) that don't colonize more than one or two systems.

In a normal 4x game, there is absolutely no penalty for attacking these civilizations, or for destroying aboriginals (their might be expensive military costs, but that's it.)

One idea I had was to set up a council of Elder Races who could punish players who interfere with Aboriginal Cultures. I also thought about using Factions that have to be appeased, and these factions could interfere with the player's ability to procede (for example, Human Justice factions would strike if the player hurt aboriginal peoples. Environmental factions might strike or destroy buildings that hurt native fauna/flora.)

Finally, I thought about allowing the player to choose their sexual identity (Male, Female, Trans*, etc).

Does anybody have any other ideas to make the game more socially conscious? Obviously, gameplay should still be fun. I just want the players to think about their actions in a greater social context.

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Is this just asking for game ideas? Trying to work out how this question ("Does anybody have any other ideas?") could ever be given a "correct", accepted answer. –  Trevor Powell May 23 '13 at 12:54
Your challenge isn't to make a "socially conscious" game. Your challenge is to make a fun socially conscious game. As stated I think your question is overly broad, however. –  bobobobo May 23 '13 at 14:05
All philosophies taken to the extreme become oppressive and evil. Why is it ok to kill your peer races, but not weaker ones? How could such a galaxy of beings exist and still have wars? Explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate - How can you include the last 2 Xs? Being socially conscious and portraying a utopia are not the same thing. –  DampeS8N May 23 '13 at 16:04
@Joe This question isn't too broad. This is an incredibly high quality question that deserves much attention, many answers, and should be HEAVILY ENCOURAGED on this website. If you want a website devoted to GAME DESIGN, you HAVE to have questions like this as the highest rated questions. Otherwise, you are obviously not promoting a website that encourages game design theory. –  user32223 Jun 23 '13 at 23:20
This shouldn't be closed, this should be encouraged as a phenomenal, thought-provoking question. This website has so much potential, ruined by misdirection and IMO what are people who do not understand how questions like this shape not only the website but good, innovative game design in our world. Our technology encourages hubs of thought, and this website actually hurts innovation by discouraging these questions. I would ignore most of these high reputation users Joe, they don't have time to make games or theorize innovation; instead they just push their strange agenda here, all day everyday –  user32223 Jun 23 '13 at 23:21
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closed as not a real question by Trevor Powell, bobobobo, Nicol Bolas, Josh Petrie, Byte56 May 27 '13 at 18:46

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4 Answers

Summary: Depict differing world-views and perspectives in a value-neutral, non-judgmental way

In order to deal with prejudices, biases, and bigotry, I would focus away from artificial "This is a minority in the galaxy. It's wrong to hurt them!" style methods. It's not that it's inappropriate, but that it would be ineffective at doing anything but "preaching to the choir". Instead, the root cause of prejudices is unfamiliarity with different perspectives. Showing multiple perspectives in a neutral light would be the most effective means of actual change.

The best reference for this would be Alpha Centauri. A Firaxis/Civilization sci-fi game. It plays much like its sister game, Civilization. However, the civilizations that oppose each other have distinct personalities, and the leaders have equally distinct personalities. These leaders are quoted for every "Great Project/Wonder" and "Tech" that is built/researched. These quotes, more than any other fiction I've read/experienced, have driven a brilliant means of insight into differing perspectives.

The industrialist is often quoted giving justifications for a focus on capitalism. The autocrat has a quote giving a logical justification for his government's oppression. It's not the focus of the game by any means (they are simply quotes you needn't ever read), yet they repeatedly offer different perspectives to the player without judging.

This, I think, is the key to moving beyond "lecturing/moralizing" and moving towards "enlightening". Offering non-judgmental windows into other world-views. By doing so, by being as neutral as possible, anyone who is more likely to identify with the traditionally villainous character(s) will not be off-put by authorial attempts to cast what the player sees as the most identifiable character in a negative, sometimes wholly demonized, light.

This means the common defensiveness that occurs, which is more or less a cognitive bias called the backfire effect, is not as strong, so the player remains more open to the experience. It is this openness that leads to a higher chance of real change in perspectives, which should be the ultimate goal in any "socially conscious" fiction.

I'm not technically suggesting that you should utilize "quotes" like Alpha Centauri. Rather, utilize the general methodology, that of non-judgmental depiction of differing world perspectives. This, of course, works best when told in the fictional universe with a consideration for relatability given the culture of the viewers/players (e.g. sci-fi versions of current social ills such as prejudices against Islam and homosexuality).

Source: Is a Licensed Counselor with cultural-change-focused master's

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Thank you for this. It's very helpful. –  Joe May 26 '13 at 20:37
Glad I could help =) –  Attackfarm May 27 '13 at 0:20
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I find the idea of making a socially conscious game interesting. However, remember that this is a game, so I'd recommend you make sure whatever changes you make to the game do not impact gameplay in a negative way that may bore or annoy your players.

In my opinion, you should pick one facet of social consciousness (ethnics, nationality, sexual orientation, environmental issues) and focus on that one instead of trying to attack them all.

In general, I think you should allow players to perform the undesirable actions (for example, destroy an aboriginal society), but make them think that those actions have consequences, so the next time they play your game they'll think twice before doing that. For example, you can:

  1. Make "diversity" an in-game statistic. This may either affect your science output, or the population happiness, or its cultural influence. Make sure you explain why those numbers are related.

  2. Whenever you destroy a native civ, your troops lose morale, and get a temporary penalty in combat.

But it would definitely be best if not everything is negative when you do something undesirable. That way it doesn't become preachy. In other terms, it's better to give players a choice so they consciously avoid the undesirable behavior, than to simply punish it.

Take for instance, Anno 2070, where pollution and global warming are real problems that actually affect gameplay in both positive and negative ways (more pollution generating buildings give a boost to productivity, but will seriously affect the late-game. While greener buildings are not that productive, but will avoid problems in the long run). You may find some interesting ideas in there.

There's also another flash based game, Sweatshop. You may want to check it for other interesting ideas.

Other games are just based on delicate subjects to inspire discussion. For example Smuggle Truck is an awesome game, based on illegal immigration.

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To expand on Panda's "diversity" example: Research shows a positive long-term effect on a collective, but diversity also causes a negative short-term effect. This balance of long- vs short-term effects is honestly perfect for a game stat/mechanic. –  Attackfarm May 23 '13 at 9:13
Great references btw. –  bobobobo May 23 '13 at 14:25
There are lots of great stuff here, and lots of research for me to do. Thanks Panda! And Attackfarm, you're right: that balance is exactly what I'm trying to get at as a mechanic. –  Joe May 26 '13 at 20:38
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I don't think that your idea of having interest groups which punish the player for discriminating minorities sends the right message. It says "you need to protect these minorities, because someone else says so". The effect will be that the player will hate these interest groups because they limit their freedom. And when you make these interest groups use violence when their demands aren't met, you put them on the morally wrong side and give the player even more reason to disagree with their stance.

The message you want to say is "You need to protect these minorities, because it is beneficial for everyone". Allow the player to trade with these factions, and make sure that it gives them an advantage. Reward the player for maintaining a good relation to them for a prolonged time. Make sure that destroying these factions gives little or no benefit.

Regarding giving the player the choice to select the sexual identity of their character: Will it have any notable effect on gameplay? When its a choice which is actually meaningless, you shouldn't do this, as it would feel tagged-on. Also, why do you force the player to choose?

A good example how to deal with sexual identity is, in my opinion, Mass Effect. The player character is able to engage in heterosexual, homosexual and xenosexual relations. The player can also play their character asexual, when they want to. But the player is not forced to clearly define the orientation of their character as they can engage in different relations over the course of the trilogy. An exceptionally good treatment of homosexuality is, in my opinion, the character Steve Cortez in ME3. He is an openly gay character who mourns the loss of his husband. Two men being married is accepted as perfectly normal by the game world (even by his colleague James Vega, who is otherwise portrayed as a simple-minded brute macho-man and would certainly also discriminate gays when he would be born in the 20th century). His suffering is portrayed very seriously and without any prejudices that gays wouldn't love each other as much as heterosexual couples. The portrail of the character himself is also far away from any camp-gay stereotypes. The player can help Cortez to overcome his loss, and when they play a male character, they can afterwards choose if they want to engage in a romantic relationship with him or just want to be friends. This again plays against the prejudice that gays would only have interest in other men when it's sexual and that men can't be emotionally close to homosexual men without being homosexual themself.

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First of all, stop thinking in Human terms. If the player can pick alien race they can have 1 sex or more than 2 sexes!

You can also mix races in cities/on planets. You can create tension between races that will have negative impacts. You can create societies where civics like "multi-species society" positively boost culture or science.

Add bonuses to aboriginal races. Protection or peaceful incorporation of the aboriginal race should provide significat boost. You can make "first contact" rules for aboriginals and your planetary council can penalize players or even wage wars against those who break them. Let AI players break them and give the player a peacekeeping mission from the council that will provide some reward.

And watch Star Trek: TOS, that will give you plenty of ideas.

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I've seen all of TOS, but perhaps it's time for a re-watch. Like your ideas, and I'll give them some thought while working on the game design document. –  Joe May 26 '13 at 20:39
One game design trick developers use to restrict (but not prevent) players from making unrealistic moves is to have an all-power, unstoppable, god-like entity which polices the players if they get out of hand. Ex.1 making all players/civilizations nothing more than minor players in a galaxy ruled by a more civilized society. Ex.2 It is common in Space Exploration themed genres for there to be civilizations that are advanced to the point of transcending human perception and obtaining Incorporeal existence through evolution or technology;These could easily police players through infinite methods –  user32223 Jun 23 '13 at 23:28
I am not saying for the police system to prevent players, but there are nearly an infinite number of methods an "advanced" civilization could impose on others, penalize through resource fines, increased taxes to the 'global initiative', temporary takeovers, rebellion of planets by political protest instead of an all-powerful entity (very popular in Civilzation type games) –  user32223 Jun 23 '13 at 23:30
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