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 book on the philosophy of games

My book, Games: Agency as Art, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Games occupy a unique and valuable place in our lives. Game designers do not simply create worlds; they design temporary selves. Game designers set what our motivations are in the game and what our abilities will be. Thus: games are the art form of agency. By working in the artistic medium of agency, games can offer a distinctive aesthetic value. They support aesthetic experiences of deciding and doing.

And the fact that we play games shows something remarkable about us. Our agency is more fluid than we might have thought. In playing a game, we take on temporary ends; we submerge ourselves temporarily in an alternate agency. Games turn out to be a vessel for communicating different modes of agency, for writing them down and storing them. Games create an archive of agencies. And playing games is how we familiarize ourselves with different modes of agency, which helps us develop our capacity to fluidly change our own style of agency.

This book grew from the seed of my earlier paper, Games and the Art of Agency (Philosophical Review, forthcoming).


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.

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.