Panel for PCG2016: What does it Mean to do Game Philosophy?

This year’s conference on the philosophy of computer games will celebrate its tenth iteration. We want to use this opportunity to reflect on what it means to do game philosophy in the format of a panel.

The practitioners of game philosophy belong to different research traditions and make use of different academic methods. The aim of this panel is to present views on methodological issued raised by the study of games and to conduct a political debate about how game philosophy should be performed. 

Venue: KSU Common Room (Msida campus)

Time: 16.00 – 17.30, November 1.

Chair: Sebastian Möring


Feng Zhu

Circularity and Self-reflexivity in the Critical Theory Approach to Computer Games

I will take the concept of ‘critical theory’ in a very broad sense to designate any self-reflective knowledge that provides both descriptive and normative bases for social enquiry, and which aims to promote emancipatory ends. As such, it may incorporate a range of thinkers not traditionally associated with ‘critical theory’, such as Michel Foucault. In relation to computer games, the approach from critical theory wants to theorise their connection to the broader social reality, such as the thesis of neoliberalism being the present mode of governmentality, and identify how those objects, in conjunction with the dispositions that we bring to our use of them, have a role in transforming or in further entrenching that reality. I argue that this holistic approach is circular in both a self-reflexive fashion, which adds to the degree of sophistication in the way in which we understand the relation between object and context, but also a self-affirming one that is viciously circular, in which the obdurate particularity of the object is obscured in favour of it merely reflecting what has been considered to be true of the present situation. This might be seen to be evidenced in statements such as computer games being ‘in direct synchronization with the political realities of the informatics age’ (Galloway, 2004, p.35), or computer games as ‘the paradigmatic medium of Empire’ (Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter, 2009, p.xv). Is it possible, then, for a critical approach to self-correct the deficiencies of this circularity whilst also retaining its positive aspects?


John R. Sageng

Why the Study of Games Needs Analytic Philosophy

In our interdisciplinary work we have inevitably encountered the distinction between “continental” and “analytic philosophy”. The aim of my presentation to clarify what analytic philosophy is and to recommend that we adopt its methods, also for topics which are thematized in other styles of philosophy and games scholarship. I will also address this issue from a practical context of how this field has developed and the strategic choices we should make moving forward.

I propose that analytic philosophy is characterized by an intellectual methodology which can be derived from historical cases of “conceptual” or “decompositional” analysis in early analytic philosophy. I argue that analytic philosophy today does not have a very specific specific mode of analysis, but rather a style of thinking defined by an intellectual ideology: that philosophical thinking should explicate and satisfy the normative commitments inherent in the practice of assertion and belief-formation that arise from the concepts of the phenomena to be explained. It is an historically evolved cultivation of rational standards for thinking which found an early form in Socratic analysis. Such standards are often offended in other styles of thinking today. I hold that this methodology can be applied to any subject matter in game philosophy and is ideally suited to create a shared horizon for a philosophical understanding of games. 


Marta M. Kania

On Existential Aesthetics of Computer Games

Existential philosophy and aesthetics are focused on experiences of life and art, that is, on unrepeatable. While grounded in being-in-the-world, existentialism claims the primacy of the individual and everyday over the general and abstract. In consequence, it provides a framework for interpretation of particular games as worlds that existentially situate players pointing out the way to unite the existential and the textual in interpretation of games.

The main advantage of the outlined existential approach is that it grasps and describes multidimensional experience of the gameplay on the basis of close playing. The interpretation is grounded in the in-game perspective. Therefore, interpretation of a gameplay, aesthetics of the gameworld, and an analysis of subjective in-game position, are considered to be a group of elements of equal significance. In-game existentialism does not aim at objectification of the experience, that would lead to assertions about the game as an object, system, or root of player’s experience. Alternatively, it points out at conditions and limitations of subjective perception and position within the gameworld.

This approach results in limited claims for objectivity and for “correctness” leading to falsifiable theory. As long as the central existential problem areas and categories seem to be apt for description of experience of gameplay and aesthetic reflection upon it, they need to be understood in the horizon of strong vs. weak interpretation rather than (scientific) knowledge.

The desired result are the interpretation of situatedness of the self-avatar within the gameworld; aesthetic understanding of the gameworld from the point of view of the self-avatar; and recognition of opening of the field for aesthetic interpretation, while the gameplay situation turns out to be one of the multiple possibilities from the point of view of aesthetic situation.


Olli Leino

Phenomenology and Player Experience: Game Studies from the Player’s Perspective

The notion of ‘player experience’ has become central in many debates concerning game studies and game design. Scholars and designers alike would assumedly agree that the goal behind enquiries into player’s experience is to understand the how games’ features end up affecting the player’s experience. But what is “player’s experience” and how is it to be understood? What is the relationship between the materiality of the game, the process or activity of gameplay, and the experience of gameplay? What are the conditions by which it is possible for experiences to be shared amongst players? What purpose, if any, does the vocabulary of ‘formal’ game analysis (e.g. rules, goals, challenges) serve in understanding player experience? These, I argue, are questions that philosophy of computer can help answering, and thus assist game studies in its project.

In my presentation, informed by (post-)phenomenology and existentialism, I exemplify this by arguing that there is a difference between “studying a game by playing it” (3rd person perspective) and “studying a game as played” (1st person perspective), and that the latter is more suitable for understanding player’s experience. I will argue that the materiality of the playable artifact, as it appears in the game-as-played, while perhaps not conforming to any pre-supposed idea of a ‘game’, already contains a standard for its own interpretation, that forms the basis for inter-subjective accounts of player’s experiences.