Book: Virtual Existentialism – Meaning and Subjectivity in Virtual Worlds

Virtual ExistentialismStefano Gualeni and Daniel Vella have just published a new book on Palgrave’s Pivot imprint, treating the intersection of existential philosophy and virtual worlds.

How do experiences in (and of) virtual environments affect the ways in which individual human beings understand and attribute meaning to their own existence? Virtual Existentialism adopts a variety of scholarly perspectives in the combined attempt to understand and answer that question.

The book’s drive is twofold. It uses existential philosophy as a frame through which to understand and interpret the significance of virtual environments in the context of our existence. At the same time, it considers how our capacity to be in (and towards) these technologically mediated domains might lead to new understandings of the concerns of existential philosophy.

In this pursuit, Virtual Existentialism is firmly grounded, not only in philosophical works of existentialism and phenomenology, but also in philosophy of technology, virtual worlds research and game studies. articulates several perspectives from which virtual worlds can be understood as existentially (and even evolutionarily) relevant. Specifically, it claims that, in virtual worlds, human beings can reflect on their values and beliefs, take on new subjectivities, explore previously unexperienced ways of being, and take reflective stances towards their existence and their subjectivity in the actual world.

Virtual Existentialism introduces the notion of ‘virtual subjectivity’ to describe our being in virtual worlds, and discusses the experiential and existential mechanisms by which can move into, and out of, these virtual subjectivities. It also includes chapters containing focused engagement with the thought of Helmuth Plessner, Peter W. Zapffe, Jean-Paul Sartre and Eugen Fink, and their relevance to thinking through the existential significance of the virtual.  

The book should prove equally useful to scholars in philosophy, game studies, virtual worlds research and media studies. 

Journal Article: Existential Dramaturgy and Video Games: a Formalistic Approach to Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead’ as Existentialist Gameplay

An interesting new paper by Michail Kouratoras is out. It is a contribution to the growing literature that uses existentialism to analyze gameplay and narrative in computer games.

The abstract: Existentialism has recently appeared as an analytical tool for a deeper or different understanding of video games as cultural artifacts. The existing discourse points towards the requirement of a systematic approach to this matter, which in the present research is in the form of a gameplay-dramaturgy case study. Telltale’s video game The Walking Dead, Season 1, presented itself as a potential game that appeared to include many Existentialist aspects. Therefore, it became the focus of this research. This is because the game’s story unfolds based on (conditional) freedom of choice in a difficult situation with challenging and ultimately insoluble moral dilemmas. Hence, the objective of this case study was a bottom-up, formalistic approach to analyze the connection between the game and Existentialism. It concentrates on the critical dramatic elements of the narrative and the game mechanics, with an emphasis on their game design pattern. The results of the analysis exposed The Walking Dead as a characteristic example of what could be considered an Existential ergodic drama or an Existential, ethical gameplay. This is because of the game’s affinity with most of the major Existential concepts both in its narrative and ludic nature.

Journal Article: Individuating Games

Michael Ridge has a paper out in the  philosophy journal Synthese which discusses the individuation of games.It is notable to our community that there are ever more papers on games in traditional philosophy journals. The abstract of the paper:

Games, which philosophers commonly invoke as models for diverse phenomena, are plausibly understood in terms of rules and goals, but this gives rise to two puzzles. The first concerns the identity of a single game over time. Intuitively one and the same game can undergo a change in rules, as when the rules of chess were modified so that a pawn could be moved two squares forward on its first move. Yet if games are individuated in terms of their constitutive rules and goals, this is incoherent—new rules mean a new game. The second concerns the individuation of games at a point in time. Intuitively, there can be different versions of a single game, where the versions differ in the details of their rules. I offer a solution to this problem that draws on an analogy with individuating languages. The resulting theory should illuminate the metaphysics of games more generally.



CfP: Special issue on the Taboos of Game Studies in G|A|M|E

Call for Papers: The Taboos of Game Studies (extended abstract deadline Feb 24, 2020)

Editors: Kristine Jørgensen (University of Bergen) and Riccardo Fassone (University of Torino)

The next issue of the Italian journal of game studies G|A|M|E ( welcomes contributions that address the taboos of game studies.

Taboos can be understood as social prohibitions based in religion or custom rather than in legislation or common sense, and are as such bearing moral weight (International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences 2001). Taboos can be found in all parts of society and guide our practices.

With its maturation, the field of game studies has been through several large debates, spanning the disputes about effects and learning, the so-called narratology versus ludology debate, and in the later years the impact of the #gamergate controversy on research and game culture. As game studies is a multidisciplinary field, such dissensions have been approached from a number of perspectives, as researchers bring their disciplinary paradigms and methodologies into game studies. In this multidisciplinary context, it becomes necessary to critically ask whether we are in a situation where nothing is taboo and everything is permitted, or whether the risk of public or disciplinary controversy makes certain topics or approaches untouchable.

At the same time, video games have historically been the center for a number of moral controversies over excessive violent content and other norm-breaking issues. While criticism and condemnation are not uncommon responses to such game content, in some cases an apologetic rhetoric is applied to the controversial content found in games, which claims that “these are only games.” However, while play research has demonstrated that the playful frame indeed may change the meaning of game content, it can also be argued that it is precisely this frame that makes games so good at treating taboo topics.

Focusing on the taboos of game studies, this issue asks ask whether there are topics that the field does not address, or whether there are perspectives or methods that are being avoided, either due to pressure from the research community itself, or from the society. How do game scholars guard their boundaries, and who is defined as insiders and outsiders? To what degree is game studies currently able to address the problematic aspects of game culture and playful practices? And concerning game content, is there such a thing as an ultimate taboo for game content? Do games have different taboos than other media, and what happens when taboo topics are addressed in a game context?

Topics may include:

  • The taboos of game studies
  • Game research into taboo areas
  • Research on games that deal with taboos
  • The breaking of in-game taboos
  • Game taboos in relation to other cultural forms (literature, cinema, art, design)

Scholars are invited to submit an extended abstract (between 500-1,000 words excluding references) or full papers for this special issue on the topics of the taboos of game studies to


  • February 24, 2020: Extended abstract submission deadline (full papers are also accepted)
  • April 2, 2020: Notification of acceptance/rejection sent to authors
  • July 2, 2020: Full paper submission deadline
  • Sept 1, 2020: Review deadline
  • Oct 19, 2020: Deadline for edited papers

Three Journal Articles: “Games and the art of agency” and more

Three new journal articles in the philosophy of games have recently been published by C. Thi Nguyen.

First, “Games and the art of agency” (official version and free pre-print) has been published in Philosophical Review. This paper argues that games are the art form that works in the medium of agency. Game designers don’t just create environments; they design who we will be in those environments. Game designers designate goals and abilities for the player; they shape the agential skeleton which the player will inhabit during the game. And players often submerge themselves in an alternate agency, taking on alternate ends temporarily, for the sake of their aesthetic experience of struggling. Game-playing, then, illuminates a distinctive human capacity. We can take on ends temporarily for the sake of the experience of pursuing them. Game play shows that our agency is significantly more modular and more fluid than we might have thought.

Second, “Autonomy and aesthetic engagement” (official version and free pre-print) has been published in Mind. The paper applies the account of games from “Games and the art of agency” to offer a new theory of the value of art. Here is an old question from the philosophy of art: we seem to care about getting the right judgments about art, so why don’t we just defer to aesthetic experts? We seem to want more independence from our aesthetic lives than our scientific lives. The best explanation is that art is rather like a game. In games, we try to win, but often, winning is only the local goal, and not our larger purpose for engaging in the activity. Our purpose is to struggle to win for ourselves. Similarly, with art, we often try to get the correct judgments. But getting the right judgment isn’t our real purpose; our purpose is to engage in the activity of struggling to get them right. The paper then suggests a unified account of the value of art and games: the engagement account, where, often, the value of the activity comes not from achieving success, but in the activity of trying to succeed.

Third, “The right way to play a game” (official version) has been published in Game Studies. The paper argues, against some contemporary writers, that there are very good reasons to follow the rules of a game. Recent analytic philosophy of art offers a useful distinction between the material substrate of an artwork, and the artwork itself. An artwork isn’t the same as its material; it is the material as encountered according to certain prescriptions. You haven’t experienced Melville’s Moby Dick if you read all the words out of order; you haven’t experienced Van Gogh’s Irises if you closed your eyes and just tasted the canvas. Similarly, you haven’t encountered the artwork which is the game unless you play by the rules and pursue the specified goals. The paper suggests that there are two distinct interests: free play and aesthetic communication. And these interests often run contrary to one another. To play freely, you should ignore the rules. To receive aesthetic communications, you should play by the rules. Finally, the paper provides a taxonomy of game types in terms of their distinctive implicit requirements for an adequate encounter. Party games need to be played in the right spirit of silliness and low-skill competition. Heavy strategy games need to be played many times. And community evolution games, like Magic: the Gathering, need to be played while embedded in the live and evolving community meta-game.

Journal Article: Me and My Avatar – Player-Character as Fictional Proxy

A new article is out in the online first section of Journal of the Philosophy of Games. It is written by Matthew Carlson and Logan Taylor. The abstract:

“Players of videogames describe their gameplay in the first person, e.g. “I took cover behind a barricade.” Such descriptions of gameplay experiences are commonplace, but also puzzling because players are actually just pushing buttons, not engaging in the activities described by their first-person reports. According to a view defended by Robson and Meskin (2016), which we call the fictional identity view, this puzzle is solved by claiming that the player is fictionally identical with the player character. Hence, on this view, if the player-character fictionally performs an action then, fictionally, the player performs that action. However, we argue that the fictional identity view does not make sense of players’ gameplay experiences and their descriptions of them. We develop an alternative account of the relationship between the player and player-character on which the player-character serves as the player’s fictional proxy, and argue that this account makes better sense of the nature of videogames as interactive fictions.”

Book Chapter: Playing the Nonhuman – Alien Experiences in Aliens vs. Predator

Reconfiguring Human, Nonhuman and Posthuman in Literature and Culture is a new book from Francis &Taylor.  It collects different kinds of readings of the nonhuman in literature and other media.  I have a chapter in it titled Playing the Nonhuman, which approaches the theme from the perspective of the phenomenology of computer games.

You can read the abstract below and find a copy of the whole chapter from my website.

What is it like to play a nonhuman character? In his classic essay, philosopher Thomas Nagel (1975) argues that we are fundamentally unable to imagine what it is like to be a bat, because our senses and cognition are structured in a way that is uniquely human – whereas bats’ senses and cognition have a uniquely bat-like configuration. In spite of this, media genres from fantasy to science-fiction routinely strive to imagine and show what it could be like to be something other than human. What is more, different media achieve this effect by different means: literature provides textual descriptions, audio-visual media rely on moving images, and comics employ different kinds of multimodal compositions, as discussed in the previous chapter.

In the fifth chapter, Jonne Arjoranta continues investigating these medium-specific imaginations by examining how video games portray the nonhuman, what kind of assumptions they make about being nonhuman, and what kind of tools and techniques they use to convey the (imagined) experience of nonhumanness. The analysis focuses on Aliens vs. Predator (2010, Rebellion Developments), which features three different but intertwined campaigns that allow the player to play as a human, an alien, and a predator. The game thereby evokes two playing experiences that are supposedly nonhuman, and enables direct comparison between them and the “normal” experience of playing as human. The discussion around these playing experiences is further complemented with examples from other games that present playable nonhuman characters and, like the previous two chapters, draws theoretical support from the notion of embodied cognition.


Video Recordings and Manuscripts for PCG2017 and PCG2018

The video recordings and the manuscripts for the PCG2017 conference in Krakow and the PCG2018 conference in Copenhagen can now be found in the archives on the gamephilolosophy site. Most of these have so far only been have been available from  sources elsewhere on the web. Many thanks to Justyna Janik and Michael Debus for having done the laborious job of creating these videos.

Please notify me of any errors. Best of luck with preparing abstracts for the upcoming double conference in St. Petersburg.

Video Recordings for PCG2017

Video Recordings for PCG2018

Conference Manuscripts for PCG2017 and PCG2018.




Journal Article: Interactive Works and Gameplay Emotions

IssuesJonathan Frome, a frequent contributor to the PCG-conference series, has a paper out on Games and Culture.

The article abstract:

Video games differ from films, books, and other mainstream media both in their interactive capabilities and in their affordances for gameplay. Interactivity and gameplay are closely related, as interactivity is necessary for gameplay. Unfortunately, this close relationship has led many video game scholars to conflate these two concepts when discussing player experience. In this article, I argue that, when discussing emotional responses to video games, gameplay and interactivity should be understood as distinct concepts: Gameplay involves both interactive and noninteractive elements, and interactive works do not always involve gameplay. I propose that there are significant drawbacks to overlooking this distinction and that highlighting it is important for understanding player experience, player emotion, and the ways video games differ from other entertainment media.

Journal Article: Virtual Subjectivity – Existence and Projectuality in Virtual Worlds

The forthcoming issue of Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology features a paper by Daniel Vella and Stefano Gualeni titled “Virtual Subjectivity: Existence and Projectuality in Virtual Worlds.”

Their paper draws on the notion of the ‘project,’ as developed in the existential philosophy of Heidegger and Sartre, to articulate an understanding of the existential structure of engagement with virtual worlds. By this philosophical understanding, the individual’s orientation towards a project structures a mechanism of self-determination, meaning that the project is understood essentially as the project to make oneself into a certain kind of being. Drawing on existing research from an existential-philosophical perspective on subjectivity in digital game environments, the notion of a ‘virtual subjectivity’ is proposed to refer to the subjective sense of being-in-the-virtual-world. The paper proposes an understanding of virtual subjectivity as standing in a nested relation to the individual’s subjectivity in the actual world, and argues that it is this relation that allows virtual world experience to gain significance in the light of the individual’s projectual existence. The arguments advanced in this paper pave the way for a comprehensive understanding of the transformative, self-transformative, and therapeutic possibilities and advantages afforded by virtual worlds.

A pre-print draft can be accessed here.