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Philosophy and Video Games

Course Description

In the space of about five decades, video games have evolved from rudimentary programs to a new and sophisticated form of popular art which supports a multi-billion Euro industry. This course will explore a range of metaphysical, aesthetic, ethical, and phenomenological questions concerning video games. For example, what are video games? Are there clear necessary and sufficient conditions an artifact must meet to determine whether it is or is not a video game? Are video games art? If so, what kind? Should games be understood as a kind of fiction? Assuming they are, can we understand video game fictions in the same manner as we do e.g. novels, or are they unique in some way? Frequently, video games are said to be interactive – playing a game involves a kind of active participation from the player that seems different from what’s involved in merely passively watching a film. But how exactly should we understand this notion of interactivity?

Furthermore, there are ethical concerns that emerge when we think about video games. Specifically, what is the moral significance of video gaming? Grand Theft Auto 5 is notorious for its violent content and sexual themes, and in it the player controls characters that are quite obviously morally vicious, if not down-right evil. It is undeniable then, that GTAV involves its players in fictionally immoral activities. Even so, can (and should) gamers be morally blamed for what they do in a fictional world? Some also think games like GTAV are genuinely psychologically and behaviorally injurious to their players. But is this right? Do violent video games desensitize, if not out-right incline, players to violence? Relatedly, several recent feminist critics have raised concerns about the male-centric production and consumption of video games, arguing that games promote and support harmful conceptions of women. Granting this, how should games be changed? And what would a properly feminist video game look like?

Here, we’ll aim to address many of these questions. As this is an advanced course, a minimal familiarity with basic philosophical concepts and notions will be pre-supposed. Further, because they feature as both central example and topic, some familiarity with video games is expected. Alongside weekly readings, students are asked to complete small question sets and, on occasion, short video or game assignments, where students will be asked to either watch a short video or play through a portion of a game.

Course Materials

Further Materials

Regarding writing philosophy papers, I strongly suggest following:

Further, the following German texts – all written by Christian Folde – are all useful: