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Digital Dominance: Guns

Over on ihobo today, the first of two pieces following up the Toy Chest & Play Set discussion. In the first I look at the dominant depictive prop in videogames: the gun. Here’s an extract:

...the first person shooter genre and its cousin the third person shooter are examples of a hugely successful gamer hobbyist niche market in which game design was never really in the driving seat. The evolution of the form was dictated primarily by representational factors, with the role of design being chiefly to solve the functional consequences that flowed from the representational choices. The only “choice” was whether to work with guns as a central prop or not: once the gun was installed, the representational consequences of the technology available (in terms of graphical power, and in terms of controller devices) dictated the development of the form. Gameplay did not trump representation in shooters – it was dependent upon it.

I’d be interested to hear what people make to the way this discussion has been couched, as I found it an unusual way of looking at game design. You can read Digital Dominance: Guns over on

The Mythic Void

Cassiopeia A Those who abandon mythology for facts are doomed to let their facts become their mythology.

Myths are the stories by which we orient ourselves in the world, and we can no more live without stories than we can live without drawing breath. Facts too are a kind of story – an authorized story – and just as fictions often told become embellished into legends, so facts often stated become the basis for their own mythic tales. These stories, however, have the added burden of authority: those that invest their belief in authorized stories can seldom see the narrative they have written for themselves.

The story that animated post-modernism was that all myths had been laid bare. Swept clean of legendary tales, we are supposed to find ourselves in a mythic void. Like the vacuum of space, however, this void is never truly empty. Beyond the traces of matter and energy, space or space-time itself is always present wherever one might look. So too the mythic void is not empty of stories but is itself a story – one that causes us to look at other stories in a different light, perhaps, but not one capable of moving us to a place beyond mythology.

The mythic void is not an end point, a final state, or an ultimate consequence at all – it is a stage, a perspective, a waiting room on the path to… well, who can say? Those who will not enter the void remain wedded to their mythology – whether ancient or modern. Those who enter the void may find themselves stuck there, casting off all other myths and accepting only the legend of the void itself. But those of us who pass through the void, and return to mythology, we bring back from this place-that-is-no-place a subtle change of mind. It is not so much illumination, more delumination.

Those who abandon mythology for facts are doomed to let their facts become their mythology. Those who escape mythology for the void are doomed to let the void become their mythology. What of those who return from the void – what will we benighted travellers take to be our strange and wonderful mythologies?

The opening image is a NASA Chandra X-ray photograph showing Cassiopeia A, the youngest supernova remnant in our galaxy.

Imaginary Games: Publication Date, Cover and Available for Review

Imaginary Games.Final Cover

I have the final text and cover (left) and a publication date for Imaginary Games now: it will be out 25th November 2011. If you don’t know what this book is about, click the link in this post (or the picture in the sidebar) to read the blurb.

I was very conflicted over the new cover, as I rather liked my mock-up (although it used a colour scheme already being used by another Zero Books title). However, a friend with better art-design instincts than me has reassured me that the book will look both distinctive and appealing in this scheme. Anyway, it’s all in progress now so it’s too late to change it.

Reviewers Wanted! If you write book reviews for a magazine or on your blog, you are welcome to write to me (follow the contact details on for a PDF of the final text for review. If you intend a blog review, I request that you also submit your review to Amazon.

Thanks to everyone whose supported this book project! I’m very proud to have my first book of philosophy coming into print this year.

Also: check out these awesome endorsements!

In this well-researched book Chris Bateman explores the ambiguous territory between the fictional and the real, and slays some dragons hiding therein. Highly recommended.
Ernest Adams
Founder of the International Game Developers' Association

A wonderfully refreshing and inventive look at games of many kinds, but especially digital games. It is seriously philosophical, but Bateman, a professional game designer, draws on a huge variety of resources far beyond the writings of academic philosophers - fascinating and fun!
Kendall Walton
Charles Stevenson Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and
Professor of Art and Design at the University of Michigan

Chris Bateman’s Imaginary Games may just do for videogames what Noël Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror did for scary books and movies.... not only philosophically compelling and interesting; it is also a great read. Bateman’s fluency in the relevant philosophical debates and history of thinking about games is both enviable and a pleasure to behold.
Jon Cogburn
Director of Philosophy, LSU Department of Philosophy and
Religious Studies

The Summer of Evolutionary Mythology

Continuing the Fiction Campaign, this Summer I’ll be exploring the collision between orthodox science fiction and religious mythology in the context of evolution.

Two years ago, I explored the metaphorical elements of evolutionary theories in the Myths of Evolution serial, and I’m pleased to say that I recently got approval from my publisher to write a book on this theme (also called Myths of Evolution). As preparation for writing the manuscript of this new philosophy book, I have been reading a diverse collection of books and I want to synthesise some of the ideas here on Only a Game so I can discuss my thoughts with the players here before moving it forward into print. (This will put back the Souls in Science Fiction serial to Autumn or Winter, but I still hope to run this before the end of the year).

Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll be considering the relationship between religion and science, as well as looking at the most recent work by molecular biologists and contemplating the implications for evolutionary mythology. Throughout, my interest is not so much the science (although I will cover this) but the fictions implied by the science – the mythology of evolution. Despite the way this topic is usually handled, evolutionary science is never purely research alone; it is always inevitably a creation myth as well, and the way this story is told has significant implications.

I shall also be defending a highly unpopular position, namely that Intelligent Design isn’t much of a “threat” to science. If ID is taken to be religious in motivation, it fails on theological grounds and can’t be taken seriously by anyone. If it not taken in a religious context, it’s scientific content fails in perfectly normal ways that pose no more of a problem for science than any other failed hypothesis.

Furthermore, if anything in the context of evolution is a “threat” to science, it can scarcely be traditional mythology trying to muscle itself back in, but rather the metaphysical stories offered by certain evolutionists that are passed off as “science” but are anything of the kind. If metaphysical excesses like ID are contended to “threaten” science, our real concern shouldn’t be the old design paradigm trying to keep its foot in the door, but those wild and wacky beliefs already inside the house falsely claiming to have scientific authority.

The Summer of Evolutionary Mythology begins shortly!

The Role of Failure in Gameplay

Over on ihobo today, a piece exploring the Role of Failure in Gameplay that serves as a summary of a handful of themes I’ve been discussing over previous years. Here’s an extract:

How important is failure to the enjoyment of digital games? I contend it is the central issue in designing for an audience, since players who want to strive against impossible odds and eventually triumph must fail in order to enjoy their success, while the vast majority of mass market players will tolerate only a modest degree of failure as part of their play experience.

Check out the complete piece over on