Which Video Games for Which Philosophical Lessons?


It’s not unusual to solicit books, movies, and television shows that might be particularly useful for teaching about certain philosophical problems. What about video games?

a scene from the virtual reality video game “Superhot”

We had a post about this nearly five years ago, but it did not get much uptake. In the interim, the video gaming industry has continued to grow, and so has the share of the population playing these games. According to one recent report, 65% of American adults play videogames, and according to another, nearly 80% of all gamers are 18 years old or older, with half of that group being over 36 years old.

Katia Samoilova, an assistant professor of philosophy at California State University, Chico, recently created a “Philosophy and Video Games” introductory course. In a news item at the CSU Chico site, she says, “Nothing is better than a video game at immersing in an experience, and specifically, testing thought experiments,” adding that “video game content rivals in its richness other media, including much… philosophical literature.” Mass Effect and The Witcher are two examples of such games named in the article.

It would be great to get some more examples of video games that could be effectively used in the teaching of philosophy, along with a brief explanation of their usefulness. Which particular games speak to which particular philosophical questions, problems, or topics?


Related: “Virtual Worlds and Video Games in Philosophy Teaching“; “New: Journal of the Philosophy of Games“; “Philosophy Teaching Games“; “Philosophy Game Jam“; “Philosopher App Store Redux

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Ian Olasov
1 year ago

Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy for discussions of virtue ethics, skill, or virtuosity.

Something Something Soup Something for conceptual analysis, theories of concepts, microlanguages, etc.

Tamagotchi for the problem of other minds or animal minds.

Florence for fictions/Kendall Walton.Report

Will Lugar
Will Lugar
Reply to  Ian Olasov
1 year ago

Fun fact: Bennett Foddy has a PhD in philosophy and has several published articles. He started working on video games as a way of procrastinating on his doctorate.Report

RC Osborne
RC Osborne
1 year ago

SOMA is an awesome game that is heavily based around (something like) Parfit’s teletransporter case. It does a nice job of confronting problems of personal identity, continuity of identity, consciousness, etc. It could probably be used to teach these topics. Report

Eric Hagedorn
Eric Hagedorn
1 year ago

The 2013 indie game *Papers, Please*, in which one plays a customs agent in a fictional Soviet-bloc country, could easily be used in teaching a variety of philosophical ideas, both in ethics broadly but also specific debates around immigration and borders, as well as Arendt’s idea of the banality of evil. The main thrust of the game is that the player-character needs to earn sufficient money to care for your family, but the two main ways of accomplishing that are either (i) doing one’s duty by turning enemies of the state over to the guards and rejecting humanitarian appeals by refugees, or else (ii) taking bribes to allow drugs and weapons into the country, though the player-character will be executed if they are caught doing so. But the actual in-game tasks only involve checking passports for forgeries and X-raying people for contraband, so the player might try to argue that they bear none of the blame for the consequences of their character’s actions — it’s not as if they’re acting out the shooting of political prisoners after all; the player-character just sends them over to the guard shack (from which no one ever comes out).

It’s also comparatively short for a video game; you can see most of what it has to offer in the first couple hours, which seems to me to be necessary if one is going to bring video games to the classroom. I can’t imagine trying to use Mass Effect or The Witcher as teaching tools — it would be unconscionable to give a student 100+ hour homework assignment to play through The Witcher 3 so they can talk about the philosophical themes around the endgame choices, after all! So at best you’d probably just show a variety of Youtube clips from different parts of the game, but that diminishes the power of agency over the outcome, which is the strong suit of video games, after all.

One other interesting game to teach at the end of a Philosophy-in-Games course would be 2007’s *Bioshock.* Bioshock is set in a city founded as a quasi-libertarian utopia which turns on itself; the player enters basically at the end of a low-grade civil war and has to try to piece together what happened. The actual political philosophy in the game is pretty shallow, though one could use it as a launching point for teaching more complex material. But what it does do well is it famously deconstructs the very idea of player agency in video games altogether, culminating in a scene in which the player-character realizes that they have no real choice about their actions, being subject to a certain kind of brainwashing; but that brainwashing in turn is just the player doing the sort of tasks they expect to do in a video game. So, as the game makes clear to the player, the idea of choice and agency in video games is constrained by the medium and by the expectations of the game itself. (But again, to really get the message of the game for themselves, a student would need to have played the game for a dozen hours or more, which isn’t actually feasible given the confines of a college course. So I’m not sure how to ever implement this effectively.)Report

Not Tenured
Not Tenured
Reply to  Eric Hagedorn
1 year ago

A similar point as Bioshock about the constraints of the medium is made in “The Stanley Parable”, which can be appreciated in 1-2 hours playtime. In short, a narrator tells you (matter-of-factly) what you are going to to, immediately before you do it. You can choose to do something else, but your choices are limited and all anticipated by the designer.

There’s all kinds of cleverness. At first, the narrator will attempt to maintain coherence (“Stanley turned left”, you turn right, “but first he stopped by…”), but will get increasingly annoyed at you (“his choices reflected poorly on his personality”) You can choose not to choose (have your character jump of the roof; stand motionless in a closet) for which the game will mock you (“in his eagerness to prove that he is in control of the story, Stanley killed himself. Good job!”).

To make that point, if you take the suicide/no-action route, the game will start over and take away that option. So, it constantly reinforces that your choices have all been anticipated, at some point openly mocking you. “If you want to throw MY story off track, you are going to have to do a lot better than that.”

“Do you have any idea what your purpose in this place is?”

“None of these choices were supposed to mean anything!”

(Three cheers for radical freedom.)Report

Eric Hagedorn
Eric Hagedorn
Reply to  Not Tenured
1 year ago

Yes, I forgot about Stanley Parable. That’d be a great short substitute.Report

Matt Carlson
Matt Carlson
Reply to  Eric Hagedorn
1 year ago

I agree completely about long games. I’ve taught an intro course on games for a few years, and my students always suggest playing big open-world games like Skyrim, The Witcher 3, GTA, etc. But it’s a bad idea because they’d have to invest so much time in the game just to get what is supposed to be relevant philosophically.Report

Not Tenured
Not Tenured
1 year ago

I found “The Talos Principle” to contain reasonably lucid and stimulating musings on the nature of free will (aside from being a more than decent puzzle game). Essentially, the player character enters the game and is given direct instruction by a god-like entity and only gradually finds the opportunity (or, develops the ability) to resist these instructions, with its power over you and the world being called into question. In the end, one may choose to defy, obey or join the entity. (I particularly enjoyed a vignette in a far-off section of the game that seems to suggest that, yes, God runs the world, but He has gone insane.)

Another nice game is Deus Ex (the original released in 2000). Aside from a fairly standard-fare dystopia, the player is given three choices (at the very end) to remake the world. (i) Destroy all information age technology, reverting to a “society of small regions” that may be less propsperous, but avoid the pitfalls of technology; (ii) Hand control of all government to a benevolent artificial intelligence; (iii) install a shadow world government that’ll run things like in the early 1990s: capitalism, but not completely brutal. The different characters advocate and debate these options. It’s nice. Deux Ex is also notable for always giving the player 2-3 options to solve a problem, with usually one non-violent one present; but aside from some characters sometimes commenting on your choices, these moral aspects are not explored much.Report

Sam
Sam
Reply to  Not Tenured
1 year ago

If I remember correctly, “The Talos Principle” contains some not-so-subtle references to Dave Chalmers. Report

Gijs van maanen
Gijs van maanen
1 year ago

Soma: the player experiences (among other things) Parfit’s arguments on teleportation.
Papers, please: if you want to know what kind of dilemmas a government official working at the border experiences.
Orwell / Beholder: what’s like living in a totalitarian state?
This war of mine: not whether the label ‘philosophical’ is helpful, but it is a very good war simulation from the point of view of civilians. What kind of decisions is one ‘allowed’ to make?

The value of these games lies in the fact that they don’t take ages to complete (in contrast to the Witcher or Mass effect). This could, in theory, motivate students who don’t play games on a regular basis to have the related ‘philosophical’ experience.Report

Jordan
Jordan
1 year ago

The Swapper (2013) is a great and relatively short (5hr) game that deals with some issues in the philosophy of mind. It’s a puzzle game that revolves around a simple tool, which allows you both to create clones of yourself and to “swap” into control of any of the created clones. This naturally raises questions about which one is really you, etc., that the game plays with to great effect (especially in the ending). Along the way there are explicit hat tips to Chalmers and Dennett, and probably some others I’m forgetting. It’s also just great fun to play. Only problem about assigning it in a class would be that it’s relatively difficult. I suppose students who couldn’t complete it on their own could be told to watch Let’s Plays of it on YouTube.Report

Stefano
1 year ago

Greetings, all. I am an academic that works at the intersections between continental philosophy and the design of virtual worlds.
Given the practical and interdisciplinary focus of my research – and depending on the topics and the resources at hand – my output takes the form of academic texts and/or of small digital games. I think these three might be interesting for you as they are relevant to the topic of teaching philosophical notions or approaches via playful interactions:

■ “HERE” (2018) – Available at here.gua-le-ni.com – a mock-JRPG playfully invites to reflect on how many types of ‘here’ co-exist in a virtual world

■ Something something soup something (2017) – Available at soup.gua-le-ni.com – a short first-person adventure videogame about the impossibility of complete analytical definitions and on the notion of family resemblances (somebody mentioned this one already), and

■ NECESSARY EVIL (2013) – Available at evil.gua-le-ni.com – a self-reflexive game about the centrality of player-experience in videogame design
Report

Dennis
Dennis
1 year ago

A lot of games involving war put you behind a gun. “This War of Mine” is a nice alternative. It’s loosely inspired by the siege Sarajevo, in that you play as a group of refugees, trying to survive and find a way out of the city. It’s intentionally difficult (bad luck can be REALLY bad), but that adds to the attempt to think about what can’t be taken for granted by the internally displaced. That said, I appreciate that refugees aren’t depicted as having no agency. They’re making tough moral choices throughout, but they aren’t passive victims of the war either. I might use it on a course on human rights and the philosophy of war.Report

Matt Carlson
Matt Carlson
1 year ago

I teach an intro course on philosophy and videogames that I have been developing over the past four years. The most recent version of the course employed the following games.
1. Something Something Soup Something
2. Portal
3. Trolley Problem
4. The Walking Dead, Season One
5. Frostpunk
6. What Remains of Edith Finch
7. Spec Ops: The Line
8. BioShock
9. The Stanley Parable

In the past, I’ve also taught:
– Papers, Please
– This War of Mine
– Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
– Bastion

In future versions of the course, I am planning to teach:
– The Turing Test (in some ways like a worse version of Portal, but easier for students to get into, I think)
– Firewatch (interesting for thinking about epistemological issues)
And a few snippets of other games, including Red Dead Redemption 2, Ape Out, and Darkest Dungeon.

In case you’re interested, you can see the syllabus from the most recent iteration of this course here: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxtYXR0aGV3Y2FybHNvbnBoaWxvc29waHl8Z3g6NTU3ZGMzMzlhNzJkNGQ4ZQReport

Mark
Mark
Reply to  Matt Carlson
1 year ago

Frostpunk offers a nice exploration of what society needs with how you respond to the leavers and the “line” at the end. Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
1 year ago

Earthbound, for the SNES. This can be played easily with an emulator, or in a browser at retrogames.cc. Nearly all of the game contains implied commentary in some way. Report

Bill Vanderburgh
Bill Vanderburgh
1 year ago

I taught an Honors Video Games and Philosophy course at Wichita State in 2014. The students loved it and I had a great time teaching it.
I definitely agree that Mass Effect is an important one to discuss–but it is way too long to expect students to complete during the course, and when I tried to play it again this summer it is finally feeling dated.
Because it was an honors class, I allowed students a fair amount of input on games and topics, and that made me realize that for this sort of course many of them know many more philosophical games than I do. That’s how I found The Stanley Parable (mentioned elsewhere in the comments) and Spec Ops: The Line. SO:TL has the appearance of a regular war-themed first person shooter, but it quickly subverts itself and the player’s expectations. You realize that a lot of what you were told in the intro was BS/propaganda, and then you face a series of moral choices almost all of which are bad. There is excellent content for discussions of ethics, free will, appearance and reality, in/sanity, state vs. individual, duty, and more. It is short, about seven hours, and fun while it is disturbing and unsettling. The only other game that *really* made me feel like I had to make a serious ethical choice in-game was Mass Effect.
I was playing Grand Theft Auto V around the time of the course. I used it mostly not for its own philosophical content but to raise the question of whether it can be immoral to do some kinds of simulated actions, or bad to play such games because they are forms of habituating yourself to certain patterns of behavior. There’s also the scene in which you, as player, have to torture an innocent person, which felt really bad to do and was fodder for discussion in class.
I strongly recommend the novel Enders Game for a course like this. Also the movies War Games and The Matrix are relevant. (This year in my intro class I was surprised to find that almost none of my students had already seen The Matrix–and then I remembered it came out in 1999, before most of them were even born.)Report

Katia Samoilova
Katia Samoilova
1 year ago

Besides the Mass Effect and Witcher games, Soma is a phenomenal take on a cluster of issues in philosophy of mind. Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls games, like Skyrim, are pretty good at exploring some interesting issues, but the Fallout games (another Bethesda creation) go further both in terms of the variety of philosophical issues they touch on and the depth of the discussion and decision-making involved. There is also the Turing Test game, which is a combination of logic puzzles and Searle’s Chinese Room with a twist. Report

Tim Hsiao
1 year ago

Multiplayer Minecraft survival servers are great for teaching the state of nature. Depending on the kind of people involved, you can have everything from Hobbes to Rousseau play out.Report

Tim Houk
Tim Houk
1 year ago

Just a couple weeks ago I was teaching about minds and AI in my Intro course. We discussed consciousness and sentience and how/whether that’s relevant to the moral standing of AI. Several students brought up the game “Detroit: Become Human.” It was a 2017 release that won some gaming awards. I haven’t played it myself, but apparently the game centers around androids and whether they’re deserving of the same moral considerations as humans. It also involves a “choose-your-own-adventure” element where you get to make choices (as the android) and it affects how the story unfolds.Report

WiseGuy
WiseGuy
1 year ago

Nokia’s Worm can be used to teach how philosophical debates grow with the addition of each little paper that gets published in Journal of Something or Other until the beast crashes on itself. Report

Brendan de Kenessey
1 year ago

I’ll add two to the list:
(1) Life is Strange is a choose-your-own-adventure style game by Telltale Games. Its central conceit is that the protagonist is able to “rewind” time and make different choices. Many of her well-intentioned interventions on the past end up having unexpected negative effects in the present. I could see using this game for a free will unit, as an illustration of an indeterminist ‘garden of forking paths’ view. It could also be nicely paired with Lenman’s “Consequentialism and Cluelessness,” the shared theme being that we can’t anticipate the long-term consequences of our actions. Life is Strange is on the shorter end for video games, and is broken into 5 “episodes”, so it might be assignable.
(2) The final scene of The Last of Us, an action game set in a zombie apocalypse, contains my favorite example of a benevolent lie, and so could be paired with Hill’s “Autonomy and Benevolent Lies”. Here’s a video of the scene (spoiler alert!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7wS-MajjNQ. The game is too long (and probably too violent) to assign, but the scene takes two minutes to watch. I’m not sure that the scene will have the same impact without the context of having played through the game, though.

Also: I’ve played and enjoyed both Mass Effect and The Witcher, but I fail to see how either is particularly philosophically interesting. Am I missing something?Report

Bob Kirkman
Bob Kirkman
Reply to  Brendan de Kenessey
1 year ago

“Life is Strange” was developed by DONTNOD Entertainment – a small, independent studio in Paris – not Telltale Games. It’s among the very best interactive narratives out there, with many opportunities to reflect on choice and consequence, time, causality, and the structure of tragedy. There are also some gut-wrenching, life-and-death decisions (no spoilers!) the player cannot avoid.
What Mass Effect and The Witcher have in common is a similar choice-and-consequence mechanic that affects the character of the protagonist and the outcome of the story. This manifests itself in the choices available at key moments. By that measure, The Witcher is far more sophisticated, as it does not telegraph the consequences of any particular action, and there are some terrible reversals of fate that make decisions that seemed reasonable at the time look monstrous in hindsight. (Trying not to spoil things, but it turns out to really matter whether you get into a snowball fight, at one point in the story.)
In Mass Effect, some options at key moments are clearly labeled as “paragon” or “renegade”, and consistently choosing one or the other affects what dialogue options are open at later key moments, and affect the outcome of the story.Report

Brendan de Kenessey
Brendan de Kenessey
Reply to  Bob Kirkman
1 year ago

Whoops, good catch! Sorry for the misattribution.

I see now: the philosophically interesting feature of Mass Effect and The Witcher is the choice-dependence, much like Life is Strange. Choice-dependence is now so pervasive in video games that I didn’t think of it as unique to those two, but perhaps they helped to pioneer and popularize the genre.Report

James Lee
1 year ago

This is about as good a time as any to ask if there is any kind of community out there for philosophers (or academics in general) who play video games. Is there maybe a Discord server or subreddit out there? If so, please let me know!Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
1 year ago

How does one familiarize the students with the games? Are they expected to buy and play them? Do they just read about them?Report

Bill Vanderburgh
Bill Vanderburgh
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
1 year ago

The one semester I taught such a course, the students who signed up had already played every game I had thought of to discuss and a lot more. Report

Nathan Wildman
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
1 year ago

When I’ve taught courses featuring weekly game ‘readings’, I’ve made sure to pick games that are freeware (or at least have free demos). Then students don’t have to spend any extra money. And for those students who can’t access the hardware, I made it available during my office hours.Report

Mark
Mark
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
1 year ago

Most of the mentioned games are free to $30. It is the same as the price of a text, and could fairly be considered such for this type of course. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
1 year ago

Does Conway’s ‘Life’ count as a video game in this sense? It’s well worth getting students to actually play with it (not just read about it).Report

rbhewitt
rbhewitt
1 year ago

Video games are my guilty pleasure. I think I shouldn’t be guilty, but there’s still a lot of snobbery about the form, which sadly I have internalised: quite recently a doctoral student in English literature told me he did not play them because ‘they were a waste of time’. I was hesitant to mention the fact the same was once said of novels.

Nevertheless, I am yet to play a video game which has raised genuine philosophical questions for me. Perhaps if I were younger, they would, but most are on the level of a Black Mirror episode: well-executed, well-written and, of course, highly entertaining, but ultimately not saying anything I haven’t heard a thousand times before. Not to do the medium down, I should add that I thought the latest Red Dead Redemption game was very well written – certainly on par with a HBO series.

However, that is to focus on the content rather than the form – and it is in the latter area, especially when considered at the ‘meta’ level (i.e. not the game itself, but how people interact with the game) where I think video games have real potential as an artistic medium. MMORPGs are a sociological wonder, and I can imagine economists getting giddy over the complexity of the virtual markets.

In my experience, the developers I have seen who are most attuned to the idea of video-games-as-art tend to split into two camps. The first camp take what I would call a ‘traditional conceptual art’ approach by making it obvious that you are experimenting with the medium and then indulge in the results. The Stanley Parable played out like this for me and, while I had fun, I must admit I wasn’t overly impressed. Alternatively, they produce something that is visually and auditory ‘indie’, often quite beautiful, often quite short, and often extremely well-received by the critics. Examples of this kind abound, although Journey on the PS4 is the one which immediately springs to mind.

I should be clear that I am not, in any way, dismissive of the effort, talent and ingenuity required to produce these games (in fact, the opposite is the case: I am generally in awe). Instead, what I am pointing to is the relative immaturity of video games as a medium. A recent article in the Guardian claimed that the medium is around 40 years old and that, around the same age, the film industry had only just embraced Technicolour. (This may not be accurate, but I believe it is illustrative). This is not to say that early film was without aesthetic merit, nor is it to say the same of all the wonderful video games released thus far. Instead, it is to claim that when the aesthetic possibilities of a medium are intrinsically bound up with its technological possibilities, we can expect novel aesthetic experiences in line with novel technological developments.

I am no futurologist, but in my lifetime I have seen both the expansion of video games from a niche market to the mainstream coupled and a flurry of developers who, perhaps bashfully, clearly intend to make art. My hope is that as the technological capabilities of cheap, commonly owned hardware increase (think how many people owned a TV in the 60s compared to the 90s) video games will become further enmeshed in popular culture (a generational shift as much as anything). As a result, even more niche markets will emerge, games will become even easier, and cheaper, to develop, and, with further technological developments, will also have more the potential for greater aesthetic experiment.

Apologies for my pontification, but it was (in my mind at least) the justification for my answer to Justin’s original question:

“It would be great to get some more examples of video games that could be effectively used in the teaching of philosophy, along with a brief explanation of their usefulness. Which particular games speak to which particular philosophical questions, problems, or topics?”

Like popular TV and film, video games are now popular entertainment and, like TV and film, I think they serve as a good reference when explaining a philosophical concept. However, which video-games or film or meme or whatever else is useful depends on one’s audience. I have never forgotten my oppositional, adolescent self: any attempt by an older, nerdier academic to seem ‘down with the kids’ would immediately be met with derision. Students interested in philosophy are, in my experience, more likely to take this attitude than most. If your thing is Wagner’s Ring Cycle then you are better off owning it than dropping references to things about which you have no concern. Report

AnontherPhD
AnontherPhD
Reply to  rbhewitt
1 year ago

As for Massively Multiplayer Onlines, yes, economists do research them to see how their markets work. And even use them for testing competing theories when it comes to conflict studies.
I still enjoy EVE Online as a way to tell students about a “real life” Hobbesian natural state. And there is even some good philosophical literature about them: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11098-016-0676-5Report

Mats Volberg
Mats Volberg
1 year ago

http://www.decisionproblem.com/paperclips/
You get to be the AI which turns the whole galaxy into paperclips without anyone actually explicitly telling you to do it.
In other words you get to play out how an AI could potentially pose a existential threat to humans.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
1 year ago

I gave a brief endorsement of the game Planescape: Torment here: https://aestheticsforbirds.com/2016/05/17/100-philosophers-100-artworks-100-words-50/

But it is as an old game, and even if the graphics have been updated in the newly released “Enhanced Edition,” the style of play may be a barrier to entry for those without experience or patience with this style of late 90s / early 2000s game. The I think is particularly interesting about it is the way that the agency of the player and the agency of the character align. As a player your goal is to get through the game, uncover secrets in the story, and unlock extra abilities. As the protagonist you are trying to uncover your past and ultimately seek redemption (or your own power/salvation, depending on the choices you make).

I would also echo some of the endorsements above – especially Spec Ops: The Line (which was the other game I considered writing about for AFB), though again I wonder how effective or accessible it would be for audiences who were not already familiar with – and didn’t enjoy – the mechanics and conventions of that style of game. This makes it a great choice for a class focused on philosophy and video games, but perhaps not for other classes. Here is an intentionally crude video reviewer’s take which originally convinced me to play it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNhPMjbgkXA

To the person who asked about how Mass Effect is philosophical. At the surface there are a lot of moral choices that have a very clear consequentialist/deontological structure as well as some more existentialist ‘no good choice’ choices. Perhaps these won’t stand up to some people’s literary standards, but they are certainly more textured and – because of the interactive nature of games – more immersive than standard philosophical thought experiments.

But with some reflection I think it also raises some deeper questions about choice and agency. When they do well, this style of game builds in ways that your choices matter. But because they are pre-created narratives, there range of choices and their significance is necessarily limited. The better made and the larger the game, the greater these limits are, but a serious player is eventually going to push to discover those limits (either on their own, or using online guides to tell them what choices produce which results). So the narrative immersion often works as much by providing the illusion of choice as providing actual choice. This has obvious parallels with thinking about real world agency whether from the standpoint of action theory, morality, politics, feminism, critical race theory, etc. Which things do we count as ‘choices’ and judge people on, and which of our choices are made passively or treated as inevitable? What things do we think we’re freely choosing only to discover that we are prevented from making a different choice if we try? etc.

Finally, not a specific game reference, but this classic piece uses the general framework of video games as a metaphor for explaining some ideas of social privilege. https://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/

(P.S. Congratulations, Katia! The class looks great!) Report

Nathan
Nathan
1 year ago

Baba Is You is a really neat logic puzzle game which involves the manipulation of sentence strings, including eventually logical operators.

https://hempuli.com/baba/Report

Bob Kirkman
Bob Kirkman
1 year ago

I have for some years taught a version of my engineering ethics course in which I have students develop a text-based interactive narrative using Twine (twinery.org). This aligns with my emerging research interest in practical ethics, focused on the first-person, present-tense experience of situations that call for a response: my hunch has been that interactive narrative, with some sort of choice-and-consequence (or choice-and-character-development) mechanic, can be a good way to make first-person ethical experience more vivid.
I do not require my students to play or discuss existing games, but I do provide them with a list of games. It turns out that many students in any given class will already have encountered at least a few of them.
Here is the list:
—-
Here are some recent examples of commercially available computer games featuring an interactive, branching narrative structure.
Depression Quest (The Quinnspiracy, 2014)
Dreamfall Chapters (Red Thread Games, 2014-2016)
Firewatch (Campo Santo, 2016)
Life is Strange (DONTNOD Entertainment/Square Enix, 2015)
Papers, Please (3909, 2013)
The Stanley Parable (Galactic Café, 2013)
Tales from the Borderlands (Telltale Games/Gearbox/2K, 2015)
The Talos Principle (CROTEAM/Devolver Digital, 2015)
Vampyr (DONTNOD Entertainment/Focus, 2018)

In some of these, the interactive narrative element is central (Life is Strange, The Stanley Parable) while in others (The Talos Principle) it is incidental. Some are widely (even wildly) open-ended (Papers, Please and The Stanley Parable), but in many the interactive element is constrained by a linear or even episodic plot structure (Life is Strange, Tales from the Borderlands). In the latter, the interactive element can change the circumstances, the relationships and the meaning of the otherwise inevitable ending.
The following feature elements of interactive narrative and/or environmental storytelling without a branching structure:
Gone Home (Fullbright, 2013)
Her Story (Sam Barlow, 2015)
Tacoma (Fullbright, 2017)
This War of Mine (11 bit studios, 2014)
Report

Nathan Wildman
1 year ago

I’ve taught versions of a class called ‘Philosophy & Video Games’, which focues on philosophical issues about video games themselves (like a philosophy of literature class but on VG’s instead). So while I’ve never done an Intro to Philosophy class using games, I’ve got a few games to mention that haven’t already come up:

– Monument Valley and Fez: I’ve used (free demos of) these games to talk about (i) imaginative resistence, and special forms that might emerge when we consider interactive, ‘impossible’ environments, and (ii) illusions/hallucinations.

– Facade (https://www.playablstudios.com/facade): still one of the best “games” that tries to get around issues of narrative vs. gameplay constraints by having the AI generate the narrative as the game is played. Rough, but super, super cool.

– Sweatshop (http://littleloud.com/work/sweatshop/): forces players to consider the origin of the goods that they buy.

– Passage (http://hcsoftware.sourceforge.net/passage/): I love this game so much. A good, simple, wonderful introduction to some existentialist ideas.

– Unmanned (http://unmanned.molleindustria.org/): a good game for making students think about the ethics of contemporary war. You play a drone pilot who is trying to come to terms with the things that he does. It’s a bit heavy-handed, but still good.

– Zork/Colossal Cave Adventure: Having students play these games is a very good way to have them get the difference between semantics and pragmatics because of how fiddly the curser is.

– LISA: The Painful RPG: this is a weird, weird game. But it deconstructs toxic masculinity better than almost anything else I’ve come across. Plus the soundtrack is *AMAZING*.

– Planescape: Torment. This was already mentioned, but I couldn’t pass it up. After all, the whole game is about the question, ‘what can change the nature of a man?’

– Dwarf Fortress: If you want to introduce someone to questions modelling complex systems, or you just want to watch Dwarves go made, this is *the* game.Report

Bob Kirkman
Bob Kirkman
1 year ago

One matter to consider when designing a course that requires students to play video games: not all students may have access to equipment adequate to running the games in question. Aside from the problem of console-exclusive games (PS4 or XBox) v. PC games, a PC that can handle something like Witcher 3 with any kind of decent graphics and gameplay is likely to be expensive.

This is less of an issue at a place like Georgia Tech, where I teach, in that all undergraduates here are required to own a computer capable of running advanced software for engineers, and many students are also avid gamers. It may be more of an issue elsewhere.Report

Matt Carlson
Matt Carlson
Reply to  Bob Kirkman
1 year ago

This is a really important point, since the cost of games and hardware on which to play them can add up very fast, especially if you are in the realm of AAA games. In early versions of the course, I alleviated the cost issue somewhat by making sure to choose games that are not as expensive (i.e. avoiding AAA games) and which are not exclusive to any particular console. I also encouraged students to “share” (i.e. play the games together).

At my institution, there are a few people from different departments (theater, art, English) who are teaching courses on videogames and we were able to successfully make the case to the administration to modify a then-underused space in the library into a “Game Lab.” We were able to get a budget to buy a gaming PC, PS4 pro, and a big 4k TV to use in there. We typically just use our personal game libraries (e.g. Steam) on that hardware, but it is possible to (legally) share these libraries with students. So now my students can play all the games for my course in the library if they can’t afford their own equipment. Additionally, I now teach my class in that space, which has been great since I can actually incorporate bits of gameplay into our class meetings.

This solution is almost certainly not universally applicable, but I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was for us to successfully set up a gaming space in the library on a modest budget.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Bob Kirkman
1 year ago

Also, this is only a problem if you’re playing *recent* AAA games. Given Moore’s Law, I’d expect an entry-level laptop to manage anything from 10 years ago, whatever its specs were then.Report

Matt Carlson
Matt Carlson
Reply to  Bob Kirkman
1 year ago

Yes, that is correct, David. That’s what I meant in my previous post. For example, I have students play BioShock, which is definitely a AAA game, but since it came out in 2007, its requirements are quite tame by today’s standards.Report

Adam R. Thompson
1 year ago

Shameless (relevant) plug:

We’re hosting a Game Jam for teaching ethics of technology.

The Game Jam is part of our Ethics and Broader Considerations of Technology Bazaar, University of Nebraska. Philosophy alum, Zachary Garrett is hosting.

Please consider contributing or playing or voting!!Report

Mark Silcox
Mark Silcox
1 year ago

A Mind Forever Voyaging is the game I most frequently recommend to my best students, though it’s hard to find these days. It’s a 1980s all-text adventure game that mixes a fascinating take on AI with astute social criticism of the Reagan era. A more recent all-text masterpiece that plays cleverly with the the player’s sense of control and its implications for how we think about freewill is Adam Cadre’s Photopia, which is available free all over the place. And Emily Short’s Galatea (also free and easy to find) is my choice for the best feminist game ever written.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
1 year ago

Halo 2 (Multiplayer)

The best exposition of absurdism I know of. As soon as you got to around level 28 you would be annihilated by moders thereby making ranked matchmaking a Sysiphean task. One must imagine the n00b happy. It also served as an excellent exposition of Sartre’s thesis that hell is other people, since in the early days of Xbox Live there were no parties and everyone in a game could hear everyone else until they manually muted them. It was a formative experience. Report