Entertainment and Ethics

When watching the Derren Brown special, the thought that kept going around and around in my head, holding my focus through the entire show, was that what was happening seemed wrong. Derren Brown’s manipulation of his subject into doing progressively more horrible things, all the way up to the point where he was being pressured to kill a man, struck me as extremely unethical.

As we talked about in class, manipulation of a subject’s behavior, through conditioning or altering their perception of reality, is fairly common, particularly in reality television. Many shows, for example, reward participants for displaying behaviors such as aggression or conflict-provocation with greater screen time, encouraging, and essentially conditioning, them to act in ways that are potentially damaging to themselves and to those around them in order to create situations that are more exciting for the audience to view. And while techniques like these, too, seemed unethical to me, I couldn’t’ shake the feeling that what Derren Brown was doing was somehow worse. As I thought about it further, I realized that the issue that stuck out to me most about what Derren Brown was doing was the lack of consent. The subject consented to be on the special, it’s true, but at no point during the process did he know what he was consenting to. While in many other forms of reality television, subjects are not necessarily aware of the manipulation they will experience when they consent to be a part of the show nor even while they experience the manipulation as a part of the show, they are aware of their participation in the show during every moment that they are a part of the show. With this knowledge comes the ability to leave at any point that they choose. The subject of the Derren Brown special, on the other hand, does not have that knowledge, and thus does not have the same ability to leave. He believes that everything that is occurring around him is a part of the real world with real world consequences, and the consequences for leaving a real-world version of the situation that the special manipulates him into are very negative, effectively taking away his freedom to leave the situation at any point he chooses. An important aspect of consent is that it can be revoked if the person who gave their consent to a situation no longer wishes to engage in that situation. The Derren Brown special does not allow this for their subjects.

I think there is something to be taken away from this that is relevant to game design, particularly to the design of ARGs. The TINAG aesthetic of ARGs mean that the game never declares itself to be a game, making it possible for players to be unaware that what they are a part of is a game rather than real life. I don’t necessarily think that this is a problem. I think, instead, that it is something to be aware of when designing a game. I think it is important to ensure that players remain completely free to leave a game at any point in time, whether or not they know that it is a game. This ensures that consent is maintained throughout the game and that any players participating in the game do so of their own volition.

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