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Subject: Political game with real life issues vs fictional ones rss

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Jon Vallerand
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So I'm working on a game (still at the conceptual level) where players each represent a political party/faction, each with their own philosophical interests. The game has many objectives representing issues, each with two sides, and players teamed up on each side. For example, in a game with A, B, C, and D, you could have the following objectives:

Issue 1: A + B vs C + D
Issue 2: A + C vs B + D
Issue 3: A + D vs B + C
Issue 4: A vs B + C + D
Issue 5: B vs A + C + D
Issue 6: C vs A + B + D
Issue 7: D vs A + B + C

Which forces the players to cooperate with each opponent on some issues, and go against them on others.

Which brings me to my question: Do you think the use of real-life issues (abortion, gay marriage, legalization of marijuana) add to the experience, or distract people from the game?

If you think it would be distracting, would you be more interested in a game that looks at "funny", childish issues, or more science-fiction ones?

In the end, whether the game's theme is the media's control over the modern population, a student council type of thing, or a inter-galactic council, the game's focus is on this multiple teams alliances mechanism.
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Holger Doessing
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I won't offer a clear-cut answer for you, but if you ever decide to aim for a worldwide audience I think you should consider that the issues you choose might not sit well with different nationalities. I suppose the Dutch would find marihuana issues quite odd; in Denmark (where I'm from) Christianity and abortion issues would feel quite out of place. The list goes on.

As an alternative I'd suggest you invent your own nation with its own problems. That should give you quite a lot of freedom to come up with even quite outrageous issues. It could be anything from a serene and very remote tropical archipelago, over a politically extreme banana republic, to a heavily industrialized nation with a strong need for growth.

Edit: I can't spell.
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Moshe Callen
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Take a lookat Die Macher.
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Richard Irving
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whac3 wrote:
Take a lookat Die Macher.


The issues at stake in Die Macher are all real issues in Germany (Similar issues apply elsewhere):
- Internal Security (Think crime & punishment or defense)
- Euro (Think economic issues)
- Genetic Engineering
- Writing reform (think education)
- Social state (think Social Security)
- Nuclear Energy
- Healthcare reform (That's NEVER been discussed in countries like the United States shake )

Are those serious enough issues for you?

In Die Macher having matching issues to other parties is useful to for, coalitions and is worth more votes based on the what the voters want. (If the voters disagree with you, you either change your platform or you buy advertising to change the people's minds.

Most people don't know it, but Die Mcher (which means the Fixers) is a very cynical game.


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Moshe Callen
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rri1 wrote:
...
Most people don't know it, but Die Macher (which means the Fixers) is a very cynical game.

How could that not be obvious?!
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Andrew H
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My personal thought is serious issues would distract from the game, as the players debate the topics. In my game groups, I think only one of the three would be able to ignore the real life issues.

I think it could still be a serious game, and you could consider setting it in a historical period, where the era's serious issues are different.

Personally, I think the student council theme would be my preference.
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Kendall McKenzie
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I just won't play games where you're rewarded for doing things I feel particularly strongly about, and I'd find it frustrating when the better move would be to do something I disagree with in real life since I like to play to win and follow my strong moral convictions.

I'd like to see a silly game over a sci-fi one, since I feel like sci-fi politics has been a bit overdone whereas you could get a nice theme out of a silly idea. I like the high school student election idea.
 
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Moshe Callen
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Dogmantra wrote:
I just won't play games where you're rewarded for doing things I feel particularly strongly about, and I'd find it frustrating when the better move would be to do something I disagree with in real life since I like to play to win and follow my strong moral convictions....

I hear you but don't personally get the issue. I'm anti-war except in cases of legitimate self-defense but I am a wargamer nonetheless, even when playing a clear aggressor. Similarly, I'll play non-wargames that have me do something in the game I'd not really do. For example, I'll play Mr. X in Scotland Yard because I'm not actually committing any crimes.

Is it the pretending to do something morally wrong that is the problem, if I may ask? It's an interesting point of view and I don't want to be dismissive but I don't understand it either.
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Kendall McKenzie
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whac3 wrote:
Is it the pretending to do something morally wrong that is the problem, if I may ask? It's an interesting point of view and I don't want to be dismissive but I don't understand it either.

It's to do with a level of abstraction I guess. I don't really have a problem with violence in games as long as it's not real-world violence. I play and love Mage Knight, for example, but I would be uncomfortable playing a game about a real war because real people have suffered and at some level I would feel complicit in it.

I also don't want to be in the position of rooting for some really awful outcome in the real world, even if it is just pretend. If I'm going to take on the role of someone I consider evil, I'd like to do it in a way divorced of real-world contexts.

I do understand even amongst my circle of friends with similar sentiments, I'm quite sensitive to certain things and this is probably quite rare, but it doesn't really bother me. There are enough great games out there that don't use real-world issues for me to not really mind that I don't feel comfortable playing a few.

EDIT: one trouble I have here is that I'm trying to avoid politics as best I can because this isn't the right subforum, and a lot of my reasoning is tied up with my strong political views.
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Moshe Callen
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Dogmantra wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Is it the pretending to do something morally wrong that is the problem, if I may ask? It's an interesting point of view and I don't want to be dismissive but I don't understand it either.

It's to do with a level of abstraction I guess. I don't really have a problem with violence in games as long as it's not real-world violence. I play and love Mage Knight, for example, but I would be uncomfortable playing a game about a real war because real people have suffered and at some level I would feel complicit in it.

I also don't want to be in the position of rooting for some really awful outcome in the real world, even if it is just pretend. If I'm going to take on the role of someone I consider evil, I'd like to do it in a way divorced of real-world contexts.

I do understand even amongst my circle of friends with similar sentiments, I'm quite sensitive to certain things and this is probably quite rare, but it doesn't really bother me. There are enough great games out there that don't use real-world issues for me to not really mind that I don't feel comfortable playing a few.

EDIT: one trouble I have here is that I'm trying to avoid politics as best I can because this isn't the right subforum, and a lot of my reasoning is tied up with my strong political views.

I'm a regular in the RSP forum. People knock it but it's the best forum I've ever seen for such topics. Perhaps you'd be willing to post there? The site rules are looser in the forum but once you learn your way about, it's actually quite civil for the most part.
 
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Katie Schumm
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Man, the last thing you want is to deal with real-life issues, or close-to-real-life issues on game night. Can you imagine? My husband's hero is Pres. Obama, and our best gaming buddy thinks that Rush Limbaugh is our savior. You'd see the explosion from space. zombie Games are supposed to help us escape!

I think you either need to...

A.) Go historical (far enough back so no one was living at that time - ex. no Vietnam issues, etc.). Think Founding Fathers. (Check it out, since that involves issue debate.)

or

B.) Go fantasy or sci-fi. Sci-fi, you could definitely do an intergalactic accord-type theme. Or fantasy, you could try to broker peace between fantasy races and negotiation for magical resources. Keep it far enough away from real issues (iow, don't create thinly veiled parallels with real life politics) so that there's no subliminal commentary.

To address your specific ideas - I think the media control thing could turn real-life political too quickly, and I think the student council idea should be reserved for a kids game. I'd much rather roleplay a debate among the fae, horror movie creatures, trolls, etc.

Just remember to keep it FUN. Good luck!
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Andy Kay
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JVallerand wrote:

In the end, whether the game's theme is the media's control over the modern population, a student council type of thing, or a inter-galactic council, the game's focus is on this multiple teams alliances mechanism.


If your primary interest is in the (shifting) alliances, rather than the political issues themselves, then I can see the sense in staying away from some of the more divisive current political issues.

My personal vote would go to either fictional, or Andrew's historical suggestion above.

Good luck with the game.

Edit: Katie said it much better, in the time it took me to type mine
 
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Frederic Heath-Renn
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wonderwitch wrote:
A.) Go historical (far enough back so no one was living at that time - ex. no Vietnam issues, etc.). Think Founding Fathers. (Check it out, since that involves issue debate.)


You say that - the last time I played Founding Fathers I got roundly berated into changing my play because I attempted to pass the Three-Fifths Compromise unchanged.
 
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Ed Mach
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I think wonderwitch summed it up pretty well.

The other item to consider is (1) mechanics of your game vs. (2) theme of your game. The best (or better) games that I've seen and played out there have better mechanics than the theme. Of course, the theme is still very important; the theme sets the tone and target of your audience, but a player's unique actions in the game (i.e. the mechanic) is probably going to be more fun in the long run for your players. Hope this helps!

 
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Stephen Williams
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I think the first thing you need to decide (YOU, not us for you) is whether you really want to make a game that raises real-world issues, or whether you you want to make a game that uses a mechanic you have conceived, and real world issues are just one of many themes you could go with.

If it's the latter, I'd suggest NOT using real-world issues. If what you really want to share with the world is your stunning game mechanic, don't use a theme that will take people away from playing the game.

On the other hand, I think board games CAN be used as a medium to discuss real-world issues. Tomorrow and Train come to mind as examples of games that do this. If you want to go this route, though, I think it's better to focus on one real-world issue exclusively. Find an issue that intrigues you intellectually (regardless of moral or ethical positions) and use the game to explore it from as many angles as possible.

Making a game that only touches briefly on a wide spectrum of real-world issues (especially controversial ones like you suggest) is only going to get people arguing. Making a game that explores ONE real-world issue in depth, giving all the angles due consideration, will make people think while they play.

(It will also probably generate a fair amount of hate mail, if the examples I mentioned are any indication.)
 
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Wendell
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One more vote for something as far removed from real-life political reality as possible (which could be historical). Not because games where you debate those issues are inherently bad, but rather because with some wrong players (I'm talking personality here, not nationality or ideological leanings), the political could overwhelm the game.
 
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Bill Eldard
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whac3 wrote:
Take a lookat Die Macher.


Die Macher is the first model that came to my mind. The issues are taken from actual German politics (At least the issues at the time of its design), but the mechanics of the game are such that each party can adopt whatever combination of issues they want, and often drop some of the issues they begin supporting for others.
 
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Philip Becker
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A space theme has been mentioned, and so have the founding fathers...
Which makes me think the drafting of the space federation agreement would be a fun setting. Like the Rock people might have a unique perspective on asteroid mining. Sounds like people could role play enough to get into the debate, but not be tied to real issues that people could actually be mad about (or forced to choose between real life political views and winning).
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Jeffrey Drozek-Fitzwater
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Eldard wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Take a lookat Die Macher.


Die Macher is the first model that came to my mind. The issues are taken from actual German politics (At least the issues at the time of its design), but the mechanics of the game are such that each party can adopt whatever combination of issues they want, and often drop some of the issues they begin supporting for others.


What is instructive about Die Macher is the game isn't about the issues, the game is about the mechanics and the issues are just a cog in the machine. You can do real-world issues as long as the issues aren't the focal point of the game. If you want to play it safe, stick with issues that are more general: War vs peace, industry vs human-focused, taxes, etc.

Either way, I'd stay away from abortion, though.
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Joel Mayeski
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I'd enjoy weighing in on the "ins and outs" of your game idea when I have more time to read all the posts.

However, here is a fun little web game (text only - 5 minutes to set up and 5 minutes a day to play), that simulates different laws a government might pass and the implications of those decisions:
http://www.nationstates.net/cgi-bin/index.cgi
 
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Sturv Tafvherd
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JVallerand wrote:
So I'm working on a game (still at the conceptual level) where players each represent a political party/faction, each with their own philosophical interests. The game has many objectives representing issues, each with two sides, and players teamed up on each side. For example, in a game with A, B, C, and D, you could have the following objectives:

Issue 1: A + B vs C + D
Issue 2: A + C vs B + D
Issue 3: A + D vs B + C
Issue 4: A vs B + C + D
Issue 5: B vs A + C + D
Issue 6: C vs A + B + D
Issue 7: D vs A + B + C

Which forces the players to cooperate with each opponent on some issues, and go against them on others.

Which brings me to my question: Do you think the use of real-life issues (abortion, gay marriage, legalization of marijuana) add to the experience, or distract people from the game?

If you think it would be distracting, would you be more interested in a game that looks at "funny", childish issues, or more science-fiction ones?

In the end, whether the game's theme is the media's control over the modern population, a student council type of thing, or a inter-galactic council, the game's focus is on this multiple teams alliances mechanism.


I'm currently working on something that is abstractly similar -- a game where the position of your "workers" on the board can impact 1, 2, or 3 "conflicts". Winners of each conflict gain victory points.

I considered adding a theme ... military was too thin ... even worse than Neuroshima Hex. Politics or Diplomacy would be a great fit, but setting a context that avoids controversy was problematic.

So I decided to avoid real-life current events ... indeed, avoid the events of the past 100 or so years.

The three contexts I'm trying to decide on are:
-- Continental Congress during American Revolution
-- Senate during the 1st Roman Triumvirate
-- Diadochi wars (post Alexander the Great)


The one thing that I think cannot be avoided is that you can't "force" the player behind a historical faction to follow the historical precedent. Even if you gave them decent incentives to do so. For example, Jefferson and Franklin might decide to fight against Independence.

And indeed, that's part of the reason why I think it would be hard to make this kind of game work with current events.


edit: In the RPG sense, there's this thing we call "Suspension of Disbelief." That's the thing that makes games with magic, blood, gore, and unnatural creatures "work". I guess there's some kind of unwritten contract between players (and the GM) that certain things are temporarily acceptable for the sake of playing the game.

The problem occurs when you "break" that suspension of disbelief. When you do something so shocking or something that violates that unwritten contract. Unfortunately, as others have already stated, that will really depend from one group to another.

You'll need to decide what is appropriate for you, and how much of that will affect what you deem appropriate for a game that bears your name.

Just as an example: I might be okay with playing a game involving vampires, werewolves, and zombies ... it would depend on the group I'm with. However, I'd never be able to publish a game with those themes. I know, it seems a very thin and somewhat hypocritical line to draw ... but there it is.
 
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Jim Hansen
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Take a look at Corporate America. It's maybe a little more abstracted than what you have in mind, but there is legislation like Defense of Marriage Act, Obamacare, SOPA, etc. and players campaign to pass certain laws pass. It's all about making money and have a humorous/satirical approach to it, so it doesn't get too heavy or scare people away.
 
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Mark J
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Okay, I've got some experience with this. A few years back I made a computer game of running for U.S. president. I used real issues in the game -- terrorism, gay marriage, abortion, health care, immigration, etc. I made each state have about the right percentage of people on each side of the issue, with of course some randomization thrown in, but there was no way in my game that Massachusetts was going to be a hot bed of pro-gun sentiment or Utah was going to be pro-abortion.

I never had anyone -- either play testers or actual customers -- say that they had a problem with this. I only recall one person commenting on it at all, and that was a reviewer who said that the issues seemed to work in the game much like they did in real life. That said, there are (at least) two reasons why this may mean less than it sounds like.

One, while I provided for multiple players, like most computer games it was primarily a human versus machine game. So a player who leans Republican would probably play a Republican and a player who leans Democrat would probably play a Democrat and I had provisions for independents to keep them happy too, so maybe most players played the game as champions of all that is good and right fighting the forces of evil.

Two, the issues were pretty much just names and percentages. It's not like I had rules where the player actually acted out performing an abortion or beating up minorities or anything. The game would not have played any differently if they had just been called "issue A", "issue B", etc. Though I think that would have been boring. When I was testing the game, I routinely played the villain (i.e. the Democrat of course :-), and I never felt conflicted or queasy about it. I just saw it as a game.

As a game player, I routinely play, for example, the Nazis in a World War 2 game without feeling any ambivalence, like, Oh no, if I win, that means we're carting off Jews to concentration camps. But I've never played a World War 2 game where concentration camps were even mentioned. Suppose someone made a game where there were counters for Jews in various cities, and the German player got points for every "Jew unit" that he transports to a concentration camp. I think such a game would make me feel a little uneasy, at the least.

I was playing a space war game just recently where to win you pretty much have to massacre the civilian population of every enemy planet, and I was thinking to myself, Wow, this is really brutal, but it didn't real stop me from enjoying the game. At one point my ships stumbled on a new alien race, and I had them promptly wipe them out for no apparent reason. My son walked in the room at that point and I was laughing as I told him how my ships just appeared in the sky over these people and slaughtered them. Why did I think that was funny and not horribly offensive? I'm not sure.

All that said, surely the SAFE thing to do is to set the game in an imaginary world of one kind or another with issues that are not issues in our world, and you avoid the problem. You could set it in a fantasy kingdom, a sci-fi interplanetary empire, or a world with an alternate history.

I've been kicking around an idea for a sci-fi politics game for years, and I struggled with coming up with issues that would be nothing like real Earth issues. You can easily put in, for example, a planet that wants independence from the empire. Are these people the good guys or the bad guys? Who can say, without knowing why they want independence? Are they an oppressed minority seeking freedom? Or are they mad because the central government won't let them oppress a minority within their midst? Etc. Similarly you could have some factions want war with a certain enemy and others not. Again, if you don't explain why each group does or does not want war, there's no way to say who are the good guys. But beyond that I really struggled with a way to come up with ambivalent-enough issues. I thought about having some make-believe technology, like star gates say, and then having factions for and against this technology. But why would someone be against it? Can we get away with just not saying whether it's because they are closed-minded bigots who hate anything new versus there is some serious safety or environmental issue versus ... ? I'm hard pressed to come up with issues that don't have an obvious analogy to Earth issues: moral and religious debates, rich versus poor, ethnic conflicts, etc.
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Jon Vallerand
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Thank you guys, that was quite helpful! You confirmed my idea that real-life issues might be a problem to some, and since the game is about the alliance mechanism rather than the issue itself, the "might be to some" is enough for me to take it out.

saneperson wrote:
I've been kicking around an idea for a sci-fi politics game for years, and I struggled with coming up with issues that would be nothing like real Earth issues. You can easily put in, for example, a planet that wants independence from the empire. Are these people the good guys or the bad guys? Who can say, without knowing why they want independence? Are they an oppressed minority seeking freedom? Or are they mad because the central government won't let them oppress a minority within their midst? Etc. Similarly you could have some factions want war with a certain enemy and others not. Again, if you don't explain why each group does or does not want war, there's no way to say who are the good guys. But beyond that I really struggled with a way to come up with ambivalent-enough issues. I thought about having some make-believe technology, like star gates say, and then having factions for and against this technology. But why would someone be against it? Can we get away with just not saying whether it's because they are closed-minded bigots who hate anything new versus there is some serious safety or environmental issue versus ... ? I'm hard pressed to come up with issues that don't have an obvious analogy to Earth issues: moral and religious debates, rich versus poor, ethnic conflicts, etc.


True. When brainstorming, here's what I found:
- Independence of Colony(ies)
- Safety vs Privacy
- AI rights
- Eating other sentient races
- Attack or not attack a neighboring system with a rapidly developing military fleet
- Use of Fylen Crystals vs Gihrs Gas as ship fuel


I mean, some of them are relatable to real-life debates, but not hot topics (or at least, not in my community).

--------------------------------------------------------------------------


I'm thinking I'll either go the cartoonish way, since the issue are not that important, and make it about the Council of Evil Overlord, who are creating rules about the Overlord business in a fantasy world (virgin sacrifices or deals for souls to power your death trap? Undead minions or summoned imps?), or I'll change the issues to 14 mystical power sources which are in opposed pairs (Life vs Death, Water vs Fire, Earth vs Air and whatnot), and make it so that each player is a Mage which takes power from one side of each of these pairs.


Thoughts?
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Mark J
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JVallerand wrote:
True. When brainstorming, here's what I found:
- Independence of Colony(ies)
- Safety vs Privacy
- AI rights
- Eating other sentient races
- Attack or not attack a neighboring system with a rapidly developing military fleet
- Use of Fylen Crystals vs Gihrs Gas as ship fuel


I mean, some of them are relatable to real-life debates, but not hot topics (or at least, not in my community).


If you such made up issues in a sci-fi or fantasy world, how many people would relate them to real Earth issues, and care? I don't know.

I used to be an officer in a political action committee, so maybe I see the analogies or basic principles more than most. Like "Fylen Crystals vs Gihrs Gas as ship fuel." Wouldn't a conservative or libertarian say, "Why is this an issue for government at all? Why not let each starship manufacturer use whatever form of propulsion they want and let the free market decide?" Or "AI rights". Isn't there an obvious analogy to black civil rights? Etc. But would the average player see it that way or just say, yeah, whatever? Or even if they did see it, just like my earlier post about how I play the Nazis in WW2 games without feeling any moral quandary, might they just say, oh, I'm the bad guys in this game, okay, working hard to advance the cause of evil!

You often hear people say that new technology brings new moral and ethical questions that our ancestors never considered. I wrote an article years ago with the basic thesis that that is not true. My point was that new technologies may give people new ways to do evil things, but they are still the same basic evil things. Like the invention of gunpowder created new ways to kill people, but did anyone seriously debate whether murdering someone with a gun was morally different from murdering someone with a sword? Computers and the Internet give new ways to access another person's bank account, but is there really a serious moral question whether hacking a password to steal someone's money is morally different from forging a signature on a paper check? Etc.

My point being, I had briefly thought that by setting a political game in a sci-fi universe, you could invent all sorts of fictional technologies and create disputes about them, and as these would be totally imaginary, they'd have no relation to real-world issues. But the more I think about it the more difficult it seems.

But as I say, maybe I'm thinking about it way more deeply than the average game player would. If in a game you said, "The Exnar faction opposes the use of Fylen Crystals", how many players would ask, "Why do they oppose this? Is it some crazy, irrational religion? Does it harm the environment? Does it hurt some underprivileged group some how? Etc." Or would they just say, "Ok"?
 
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