Video game development is an experimental discipline, where much of what we do is predicated on engaging players with psychological tricks we often understand only at a surface level. That’s doubly true with virtual reality, which is being studied by mental health professionals for its surprisingly powerful effect on us at the same time as its popularity as a casual entertainment platform is growing.
With that in mind, it’s unsurprising that some game developers have been doing their own informal psychological testing on players — sometimes with terrible results. Where researchers have ethical standards to meet and the support and oversight of the institutions they work for, game developers usually don’t have those resources. So earlier this year, Mia Consalvo of Concordia University took it upon herself to educate developers at GDC about ethical player testing.
If you have any interest in creating games or VR experiences that are intended to have a psychological impact on players, this is an absolutely must-watch talk. Consalvo breaks down some of the major ethical considerations that should go into playtesting, including consent, privacy, and the unique challenges posed by virtual reality.