Philosophy of Games

The 2016 Workshop on the Philosophy of Games

The first Workshop on the Philosophy of Games was a rousing success. We are hoping to make it into a semi-regular series; please drop us a line for information about future workshops. Here’s an archive of the program and original CFP.


Journal of the Philosophy of Games

The Journal of the Philosophy of Games is underway, and the first issue is coming shortly. If you are a philosopher, or do philosophically-informed work on games, please consider submitting!


My papers in the philosophy of games

Philosophy of Games (Philosophy Compass, 12 (8), 2017): Philosophical work on games has been largely split between different fields that don’t really talk to each other, including Game Studies, Philosophy of Art, and the Philosophy of Sport. This survey attempts to introduce these fields and begin the work of integration. In particular, I’m interested in the difference between the fields that study games as something like an aesthetic artifact or text – interrogating them for their meaning, representational content, or aesthetic quality; and those fields that study games as something like social contracts – interrogating them for their normative force, and social purpose.

Competition as Cooperation (Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 44 (1), 2017: 123-37) Games are a form of social technology, capable of something of a moral miracle: converting competition into cooperation. I offer an account of that conversion: in games, one can takes up arbitrary ends for the sake of having a struggle. Opponents interfering with one’s pursuit of those arbitrary end are actually, in a global sense, assisting one to have that desirable experience of struggling. Some have claimed that the purpose of games is the development of skill and personal excellence. I argue moral conversion is an equally legitimate purpose.

The Forms and Fluidity of Game Play (forthcoming, Hurka (ed.) Suits and Games. OUP): I defend a pluralist account of game-play. I describe two forms of game-play: make-believe fictional play, as described by Kendall Walton, and the play of striving to overcome obstacles, as described by Bernard Suits. I argue that these forms of play are conceptually distinct and irreducible to one another other (though some games involve both sorts of play simultaneously) . But since both forms of play depend crucially on particular player attitudes, players have the freedom to select and switch between different forms of play, even within a single game.

Good Violence, Bad Violence: The Ethics of Competition in Multiplayer Games (with Jose Zagal, DiGRA/FDG ’16 – Proceedings of the First International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG): We apply the conversion model to specific ethical questions from modern gaming, including trash-talking, in-game harassment, and player toxicity. We argue that the moral status of such actions is highly contingent and dependent on issues of psychological fit. Seemingly extra-game social infrastructure, such as the systems that create player match-ups, are crucial for the successful conversion of competition into cooperation.

Games and the Aesthetics of Striving (presented at the 2016 American Society for Aesthetics Conference, draft available on request): Games are aesthetic artifacts, designed to promote aesthetic experiences of one’s own striving. In some ways, they are significantly like traditional art objects. Rather than offering only a visual or narrative aesthetic experience, I argue for the possibility of constructed aesthetic experiences of one’s own practical reasoning and practical activity. For example: games can provide aesthetic experiences of harmony between one’s own abilities and the world.

The Aesthetics of Rock Climbing (Philosopher’s Magazine, 78, 2017: 37-43). An essay on the practical harmonies of rock climbing, and the beauty of solving the puzzle in movement.

Overviews:  An Aesthetics of Gamesan brief summary for the American Society for Aesthetics newsletter. I consider the divide between theorists who view games as a text or art object, to be interrogated for its meaning and content, and the theorists who view games as an activity, to be interrogated for its value and fairness.

Other little stuff: Precis and critical commentary of Grant Tavinor’s “What’s My Motivation?: Video Games and Interpretive Performance” for Aesthetics for Birds’ JAAC x AFB discussion series.

Older papers: Games as Landscape (2013) is a very early form of my view, but many of the details have better developed in the more recent papers.