Posts Tagged ‘philosophy of gaming’

“The Game Has Virtually Stumbled”

December 13, 2021

The next essay in “Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy” is “”The Game Has Virtually Stumbled” by Tom Dowd.  I find this essay a bit puzzling, actually, because it talks a bit about virtual worlds and the theory that these are created by everything, including the original books and stories, but mostly talks about how Dowd doesn’t have the deductive ability to be like Holmes and that games not doing or being able to do that when they can for other games like shooters or racing games and so on and so forth.  Games, he argues help us become assassins or race car drivers or soldiers, but they don’t help us become detectives like would be required for Holmes.

The first thing I’d note is that if we want to become those things, the games he mentions in the genres he mentions don’t really do that either.  Games have varying degrees of realism, but the games that most help us do those things tend to be ones that move away from being realistic towards accessibility.  We generally don’t actually go through the steps to reload a weapon to reload it in those games.  Driving is simplified.  Even the romance options that he mentions from Mass Effect are very, very limited compared to doing those things in real life (in general, reduced to saying the right things and pursuing it).  So if you were really trying to be a soldier or an assassin or a race car driver or someone pursuing a relationship, pretty much all games wouldn’t let you really do that either.  So the fact that games won’t let him be Holmes doesn’t actually distinguish those games from the games he mentions.

The second thing is that there are a number of games — perhaps not the Holmes ones — that actually try to do that.  The “Arkham Asylum” games added detective vision which helps the player notice things that they might not notice otherwise, a mechanic that the recent “Spider-man” game more or less copied.  And in Persona 5 the player gets “Third Eye” which lets them see which containers have things in them and the places they can climb or drop from and things of interest so that they stand out.  While they don’t replicate Holmes’ knowledge base, the mechanisms do replicate his ability to scan a room and note even trivial things that are actually important, which does let the player be Holmes in that regard.  So while it may not be in the Holmes games themselves, there are improvements in the genres that Dowd doesn’t mention that could let us be a bit more like Holmes without having to do it all ourselves.

That being said, I think the biggest complaint here is that even with the fact that the deductive requirements of the games being limited — as they are in the adventure genre in general — Dowd still can’t figure them out himself and so feels like the game is requiring him to have more deductive ability than he has to complete them.  The problem here is that those who aren’t as good at FPS or driving games and don’t have the skills to play them would say the same thing about his examples.  I am not great at FPS gameplay, and so often skip the games or can’t complete them even if I like other elements of them (like the story).  I used to love Formula 1 racing games, but had to give up on the more modern ones because the move to realism left me unable to even get around the track in any reasonable way, leaving me frustrated.  And that was almost certainly a couple of decades ago, and so I imagine that any games in that space are even worse today.  And everyone would note that in both those cases the games are still far, far easier and hold your hand far more than reality would.

I could complain that the games don’t handhold me enough.  Or I could take the more reasonable tack and note that I’m just not all that great at that gameplay and either would have to practice more, focus on less realistic games, or give up the genre if neither of those options work for me.  For Dowd, he might be able to help himself by using a walkthrough to get past the things he finds too difficult to figure out.  Because if he really wants the game to get more realistic and properly represent deduction, it would only get more difficult for him, not less.

Giving the Player Hard Choices

November 10, 2021

So on a post of Shamus Young’s talking about Prey 2017, a discussion arose around moral choices in games with the idea being expressed to have really meaningful moral choices in a game there must be mechanical differences between the “good” and “evil” so that the player is tempted towards one side or another.  If the choices don’t have any consequences for the player, then there’s no meaningful choice at all.  I disagreed with this idea.

A comment by Redrock summarizes the argument pretty well:

You can’t really test the altruism of a character, because characters aren’t real. That’s just asking the player “what kind of character do you feel like playing as today?”. Which isn’t bad or anything, just not the type of experience I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the type of game that speaks directly to the player and aims to trigger genuine introspection. Those games are rare because they should be willing to alienate some players by not being all that fun from time to time.

Which is fine. Movies and books that aim to trigger introspection are rarely pure entertainment too. But I do think that we need more games like that, games that wield mechanics and narrative in equal measures to really push and prod the player.

The problem for me is that the choices they are talking about tend to be moral ones, or specifically altruism vs egoism, but it’s very difficult to test that by appealing to the player, because players have very different motivations from the people in the game or who would be in that situation.  If you are trying, then, to judge or test them based on those choices, you will run into the problem that you have to make assumptions about their motivations, and if you get it wrong and judge them anyway they will get very upset at that judgement.

So, imagine that we take the common suggestion from that comment thread about giving less resources to the altruistic choice, which seems to capture the essence of the altruism vs egoism choice:  give up resources to help others or take the resources to help yourself.  The problem is that players are playing a game, and so when given this choice might take the resources only because they know that they aren’t that good at this sort of game and so would need the extra resources just to finish it.  Or, at least, that they are worried about running out of resources and so want to make sure that they have enough to finish the game.  We know that players will quite often change their behaviour to make their game experience better or to ensure that they have the levels/resources to finish the game given their skill levels.  In most RPGs, my main strategy is to ensure that I’m overleveled and so to grind more than usual just to ensure that the level advantage can make up for any lack of skill that I might have.  I also spent a lot of time in Dragon Age Inquisition exploring every nook and cranny to make sure that I had enough resources and levels to finish the game, even though neither I nor my character were explorers.  Shamus Young criticized the Mass Effect Paragade system for assuming that his Renegade character wouldn’t want the XP rewards from “helping” the other team out.  In general, the mechanics are what the players interact with to play the game, and so we will do a lot of things that we find odd or out of place just to play the game.

So if we are looking at the mechanics and thinking about things in a mechanical way, and we are presented with one of these “altruism vs egoism” choices, what are we likely to do?  We are likely to think of it as a mechanical choice and work it out to the best mechanical outcome for us.  We are, therefore, quite unlikely to think of it as an altruism vs egoism choice at all.  So if the game then turns around and later judges us as altruistic or egoistic on the basis of that choice, we are likely to react with indignation.  After all, that was a mechanical decision not a character decision.  All I was doing was engaging with the mechanics to set things up so that I can best interact with and enjoy the game mechanics.  Unless the game makes it a character choice, then I’m not going to treat it as one.  But then if it is made into a character choice then I’m likely to judge it on the basis of the character that I’m actually playing, which may not be me but may not be.  So then aiming a judgement at the player for something their character did will fall flat as well, as they will either pass that criticism on to the character, or else will be annoyed at the game for not understanding that the player and the character are not the same person.

The issue with giving mechanical penalties or rewards for these sorts of choices is that these sorts of choices, to be judged altruistic or egoistic, have to be cast that way inside the world itself.  Even in the example in Shamus’ post, the altruistic or evil choices are framed around events in the world and relationships that the character has.  If the player becomes convinced that there are going to be meaningful mechanical consequences to these choices and are worried about the impact that might have on their gaming experience, then that will cause a separation between the character and the player.  The character might well take the altruistic choice and be able to feel confident that they can win even with the loss, but the player may feel that they need those resources to complete the game or at least to be able to have fun playing the game, and they are playing the game to have fun.  So that will cause the player to stop thinking in terms of the world and start thinking in terms of the mechanics, and then that link to the world will be lost, and so it won’t be thought of as a moral choice anymore, but instead as a mechanical choice akin to what ammo and weapons and armour you buy and equip.

I submit this:  if you’re thinking that you need to add mechanical consequences to get people to think of a choice as a properly moral one and feel the moral pull of it you have already lost, because what has already happened is that the player has stopped thinking of your world as a world and is instead thinking of it as a playground.  If they were really immersed in your world, then they’d feel the choice as their character would feel it, and if they are playing as themselves it would wrench them sufficiently even if there’s only an appearance of a loss, in much the same way as when we are immersed in an ongoing TV show we happily ignore that some plot points are a foregone conclusion because the other option would remove the entire premise of the show, or how in horror movies we’ll ignore stupid decisions made by the protagonists if we are sufficiently immersed in their plight.  If the player feels that there aren’t real consequences of their choice here, then they are at this point quite aware that the game world isn’t real … and, at that point, they aren’t going to think of this as any kind of moral choice at all, no matter what mechanical consequences are foisted on them.  So the trick is to keep the player thinking in terms of the world, not in terms of the game.  And mechanical consequences always make them think in terms of the game.

Changing an Existing World

September 29, 2021

So, I’ve been reading the entries at the CRPG Addict for a while now, mostly while compiling or in a boring meeting or installing where I need to be around but don’t need to be paying that much attention where having something on the computer to read is really, really nice, and noting that I can only read Shamus Young’s Mass Effect Retrospectives so many times before it would be nice to have something new.  So that’s been working out pretty well, and some of the issues raised in some of the games are interesting as well.

Such was the case with “The Lord of the Rings, Vol 1”, an attempt by Interplay to make games out of the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, unfortunately only managing to make two of them before the series was quietly dropped.  The game adds a lot more quests than existed in the books, but more importantly for this post also allowed the player to do things quite differently than what happened in the books.  Anyone could be made the Ring Bearer.  The player could refuse to add certain characters to the Fellowship, add other characters to the Fellowship, or even get certain characters killed that lived all the way through.  At one point, it was remarked that the relatively poor review scores for these games might have been because fans of the books were upset that the game let players do radically different things from what you could do in the books.

That didn’t make sense to me, because for me the idea that in an adaptation I could do things differently than what happened in the work is a huge bonus.  It was certainly not a negative for me in “Elsinore” that things could work out differently than in the play.  Moreover, one game that I really, really wanted to play but never managed to get was the game of “Nine Princes in Amber”, precisely because it was an adventure game set in a series that I loved that promised that you weren’t forced to follow the plot of the books and instead could try different things and do things differently, potentially for good or for ill.  So, for me, the ability to change an existing world in an adaptation was a huge plus, not a detriment.

Now, I am a bit eccentric, but in this matter I don’t think I’m all that much different from most people.  And when it comes to these sorts of games, what I really want is the ability to follow the original story and, if I do that, have it work out roughly the same, but also the ability to deviate from the story and have things work out in a sensible way if I do that.  So I don’t want the events to be random and so following the path set out in the original story leads to things happening differently, but I don’t want things to be so set that deviating at all from the path always leads to disaster, even if that disaster is made to make sense inside that world.  I want disaster to happen when it would happen, and to be able to do things better than the characters if I can foresee that the outcome would be better.  The reason is that if I’m playing a game in a set world I want to be in that world, and if I’m playing as the main character I want to be them.  So I don’t want to be just following them along — because I could always enjoy the original work instead — but do want to be able to follow them along and do what they did and have it work out, because what they did and how they did things was part of that world, and being able to do things as they did is a key component of that world, and I could never feel like I was really part of that world if I couldn’t do things like they did and have the results be the same.  To allow too much deviation breaks the world, and to allow too little doesn’t let me play in that world and instead forces me to observe it.

This is what is behind my fascination with the various Paradox strategy games, especially “Hearts of Iron”.  I’d love to play historical games where I can make things work out roughly the same as history but also could deviate from history if I put my mind to it.  The general mechanisms usually end up discouraging me from playing them, but in general that doesn’t dull my fascination, but only makes me regret that there just aren’t all that many games that really do that out there that I might find more accessible.  So I think that most fans of a world that is being adapted into a game would love the ability to do things differently, as long as they could do things the same, just like me.

Extra Credits on the Prisoner’s Dilemma

October 30, 2019

So, since I’ve been a bit busy lately, and since I had decided to check out some of the Extra Credits videos that I hadn’t been watching lately, I decided to comment on their video on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Now, I’ve talked about the Prisoner’s Dilemma in video games wrt “Virtue’s Last Reward”, which reveals a common error made in considering the Prisoner’s Dilemma: the idea that, somehow, the only rational choice is to betray the other person, and that’s what reason would demand, which always at least indirectly implies that we need something other than reason to settle these sorts of questions, which is a position that I find … dubious, to say the least.

In the video, though, they take an interesting, if seemingly somewhat confusing, tack in trying to explain it. They explain defecting as being the only choice that you won’t regret making no matter what the other person chooses. But since if the other person chooses defect and you choose defect you end up with a worse outcome than if you had both co-operated, that doesn’t seem to make sense. I think what they mean is this: no matter which option the other person chooses, the choice to defect leaves you better off than the choice to co-operate. If they defect, if you defect you get the medium length sentence, but if you co-operate you get the longest possible sentence. And if they co-operate, if you co-operate you get a short sentence, but if you defect you get to go completely free. So, looking at it strictly from the perspective of “What happens to me if they choose X?”, defecting always works out better for you.

The reason why this isn’t necessarily the only rational decision to make is that it isn’t rational to ignore readily available facts in making your decision, and here the relevant fact is that the other person is, presumably, as rational as you are, possesses all of the same facts, and so is going through the same thought process as you are. As soon as this is understood, then it becomes obvious that the other person is going to make the choice to defect as well. Therefore, the best possible case for you — going free — isn’t going to be attainable. So what you’d want is to make it so that instead of both people choosing defect, they both choose co-operate. The reasoning above in general should work to achieve that, as that’s the best option for both of you. The only thing that could trump that is the fear that the other person is either not going to do that reasoning, or might try to take advantage of you reasoning that out, and try to defect anyway. But since, again, the same reasoning applies all that will do is lead to the defect/defect outcome.

I argued this when arguing with people over issues with the Tragedy of the Commons wrt Objectivism. Everyone would, of course, like to cheat, but they know that if everyone cheats they’ll end up with an undesirable outcome. And if they conclude that what’s best for them is to cheat, then they have no reason to think that the same reasoning won’t apply to everyone else, and so that everyone else will also cheat. This leads to the undesirable outcome. Thus, pretty much everyone is going to want to sacrifice their ability to cheat to ensure that they don’t end up in that undesirable situation. That’s the rational thing to do. So it’s only irrationality that causes people to instead rush to cheat out as much as possible — ie profit-take — from the Commons instead of looking to find ways to enforce non-cheating.

Of course, the one issue with this is when you run into someone who doesn’t care about that negative outcome. Let’s imagine a group of people looking to go out to dinner, but who all have different preferences on where they want to go. In general, a compromise is always reached because everyone understands that if they can’t find a place that’s at last moderately acceptable to everyone, they aren’t going to go out to dinner, and so they don’t want to be too stubborn about their top choice because that will scuttle the entire event. But imagine that there’s someone in the group who doesn’t care about going out to dinner that much. If they can’t go to their preferred place, they’d rather not go. This gives them incredible power in the discussion, because due to their circumstances they don’t care about the negative consequences. Unless the rest decide to go without them, either the group will go to that person’s desired restaurant or they won’t go at all. So alternative forms of persuasion are needed. In my experience, commonly social pressure/guilt and the will of the majority are mustered — pretty much reflexively in any situation that even looks like it might turn into that sort of case — to push that person to compromise. In the discussions of Objectivism, I argued that you could also add incentives to do so. For example, in my example you could use the promise of a free dessert or, in fact, appeal to the fact that a compromise restaurant has superior desserts to get them to go along with the compromise. But the big issue you run into with the rational reasoning outlined above is someone for whom the rational choice really is to risk or take the negatives.

Which leads into the examples they used from games: someone in an online team game who racks up kills at the expense of the others, or someone who is a DPS character who demands heals when the tank needs them far more. The problem with the examples is that there is an additional factor here that isn’t present in the Prisoner’s Dilemma that makes their actions more irrational: a shared goal. In both of those examples, the base presumption here is that those players won’t win unless the team wins, and so all of their actions should be directed towards that. So players at that base level, all that should matter is that all the opponents get killed or that the boss ends up being defeated. If sacrificing kills will better achieve that shared goal, then the rational move would be to sacrifice those kills, and racking up kills at the expense of that goal would clearly be irrational behaviour.

Unless, of course, there’s an external reward for racking up kills.

And in a lot of games, there is. There are rewards and trophies for kills. Many games rank players in the match itself or award points on the basis of kills. Since these can impact rankings and the like, often there’s an incentive for players to act selfishly instead of co-operating with their teammates. And, in fact, in many cases the individual rewards can be so great that it trumps the team winning. A player does better racking up kills even if their team loses. In those cases, it’s clear that acting selfishly is the rational move.

We can see this in co-operative and semi-co-operative board games. Arkham Horror is a fully co-operative game. No points are given out to the best investigator. There isn’t even an MVP award. The points are awarded to the team itself, and no points are awarded if the team doesn’t win the game. So there’s no reason for one player to try to rack up monster kills or gate closings or hog the best items or whatever. If they do, it would only be for two reasons (other than irrational competition). The first is because they believe that their character having that will be best for the team to allow the team to win the game, either to ensure that their powerful character survives longer in the Final Battle or is better equipped for their function (monster hunting, gate running, and so on). The other is that they’re worried that they’ll be eliminated in the Final Battle and so bored, although the Final Battle is pretty quick so it’s not a reasonable stance to take. The only other reasons are irrational, and will only hurt the team and thus make them less likely to achieve their shared goal.

Battlestar Galactica is a hidden traitor game. There are two teams, one of which is human and one of which is Cylon. There’s roughly a 60% chance of staying human throughout the game and a 40% chance of being a Cylon. Whether a player is a human or a Cylon is hidden until the player decides to reveal (or it is revealed through various mechanisms), and a player can start the game as a Cylon or might “pick up Cylonness” at roughly the midpoint of the game. I was involved in a long debate on boardgamegeek with someone who said that a player who had a human card at the start should play selfishly, hoarding resources and titles and positioning themselves to be in the best position possible. This was objected to on the grounds that it looked suspicious: while he wanted to do that to put himself in a strong position once he knew that he was going to stay human, it was pointed out that those were the precise same moves that a Cylon would make as well. Which was a fair point given that one of his motivations for the move was, in fact, to be ready in case he turned Cylon at the midpoint. But since the Cylons are hidden, all that he was going to do was engender mistrust in all the other players. And that would at least make things less efficient — as they couldn’t trust that player to do anything until they were sure the player was human — and so hurt the overall team game. So to the extent that it hurt the team, it was seen as a poor strategy. And the alternative of playing selfishly before the midpoint and excessively generous afterwards would lead to an easy tell for Cylonness, and so wasn’t good for them anyway.

So they have a point when they say that, in general, to trump the Prisoner’s Dilemma is to provide some sort of punishment for defecting. However, if everyone was rational then simply removing external incentives to selfish behaviour would also work. We can indeed all see that co-operating will lead to a better outcome for us … when it actually does. The problem is that in too many cases it is indeed possible for us to cheat and win.

Sarkeesian on the 2019 E3 Representation

June 21, 2019

I’ve talked about them before, but Anita Sarkeesian has done another analysis of the representation of women at E3 shortly after dissolving “Feminist Frequency” as a non-profit and for the most part stopping doing videos. I’m not going to talk much about the latter — at least not here — but I do want to talk about the E3 analysis because this year the analysis is quite telling.

The first thing she points out is that she’s been doing this since 2015 and not much has changed. If 2015, the number of games that had only a female protagonist was 9 percent, and this year the number of games that had only a female protagonist was 5 percent. However, from the numbers, the percentage of games that only had a male protagonist also dropped, from 32 percent in 2015 to 21 percent in 2019. The big gain — and this has been consistent over those 5 years — has been for player choice, as the “multiple options” category has leaped from 46 percent in 2015 to 66 percent in 2019. So, game companies seem to have decided to be more inclusive by letting players play what they want to play more often. Thus, if women want to play as women in a game they have the option to do so and so aren’t forced to play as a male character. This seems like a good move.

So, of course, Sarkeesian doesn’t like it:

It’s true that the number of games in which you either control characters of different genders or get to choose the gender of your hero character significantly outstrip those with established male or female protagonists. And of course, as a general trend, the freedom to choose or create your own character is a welcome one. However, it’s fundamentally different from being asked by a game to take on the role and experiences of a specific character. A male player who is more comfortable with experiences that center men can and will simply play as men in games that offer him the choice. On the other hand, every player who comes to a game such as Wolfenstein: Youngblood must step into the shoes of a female character in order to play.

Why this is interesting is that the typical rationale — even from Sarkeesian — for including female protagonists was always so that women could play as the character they identify with instead of always having to play as a male character, often accompanied by comments that since women had so often had to play games with a male protagonist men could do the same. Allowing the choice of protagonist seems to do just that while allowing men who have difficulty identifying with characters that are not like them the ability to still enjoy the game by simply selecting the male protagonist. But, here, Sarkeesian makes it abundantly clear that that isn’t her goal. She doesn’t want and here seems uninterested in allowing women to play as women in a game. No, here, it’s all about forcing me to play as women and thus be forced to identify with them or participate in narratives that center women. In short, Sarkeesian wants to force male players to play as female characters for some reason. Assuming that she’d accept that not all games will be female-protagonist-only, I fail to see how raising that percentage will achieve that goal. After all, men will still have the option to forgo experiencing things from the female perspective, only instead of simply creating the character they prefer and going on to play a good game, they will instead simply decide to forgo those games themselves. Any male player who is comfortable enough with playing from the female perspective to buy and play a game that only has a female protagonist is also likely to choose to play as a female character at least some of the time if given the choice. And men who aren’t comfortable with that are more likely to just not play the game than to buy it and play it regardless.

This puts this analysis in sharp perspective: Sarkeesian is not overly interested in ensuring that women — and potentially other minorities — can play as a character they identify with, but is instead more interested in ensuring that the supposed dominant group is forced to identify with the supposed oppressed group. She isn’t as clear on why that is … but we can probably guess (although I won’t here).

She also says something odd about RPGs earlier in the article:

(When you consider that we place role-playing games in which you control a party of heroes in our “multiple options” category, the numbers are even more dire, since a significant number of these games, including the Final Fantasy VII remake, Final Fantasy VIII, Dragon Quest XI, The Last Remnant Remastered, and others, clearly center male heroes.)

Note that three out of those four games are, in fact, remakes from much earlier times, and so wouldn’t make a good comparison regardless as they would have been made before things started changing, and again unless Sarkeesian wants to make all games female-centered remaking classic games that were male-centered would seem reasonable (she could complain that they weren’t remaking and remastering games that were female-centered if she ever acknowledged that such games existed in any meaningful form). Also, if she counted those party-based RPGs as multiple options, how come she’s always had so much trouble finding female characters to talk about, and has never mentioned the Persona games?

I’m not going to talk about the ratio of male to female presenters, so let me finish with the comments on violence again:

Finally, a note on combat and violence in games. During Ubisoft’s presentation, a trailer for their upcoming game, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, featured actor Jon Bernthal utter the line, “The only test of a man’s worth is battle,” unwittingly distilling what seems to be a widespread perception among both players and game designers. This year, of the 126 games we surveyed, 107 featured combat of some form as a gameplay mechanic, while only 19 games, or about 15 percent, did not. Of course, not all combat is the same: the endearing sword-swinging of Link in Nintendo’s adorable upcoming remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a far cry from the grisly demon-slaying of Doom: Eternal. However, we believe that there remains a vast range of unexplored potential for games as a medium, and continue to advocate for a greater percentage of games that explore the possibilities of nonviolent gameplay mechanics.

As usual, this suffers from vagueness as well as an inability to take those games and come up with suggestions for replacement mechanics. Here, she at least tries to distinguish the types of violence and combat but doesn’t give a criteria for that or why one is harmful and one isn’t or is less harmful. I’d like to see different game mechanics because, well, they’re different, but for example I can’t tell whether Catherine’s gameplay mechanic would count as violent or non-violent from what she’s said in the past and she rarely if ever gives examples of what would count so I have no idea what she wants. And if I don’t know, likely neither does anyone else, so if she wants her articles to have an impact on gaming she probably needs to flesh that out a bit.

Game Association

January 23, 2019

I haven’t talked about a video from Extra Credits for a while, so let me look at a recent one today. The video is about “The Catharsis of Doing”, and talks about how games by their nature get us to actually do things, which then can affect us in different ways than simply watching a movie or reading a book can. This, of course, is at its base rather obvious. Chuck Sonnenberg, for example, talks about how Dragon Age Origins showing you the impacts of your choices as your army heads out for the final battle (in part 10) makes that incredibly epic, pointing out that if you see the dwarves marching that means that you chose to not save the Forge and allow the creation of golems instead, and that the mages being there instead of Templars means that you managed to save the mages. So, it is definitely the case that you doing things does make things different than just passively watching other people do it. But then that raised a question for me: do what extent are you, the player, actually doing it?

Because most of the examples in the video, and even Chuck’s example, rely heavily on the player associating themselves strongly with the character they are playing, so much so that they really see themselves to be the character in the game. If a game is going to make you feel regret for the choice you made, then it’s going to have to be the case that the character is you and not a character you are playing. If you feel frustrated over not being able to get over a hurdle in a game, or feel like a success because you did, then that game and game session is going to have to become part of your life and one of the things that are a crucial part of it. And if you feel good for making the choices that lead to the army that you have, then again it’s going to be you, as the player, who decided that, and not your character.

This way of thinking, I now realize, is rather foreign to me, because I tend to play not as myself but as character. I played 9 or 10 characters in The Old Republic, none of which were me in any way (despite a friend making that assumption when I showed him my first character, which I was trying to play as Corran Horn). Even in the games that are closer to me — for example, where I use my own name — I’m not really me. I might try to make decisions as if I was me, but in general I’m always asking myself what my character would do, not what I would do.

Sure, when I’m just playing a game and focusing on the gameplay, then failing at it feels like my own failure, and that can impact my mood. But even then, if games are supposed to be an escape from the world if I’m feeling frustrated I know very well to avoid playing games that will frustrate me more, and it is far more often the case that frustrations in the real world will make me less able to tolerate frustration in a game than that frustration in a game will add to my frustrations in the real world, because it’s only a game, after all. And it’s hard for me to feel regret in a game because it’s never me doing it, but instead is my character doing it. For example, one of my TOR characters was a Michael Garibaldi ex-pat — who was the brother of my Sith Warrior — who started out in the Empire, got drummed out of the military for drunkenness and then went to the Republic as a Smuggler once had a choice in a quest to side with either an attractive Sith or an attractive Jedi. He didn’t have any real loyalty to either side, and spent his time flirting madly with both of them. When it became clear that the Jedi wasn’t going to offer him a tryst as a reward but that the Sith was, he sided with the Sith and killed the Jedi. Now, this is a pretty despicable thing to do, but I didn’t feel any guilt or regret over doing it, because I didn’t do it. That character might have regretted it later when he reformed, but I didn’t.

For me, in general, when I take an action in a game I’m either doing it as a character in a game, or am doing it as part of the game itself. I might take an evil action just to see what happens if I do — like killing a romanced Carth at the end of Knights of the Old Republic as a Dark Side character — or else to get a mechanical advantage in the game. But I don’t strongly associate myself with characters in a game, whether RPGs or other games. They are not me, and I am not them.

But I’m starting to realize that for many people this is not the case. From the complaints about not being “represented” in games to this video, it seems to me that for many people their escapism isn’t into a story of another world or of something that is not them, but is in fact them themselves. They might be trying to escape from their life into a world where they can have a better life, not a world that isn’t their life. So if that life doesn’t go the way they’d like it to, when they do things in that life that doesn’t align with their view of themselves and their morality, when the character in that life simply can’t be them for whatever reason, then the illusion of that being a separate and better life is shattered and their escapism and any kind of catharsis from that is lost.

The thing is, we know that we can have escapism without having to make that sort of strong association. Books, movies and TV shows, as the video points out, don’t allow for that and yet have always been excellent escapist media. By allowing the player to strongly associate themselves with the characters in the game, games allow for a different type of escapism, but I’m not sure that that sort of escapism is a good thing. It seems to me that the negatives pointed out in the video follow precisely from that sort of association, and yet if we, as they advise, try to remember that it’s just a game then the positive forms of catharsis that they talk about are likely going to be lost as well. Unless you think of your character as you, you will not get the “good” kinds of catharsis from your character doing things or achieving things, but once you do make that association you’ll also get the “bad” kinds of catharsis from your character doing things you wouldn’t or failing to achieve things. You can’t have one without the other.

I think this ties back into the “assumed empathy” that I talked about last week: people perhaps having less and less ability or less and less desire to associate themselves emotionally with people who are not them or not like them. This encourages them to instead of relating to the character make themselves the character and relate to the game and plot and emotional resonances that way. I don’t think this is a good thing, because it risks taking away the fun of the game, the fun of doing things that you wouldn’t do normally and in fact have little interest in doing just for the heck of it. It also seems to me to make the outcomes of the game have far too much importance. For me, my interest in finishing the Persona games had nothing to do with the games or my life in them itself, but instead from the external commitment I had made to do so. So when I couldn’t quite finish Persona or abandoned Persona 2 that was a personal failure not because my character who is me failed, but because I didn’t achieve a personal goal of mine. But I could be consoled in that by considering that in deciding to abandon them I had taken into account all of my desires and goals and capabilities and decided what was more important to me, and could make plans to do it later. That’s because it was all me as me, and the details of the game itself were completely separate from that; the goals of the characters were not important goals for me as me because _I_ wasn’t doing anything in the game itself. Only the characters were.

As I said, associating strongly with the character in a game is a foreign concept to me, so I don’t know if my impression of how those who do it do it is accurate. But if it is that way, then a failure in a game or a perma-death of a character could be devastating to people who feel that their lives are ruined because of it. That can’t be healthy.

Games Examining Issues

May 11, 2018

So, the last video from Extra Creditz that I’m going to look at in this two week span is this one about the need for “B” games to discuss issues, using Wolfenstein: The New Colossus as an example of that. Their main comparison is that the AAA game “Call of Duty” has finally in its latest incarnation actually shown a concentration camp, and has never really explored Nazism, fascism, or any issue like that despite spending a number of incarnations in WWII, while the “B” game “The New Colossus” explores this in a completely in-your-face manner, and that’s not only what games need to do, but what we as people need right now.

The problem is that it’s unclear whether “The New Colossus” ever explores the topics at all. I haven’t played the game, but I have read Shamus Young’s series on it, and he fills in some of the details around those explorations. For example:

After the Siege, BJ and Grace have a conversation that makes no sense. BJ talks about how they want to liberate America. Grace argues that white America is a lost cause because they’ve already settled into Nazi rule. Then BJ says some platitudes about freedom and suddenly Grace starts agreeing with him.

This is wrong twice. One, what was she fighting for if she already thought this was a lost cause? I thought we were teaming up with her because mumble mumble something about revolution. But now she’s not even aligned with our cause? What was her plan then?

Secondly, BJ never says anything to convince her. She spells out reasons why the citizens of the US are a lost cause, and BJ doesn’t say anything to counter this. But she changes her mind anyway because there’s a musical swell while he makes his dumb arguments and that makes this feel inspirational.


We learn that the Nazis are letting the KKK run the south, and during our walk downtown we see KKK guys casually chatting with Nazi stormtroopers.

This is interesting because the war ended 14 years ago. At this point in history, we would have the first generation of adults who had little or no meaningful memories of the old USA. The men signing up for military duty now were raised in Nazi America. They’ve spent their entire lives attending Nazi public schools, watching Nazi television, and reading Nazi books. They would all speak German as a second language, and for people working with the Nazis on a daily basis it might gradually become their primary language.

Certainly there would be a few holdouts, keeping the old ideals alive and hiding the occasional book from the censors, but for the coming generation this will be the only world they’ve ever known.

And if you think about it, this would suggest that most of the faceless troopers you’ve been blowing away were probably more likely to be from Houston than Hamburg. The Nazis won the war, but unless they invented a cloning machine then they wouldn’t have the numbers to occupy the entire planet like this. Certainly some of their forces would need to be locally sourced. Perhaps they would have German officers in charge of native conscripts, with all of the really good hardware (the mech suits, the power armor, and the zap guns) reserved for guys from the Fatherland.

I have to wonder: What is the KKK at this point? The Nazis have put them “in charge”, but what does that mean? Are they a political party? A government agency? Are mayors, sheriffs, and city councils elected by the people, or are they appointed by the Nazi leadership? Because directly vetting and assigning a mayor for every pissant little city in the US would require an enormous bureaucracy.

To be absolutely clear: I’m not suggesting that Wolfenstein II would be a better game if the writer explained all of this. I wouldn’t want a scene where BJ has to go through a bunch of anguish because he realizes he’s been gunning down conscripted Tennessee farm boys. Like Star Wars, a big appeal of this series – indeed, maybe the entire point – is to have an unambiguously evil force to oppose so that we can do our first-person manshoots without worrying that our main character has gone too far.

It’s hard to claim that you are actually exploring an issue when all you’re doing is taking an enemy that everyone thinks is bad and presenting them as such so that people won’t feel guilty about shooting them. This is pretty much the same sort of move that games that feature Middle Eastern terrorists make, or that games released during the Cold War made when they made the Soviets the bad guys. Philosophically, making this sort of move only confirms in people opinions they already have, and doesn’t encourage them to explore their own ideas, no matter where they fall on the topic.

Especially if the representatives of the enemy are strawmen:

From here he gets a motorcycle and rides to his home in Texas.

He’s here to pick up a ring his mother gave him as a child, which was shown in a flashback during the overlong introduction to the game. While you’re here, you can watch a few more childhood flashbacks, or you can move on to the house to get the ring. Inside, he’s confronted by his father.

The flashbacks make it clear that BJ’s father Rip Blazkowicz was a cruel, hateful, violent, narrow-minded man. He beat his wife. He beat his son. He killed his son’s dog as a punishment for BJ playing with a black girl. When the two meet again here in 1961, we learn that Rip gave up his Jewish wife to the Nazis. And now he’s planning to execute his son. Also: BJ doesn’t notice until the end of the scene, but Rip called the Nazis to the house, so if he doesn’t finish his son then they will.

I think that’s about as evil as you can possibly make this guy. He’s a complete cartoon. Even when faced with a legendary and world-famous Nazi killer who’s wearing a suit of armor and is bristling with guns, Rip is such a thick-headed moron that he thinks he can continue to bully his son.

I get it. He’s a strawman. He’s an exaggerated vessel of the worst aspects of human beings. He’s here so we can kill this embodiment of evil without guilt. My problem is that this story already has lots of characters that serve this exact purpose. We have the Nazi footsoldiers in general, and Frau Engel specifically. We get to do a lot of cathartic Nazi killing in this game. That’s arguably the reason the game exists. So why are we spending this entire character to simply repeat that same theme? Is this really the most interesting thing the writer could think to do with BJ’s father?

In a game about igniting an American revolution, this is the only American civilian we talk to. For story purposes, he should probably be representative of what has happened to this country. Maybe he started off as basically a sane man with some mild racist tendencies, but once the Nazis took over the fear and desperation overcame him. So then he gave up his wife, informed on his neighbors, disavowed his son, and accepted the rewards for doing so. Each time he thought this would be the last time. And now, he confesses, he’s given you up as well. Then the player can decide to kill him or walk away. (With him dying in the subsequent attack anyway.)

That would give us a new perspective, and would re-focus our anger on the Nazis for the soul-devouring police state they created. This would be a contrast to the Nazis.

As written, this scene feels pointless and self-indulgent. When presented with the opportunity to show what kind of man raised BJ, the writer built up this twisted strawman and let the player kill him with an axe. We get to kill a lot of dudes with axes in this game. BJ’s father should be something more than a lame mook.

BJ’s father is simply a racist. He’s always been a racist. Not only has he always been a racist, he’s always been a terrible, abusive person. All this does is characterize racists as being simply terrible people, and as Shamus points out there are no other white civilians shown to cast any doubt on Grace’s assessment that white America is too far gone to save. Extra Creditz makes a rather blatant implication that we need explorations like this in this current political climate, even saying that the game strongly indicts us for “trading democracy for race-hate”. But the game doesn’t do that. The game doesn’t show that the people actually did that, that they decided that the racism outweighed their democracy in a similar way to what is purportedly happening now. And, of course, to say it like that strikes many people as being a strawman of the existing situation anyway. If you try to beat people over the head with a strawman, people will get annoyed by that, even if they don’t align with the philosophy you are strawmanning. Shamus is neither a racist nor a fascist nor even really a conservative, but he gets annoyed by the strawman because he knows people who hold the views that are being strawmanned and knows they don’t really think that way. The only people who won’t notice the strawman are the people who think that the strawman is actually accurate. To explore an issue as at least Extra Creditz seem to think the current situation is, you’d need to show how mostly “normal” people can be fooled into accepting racist arguments and fascism as the solution to those non-existent racial issues. As it is, all the game does is create evocative scenes that are only evocative to people who agree with the ham-fisted political philosophy espoused by the game.

Like the scene mentioned in the video about encountering Hitler:

Wolfenstein II is a pretty silly game, but it’s not quite cartoonish enough to pull off Mecha-Hitler without dissolving into comedy. So instead of making him a physical threat, the writer makes him an object of audience ridicule. We see Hitler as an old man[2]. He’s a disgusting senile beast who shuffles around in his bathrobe and pukes and pisses all over the room. He spits when he talks, his mood oscillates all over the place, and he casually executes people for trivial slights, real or imagined. Normally I dislike taking historical figures and turning them into grotesque caricatures for ridicule, but I figure once you’ve perpetrated a Holocaust you’re fair game.

People like to pretend Hitler was some sort of mutant instead of just a regular human being with very bad ideas because it helps us feel better about ourselves, and maybe this sort of mockery isn’t always the most nuanced or mature way to engage with this topic. But screw it. If there’s anywhere it’s appropriate to trade in slanderously exaggerated depictions of Hitler, it’s in a Wolfenstein game. This might not be the best place to learn about the complexities of historical figures or the fragility of human nature, but that’s not why we’re here.

Having said that, I really do have a problem with this scene.

While I agree that this is a great idea for a scene in a Wolfenstein game, you still need to integrate the scene with the rest of the story. We introduce five new characters in this scene: The casting director, three other actors, and Hitler himself. These characters exist only in this scene. Nothing that happens here has any bearing on the rest of the game. BJ doesn’t attain his goal or even move any closer to it. This isn’t a lead-up to a confrontation with Hitler, who we never see again. This scene is thirteen and a half minutes long, and you could excise the entire thing from the game and the player wouldn’t even know there was anything missing. You could cut from the moment BJ gets off the ship to the moment he unpacks his bags in his room and it would feel completely seamless.

There’s no real gameplay, so this doesn’t work as part of a videogame. And the plot doesn’t move forward so it doesn’t work as part of a movie. Again, this is just self-indulgent on the part of the writer.

The scene is not there to explore Nazism, fascism or racism. It’s simply there to let the writers mock Hitler and for the player to be able to vicariously mock Hitler right along with them. Now, it’s pretty safe to mock Hitler as, well, almost everyone isn’t going to like the guy. As Shamus points out, once you’ve perpetrated a Holocaust that’s probably the least you can expect. But as he also said, that’s the only purpose the scene serves. If we take Extra Creditz’s take on what games should be doing, we could expect them to want to do that sort of thing for all sorts of other political issues that they happen to think correct, but that other people think at least questionable. If a game mocks Trump in the same sort of way, it will annoy and offend some people. And not only the people who are Trump supporters, but also people who don’t support Trump but who think that he isn’t that bad. The only people who will accept and like the presentation are those who actually believe it to be the case, which means that no one else will be encouraged to reconsider their position or change their minds. It’s hard to say that you can have anything that even looks like a real exploration of a topic when there’s almost no chance anyone will even have their minds opened even the slightest by that exploration.

And that might be the actual reason that “Call of Duty” shies away from doing this. It might not be the case that they are merely timid, but rather that these details are too tangential to the game that they really want to make to put the time and effort into doing it right, and doing it wrong will just detract from the game that they really want to make. “The New Colossus”, on the other hand, is utterly unconcerned about doing it right, but instead in doing it in a way that’s over-the-top and lets them pontificate on their own positions without having to insert any kind of nuance or shades of gray into the mix. I’m not saying that’s something that games ought not do. If a game wants to do that, more power to them. I am saying that that is in no way an exploration of any kind of philosophical question that has any complexity to it whatsover, and Extra Creditz are wrong to portray it as such.

Good Player vs Good Character …

May 9, 2018

So, the next video I’m going to look at from Extra Creditz is this one about Nier: Automata and how it promotes kindness through sacrifice. My title, though, is aimed at the fact that Extra Creditz doesn’t seem to separate the character and actions taken by the character from the player and actions taken by the player. They chide most games for, they say, making the player feel like they are good people through things like goodness meters and quests to help people, but since this doesn’t require sacrifice from the player it’s hollow. It’s easy to be good, they argue, if it doesn’t cost you anything and might get you XP, money, extra quests or extra enjoyable encounters if you do it. They then say that NieR Automata pulls off what they call a good way to do that. I’m going to talk about the spoilers they gave in that game — I haven’t played it — and so I’ll put the rest below the fold:


Unpleasant Design …

May 4, 2018

So, the first video that I’m going to look at from Extra Credits in my attempt to do more direct philosophical analysis is this one on Unpleasant Design, which is in fact pretty much just a video about philosophy and not about gaming. I’m going to touch on how this sort of design might impact games at the end, but the thrust of the video is all about real-world cases and applications. In general, it’s about attempts to design things like buildings, benches and all sorts of things in a way that they say “excludes a group of people” but really, in general, is to prevent certain things from happening by making it impossible or unpleasant for people to do those things but without explicitly banning or enforcing a ban on those activities. Their first example is about placing a number of bike racks under a bridge to prevent homeless people from sleeping there, but they also talk about designing park benches so that it’s uncomfortable for people to sleep there or even stay to long, or designing or painting the walls of buildings to discourage people from publicly urinating on them. Their main thrust is that these things are done to hide problems and so the money and effort should be spent on solving the problems and not on these sorts of unpleasant designs.

There’s a philosophical presumption that they don’t really acknowledge built into that, though: that because this targets a group — specifically homeless people — that this design approach itself is a problem rather than the intent. The issue is that even if we accept all of their presumptions about the intent of these things, the design approach itself is actually an ingenious way to achieve a common and natural design goal. No matter what, there are going to be things that a city or an area don’t want people to do in a certain area. They can invoke and enforce bans, but this is generally expensive and intrusive, and can often be confrontational, especially if it’s enforced by law. So, instead, what can be done is design the facilities so that people don’t want to use them for invalid purposes, while still allowing people to use them for valid ones. In the bike rack case, while that was almost certainly primarily useful for not having homeless people sleep there, people surely were indeed able to use them as well. If that was an area where bike racks were needed, it would produce the oft-desired “Kill two birds with one stone” solution, as people would be discouraged from sleeping somewhere they shouldn’t be sleeping, and bicyclists would get access to some much needed bike racks. So, in general, this sort of approach is the preferred way to deal with restricting actions that you don’t want to happen, as it discourages people from doing it without having to utilize massive enforcement resources to do so.

Now, of course it’s the case that at least sometimes the intent of the unpleasant design will be something that is invalid or immoral, but the video doesn’t really ever try to engage with that. There a number of valid reasons why the unpleasant design might be chosen over fixing the underlying problem. Taking the public restroom example, there is an issue that it isn’t as easy as they suggest to simply add more public restrooms. There is a cost involved, they can’t just be placed anywhere, and there’s also an additional maintenance cost to them as they have to be cleaned and potentially restocked on a regular basis (which is generally more than once a day). Simply adding more restrooms might not actually be feasible. Additionally, it’s possible that “having enough public restrooms” would mean having one every ten feet, because the reason that people were not using them wasn’t because they had no option, but because public urination was still more convenient. They might well have been able to walk to the nearest one and wait the length of time they would have to wait, but didn’t want to be bothered when using the side of a building was more convenient. Thus, by making using the side of a building less convenient they tipped the convenience scales towards using the facilities provided. Of course, it might still have been the case that there just weren’t enough public restrooms, but even in that case discouraging public urination was good design, not bad design.

The same thing can apply to the example of stores playing “uncool” music or using a simulated mosquito to discourage young people from using the store or its environs as a hang-out. If young people are not, in general, patrons of your store and just go there to hang out, that’s a problem for your store. It can block aisles and entrances so that your actual customers can’t or can’t be bothered to actually shop there, and can potentially be intimidating (especially since young people hanging out aren’t necessarily polite and respectful either). So if their doing so is likely to cost you business, then you’ll have to do something. You can come out and confront them to shoo them away on a frequent basis, or you can make it less cool for them to hang out there and so encourage them to move to a more appropriate location to hang out. The latter definitely seems to be the better option here, unless they want to claim that those young people should be able to hang out there even if they have no interest in buying anything and even if they are discouraging people who do from shopping there, which would certainly require justification.

Even the airport example could be more complicated than it seems at first glance. Certainly, less seating outside of shops and restaurants will encourage people to sit in the shops and restaurants which means that they’ll do better financially, but again adding more seating isn’t necessarily trivial. If you are in a place with a lot of foot traffic, adding more seating will create potential bottlenecks and force people to weave in and out of the seating to get to where they are going. If they’re in a hurry, then this will create frustration or even accidents, and a host of headaches for the managers. Thus, this “unpleasant design” seems again like a win-win: the shops and restaurants get more business, and it avoids cluttering up the main floor with seating and, in fact, even with people sitting down (because sitting on the floor in uncomfortable). While of course it’s not unreasonable to be cynical and suspect that the financial motive is the bigger driving force here, the counter that they could easily provide enough seating doesn’t really work either. And if they have to restrict seating, then their approach is a valid way to discourage people from doing that without having to directly enforce it.

And even if we accept their notion that the driving force behind the unpleasant design aimed at homeless people is to get them out of sight so that people aren’t bothered, unpleasant design is still a factor because even if you’re concerned about homeless people there are still going to be places where you don’t want them sleeping. If a homeless person decided to camp out at the front of my driveway so that I couldn’t drive out while they’re there, no matter how sympathetic I am to the homeless I’m going to make it clear that sleeping there isn’t an option. In the case of the bridge, since it was slated for demolition it might not have been safe for people to spend large amounts of time underneath it. If homeless people habitually sleep on bus stop or park benches will those be available for people who are waiting for a bus or resting in the park? Heck, even just sitting on those benches for too long is a problem, because if someone camps out there for, say, an entire day that means that no one else can use it that day. And since these things aren’t intended to be places for homeless people to live they couldn’t be used for their intended purpose. Unpleasant design aimed at making sure that they can be used for their intended purpose doesn’t seem quite so sinister when viewed in that light.

And even the cases where public outcry undoes the unpleasant design don’t seem like unvarnished goods. For the most part, all they do is restore one specific workaround for the homeless, but don’t really do anything to address the underlying issues. Yes, those homeless people can stay out of the rain under that bridge … or, at least, they can until it gets demolished. And even then they’re still sleeping under a bridge. And they can sleep on park benches and at bus stops again! I’m sure that that completely and totally thrills them; their life is now complete. The argument they make is that the thrust of these things is to hide the homeless so that those who are not can ignore them, but it seems to me that the campaigns they cite are just as bad, if not worse, as they allow people to feel like they’ve actually done something when, in reality, they haven’t done anything to address the underlying problem. Yes, homeless people have places to sleep again! Too bad that those places aren’t places they would sleep if they had a choice. The ideal approach would be to accept that they don’t want people sleeping there for some reason, but then insist that these people need some place to sleep and demand that something be done about that. As it is, these approaches let people feel like they’ve “helped” when they really haven’t.

So unpleasant design works well when you need to discourage people from doing things but don’t want to outright ban it in a harsh or artificial way. This brings me back to games, because this seems to be something that is great for video games. Video games will always have things that they don’t want their players to do, for various reasons. Instead of adding chest-high walls or invisible barriers, games will profit a lot from simply making it undesirable to take those actions in the first place. To take the bike rack example, if for some reason a game didn’t want players to rest under a bridge in-game, they could add obstructions that have some kind of use but make it impossible to lie down, so that the players can’t rest there no matter how much they might try (as the game keeps saying that you can’t lie down there). Sure, there’s a risk of games doing things simply to exclude a specific group, but if, say, they want to do a game focused on a male audience adding scantily clad female characters might immediately signal that this is such a male-focused game without having to actually say it on the box, like the store example above. And it’s an open question whether a game deciding to exclude a specific identifiable group is in and of itself bad.

Ultimately, the failing here is not separating the design itself from its intent, and so not properly analyzing the actions in light of what was intended. Unpleasant design is generally the right approach if you need to discourage something but don’t want to outright ban it and enforce that ban. For the most part, all of their examples assume that the intent is invalid and proceed to criticize the design on that basis alone, but they end up criticizing the approach because of the cases where the intent of it is at least reasonably invalid. Because of this, they don’t see why even in their examples things are more complicated than they appear, and why there may not be simple better solutions for the problem that they are trying to address. This, then, ends up being a prime example of the problems with shallow philosophy.

Extra Credits Advocates for Philosophy of Gaming …

May 2, 2018

… they just don’t realize that’s what they’re looking for.

Recently, Extra Credits did a video advocating engaging academia in “Impractical Research”, meaning that instead of appealing to mathematics or psychology to try to get specific answers to specific and detailed questions in game design there should be more of a focus on questions that are less directly relevant to a game or games in general but instead address broad issues with games in general. These ranged from the sort of analysis that is done for literature and film to underlying ethical questions about game mechanisms and, presumably, about ethical presentations in games themselves. They also advocated for academia to engage with games with far more academic fields than is done currently.

It sounds to me like what they really want is to get philosophy engaged with games in a formal and perhaps deep way. For the ethical questions, it’s obvious that the go-to academic field for that is indeed philosophy. You aren’t going to find too many better fields if you want ethical questions examined, as even psychology doesn’t really have the focus on determining what it would even mean for something to be ethical or not (and so relies on preconceptions). But the biggest boon to building and promoting a formal and developed Philosophy of Gaming field is that philosophy is a field that is itself inherently academically diverse and interdisciplinary. Philosophy will use any field and talk about any issue in any field that it sees interesting or relevant to something it wants to talk about. For example, while philosophy is not necessarily the go-to field for critical analysis of games, it is a field that might take up the question of how analyzing a game or interactive medium is or has to be different from analyzing a static one. To do so, it’s going to look at all the relevant fields and take comments from them as examples on how to do analysis of a work, and decide what does and doesn’t work. I myself have already, in analyzing Anita Sarkeesian’s work, talked on a number of occasions about how a game being interactive doesn’t have the same sort of impact on a person that it does in a movie, because in an interactive medium the player has to specifically accept the conclusion, while in a static medium they can get sucked into thinking that the world itself just really is that way. This, of course, is a philosophical position, but at least parts of it can be tested with psychology, and philosophy has always been willing to ask the psychologists about things that are relevant to the philosophy, as has been done with ethics and Philosophy of Mind specifically. When I was taking philosophy courses, I learned about results in linguistics, psychology and even neuroscience while discussing mind. Philosophy of Gaming would certainly do the same.

And a number of issues I have with Extra Credits ends up being philosophical ones, or rather cases where they come to invalid philosophical conclusions or, at least, do shallow philosophy about deeper questions. As an example, in this specific video they make reference to their long series on the ethics of loot boxes, which I talked about, or at least I talked about one video, but where my overall impression of the series was that they didn’t ever get around to talking about how to make ethical loot boxes. They gave their view of what good loot boxes do — which I disagreed with — and talked about the legal issues — which I didn’t find all that interesting or relevant to the ethics of loot boxes, beyond setting out the lines they couldn’t cross — but didn’t really find any kind of summary or comment on what an ethical or unethical loot box would be. Thus, it seemed to me that in discussing the ethics of loot boxes they ended up leaving out … a discussion of the actual ethics of loot boxes. This is definitely something that a Philosophy of Gaming could help with.

So, at the end of the day, it seems that what they really should want to do is try to get philosophy engaged with video games and video game design. Given the current climate and how recently — relatively speaking — videos games have evolved into an art form, there’s a lot to talk about philosophically wrt video games, and lots of room for a Philosophy of Gaming to work out what things certain fields should study and what things shouldn’t be, opening up the room for other fields to productively engage with video games as well. I plan, over the next couple of weeks, to look at a number of the Extra Credits videos, looking at them more like a philosophical examination and less just as my own commentary on video games in general. This is convenient because recently they’ve done some fairly straight philosophical work and talked about specific philosophical issues — mostly ethics — with videos that I’ve wanted to comment on anyway, so maybe this is an opportunity for me to show what sorts of things a Philosophy of Gaming can do for video games.