Angela Tillmann, André Wessel
Nowadays, digital games are not only perceived as entertainment, but also as a valid medium of education, and their pedagogic capacity has opened up new paths for media education in many different areas. Digital games are used in various educational and learning contexts, for example to encourage young people to develop socially responsible, critical, and reflexive media usage, to motivate them to move beyond their routines in their media activity, to be creative in their use of games, and to engage in gaming communities, or simply to learn about math, natural sciences, history, or politics. In recent years, an increasing number of digital games also try to raise player awareness of ethical questions by implementing ethical issues and moral decision-making into gameplay and/or narration. This includes all kinds of digital games, from serious games to entertainment games and from independent games to AAA titles. Some of them task players to decide the fate of blameless in-game characters, making them choose who shall live and who shall die. Some aim to give an insight into the problematic aspects of fast food chains and smartphone companies. Some try to sensitize players to the challenges of flight, migration, and the numerous difficulties refugees endure.
Given these facts, we decided to name the summit Ethics in Games in 2015, opening up a space for discussion about the various aspects of the topic. However, the relation between ethics and digital games is not only limited to in-game aspects. Our 2016 summit “Digital Games as Social Environments” took into account the myriad opportunities to interact socially with others offered by virtual worlds. Whether playing together on a PC or home console, playing online with friends and strangers alike, or participating in esports events as spectators and contestants, digital games provide us with fertile ground for countless offline- and online-communities with unique social dynamics and rules, raising many questions about the ethical specifics of these new social environments that are revealed when you have a closer look at player behaviour, communication, and participation, among others.
Many different topics were brought into discussion by the contributors to our Media Pedagogy/Media Ethics Summits in the past two years. The first contribution comes from Angelika Beranek and Sebastian Ring. Dealing with digital gaming worlds and their structures with regard to potentials for participation of adolescent video gamers, the authors develop a stage model of participation in digital gaming worlds. An empirical study about the potential of digital games for the reflection of moral action forms the basis of André Weßel’s article. He uses the game This War of Mine to develop a research setting which may also serve as a model for teaching learning arrangements simultaneously. Sonja Gabriel takes a closer look at serious games and focusses on how narration, characters, and player choice are used to make players think about the moral decisions they make when playing. Jeffrey Wimmer answers the question if moral dilemmas embedded in gameplay can potentially sensitize gamers in respect to real-world moral dilemmas and therefore stimulate ethical reflection. Illuminating the topic of digital games being used as a tool for moral education, Maike Groen and André Weßel explain some essential pedagogical goals and strategies and give some examples for their practical use. Arno Görgen discusses the ludonarrative representations of biotic artifacts like anthropogenic chimeras, mutants, and pandemies in digital games, including their moral status in relation to the playing subject, their fictional creators, and themselves.
The augmented reality game Pokémon Go is examined by Christian Toth who aims to address aspects of reality perception as well as how social environments are created by players and can be made use of in contexts of social organizations and education. Using a research project on agency and mediality in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), particularly World of Warcraft, as an example, Arne Schröder investigates different aspects of spatiality in online role-playing games in terms of their social significance and the interrelations between different types of game space. Taking the perspective that all human interactions—with other people, objects, and spaces—are social in nature, Kelly Boudreau discusses different aspects of sociality in single-player games including player engagement with AI, the game’s environment, narrative, and play context, all which shape a player’s social understanding of a game. The various forms and the potential regulation of unfair play directly related to the players and not to their avatars in competetive online games is the topic of Thomas West’s contribution. Emma Witkowski writes about the rising phenomenon of esports, mainly addressing the changing esports ecosystem from the perspective of players and the liveliness of their practice—how they play, how they think of performance, and what it means for them to play to win. And finally, Ute Barbara Schilly explores about the fascination of watching other people play digital games in online streams. She examines the talking of gamers in Let’s Play videos from the perspective of conversation analysis.
Pokémon Go (Niantic 2016, O: Niantic)
This War of Mine (Deep Silver 2014, O: 11bit studios)
World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment 2004, O: Blizzard Entertainment)
 This War of Mine (Deep Silver 2014, O: 11bit studios)
 Pokémon Go (Niantic 2016, O: Niantic)
 World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment 2004, O: Blizzard Entertainment)