Exploring The Dark Side

About a month ago, I was at a Sunday brunch with a small group of very interesting and dynamic people here in Singapore.  It was a group that I did not know well…in fact, I was meeting some of the people for the first time.  Others I had met only once or twice.  After the initial pleasantries were exchanged, we all sat down, ordered our food and drink, and began to get to know each other better.  “Where are you from originally?”  A very typical expatriate opening line.  “What do you do for a living?”  “Kids, no kids?” Blah blah blah.  But then the conversation took a very interesting and philosophical turn.  I don’t consider myself an expert by any means, but, I love engaging in talk about psychology and/or philosophy… What makes people tick?  Why do people react in certain ways?  What motivates them?  And, in a broader sense, how does the world around us (on both a micro and macro scale) influence who we are and what we do?

One guy at the table, who happened to be British, began to explain his take on the concept of good and evil.  Basically, in a nutshell, he doesn’t believe in either of those terms.  He does not think that people are inherently good or bad…just that they are.  The concept of good and evil, in his mind, is really something contrived and defined in human terms and is only relative to your own personal beliefs and value system.  Needless to say, there was a long conversation and debate on the topic, which I will not go into detail here.

Dial forward a month.  I am sitting in a meeting for the company that I recently invested in and am working for as their Chief Marketing Officer.  We are creating an online virtual world game for kids ages 8-12.  The idea behind the game is to create a fun environment where kids will want to go and play, but has the purpose of teaching them how to be and act more like global citizens.  The core belief of our company is that children with more privilege need to be encouraged and inspired at a young age to embrace ideals that will shape the choices they make for the rest of their lives.  The game, which includes a unique storyline with interesting characters, aims to instill in youngsters a sense of global social responsibility through a fun and challenging environment, which in turn has positive consequences in the real world.  We have a sister Foundation dedicated to economic and educational development in less developed countries which receives a percentage of the games revenues.

Here’s the tricky part, and one that has me thinking a lot lately (and relates, to some degree, to the concept of TOSO as well.)    As my partners in this start-up and I are shaping and molding our storyline, a key element in the game, we are coming up against many philosophical debates in how to represent the world we are creating.  Our challenge is to create a game that a significant number of kids will want to play and not be seen as “educational” in their minds.  For this game, and ultimately the for-profit company and not-for-profit foundation, to be a success, we need to have a mass appeal to our age group.  But, we also want to inspire them to be interested in the world around them and perhaps look for ways now and in the future to make it a better place.  Lofty, huh?  But, how does one make that work in a world where violent and dark games seem to prevail even in this younger generation of kids?  Why are so many of our kids today drawn to this darker side?

Our intent was always to have an antagonist character that was clearly evil    The character would be represented in a cartoonish manner and not necessarily scary, but definitely evil.  Think Cruella De Vil from “The 101 Dalmations” or Scar from “The Lion King.”  As we explored the “evil” character a bit more, however, we began to develop a version that was more akin to the real world, and maybe even somewhat in line with what my UK brunch philosopher argued.  That deep inside, the antagonist who was doing deeds that may represent evil, was not necessarily an evil person.  Perhaps this person was scarred, betrayed, abused or otherwise and simply made choices that were justified in his or her own mind.  That’s not to say those choices were the right choices for that person’s long term good, for the good of those around him, or perhaps even for the greater good, for that matter.

We are still discussing how this character will be represented, but I believe this is the right direction and one that is in line with my own personal developing philosophy on “good” and “evil.”  The biggest challenge, in my mind, moving forward, will be how to incentivize our game players and illuminate the consequences related to the choices made without making it feel like we are preaching to them or shoving it down their throats.  Kids are smart.  They need guidance, but they also need to have a sense of ownership and figuring it out on their own.

How do (did) you incentivize your own kids to make choices in line with your own sense of “good” and “bad”?

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