“The Aesthetics of Videogames” is now available

CoverWe are happy to announce that the The Aesthetics of Videogames is now available. The book is a contribution to Routledge’s Research in Aesthetics series and is a collection of essays written by philosophers working in the tradition of analytic aesthetics, where videogames are now frequent topic. Among the issues discussed are transmedial games, the definition of videogames, game ontology, games and performance, videogames and creativity, virtual media and videogames, interactivity and fiction, the representation of women in games, videogames and the genre of romance fiction, and pornographic games.

We hope that our volume will show the potential in analytic aesthetics for the discussion and analysis of videogames, and further establish videogames as a focus for philosophers working in that area.

Ontology and Transmedial Games, Christopher J. Bartel – Videogames as Neither Video nor Games: A Negative Ontology of Videogames, Brock Rough – Videogames, Constitutive Rules, and Algorithms, Shelby Moser – Appreciating Videogames, Zach Jurgensen – The Beautiful Gamer? On the Aesthetics of Videogame Performances, Jon Robson – Creativity and Videogames, Aaron Meskin – Interactivity, Fictionality, and Incompleteness, Nathan Wildman and Richard Woodward – Why Gamers Are Not Narrators, Andrew Kania – Videogames and Virtual Media, Grant Tavinor – On Videogames and Gendered Invisibility, Stephanie Patridge – The Moral Transformation of Videogame Violence, Thi Nguyen – Videogames and the “Theater of Love”, Mark Silcox – Pornographic Videogames: a Feminist Examination, Mari Mikkola

Book Preview: Games: Agency as Art

oxford-university-press-logoMy book, Games: Agency as Art, is now forthcoming from Oxford University Press! Oxford has given me permission to offer the first chapter as a preview.

The book will offer a sustained defense of the value of games and game-playing, from several perspectives. The book says that:

  • Games are the art form of agency. Game designers don’t just create environments and obstacles. They set our goals in the game and our abilities; they create the agency which we will inhabit in the game.
  • Games can work in the medium of agency to create aesthetic experiences of acting and doing. They can offer us crystallized, designed, and refined versions of our everyday experiences of practicality.
  • One way that games are satisfying: they let us inhabit a world that’s easier to make sense of, one in which the values are clearer, simpler, and easier to apply. Such games offer us are rare experience of clarity of purpose. They are an existential balm against the rest of our lives, which are full of a plurality of subtle and competing values.
  • This also leads to a danger: games can seduce us into expecting that simplicity elsewhere. They can serve as a morally problematic fantasy of clarity. 
  • The fact that we can play games teaches us something remarkable about ourselves. We have the capacity submerge ourselves in alternate agencies, to slip in and out of temporary agencies. We can take up ends that we don’t usually care about and dedicate ourselves to them, for a time. We can adopt different modes of thinking, acting, and deciding. And then we can put them all away when then game is over. Games teach us that our agency is notably fluid. 
  • A big bonus: it turns out that stupid drinking games and party games are incredibly important to understanding the nature of our own practical rationality and agency.
  • Just as narratives are a technique for writing down stories, games are a technique for inscribing and preserving modes of agency. With them, we can create an archive of agencies – we can experience different ways of being an agent. Games are a technology for us to cooperative to help develop each others’ autonomy.
  • The book offers a unified account of the art form of striving games. It discusses, under a single conceptual umbrella, computer games, board games, card games, party games tabletop role playing games, live action role playing games, and sports. (There are many other sorts of games besides striving games, however, and the book doesn’t purport to cover them all.)
  • Also: discussions of the aesthetic ontology of games, the nature of interactivity in games, a taxonomy of game types, and a comparison of games to contemporary practices of relational aesthetics and social practice art.

Journal Article: Playing for Social Equality

ppea_17_1.coverI discovered this recently published paper by Lasse Nielsen, which should be of interest to ethics oriented game philosophers.

The abstract:

This article claims that the protection of children’s capability for play is a central social-political goal. It provides the following three-premise argument in defense of this claim: (i) we have strong and wide-ranging normative reasons to be concerned with clusters of social deficiency; (ii) particular fertile functionings play a key role for tackling clusters of social deficiency; and finally (iii) the capability for childhood play is a crucial, ontogenetic prerequisite for the development of those particular fertile functionings. Thus, in so far as we consider it a central political goal to tackle social deficiency, we should be concerned with protection of childhood play capability. This conclusion raises new insights on the importance – for global development policy as well as for welfare states’ aim to secure social justice – of protecting children’s capability to engage in playful activities.

Journal Articles: Philosophy of Games and The Aesthetics of Rock Climbing

philosophycompass

My article Philosophy of Games is out now in Philosophy Compass. (A pre-print draft is also available for free.) Philosophy Compass is a journal which focuses on producing surveys of particular sub-fields of philosophy, especially new and breaking ones, largely for use by newcomers. It is designed to orient. They are often used by academics to help develop syllabi for undergraduate classes in unfamiliar train.

In this Compass, I quickly cover basic foundational works on games (Huizinga, Caillois, Suits, the ludography vs. narratology debate), and then dive into particular issues on the art status of games, the nature of interactivity, the magic circle, debates about value, and ethical issues in the philosophy of sport (like doping) and video games (like the gamer’s dilemma). This article was intended to cover primarily work on games in analytic philosophy (analytic aesthetics, philosophy of sport, and analytic game ethics) with just the barest smattering of Game Studies material for minimal orientation. The article is not intended to summarize the field of Game Studies, nor does it intend to cover continental approaches to games. In fact, I would strongly urge specialists in those field to write their own equivalent summaries; they are badly needed.

Scholars from Game Studies will likely find the first half familiar. The second half, however, may prove useful, especially the section on philosophy of sports. Consider especially the discussions of internalist accounts of value in sport, the relationship between philosophy of law and the justification of sport, and the discussion of the origins of norms of sportsmanship.

Second, my essay The Aesthetics of Rock Climbing is online in The Philosopher’s Magazine. This is a popular article which adapts ideas from my forthcoming book. I say that rock climbing is a game, and one that many people play for aesthetic reasons. Many climbers climb because responding to the challenges of the rock evokes graceful, delightful movement from them. It is something like problem-solving dance:

“…Dancing, I think, is exactly the right place to start to understand the aesthetic dimension of rock climbing. So let’s start there: climbing is something like dance – not just in skill, but in aesthetic reward. You can hear the similarity when you listen to some climbers talk about their climbs. They talk about climbs with nice movement, with good flow, with interesting moves. They’ll talk about ugly climbs, beautiful climbs, elegant climbs, gross climbs. At first you might think they are just talking about the rock itself and how it looks. And sometimes they are; every climber loves a clean crack up a blank face, or bold jutting fin to climb. But if you interrogate a climber, and watch as they explain where the beauty in the climb is – with arms out, legs in the air, imitating the odd precise movements of the climb – you’ll figure out that what so many of them care most about is the quality of the movement – about how it feels to go through the rock, about the glorious sensations in the body, and the subtle attention of the mind.”

Journal Article: Freedom and the Value of Games

My article, “Freedom and the Value of Games,” is now out in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy. A post-print is also available on my website.

rcjp20.v048.i01.coverThis essay explores the features in virtue of
which games are valuable or worthwhile to play. The difficulty view of games holds that the goodness of games lies in their difficulty: by making activities more complex or making them require greater effort, they structure easier activities into more difficult, therefore more worthwhile, activities. I argue that a further source of the value of games is that they provide players with an experience of freedom, which they provide both as paradigmatically unnecessary activities and by offering opportunities for relatively unconstrained choice inside the ‘lusory’ world that players inhabit.

Book: The Aesthetics of Videogames

51TXy-vm4VL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_An important book on the aesthetics of computer games will soon be out, edited by Jon Robson and Grant Tavinor.  From the description:

“This collection of essays is devoted to the philosophical examination of the aesthetics of videogames. Videogames represent one of the most significant developments in the modern popular arts, and it is a topic that is attracting much attention among philosophers of art and aestheticians. As a burgeoning medium of artistic expression, videogames raise entirely new aesthetic concerns, particularly concerning their ontology, interactivity, and aesthetic value. The essays in this volume address a number of pressing theoretical issues related to these areas, including but not limited to: the nature of performance and identity in videogames; their status as an interactive form of art; the ethical problems raised by violence in videogames; and the representation of women in videogames and the gaming community. The Aesthetics of Videogames is an important contribution to analytic aesthetics that deals with an important and growing art form.”

 

Journal Article: Competition as Cooperation

downloadI’m pleased to announce that my paper, Competition as Cooperation, was recently published in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport. (For those without institutional access, I’ve also put a pre-print draft online for free access.)

The paper argues that, under certain very specific conditions, games can transform competition into cooperation. Other accounts have tried to explain that transformation by focusing exclusively on player attitudes – their playfulness, or their consent. I argued instead for a distributed account of transformation: successful transformation depends on not only on players having the right motivational state, but also on aspects of game design, player fit, and extra-game community.

C. Thi Nguyen

Book: Perspectives of the Avatar

I am delighted to announce that my book entitled “Perspectives of the Avatar: Sketching the Existential Aesthetics of Digital Games” (University of Lower Silesia Press, Wrocław 2017) is now available.

MMKania_Perspectives of the Avatar

The book was funded by the research grant awarded by the Polish National Science Centre, and you can download it for free from here.

The main ambition of “Perspectives of the Avatar” is to sketch the existential aesthetics that explore the situatedness of the individual towards a single player digital game with avatar. The book focuses on games falling within the category of independent or art games, and builds upon an assumption drawn from existentialism; where the individual facing the world is the central philosophical concern. In this theoretical horizon, a situation can become meaningful only from the point of view of the particular being.

Marta M. Kania

 

Game: Something Something Soup Something

Stefano Gualeni has made a philosophical game that has received a great deal of interest. There is a recent article about it at Kotaku.

somethingsomethingStefano writes “Something Something Soup Something is my latest attempt at ‘playable philosophy’.  The game, if we agree to call it such, can be freely played on (or downloaded from) the official website: soup.gua-le-ni.com

It was developed at the Institute of Digital Games (University of Malta) with the support of Maltco Lotteries.

I and the rest of the developers prefer to think of it as an interactive thought experiment: a piece of technology that discloses situations and presents notions in ways that are interactive and negotiable (and maybe even playful).

Something Something Soup Something it is designed to reveal, through its gameplay, that even a familiar, ordinary concept like ‘soup’ is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively. It is also designed to stimulate reflection on the possibility to analytically define what a game is: does the presence of several ‘ludological ingredients’ warrant its definition as a video game? What if only a part of it could be formally recognized as a video game? Is it even wise or productive to strive for a complete theoretical understanding of concepts like ‘soup’ or ‘game’?”

Game duration: about 6 minutes.

Something Something Soup Something was developed in collaboration with:

Isabelle Kniestedt – Art, programming
Johnathan Harrington – Field research and additional design
Marcello Gomez Maureira – Web-design and additional programming
Riccardo Fassone – Music and sound effects
Jasper Schellekens – Narrator, research support

Book: Experience Machines – The Philosophy of Virtual Worlds

5855043af5ba74113c8a1ef1Mark Silcox is publishing an edited book with contributions that relate to Nozick’s experience machine argument as applied to virtual worlds. The book is highly relevant to the philosophy of computer games, and it has contributions from several members of the Game Philosophy Network. The ToC is available in the preview on the publishers site.   From the description:

“In his classic work Anarchy, State and Utopia, Robert Nozick asked his readers to imagine being permanently plugged into a ‘machine that would give you any experience you desired’. He speculated that, in spite of the many obvious attractions of such a prospect, most people would choose against passing the rest of their lives under the influence of this type of invention. Nozick thought (and many have since agreed) that this simple thought experiment had profound implications for how we think about ethics, political justice, and the significance of technology in our everyday lives. 

Nozick’s argument was made in 1974, about a decade before the personal computer revolution in Europe and North America. Since then, opportunities for the citizens of industrialized societies to experience virtual worlds and simulated environments have multiplied to an extent that no philosopher could have predicted. The authors in this volume re-evaluate the merits of Nozick’s argument, and use it as a jumping–off point for the philosophical examination of subsequent developments in culture and technology, including a variety of experience-altering cybernetic technologies such as computer games, social media networks, HCI devices, and neuro-prostheses.”