Week 8 — Reflection on ethics


During week 8 we touch on audience/user research, or as it is called in game development: playtesting (Yáñez-Gómez et al. 2017). We also consider the ethical implications of said research, and whether the research activities are low, medium, or high risk.

My cohort and I were asked questions about various research scenarios, for instance rating their risks, analysing ethical concerns, and making recommendations. My cohort gave very insightful answers, and it seems to come easily to them! I had to immerse myself in Falmouth’s guidance on ethics, and read up on the legalities around it.

I felt hopelessly out of my depth during this week. My approach has always been very simple: make a game (for me, and my demographic), then share the link to my game on Twitter or with a few friends and wait for the comments. In a very basic sense, I wouldn’t purposefully harm anyone, but this week has opened my eyes to the possibility of that happening.

What I found is that it’s an area that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I did once submit a game to the Google Play Store, and was given a check-list with which to rate the game’s content. My very goofy game ended up being rated 9+ which I would have never imagined otherwise.

CornWars content rating

However, every other game I’ve ever shared on my website or itch.io have never been content-rated, so there’s a danger there.

In future, I would make more of an effort to rate my games’ content. But, I would also much rather just outsource this portion of making games to a professional. I would definitely not want to make mistakes where it involves people. (I’m no stranger to asking for professional help with matters I don’t understand, e.g. asking solicitors to go over new freelance contracts.)

And if I ever do need to solicit playtesters, I guess the pool of friends and family will run out very quickly:

...getting people to play new versions of the game every week. For most purposes of playtesting I think you shouldn't just let the same people play every week. Of course it's helpful, since you can ask them questions like "Is the game more fun now than it was last week?", but you won't get a wide diversity of opinions from a small group.

(van Dongen 2018)

So I’d need to cast the net a bit wider. There seems to be a variety of play-testing services out there (1, 2). These professionals will take the ethics burden off my shoulders.

In conclusion: outsource playtesting, and content-rate all my games. I would then be covered in two areas:

  • my playtesters would not be my responsibility
  • my game would be content-rated and be published with the necessary disclaimers


  1. YÁÑEZ-GÓMEZ, Rosa, Daniel CASCADO-CABALLERO and José-Luis SEVILLANO. 2017. “Academic Methods for Usability Evaluation of Serious Games: a Systematic Review.” Multimedia Tools and Applications 76(4), [online], 5755–84. Available at: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11042-016-3845-9 [accessed 14 Nov 2020].
  2. DONGEN, Joost van. 2018. “The Challenge of Finding Enough Playtesters.” Gamasutra. Available at: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JoostVanDongen/20180904/325770/The_challenge_of_finding_enough_playtesters.php [accessed 11 Nov 2020].

This post is part of my critical reflective journal and was written during week 8 of the module development practice.

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