Sound the Bombards!

Back from paternity leave, family now fully upgraded with the arrival of Blake Patrick (9 lbs 6 oz, for those who like such numbers), and getting ready to push forward into the Summer blogging. I have been lax on the Republic of Bloggers thus far this Gregorian year, but thanks to Chris Billows I will be getting back in the saddle next Tuesday with my first blog-letter of the year. More nonsense follows soon afterwards, and tomorrow I'll be plugging the event I'm at in London next week. Hope to see some players of the Game at the Red Gallery!

Oh, and in case the allusion of the title is too obscure, bombards were cannons fired in ancient China to signal the start of an attacking charge on a particular front. So 'sounding the bombards' is roughly equivalent to bellowing 'Charge!'

Back After Baby

By the time you read this, I should already be on paternity leave – and if not, it’ll be happening imminently. With that in mind, I shall go ahead and take my Summer social media break now, so you shall have to get your nonsense without me for a while. I’m sure you’ll manage. Feel free to leave comments – I will get to them in due course. Have fun without me!

Only a Game returns later this year.

A Brief Introduction to My Philosophy

$45 haircut.cropped

Welcome to Only a Game, the philosophy blog of game designer, outsider philosopher, and author Chris Bateman. Originally dealing with videogames as well as philosophy, most games-related material now appears at (but is also cross-linked here). All sincere – and preferably polite – comments on posts both new and old are welcome, and will elicit a reply as promptly as I am able. What's this blog about? Read on!

Why philosophy? I started out among academic scientists, but my interests and writings these days lie to a greater extent among the discussions of philosophers. I sometimes characterise my rambling nonsense as an attempt to popularise philosophy, which is to say, to bring the resources of philosophical thinkers such as Kant, Isabelle Stengers, or Kendall Walton a little bit closer to any quirky intellectual nerd who stumbles upon this site.

Why is this blog called ‘Only a Game’? I jokingly call the discussions here at this blog a non-fiction role-playing game, and this is “the Game” I sometimes refer to in posts. Also, a lot of my early philosophical endeavours were connected by the image of a game, which is perhaps unsurprising since I am also a professional game designer – I’ve worked on over forty five game projects over the last twenty five years.

What’s the point of philosophy? We experience the worlds we live in via our concepts, and the process of inspecting or adjusting our concepts is philosophy. Everyone is a philosopher sometimes, some of us just spend more time on it than others. While many philosophers have toiled upon their problems alone, I view philosophy as limited if it is not also engaged in public discourse. Wisdom lies scattered amidst the world it might inform: even when uncovered by a lone investigator, wise thoughts lack value until they are brought back to a shared space.

What do I philosophise about? My main interests in philosophy at the moment are in aesthetics and ethics, which are both expressions of our values. The conventional view of both these topics at this time is that they are subjective, which is to say, they don’t have meaning beyond individuals. This is a position I resist. If we understand the knowledge of the sciences as objective, that’s because they entail practices that ‘make objects talk’ (hence ‘objective’), but in many contexts our subjective knowledge is better equipped for dealing with the worlds we actually live in.

Why bother with aesthetics? Imagination transpires to be a key to understanding how living beings like us experience reality, a point I explored in my first philosophy book, Imaginary Games. What’s more, my studies in aesthetics feed into my understanding of game design: it has helped me think about how our different values for play create different kinds of aesthetic flaws in games, for instance.

What's the point of ethics? Our ideals for life are incredibly diverse, yet we must live together: I seek methods that permit this possibility, a project that takes its spirit from Kant’s “Realm of Ends” (which I term communal autonomy). Recently, I’ve been thinking about this in terms of our living in an ethical multiverse (a key theme in my book Chaos Ethics) since we all experience existence from within a unique system of metaphysics, what I sometimes call ‘a mythology’.

What are metaphysics? Untestable beliefs, foundations upon which different thoughts and ideas attain authority. Everyone has to believe something to get by in life, whether a notion of self, a cultural identity, an abstract (Science, God etc.) or some combination therein. By talking about metaphysics I hope to share some of the charms of our many different ways of looking at our shared world, and dissipate some of the prejudices.

Do you have a religious agenda? Absolutely! I want to find ways we can all live together, and that means dealing with religions, like the Hindu traditions, Buddhism, and Christianity, as well as non-religions, like positivism. Frankly, its impossible to explore metaphysics and ethics without intersecting with religion, which is not to suggest these traditions have a moral monopoly. Rather, the paths through morality begin and end in many places, and while many of them have come to us through traditional religious practices, that is far from the whole story.

What about science? The sciences are the means we acquire robust objective knowledge, but that kind of knowledge offers only a very narrow perspective on existence – we need much more than mere research if we are going to find good ways to live. I am unimpressed by the idea that the sciences are ‘at war’ with religion, or destined to replace it: as I explored in my book on the role of imagination in the evolutionary sciences, the relevant conflicts are better understood as disputes within the sciences and between religion and non-religion.

What does this have to do with you? Join in if you're interested! My philosophical thinking thus far – or my nonsense, as I oft term it – is right here at this site. Simply pick a topic from the sidebar (or a link in this post) that spurs your interest and join me for a while in contemplation of questions that I hope will, at the very least, provide an entertaining diversion.

Should I leave a comment? Please do! I love comments. But if you own your own blog consider taking part in the Republic of Bloggers instead, and send me a letter. I am committed to pursuing virtuous discourse, and I welcome discussions on any and all topics however they reach me, and whomever they are from.

Welcome to the Game!

This piece, written in April 2016, replaces an older version with the same title written in April 2010, before I had any of my philosophy books published. The links within this new foreword are intended to offer points of ingress into my nonsense for the intrepid explorer of ideas.

Ongoing Blockquote Fixes

Owing to the move to the new template, older posts with 40 pixel indenting around quotations no longer work. I am in the process of fixing these as I find them (I just fixed the entire ten-part A Secular Age serial, for instance), which just involves hacking out the monstrous miasma of HTML that Word excreted and replacing it with basic <blockquote> tags. It's simple, mindless work, so if you see a post with broken blockquotes and you want to flag it to me,  just leave a comment and I'll get to it when I can.

1500 Shades of Nonsense

1500This post marks the fifteen hundredth slice of nonsense I’ve posted at Only a Game in the eleven years I’ve been blogging. Not sure if that’s an achievement or if it’s rather horrifying, but there you have it: one thousand five hundred short essays on anything and everything that felt worth rambling about. Over the years, there has been less and less about games and more and more about philosophy, but even from the very beginning that was a direction I was happy to go in.

Many thanks to everyone whose been here for any part of the journey, and especial gratitude to those of you who have stayed with me in one way or another for the entire voyage. Here’s to the next fifteen hundred!


To celebrate the arrival of Spring, I’ve created a new responsive template for Only a Game, the first change I’ve made to the appearance of the blog in many, many years. I’ve tried to keep some of the elements of the original design, but the new template should be much more friendly to view on mobile devices.

Check it out! Feedback and suggestions always welcome.

Release the Kraken!

Clash-of-the-Titans-KrakenSlowly and reluctantly, I am facing down the monster that is social media. I’ve not yet uncorked Twitter, but I’m starting to work on the blogs, although my time is unfeasibly scarce at the moment. After some research, I have decided not to switch to Disqus comments (since it cannot be reverted without loss of comments) and instead I have taken the drastic step of switching from requiring users to sign in to making sign in optional. This might result in a sudden tidal wave of spam – if so, I’ll have to go back on the decision. But in the interests of encouraging comments, and with the recognition that mandatory sign in was blocking some who wanted to comment, I’ve decided to shoulder this risk.

Nonsense is in production… maybe even before the end of the week!

Foucault's Archaeology/Player Practices

Foucault’s Archaeology was one half of a special double serial in four parts running here at Only a Game for the tin anniversary (celebrating ten years). It ran in parallel with another serial, Player Practices, at, from June 9th to 30th 2015. Both serials were based upon the work of Michel Foucault whilst also touching upon themes from the first ten years of my blogs, particularly the work of Roger Caillois that formed the first blog serial I wrote.

The serial here at Only a Game focussed upon Foucault’s ‘archaeological’ methods for analysing discourse, while the parallel serial applied these methods to games and play. Each of the parts ends with a link to the next one, so to read the entire serial, simply click on the first link below, and then follow the "next" links to read on.

Here are the four parts of Foucault’s Archaeology:

  1. Paradigm and Episteme
  2. Discourse
  3. Contradictions
  4. Thresholds

And here are the corresponding four parts of Player Practices:

  1. Game Paradigms
  2. Caillois’ Paradigms of Play
  3. The Three Discourses on Games
  4. The Liberation of Games

Thanks to everyone who has spoken to me on, or about, my blogs over the last ten years, and if you enjoyed these serials, please leave a comment. Thank you!

Celebrating Ten Years

10yearsOne month from today is the tin anniversary of Only a Game, at which point I will have been blogging for ten years. To mark this momentous insignificance I have prepared an overly elaborate serial that celebrates the twin themes of my blogs, philosophy and games.

Five years ago, I did a double serial on Kendall Walton’s make-believe theory, discussing his work at Only a Game in the Mimesis as Make-Believe serial, while in parallel at ihobo I ran Game Design as Make-Believe. This was to lead to my first book of philosophy, Imaginary Games, and thus to my developing philosophy as a part of my career and not just an intellectual hobby.

For the ten year anniversary, I revisit this format with a new double serial. At Only a Game will be the Foucault’s Archaeology serial, providing an introduction to the work of the philosopher-historian Michel Foucault focussing on his method of analysis, while in parallel at ihobo will be the Player Practices serial, which shows how Foucault’s work on discourse also applies to the play of games. The new serial ties together ten years of my blogs, combining elements of philosophy of language, philosophy of science, game design, and game philosophy, as well as including links to my pieces on Caillois’ patterns of play from my second year of blogging, while providing a very different way of looking at Caillois’ work.

Intriguing, accessible, and at times polemic, the double serial is a fitting memorial to the game I’ve been playing in the shadowy corners of the internet. I hope you will join me for the ride, and as always I welcome comments and discussion.

The double serial begins next week.