Virtual Worlds and Video Games in Philosophy Teaching

Virtual Worlds and Video Games in Philosophy Teaching


Do any of you use virtual worlds or video games in your teaching of philosophy, and if so, how? In conversation the other day a colleague expressed an interest in creating a virtual world in which an epidemic was taking place, and having students immerse themselves in it to learn about addressing some of the various ethical challenges that confront agents in such situations. I am curious if others have tried something like this, or have made use of these kinds of technologies in other ways in their teaching, what was learned, what the students thought of the idea, whether it was worth it, what apps or technology you used, and so on. Thanks.

(art: screenshot from 8-Bit Philosophy)

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Benjamin Yelle
Benjamin Yelle
6 years ago

At the University of Miami another graduate student and I have been working on developing an “Introduction to Philosophy through Video Games” course. The motivation behind this course is the idea that while we might not be able to stick students into the Matrix, or have them actively question and act upon whether they have free will, we CAN assign video games in which their characters do these very things. While this is all in the planning stages a few ideas we have had include: “The Stanley Parable” for Free-Will/The Meaning of Life, “Papers Please” for Social Contract Theory and some other social/political/ethical issues. Finally, we are toying with the having students create an avatar with a gender different from the one they identify with in, say, a game like “Second Life,” to explore Butler’s idea that gender is performative. This is all very much in the planning phases, but we believe that while everyone loves to talk about how philosophical movies are/can be, attention hasn’t been given to some of the really philosophically rich video games out there.Report

Jere Surber
6 years ago

I’ve been teaching an all-online course called ‘Philosophy and Video Games’ for about four years now. It has sections on metaphysics (possible worlds), epistemology (matrix scenarios), ethics (violence and ‘karma systems’); NPCs and AI, avatars and personal identity, digital ontology and design (esp. freee will issues); VGs potential as aesthetic and philosophical medium; political roles and function of VGs. It covers a lot of territory but functions mainly as an introduction for undergrads. It’s fully enrolled within 10 or 15 minutes of opening and has gotten very high reviews. I’ve been running it on Blackboard but will soon be switching to Canvas (institutional decision, not my own, pluses and minuses for both). So far, integrating VGs and philosophy seems to work very well, I highly recommend trying it and plan to continue developing my course.Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
6 years ago

Justin, for your particular situation I highly recommend getting them to play Pandemic. One has to make hard choices about whether to help ‘people’ or focus on winning the game (which requires ‘curing’ diseases but sometimes at the cost of people getting sick and outbreaks spreading). It’s interesting. A common way that people lose is by focusing on ‘helping’ people and losing focus on the win conditions of the game. It’s also a fully cooperative game, which is nice for class dynamics.Report

Ben Serber
Ben Serber
6 years ago

One game that I’ve thought of using for these purposes is Bastion. I feel like you can get a lot of ethical (and maybe metaethical) mileage, and probably also personal identity stuff out of the choice at the end. (Spoilers) Genocide or suicide? Is ‘rebooting the universe’ really suicide? Conversely, is not rebooting really genocide? What the heck should the Kid’s moral commitments be here? Fun stuff. The main downside of using Bastion pedagogically is that the end choice doesn’t have the emotional ‘grab’ to really engage without playing through the whole game first. Not sure if there’s a way around that.Report

Murat Yucel
6 years ago

There are some flash games which will make you question life itself. Some PC games are also reviewed as philosophical. Like BioShock Series, Deus Ex, From Dust, Godus, Multiwinia, Osmos, Papers, Please; The Stanley Parable. I have always wondered, if we are in a game. Will Wright says so. He made The Sims from this idea. Watch Morgan Freeman and Through the Wormhole for that. Deleuze and Baudrillard commented on virtual reality. Zizek talks about video games and “so on”.Report

Ian Schnee
Ian Schnee
6 years ago

In my logic class students learn how to implement truth functions in electrical circuits and they learn how to link them up to build a two-bit binary adder. I then use Minecraft to show them the logic gates and adders in action, to complement the functional diagrams. For their problem set that week they have a few problems that they can do in Minecraft or with pen and paper.Report

Ben Serber
Ben Serber
6 years ago

Spacechem is also great for building and solving similar systems.Report