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9:37pm on Sunday, 6th November, 2016:
I've a few minutes free here at Atlanta Airport, so can finally report back on what I actually did at Project Horseshoe other than eat, sleep, get woken up, chat to fellow designers and play boardgames.
The way it works, people propose workshop topics. You say which three of these you want to join, and then people are allocated their groups until everyone is in one. I managed to choose three groups that no-one else wanted to be in, so had the option of wandering between them (which I almost did) or choosing one of the others (which I did indeed do). The one I chose had no-one in it I knew, but after two days working with them I'd now consider them all friends. There were five of us in the group, plus a lot of people who wandered by from their groups to offer their perspectives.
The group's topic was "Games that are bad for you".
I'm not going into details about what we discussed, because the report isn't written yet and, hmm...
So, the idea was that we'd discuss how to make games bad for players, with a view to letting designers know so as to stop it from happening. We can confidently say that there are no games out there deliberately trying to be bad for players, because it's stupidly easy to think of ways to make them much, much worse than they already are.
However, we also figured out some ways to cause harm and disruption and effects that aren't just bad for players but bad for society as a whole. We isolated attack vectors and realised that we could in theory weaponise games in quite insidious ways. So, should we tell the world about this or not?
It's not that we're explaining to people how to make a simple neurotoxin out of household chemicals or anything, but this is nevertheless somewhat disturbing. If a group of five (admittedly very high-powered) game designers can come up with several concrete, workable ideas in two days, a state-sponsored or terrorist organisation could probaby make a good stab at it too.
We'll see how the report turns out, anyway, before we decide how to distribute it. At any rate, if developers have been arguing for years that games can be transformative experiences, they maybe should pause for thought occasionally in case players are being transformed in ways that aren't entirely positive.
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