Teaching Ethics Through Playful Experiences

Posted May 5, 2010

How can playful experiences support the practice of ethical thinking skills? This question drives my new edited collection, Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values through Play, published last month by IGI Global.

First off, what is ethical thinking? It is the ability to analyze, assess and reflect on our decisions and actions, and to understand the consequences and complexities of social issues. It is knowing how to use appropriate judgment in diverse situations. This involves two higher-level thinking skills: reasoning and empathy.

Ethics matter so much in how we live our daily lives – whether in the workplace or school. In today’s world, we need to be able to navigate in both physical and digital environments. For example, how do we know how to act appropriately on Facebook? Or in World of Warcraft? The MacArthur Foundation and the Pew Internet and American Life Project have identified ethics and civics as essential needs for 21st Century citizens.

As ethics and values are reconfigured online and offline, we need ethical citizens who can think through complex choices and decide what is right for them, their families, their communities, and the world. The notion that play can help people reflect on values is both innovative, and as old as humankind. Play has always been a way to allow people to experiment, explore and reflect. It allows us to try on new perspectives, reenact scenarios and possibilities, and act out different identities, systems, world views, and roles.

One way to support play is through new gaming environments. Research on this topic has started to emerge from labs such as Values@Play and Harvard’s GoodPlay Project, as well as organizations such as Games for Change, which will be hosting a conference in New York City in late May on the social issues surroundings games. My book seeks to bring together these voices and perpectives, and to further support the discourse and interdisciplinary dialogue surrounding ethics, play and games.

As we delve deeper into this exciting new field, it ultimately invites us to reevaluate what it means to be human, and to gain insight into our own humanity. This type of research is not about whether games are good or bad, wrong or right, but about their potential to supporting ethical thinking and give us a better understanding of our own humanity.

Michelle Mullineaux

Michelle is an experienced strategist, marketer, business developer and change agent. She joined ESI in 2004 and is charged with building and implementing successful business development and marketing strategies for the firm. She also serves on the Leadership Team, which guides and supports ESI’s strategic growth across all disciplines and functions.

Michelle is recognized as an expert and leading advocate for public interest design, an evolving practice area that operates at the intersection of design, service, sustainability and social impact. She is one of the co-founders and an active board member of desigNYC, a nonprofit with the mission of improving the lives of New Yorkers through the power of good design. She is featured in the Public Interest 100, sponsored by Autodesk, and served on both the Steering and Community Development Committees for NYCxDesign, New York’s inaugural citywide festival celebrating and promoting design of all disciplines. Prior to joining ESI, she held business development, marketing and new media strategy roles for METROPOLIS Magazine, Acoustiguide, and Christie’s. Michelle holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and BS/BA degrees in Journalism and Art History from Boston University.

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