Since I quietly reopened this blog, I've been kicking a thought around in my head. It keeps coming back to me, even when I think I've given up on it, so there must be something there. I think I've had trouble figuring out how to write about it, because it seems to touch a lot of things. But I'm going to try.

There's an ongoing question of what drives us. It's been a part of writing this blog over the years; it's part of any deep examination of ourselves and what we do; our behaviors. Games are behavior. Making them is behavior. What's begun to interest me is not so much what games "are," or what they "should be," or why we're compelled to play them or make them, but, being so compelled, what values we uphold when going about these behaviors. What I keep coming back to is the value of respect.

Respect, I think, is at the crux of every interaction we have in life. Respect toward others determines whether a child is bullied or not; whether someone is robbed or not; whether a discussion becomes an argument, or an argument an altercation, or an altercation a murder. Respecting others is seeing yourself in them. Mutual respect between peers is the foundation of a healthy and long-lasting relationship, which leads to everything else. The golden rule. So on and so forth.

These observations are nothing new, but they seem to be at the center of everything in our lives. They determine how we interact with the world, and therefore who we are. And so conducting oneself in a way that shows respect to others would seem to be the utmost value one should uphold in all things. It's worth considering what this means, not just in big, overt interactions like those mentioned above, but in small, indirect ones, too-- how we impact people through what we do, even people we might never meet.

Games are made up of interactions. And the game itself, the artifact, is an interaction between the designer and the player. What is respectfulness in this sphere?

One aspect concerns the rules of the game itself, and how they regard the player. If there is any resource in our lives that has value above all others, it must be time. Time is something we never get back. We live, then we die; how we spend the time in between is the only thing with real, irreplaceable value. All other resources-- money, energy-- are means to the end of spending that time in a way that we find rewarding.

And so any game mechanic that willfully wastes the player's time inherently disrespects the players themselves, by stealing away something they can never get back. This exploitation takes many forms: "grinding," wherein the next gameplay milestone is delayed only by repetitive, meaningless action (a "timesink," as opposed to a meaningful decision or display of skill.) Or unskippable story sequences, requiring the player to watch for minutes just to get to more play, whether they want to or not (this lack of the ability to opt-out serving the storyteller's ego, not the player.) Or the "energy" mechanics in "freemium" games, whereby you can only perform so many actions per hour before you must wait to play more... or spend money to be able to play more right now. In other words, trading your money in exchange for your time. Clearly one of those resources is more inherently valuable to the player than the other; these freemium games exploit this dichotomy willfully, to their own ends, not the player's.

That is what it comes down to: making design decisions in the interest of the player, not the developer. A fair exchange of value is respectful; creating a play experience which is inherently valuable to the player, and requesting a fair price in return is respectful. Taking someone's money with the promise of a valuable experience, then wasting their time or trying to extract more money once they've already paid is just the opposite. Everyone wants to be respected: you, and your players. Uphold your end of the bargain.

It's kind of absurd to have to come all the way back around to this conclusion. All I'm describing is commerce as it's existed for thousands of years. A valuable product for a fair price; any less is a swindle, or robbery. But in this day and age the form that a "product" can take, and the methods by which value can be compromised, are constantly expanding and morphing. It's worth remembering that any decision made expressly in the interest of the developer's personal gain-- "this is so the player will pay more in microtransactions; this is so the player will keep playing longer instead of trading in their game"-- compromises the core value proposition, the thing they've paid for, and breeds a rightly suspicious player. Respect, on the other hand, breeds respect-- customer loyalty, through trust not coercion.

We can show respect to others through many aspects of our lives. In our personal relationships with friends and family, clearly; in our interactions with strangers in public; in supporting equal rights for all people, whether they're exactly like ourselves or not; and, if we're going to develop games, in the experiences we craft for players, and what we ask in return. The respect you give your players will come back to you; it will make having made the thing worthwhile.