Psychochild wrote a perceptive post here about games as a mirror to ourselves. He is right, but I also took some exception to it, because creators build the mirror, and some mirrors may be fun-house ones: designed to show us a distorted view of ourselves. I think creators don’t realize how powerful that distortion effect can be.
It’s not a one way street. Creators have responsibilities to their readers and should not abuse them in the name of art, because they can have long-lasting effects throughout the entire span of the work. While each person approaches a work of art in a different way, and each work differs from medium to medium, I can think of a few principles creators should keep in mind.
Don’t use content to shock for shock’s sake, especially to piss off certain audience members. If you do, use it sparingly, and with respect. Religion in particular is abused a lot, and this ties in with my next principle.
Realize your own biases before you commit to making a work. Otherwise you will project them to a whole audience and affect them in varying degrees. Religion again: that fundamentalist character, is he truly how they are? Or did you just make a stock character because you are lazy? Do you think marriage is a patriarchal construct to imprison women? How will you write someone who is happy in it?
Don’t abuse your audience. MMOs. Is it that vital to have insane advancement grinds? Is getting subs more important than creating an addictive system similar to skinner boxes and casinos? Does your game structure draw out the best in people or the worst?
Finally, happiness is not an enemy. One of my favorite anime is called Kamichu. It’s a very sweet story where a young girl has to deal with becoming a shinto God, and everything works out okay. No one dies, no one is mutilated for drama, no one has dysfunctional families, humanity is not seen as brutal and evil, and entire episodes have no violence whatsoever. And it works.
There is nothing wrong with creating content designed to uplift and show the joy in life. The fact that so many works slap on heartbreak and violence are in many ways a reflection of their creators. While sadness is a part of life, so is happiness and joy, even to those that suffer. Remember that the purpose of art can also be uplifting, and not just social commentary or adrenaline surges.
I think very much that content creators have hid too much in the mantle of art and have avoided many of their duties as people. I’m not saying this in an organized way, as in state-mandated duties. But each of us has a human duty I think, not to hurt but heal. Art can be powerful that way, as powerful as a weapon. Or as powerful as fire. Yet I’ve seen very little on how to safely handle Art, which can set fires greater than any literal flame.