In this paper, I develop an account of play and playfulness, argue it is superior to its rivals and investigate the value of play so understood. I begin by laying out some interesting semantic features of ‘play’ which have not previously been systematically investigated (section 1). A failure to note these distinctions can lead theorists (and has led them) into unwitting equivocations and confusions. Drawing on this broader semantic framework, I lay out and motivate a positive account of the meaning of ‘play’ and the nature of play full-stop (section 2). I then survey some of this account’s main advantages (section 3) and argue that the theory helps us better understand the value of play (section 4), where this value should inform both moral theory and political philosophy. I then compare the proposal with rival theories (section 5). I conclude by suggesting directions for further research.
Here is the abstract for the paper:
The paper distinguishes between two conceptions of kinds defined by constitutive rules, the one suggested by Searle, and the one invoked by Williamson to define assertion. Against recent arguments to the contrary by Maitra, Johnson and others, it argues for the superiority of the latter in the first place as an account of games. On this basis, the paper argues that the alleged disanalogies between real games and language games suggested in the literature in fact don’t exist. The paper relies on Rawls’s distinction between types (“blueprints”, as Rawls called them) of practices and institutions defined by constitutive rules, and those among them that are actually in force, and hence are truly normative; it defends along Rawlsian lines that a plurality of norms apply to actual instances of rule-constituted practices, and uses this Rawlsian line to block the examples that Maitra, Johnson and others provide to sustain their case.
JPG is interested in pursuing the discussion note format, so please contact the editor if you have an idea for a discussion note about emerging issues in the philosophy of games.
Gamification, roughly the use of game-like elements to motivate us to achieve practical ends “in the real world,” makes large promises. According to Jane McGonigal, gamification can save the world by channelling the amazing motivational power of gaming into pro-social causes ranging from alienation from our work to global resource scarcity and feeding the hungry (McGonigal 2011). Even much more modest aims like improving personal fitness or promoting a more equitable division of household labour provide some license for optimism about the ability of gamification to improve our lives in more humble but still worthwhile ways. On the other hand, Thi Nguyen has argued that there is a dark side to gamification: what he calls “value capture.” Roughly, gamification works in large part because it offers a simplified value structure – this is an essential part of its appeal and motivational power. However, especially in the context of gamification which exports these value schemes into our real-world lives, there is a risk that these overly simplistic models will displace our more rich, subtle values and that this will make our lives worse: this is value capture. The point is well-taken. The way in which number of steps taken per day can, for an avid user of “FitBit,” displace more accurate measurements of how one’s activities contribute to one’s fitness is a compelling example. If I become so obsessed with “getting my 10,000 steps” that I stop making time to go to the gym, jog or do my yoga/pilates then that is not a net gain. However, there is an important range of cases that Nguyen’s discussion ignores but which provide an important exception to his critique: value capture relative to behaviours that are addictive and destructive. Here I have in mind things like alcoholism, drug addiction, and gambling addiction. With these kinds of activities, value capture can not only be good but essential to a person’s well-being because (and not in spite of) of its displacement of the person’s more rich, subtle values. Interestingly, the point is not limited to cases of addictive behaviour, though they put the point in its most sharp relief. Any situation in which making rational decisions one by one can leave one worse off than “blindly” following a policy which is itself rational to adopt also turns out to illustrate the point, thus further expanding the role for value capture as itself a force for good. The more general point is that certain kinds of sequential choice problems carve out an important and theoretically interesting exception to Nguyen’s worries about value capture. In these kinds of choice contexts, value capture not only does not make our lives go worse, it may be essential to making our lives go better.
The latest online first issue of The Journal of the Philosophy of Games includes a paper on “Videogame Cognitivism” by Alexandre Declos (Collège de France).
Abstract: The aim of this article is to examine and defend videogame cognitivism (VC). According to VC, videogames can be a source of cognitive successes (such as true beliefs, knowledge or understanding) for their players. While the possibility of videogame-based learning has been an extensive topic of discussion in the last decades, the epistemological underpinnings of these debates often remain unclear. I propose that VC is a domain- specific brand of aesthetic cognitivism, which should be carefully distinguished from other views that also insist on the cognitive or educational potential of videogames. After these clarifications, I discuss and assess different broad strategies to motivate VC: propositionalism, experientialism, and neocognitivism. These map the different ways in which videogames can prove epistemically valuable, showing them to be, respectively, sources of propositional knowledge, experiential knowledge, and understanding. I eventually argue that neocognitivism is a particularly promising and yet underexplored way to defend VC.
The paper is available here : https://journals.uio.no/JPG/issue/view/415
This call might be of interest to some game philosophers. It specifically requests submissions of abstracts for “philosophical essays”.
Call for Papers – Uncharted [EXTENDED DEADLINE]
Abstracts are sought for a peer-reviewed collection of philosophical essays related to the Naughty Dog action-adventure video game series Uncharted (2007-2017). The essays should refer to the games that are considered the canon of the series: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. As the production of the movie adaptation of the game has been once again put on hold, and it seems that Naughty Dog will not develop new entries in the series in the foreseeable future, a book of essays seems rather timely.
Uncharted was a groundbreaking series, which combined great characters, spectacular visuals, engaging puzzles, and captivating storylines to create a movie-like experience unlike that of any video game before it. At first, the game was dubbed “Dude Raider” – and indeed, it made its main character go to exotic locations, look for mythical treasures, and embark on other adventures reminiscent of Tomb Raider. In no time, however, Uncharted’s Nathan Drake was able to create identity dissimilar to that of Lara Croft. The character was portrayed as an everyman: he looked rather unimposing, yet was extremely smart, strong, and had an excellent aim. This dissonance created inevitable frictions between his likable persona presented in the cutscenes and in the game itself, as in the course of gameplay he shot multiple NPCs with no remorse.
All the games in the series followed a three-act structure similar to that of classic Hollywood movies, and at times, they were like interactive movies themselves. In a sense, they were the video game equivalent of the summer blockbuster genre. Throughout the years, the developers created numerous memorable sequences, such as the bar fight in Uncharted 4, the plane catastrophe in Uncharted 3, or the train derailment in Uncharted 2.
The series was already analyzed academically in regard to its violence, narrative, and gender representations. While these issues are worthy of further exploration, the game can also be discussed in the context of ideas such as: determinism, randomness, exploitation, orientalism, racism, tourism, civilization, continuity, consequences, war, addiction, white privilege, categorical imperative, or egotism.
Below are some quotes and questions for you to consider:
“Greatness from small beginnings” – is Drake’s social/economic/familial background to blame for his obsessive personality?
“It’s like a camera, you just point and shoot, right?” – why does the violence in the game come so frequently from unlikely characters?
“This is like trying to find a bride in a brothel” – can the series be regarded as sexist, or did its approach towards female characters change with time?
“Everything you touch does turn to shit” – how much oppression and damage does Drake actually cause (especially in the developing countries he frequently rampages through during his escapades)?
“You think that I am a monster, but you’re no different” – are the villains in the series significant? How are they different from its protagonists in terms of violence and chaos they create?
“You should play the hero more often. Suits you” – could Chloe turn into the true hero of the series in the future?
“You two can hold hands though” – how accurately does the game depict local customs and traditions? Does it exoticize and exploit them or represent them with respect and attention to detail?
“He would go to the ends of the world with you Nate” – is forming real-life bonds with NPCs possible?
“Why Nate? Why this obsession?” – the importance of Francis Drake for the story of the game
“Hey, are you happy?” – relationships, friendship, and family life in the series
“I don’t know why people get into video games” – do we really need an Uncharted movie?
“Same to you, cowboy” – how does Drake correspond with the cowboy archetype?
“A parasite who exploits our struggle in order to fatten her pockets” – how much of what the Uncharted’s heroes do is morally questionable?
“Nice work, partner” – what does the series teach us about cooperation?
Please submit abstracts of about 300 words with brief bios to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Abstracts due: October 1st, 2020
Notification of accepted abstracts: October 5th, 2020
First draft of papers due: January 1st, 2020.
Final papers: 6,000 – 8,000 words
Łukasz Muniowski – holds a PhD in American Literature from the University of Warsaw, Poland. Co-editor of the collection of essays on the Altered Carbon Netflix series (Sex, Death and Resurrection in Altered Carbon, McFarland, 2020).
Kamil Chrzczonowicz –doctoral student at the Institute of English Studies, University of Warsaw, Poland.His academic interests include humor theory, history of American satire, and digital humanities.
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.
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.
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.
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 (http://gamejournal.it/) 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 email@example.com.
- 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 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.