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Game designers can justify what they put into their games by falling back on the First Amendment or the idea that the only requirement for a game is fun. But that doesn't necessarily get designers off the hook. "We as an industry do have a moral responsibility," says Peter Molyneux, CEO of Lionhead Studios and creator of hits from Black and White to Fable. "Anyone who does something for a mass market has a responsibility. You tread carefully on the lessons that you teach.
Value judgments about which games are unethical depend on the eye of the beholder. And the gravity of the debate depends on what games really are. If they are just a form of entertainment, then they need not pay more attention to ethics than movies do. If they are works of art, then they should be held to higher standards. In other words, it is the design goals themselves that put ethical limits on game designers.
When it comes to the ethical choices that game developers make when they decide what to put into their creations, they face the same moral issues that artists in any other communications medium face. They must struggle with balancing their rights to free expression with the tastes of consumers and be concerned about the effects their content has on their audience. While it's easy for games to enlighten and enliven the human experience, they are still a form of media and expression, and thus possessed of the ability to influence those that play them.