Books From Our Faculty: Helen Nissenbaum on the Value of Play in Digital Games

Does Angry Birds have a code of ethics? Does it have values?

Yes, says Helen Nissenbaum, a professor of Media, Culture, and Communication and Computer Science, and co-author Mary Flanagan.

Their new book, Values at Play in Digital Games (The MIT Press, 2014), presents a framework for identifying moral and political values in digital games. It also serves as a guide to designers who seek to implement values in the concept and design of their games.

The authors believe that games express and embody human values, providing a compelling arena in which we play out our beliefs and ideas.

They base their theory on three premises: that societies have common values, that technologies such as digital games embody ethical and political values, and that those who design digital games have the power to shape players’ engagement with these values.

The authors use the term “conscientious designer” to describe someone who commits to considering values when designing games. Texts by “conscientious designers” who have put Values at Play into practice are woven into the book, offering a real-world perspective on the design challenges involved.

In the case of Angry Birds, Nissenbaum and Flanagan highlight action, interspecies differences, and destruction as values found in the game.

The authors last word is a question:  “What if the game were modified to support the value of creativity instead of destruction?”

-Rachel Harrison