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.


Three New Papers on Gaming Published in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

The latest two issues of The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism include three new publications on the aesthetic philosophy of video games.

Marissa D. Willis’s paper, Choose Your Own Adventure: Examining the Fictional Content of Video Games as Interactive Fictions, which appears in the Winter 2019 issue, “explores the unique philosophical challenges that video games pose as forms of interactive fiction and examines the different types of fictional truth which they present.” She argues that video games are an important development in the narrative arts that should be of natural interest to philosophers.

Appearing in the Spring 2019 issue are Players, Characters, and the Gamer’s Dilemma by Craig Bourne and Emily Caddick Bourne and On Virtual Transparency by Grant Tavinor. The former addresses the apparent moral “difference between playing video games in which the player’s character commits murder and video games in which the player’s character commits pedophilic acts” and seeks to provide a new means of approaching this question through an account of the differing fiction-making resources available to players in the different cases.

Tavinor questions whether virtual media, including those in recent video games, allow users to literally see the world and objects presented by virtual media, and “whether the concept of “photographic transparency,” introduced by Kendall Walton to account for the inherent realism of photography, can be extended to account for the realism of virtual media.” The paper considers the differing uses of VR and concludes that there may be token uses where VR counts as a “virtual prosthesis.”

Volume 77, Issue 1, Winter 2019


Volume 77, Issue 2, Spring 2019

Book: A Defense of Simulated Experience – New Noble Lies

Mark Silcox has a new book out on Routledge about the value of simulated experience. While the topic is broader than experience in computer games, it is clear that the topic is of great interest to many game philosophers and game theorists.


“This book defends an account of the positive psychological, ethical, and political value of simulated human experience. Philosophers from Plato and Augustine to Heidegger, Nozick, and Baudrillard have warned us of the dangers of living on too heavy a diet of illusion and make-believe. But contemporary cultural life provides broader, more attractive opportunities to do so than have existed at any other point in history. The gentle forms of self-deceit that such experiences require of us, and that so many have regarded as ethically unwholesome or psychologically self-destructive, can in fact serve as vital means to political reconciliation, cultural enrichment, and even (a kind of) utopia.

The first half of the book provides a highly schematic definition of simulated experience and compares it with some claims about the nature of simulation made by other philosophers about what it is for one thing to be a simulation of another. The author then provides a critical survey of the views of some major authors about the value of certain specific types of simulated experience, mainly in order to point out the many puzzling inconsistencies and ambiguities that their thoughts upon the topic often exhibit. In the second half of the book, the author defends an account of the positive social value of simulated experience and compares his own position to the ideas of a number of utopian political thinkers, as well as to Plato’s famous doctrine of the “noble lie.” He then makes some tentative practical suggestions about how a proper appreciation of the value of simulated experience might influence public policy decisions about such matters as the justification of taxation, paternalistic “choice management,” and governmental transparency.

A Defense of Simulated Experience will appeal to a broad range of  philosophers working in normative ethics, aesthetics, the philosophy of technology, political philosophy, and the philosophy of culture who are interested in questions about simulated experience. The book also makes a contribution to the emerging field of Game Studies.”

Journal Article: Carnal Hermeneutics and the Digital Game

The first article for the second issue of Journal of the Philosophy of Games is available in the online first issue. It is written by Paul Martin and introduces the fascinating topic of carnal hermeneutics, or how the body makes non-predicative distinctions during play. The article has actually been online for a while, but it has been postponed for publication to this year, since we want a section on meaning in computer games for this issue.

From the paper abstract:

Carnal hermeneutics claims that the body makes sense of the world by making distinctions and evaluating those distinctions in a non-predicative mode. This article makes the case that ludohermeneutics can be enriched by attending to the way in which the body makes sense of digital games and advances carnal hermeneutics as a way of theorising this process. The article introduces carnal hermeneutics, argues for its relevance to ludo-hermeneutics, and outlines three examples of how carnal hermeneutics can be used to theorise sense-making in digital games. The first example demonstrates the capacity for touch-screen games to put us in a new relationship with the image. The second example shows how generic control schemas can take on new meanings in different games. The third example shows how marketing of game controllers draws on conventional attitudes to touch to make digital game touch meaningful.

First Issue of Journal of the Philosophy of Games

The first issue of the Journal of the Philosophy of Games is now available online.

JPG is the first journal dedicated to philosophical issues that pertain to the general phenomenon of gaming. Our aim is to investigate questions about the nature of games and how they intersect with art, communication, technology and social interaction.

Games offer unexplored philosophical territories and new theoretical frontiers. They are prominent cultural forms that occupy a manifold of existing and emerging roles in culture and society. Many forms of interaction exhibit structures similar to those found in games. We can expect that a philosophy of games will contribute to many areas in theoretical and practical philosophy as well as to foundational discussions in the field of game studies.

The articles in the first issue discuss a wide range of themes. Can games become art? How should we understand the contradictions between game mechanic and fiction in computer games? Can theories of justice be applied to account for playability in role-playing games? What are fictional actions?

JPG welcomes submissions from any discipline that deals with philosophical issues raised by games, such as theoretical game studies, analytic approaches, critical theory, phenomenology, structuralism and post humanism. We also publish discussion notes and book reviews.