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5:59pm on Tuesday, 12th June, 2012:

Fair's Unfair


One of the big hopes I had for computer games was that they would make society fairer.

Fairness is intrinsic to games. People don't like playing games that they perceive to be unfair. The more that people play games, the better sense of fairness they get. That sense of fairness is not restricted to games, however: players take it with them when they're not playing. Real life isn't fair, sure, but it could be fairer. People who play games will be more conscious of life's unfairnesses than if they didn't play games. Some of those unfairnesses, they may be able to do something about.

Of course, some games are not fair either. You know that when you start to play, though. Gambling games typically favour the house, for example, and even Chess is asymmetric. What these games deliver in terms of (usually) fun is regarded by the players are sufficient reward to overcome minor, noise-level degrees of unfairness, though. They're not going to play a vastly unfair game without commensurate rewards, however.

So, my hope was that the sense of fairness that's part and parcel of games would carry across to the mainstream as more people played games. While I believe that this does indeed happen, and people's greater awareness of fairness is indeed being awakened, unfortunately the mainstream is fighting back. In particular, the revenue model for most professionally-developed social games involves micro-transactions; players are encouraged to buy an advantage over other players, and some do. This completely flies in the face of fairness within a games context, although people who buy virtual goods and services might argue that it would be "unfair" if they couldn't use their money in games when they can in most other circumstances. As a result of players' growing acceptance of this revenue model, their acceptance of unfairness as an acceptable quality of games also grows. This diminishes their sense of fairness in games. If games are unfair anyway, what does it matter if you cheat?

I was hoping we'd get "games are fair, why isn't life?", which we were, but the pendulum is starting to swing to "life isn't fair, why are games?".

Oh well, back to the drawing board...

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Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).