I'd been meaning for a long time to listen to Jon Blow's celebrated and controversial 2007 presentation, "Design Reboot", at the Montreal International Games Summit. It's been available for years as an audio file and (non-synchronized) slideshow from his own website, but only yesterday did I discover that Michael Camilleri transcribed it, editing it for readability. Which I appreciate, clearly, since I just read it.
The talk's most lurid (and therefore most virulent) meme is World of Warcraft is immoral!, and of course that's an oversimplification. A better summary is that Blow compares WoW to junk food or cigarettes. In small doses these things are fine, and can serve as an occasionally welcome and rewarding treat. Their mere existence is not intrinsically evil. But all three products, by their natures, are open for misuse, and what's more all three are couched in industries that intentionally promote this behavior.
That's where the immorality lay, argues Blow, who feels that junk-food games' propensity to burn up countless hours of their users' lives without offering much in return is real harm, just as clogged arteries or filthied lungs are. The remedy he suggests involves a call for game makers to study some examples of recent games that do offer to enrich their players' lives in a small amount of time - like a good film, or poem, or concert - and to think about how they can apply similar principles into their own work, whether they're indie devs or part of huge triple-A studio projects.
Anyway: required reading. Thanks to Doug Orleans for the pointer.