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Discussion Philosophy of Games

Discussion in 'Fiction Discussion' started by FractiousDay, Dec 19, 2016.

  1. What are the philosophical understandings of the world that games operate on?

    For example, Civ has always felt very optimistic. Things continually get better, you expand and settle, and eventually you go to space, all your problems can be solved through technological development.

    Comparably, Paradox games teach you that you can essentially only rely on yourself and that you should always pursue power to protect yourself.

    Another interesting one which I'm not entirely sure of is open world games. It seems to me that the game design in such games, eg, Skyrim, Dragon Age, WoW, means that you can't actually do anything individually. People tell you to go do stuff, and there's rarely a way to say no, either because its required for the plot to progress, or the game just automatically accepts quests. One of my favorite games is New Vegas, because I really liked the ability to play a 100 Speech character who could just convince people to do stuff. Also though, you could kill anyone, derailing the plot. Comparably, Skyrim has very little ability to actually influence events, eg, you can't just go kill Ulfric.

    I'm not sure if I'm asking about game design or game narrative here. Dark Souls is depressing, but the narrative is that you are the chosen person to go do stuff, and that you get more powerful time goes on, which is a pretty standard thing in games. Either way though I thought I'd post this to get discussion going.
  2. I'd argue Paradox's aesop (or philosophy) is more about the dehumanisation that comes with commanding hordes of numbers. you'll routinely oppress minorities and send people marching to death in any game, especially if you want to win.
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  3. Ford Prefect

    Ford Prefect What is Project Zohar? Director

    Civ is all about conquest and dominance, imo.
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  4. galahad

    galahad Seeker of Truths

    Way i see Paradox gramd strategy is about limits of rulership. More you expand harder it gets, you are not commanding perfect automatons as subjects. You are also not the hero who will win. Its the opppsite of god games where you have great control and play to win.
  5. Acatalepsy

    Acatalepsy Firewall Proxy Moderator

    The Diamond Age
    I don't know about conquest exactly - recent civ games in particular tend to build in mechanics designed to prevent lots of conquest, with varying degrees of success. But it certainly has a zero-sum aspect to it, and very nationalistic assumptions baked into it. Campster sums it up pretty well:

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  6. Nikkolas


    Texas, US
    Legacy of Kain operates in ethical dilemmas and moral relativism. Everything you think is right turns out to be wrong and your heroes become villains.
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  7. Yes I would agree with the second, specifically if your speaking literally about it being about conquest. It's incredibly difficult to do war in the early to midgame of Civ 5.

    I suppose you're right if you mean conquest figuratively, like the cultural victory is a cultural conquest.

    That's an interesting point, but I'm not sure its applicable for all of them. CK2 certainly, but EU4 and HOI4, and Cities:Skylines certainly allow for a massive amount of control. Particularly things like HOI4 where you can control your own state to such a massive level of detail, research, industry, and things like the individual divisions
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  8. Nikkolas


    Texas, US
    Final Fantasy X deals with justified sacrifice and whether or not it's moral to expect someone to die to protect a bunch of other people.

    I have no idea what school of philosophy this might touch on. Ethics again?
  9. Ethics is all about evaluating choices, so yes.
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  10. Just general utilitarianism I imagine. Fallout 3 did a lot of that with who you choose to go into the chamber at the end. I thought it was stupid when I had Fawkes next to be and hes all 'its your destiny, I cant do it even though Im immune'
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  11. Nikkolas


    Texas, US
    What school of philosophy would it count as to put the modified FEV in there while sacrificing yourself to do it? (it's what I did. I made a mistake and thought it made sense as a way to kill the Super Mutants. Alas, such drastic measures were not necessary)
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  12. Still some form of consequentialism/utilitarianism I think, though you could discuss it in terms of normative ethics. President-Computer tells you it will kill anything mutated, and he thinks you were born inside a vault. I can't remember if he knows it will kill you or not. So in one case you are accepting that mutated people will die as well as mutants and ghouls and stuff, in which case you are making a judgement about their value. In the other case you're sacrificing yourself for the greater utility of having unmutated people live.

    I've always considered the Fallout series a fascinating study of the state of nature though, for instance people forming mutual covenants for protection against others. Or how contracts are enforced without a arbitrator like a state.
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  13. Nikkolas


    Texas, US
    I would imagine all of your decisions in Fallout still pertain to Ethics, though? It's all about deciding the value of life and the greater good.

    Then again, Political Philosophy is a thing and that's at play in New Vegas....what is civilization and how much is it worth. What course are you setting for humanity.
  14. Yes I think it would be particularly difficult to have a game about physics (natural philosophy) or meta-ethics, and political philosophy is just 'what should one do - politically?' rather than in general.

    Regarding political philosophy though its probably one of the most present types of philosophy in gaming and in media in general. Particularly as you say in New Vegas. There's some interesting stuff about the Legion there for example, the Burned Man is worried about making the While Legs too militant, which clashes with the requirements of war. So:

    We are at war
    We should therefore try to be good at war
    Being good at war is bad
    White Legs are supposed to be peaceful and stuff

    It's a pretty basic rendering of Aristotle's telos, but that's basically it. As another example:

    I am a Courser
    I should therefore do what a Courser does
    The best Coursers do what Coursers do well
    I should do Coursering to the best of my ability

    But then if they have the capacity to comprehend this they possess logos, meaning they're not just a Courser anymore. Would have been cool to see one of them have a philosophical breakdown because they start thinking about their own existence.
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  15. Well, whitewolf games usually have this.
  16. I saw a very good post on how the original Fallout game was - whether intentionally or not - a condemnation of violence in media. Specifically right here.
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  17. prometheus110

    prometheus110 Join Cayman-Global & be part of the 1E-9 percent!

    Yeah, by their very nature 4X games are pretty much inherently colonialist games.

    To add my 2 cents to this topic and to throw out a series that isn't usually discussed whenever this is brought up, Mass Effect —especially Mass Effect 3— has a really big undercurrent of civilian governments being useless and the military being the only ones who are effective. This theme is much less obvious in Mass Effect than it is in Call of Duty: Infinite (which has the player character and their mentor outright state that the military should be in charge and not civilians), but it is present and is weird when you think about it.
  18. I think that this is a political stance that is arguably baked into the first-person-shooter genre. When you resolve all your problems by shooting lots of dehumanized enemies, the political implications are inescapable. At best, you can contrast two semiotic structures (narrative and gameplay) built into a shooter, but the basic assumptions of the genre don't really go away.
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  19. I mean, the CoD MW series kind of makes the exact opposite argument though, that the checks and balances on the political side are what keep the world sane.
  20. ehhhh... That's debatable. Like I said, the actual story of any game is, at best, half of the game's actual message. The gameplay doesn't encourage anything resembling "restraint" by the player or their allies, as far as I'm aware (disclaimer: I'm not really an expert in any CoD games). Regardless of how what narrative set pieces you use, the actual gameplay content of those games seem to amount to "if you shoot enough people, good things happen!"
  21. Except guns and war creating the problems in the first place is heavily pushed throughout the gameplay. The first game's ride to execution, the nuke, No Russian; while the game is shooting people a huge point is that it's a pointless cycle of violence that's only going on because some assholes won't let it go
  22. Cetashwayo

    Cetashwayo Lord of Ten Thousand Years Magistrate On Leave Commission Artist

    Across the Horizon
    In my entire life playing Civ I almost never really invaded people. I just expanded really fast and by doing so allowed myself to REX out and just chill until I won one victory or another. Civ isn't Risk.
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  23. Hykal94

    Hykal94 The Kitteh Knight of Islam

    Errant Signal's old video still being relevant.
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  24. Except all the things you list are narrative elements of the game. A video game is way more than just the story that it tells you. If we were discussing a novel with a plot identical to CoD, I'd agree with you, no doubt. But the fact remains that experiencing a book or movie and playing a game are two very different experiences, and you have to understand them differently.

    There's an awesome essay by Gonzalo Frasca that discusses the distinction between games and narratives.

    If you're not interested in reading the whole article, his thesis is this:

    "The central argument that I will explore is that, unlike traditional media, video games are not just based on representation but on an alternative semiotical structure known as simulation. Even if simulations and narrative do share some common elements –character, settings, events– their mechanics are essentially different. More importantly, they also offer distinct rhetorical possibilities."

    This is a key distinction. CoD is not solely a NARRATIVE about war, it's a war SIMULATION. You raise good points about the narrative that CoD games present, but what do the rules of the simulation tell us about war? Stripped of the overall narrative trappings, and reduced to merely the gameplay and the basic iconography, what is CoD about?

    I'd argue that the mechanics of CoD valorize the same kind of pointless warmongering that it's narrative seems to condemn. Remember, the essence of the shooter game is that to succeed, you kill. The obstacles in CoD are men with guns, and you overcome the obstacles through violence. The mechanics of CoD don't allow for any other outcome.

    It's tough to take a game's hand wringing about the cycle of violence and the pointlessness of killing at face value when the gameplay rewards you based on how efficiently you exterminate your fellow man.
  25. Hykal94

    Hykal94 The Kitteh Knight of Islam

    "My idea is to explore more of the world and more of the ethics of a post-nuclear world, not to make a better plasma gun."
    - Tim Cain on Fallout.

    "It just works."
    - Our Lord and Saviour on Fallout 4.
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