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Can one create a great educational simulation around ethics?

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Sat Sep 22 2007

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Can one create a great educational simulation around ethics?

One should be able to in theory. One point of Sim is to make an experience that allows people to see the consequences of their Actions in a safe environment.

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If you made a pure "ethics" sim, however, then of course students would just always "do the right thing." It would be as useful as the official Enron Ethics Handbook.

Rather, my own thinking goes, one would build a life sim, or a business sim. One would challenge students to some realistic activity, and then toss in some ethical problems along the way.

But then what? Would it be a challenge to recognize ethical problems, or would they be obvious? If they were obvious, is the best game play thing to always do the right thing, to accept an "ethics" friction? Or would they somehow represent interesting choices?

Would you ever make people go bankrupt for making ethical decisions? Would you ever create a situation where people made some ethical compromises and were better off for it? Would the ideal strategy to be a little immoral? What is the role of realism vs. learning objectives?

Can karma have the properties of an accumulator, where one might be able to work off debts? Can this moral ambiguity exist in an environment supported by corporations, for whom ethics have to be black and white?

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Can one's negative actions create indestructible demons waiting to spring upon one, perhaps visualized in a heads up display (HUD)? (In WILL Interactive's branching story on Sexually Transmitted Diseases, drinking too much eliminates options for getting out of a high pressure situation; in Tropico, where you are the president of an island-state, you can put off elections, but that increases discontent of your people that might rise up in arms.)

And, would you want to seduce people into becoming bad? Would you engage in moral entrapment? Would you want to pull people to the dark side, and then surprise people with a mirror of themselves?

Is this a matter of aligning strategies and tactics? One's degree of morality becomes a strategy that has to work into a larger context? Cheat, but only in certain industries?

Would the ethical problem really be just a single solution puzzle, like the beer game? Would students go through it once, be tricked, and then never be fooled again? Would older students tell younger students "the solution?"

Likewise, how might one deal with ethical violations in others? What if a great salesperson committed slight moral breaches? Do ethical violations spread in a chain reaction if not stopped? Are ethical violations contagions to be caught and spread? Or is there a balancing loop? Might one set up a containment strategy around a necessarily or incurably corrupt group? And how do you even find ethical violations? Does it require an act of probing?

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And if you were a manager, would you be concerened if an employee playing the sim engaged in highly unethical behavior? Aren't sims supposed to be safe places?

All of this talk is academic, to some degree. The most important design consideration is that corporate sponsors can't even acknowledge that breaches of morality might have anything but bad consequences. It might be a paradox of this industry that in areas where sims could do the most good, they might not be able to do anything at all.

See selective enforcement or breaking of rules: the critical skill that no school or training group will even admit exists.

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