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The Philosophy of Video Games- An Introduction

The Philosophy of Video Games- An Introduction

As I’ve told you, I’ve been absent from video game writing because of my extensive study load. But I was thinking about video game writing all the time, and I was inspired by my studies. We had a very fun and educative course called “The Philosophy of Literature”, and for that course we read books like Lamarque’s The Philosophy of Literature or J Hillis Miller’s On Literature. They deal with literature in a very interesting way. A way that no one has ever talked about video games. I’m starting a series of articles on the topic which I believe hasn’t been dealt with before- feel free to correct me in the comments section.

The main question is this: “What is a video game?” Now, that question may seem very easy and straightforward on the first sight.  We can look it up in the dictionary! It says that they are “any of various games played using a microcomputer with a keyboard and often joysticks to manipulate changes or respond to the action or questions on the screen.” But that surface meaning is the meaning of the word, not the meaning of the concept. In reality no one has really attempted to “define” video games, and when you get down to it, you will see that a satisfying definition is almost impossible. What we are going to deal with here is one single question: “Why do we consider video games a video game? What quality do they have which distinguishes them from books or movies?” And of course, this question is going to lead to greater, more pressing questions.

What we are looking here is a single quality, or a set of qualities, which are exclusive to video games. What is the truth of video games? Of course, we might talk about a lot about truth in video games, but here we aim to talk about the truth of video games. We are not asking if the games are capable of being philosophical or we are not analyzing the philosophy or the ideology behind a work. We are asking what connects the most radically different games. What, for example, Tetris, Wii Sports, Unreal Tournament, or Skyrim have in common? We believe they are the same thing in the end anyway. We believe there’s a single history behind a single entity which begins at Space Invaders and Pong and leads to all the different games of it. We believe that The Witcher 2 and MW3 are the same species, though they belong to the same sub-species. And yet, none of them are the same as War and Peace, Citizen Kane, Hamlet, or “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. Why? What is the divining factor(s)?

These will be the topics which I will discuss in separate articles:

  • “What are Video Games?” In the first article I will raise the question of under which umbrella category the video games fall, and I will prove the difficulty of this question.
  • “Interactivity: Does it Define Video Games?” Most people believe that the defining factor of video games is their interactivity. I’m pointing out that this answer is not as straightforward as it sounds.
  • “Gameplay: Lets Redefine It.” In the third article I’m going to point out that Gameplay CAN be the definition of video game- but unless we change and expand its meaning drastically.
  • “Authorship and Video Games”: Do games have an author? Is the concept applicable to the video games?
  • “What Is a Gamer?” Who is the audience of this medium?

Tune in the next week for the first installment.

3 Comments

  1. I am looking forward to this series Ali. I am of the opinion that some video games are as good as the best movies and the best books, if not better, so why don’t they get the respect they deserve?

  2. Ali, looking forward for your thoughts. And don’t forget your top 100 games of all time please! I’ve seen your lists on GameFAQs and beg for more!

  3. hey … you are good at writing about game but you are nothing in gameworld … X_X

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