A Brief Introduction to My Philosophy
April 19, 2016
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 ihobo.com (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.
If it's a game, ethics play no part in it. How can you have an ethical stance if you play the part of a German SS officer in WW2? The main reason why such atrocities still continue is that nobody sees it from the perspective of the bad guy, nobody sees the bad things they did and how it affected others. This is because such role play is considered a taboo subject. There are lots of PVP players who like to play the bad guy (pirates or stone cold killers), but the real after effects of their actions are glossed over. Instead of hiding the facts because they are too disturbing, show them because it teaches others that their actions have seriously negative repercussions. Taking a life in a game is easy, in real life it's no so easy, explore why and incorporate it into a game to make the consequences of your actions mean something. Make killing in a game as abhorrent as it would be in real life by ignoring ethics and exploring reality.
Sorry but the world has had it's fill of religion and religious tenets. Leave religion out of it and the world will be a better place. Most of the wars that have raged across the world started over two conflicting religions and that problem still continues to this day. One day we may all live together in peace but until people leave behind their religious beliefs and all the baggage those beliefs bring with them, it will never happen. It certainly won't happen in my lifetime.
Aesthetics and Science are about the only two things a game should always encompass. Striving to make it as visually and scientifically realistic as possible while maintaining a distance from real life. It should be constantly reinforced that it is ONLY A GAME. Unrealistic characters, (regardless of how realistic they appear), magical, (or simply unscientific), items and futuristic scenarios, all help to reinforce the game aspect.
However, chopping down a tree and using the resulting wood to magically create a wall for a shelter is not realistic at all. Include all the work that may be needed in between so that players actually appreciate how hard it would be in real life. One game that does this very well is Wurm Online (also the single player variant: Wurm Unlimited).
Posted by: Dave | April 25, 2016 at 06:51 PM
Thanks for your thoughtful comment! At times, I'm not sure if you're thinking my philosophy only deals with games and videogames... if this is your primary interest, you might do better at this site's companion blog, ihobo.com, which only deals with games. But if you're interested in my philosophy outside of games, you can get both here, since I always cross-link when I post at ihobo.
"If it's a game, ethics play no part in it. How can you have an ethical stance if you play the part of a German SS officer in WW2?"
Why would you think that a (historical) German SS officer had no ethics? We can certainly vilify all manner of aspects of their particular ethical practices, but to suggest there was no ethical system in play in Nazi Germany seems to me to misunderstand the Third Reich. It was, as Alain Badiou puts it, an ethical disaster - but precisely because so many thought they were behaving according to their own, internally justified code of ethics.
Now, in the case of playing a German SS officer in a game, I would say this is a potentially interesting opportunity for ethical reflection. Indeed, while coming down a slightly different setting, doesn't "Papers Please" explore a not unconnected space?
"This is because such role play is considered a taboo subject. There are lots of PVP players who like to play the bad guy (pirates or stone cold killers), but the real after effects of their actions are glossed over."
This is a fascinating remark, and I know exactly what you mean about the suppression of role-play. This is an aesthetic conflict which also has moral dimensions. If this sort of topic does interest you, then you might connect well with my game philosophy, whatever you make of my 'vanilla' philosophy. Here's a piece on game aesthetics from last year, although this might be a case of 'throwing you in at the deep end'!
If you're interested in the relationship between games and ethics, check out this conversation I had with Miguel Sicart over at ihobo back in 2010:
"Sorry but the world has had it's fill of religion and religious tenets."
In the first place, it seems rather unlikely that you are 'sorry' about anything here. :D In the second place, your proposition seems to be false. If by 'the world' you mean 'the humans of our planet', then the 6 million practictioners of religion outnumber the non-religious 6:1. If by 'the world' you mean 'the non-religious world', then your statement is a tautology. If by 'the world' you mean an anthropomorphic projection of our planet (which seems doubtful!) then I think the world has had its fill of unlimited industrialisation far more than it has religion.
I also dispute your claim that "Most of the wars that have raged across the world started over two conflicting religions", that's a common view, but it's also an inadequate description of the history. It might be fairer to say: historical religion has been successfully manipulated by the powerful to prevent domestic conflicts by throwing the populace against another nation. And if you replace 'historical religion' with the wider claim 'People's beliefs', it would be even more applicable - in this, I utterly agree with you that the "problem still continues to this day."
"One day we may all live together in peace but until people leave behind their religious beliefs and all the baggage those beliefs bring with them, it will never happen."
I share your dream here (of peace) but not your faith that a widespread metaphysical conversion to [Belief System X] is the required method. It wasn't very plausible when X was Christianity, I find it no more plausible when X is non-religion. In this regard, see my rather grumpy rejoinder to John Lennon's "Imagine":
Honestly, I tend to resonate with Mary Midgley's remark that "It turns out that the evils that have infested religion are not confined to it, but are ones that can accompany any successful human institution." If our hope is to get to a place where we can all live together peacefully, we should be careful of attempts to identify an 'enemy' and blame them for our problems - and that is just as true when the 'enemy' is 'religion' as when it is 'a different religion'. We're all rather more human that we like to admit! :)
"It should be constantly reinforced that it is ONLY A GAME."
It seems as if your invocation of this phrase is intended in part to be a request that we let our imagination run free, that we not be constrained by convention. In this regard, I can certainly support you. But I'm wary of the justification that something is "just a game". I wrote about this back in 2013:
Your comment about the work that is required in fashioning wood is an interesting one... I don't personally object to the magical world of ease that games frequently portray, but I agree with you that there is something worthwhile in games that bring home the complexities of real situations (as per your example of the effort to work wood in Wurm Online). There is a terribly fine line here, though... commercial games need to make money to exist, and players - you seem to be an admirably rare exeception! - like being pandered to regarding ease. Minecraft springs to mind as a game that you can build a castle in minutes. Great fun, of course - I enjoyed my time in Minecraft immensely. But not as interesting, in many respects, as a game that entailed some of the authentic challenges of castle-building.
Right, I believe I've replied to almost all your points there. If you're as obsessive as me, you may feel obliged to reply to all of them. But I encourage you to pick a thread and let us focus on one topic at a time, ideally by following one of the links above and moving the conversation there (this page is intended as an entry point for this blog - it would be good for everyone to focus our discussions in specific places).
Don't feel in a rush to reply, although you can if you wish. I am a diligent comment-writer, but I would prefer a discourse that developed over time to just a brief collision of minds, which the internet causes all-too-often. You clearly have things worth saying - you owe it to yourself to think about what you want to say, rather than giving in to the impulse to reply in haste (which, alas, is heartfelt advice I give but am bad at taking!).
Welcome to the Game! I hope that you enjoy your time here, whether brief or protracted.
Posted by: Chris | April 26, 2016 at 09:17 AM
In respect to "just a game", maybe if the real consequences of your actions are shown, it would drive home the reality of acting negatively.
Hitman for example: Everyone loved being a merciless killer who just enacted a contract with no thought for what happens after the target is killed. Yes, you gained your "Silent Assassin" achievement and now, you can move on to the next contract.
Take a step back.
Let us first see the funeral and the wife and kids he left behind. Let's see the kids crying over the loss of their father, the wife worrying about how she's going to get by or how she's going to afford to keep the kids and bring them up alone now. The father and mother who have outlived their son. The brothers and sisters who want revenge and may now embark on a mission of slaughtering anyone who gets in the way of it.
So many consequences from one simple act that the player performed without conscience because "It's just a game."
When does fantasy end and reality begin? How long before players start to get it into their heads that it's probably this simple in reality too. Not everyone can separate the two, especially when games are now becoming far more realistic.
Posted by: Dave | May 25, 2017 at 04:36 PM
I was initially confused as to this comment, but I see that it follows from the discussions above. I think there is a role for games that expose the kind of consequences you are talking about, but there will always be videogames that are power fantasies which just elide the outcomes. I don't think the games are the root of any specific problem here... but I think that there is a set of problems that do need thinking through, and games are caught up in them like most other media.
Thanks for commenting!
Posted by: Chris | May 26, 2017 at 11:13 AM