Why do video games make for good thought experiments? Does it mean anything to say we have choice? Can you kill a character you’ve grown to know over hours of play, if it would save others? Is it ever right to take another life? And how do we cope with our own death? Some philosophers deny that there is any such thing as good or bad, or they deny there is any objective way of finding out whether an action has a particular moral status, while normative ethics suggests that something is considered immoral or un-ethical if it falls outside the boundaries set by a particular set of rules or codes. The question then becomes whether the moral rules of the real world apply to the story arcs of video games. From the objectivist philosophy of governance in Bioshock to the compatibilist chaos system of Dishonored to the crisis of the creative spirit in The Beginner’s Guide, video games are microcosms of experienced reality, scenarios composed of counterfactual narratives that allow the player to act on their own intuition within an embodied experience as opposed to the simple mimetic representation of books or films. As video games continue to mature and developers continue to push the boundaries on virtual reality technology, thinning the line between fact and fiction, the “story-driven” game becomes a compelling medium through which to engage in philosophical thought. Using video games like Mass Effect, Life is Strange, Bioshock Infinite, Pokémon Sword and Shield, Dishonored, The Stanley Parable, Portal, Pyre, and more as our points of departure, this module will introduce a “virtue and virtual” based approach to the philosophy of video games, giving students the writing, speaking, and discussion tools that will allow them to think critically about the choices they make, the lives they affect, and to consider what those choices say about them as rational beings.
- To introduce the basics of moral philosophy, determinism, and normative ethics
- To gain a broad understanding of video game creation and the essential structure of a compelling narrative
- To undertake critical discussion and debate regarding the philosophical dimensions of good, evil, and free will
- To construct a coherent, persuasive argument in the form of a philosophical hypothesis
- To engage with modern media and VR technology in the form of academic scholarship
- To compile a well-sourced and properly-cited bibliography
- To have fun and (maybe) play a game or two
Individual presentations: Students will choose both a video game and a related philosophical topic to construct a persuasive argument. They will be expected to take and defend a position
in a five-minute presentation in front of their peers, who will then pose questions to the presenter.
Readings: Students will be assigned readings or videos for class discussion. Material may include excerpts from:
- G.E.M. Anscombe's "Modern Moral Philosophy"
- Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged
- Michel Foucalt's Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison
- Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
- Donna Haraway's A Cyborg Manifesto
- Various periodicals and "Let's-Play" videos