A great way to get kids into philosophy? Get them into video games, especially RPGS

A brilliant way to make philosophy enjoyable to engage in, is by telling a good story. This is why thought experiments are so commonly used and a powerful tool in philosophy. We get to use our imagination to come to conclusions about what is the right thing to do, what we can know, what is possible or impossible, and so on.

The ability to control deeply developed characters

In films and television shows, it is far from news that storytellers borrow from philosophical concepts and thought experiments as a plot device. The film ‘The Matrix’ is based on Rene Descartes’s thought experiment that argues we cannot truly know anything of the external world by imagining an evil demon that decieves us into thinking that we are observing reality when actually are not. The TV show ‘Black Mirror’ uses every episode as an imagined dystopia caused by technology, serving as a caution for us to consider.

What is it about video games that can do any better? There are a number of reasons. First, ever since players have been able to save games, producers have been able and compelled to maximise content in their product. This has given the opportunity to provide rich storytelling within video games and for long duration. To play through the average videogame can take anywhere from 20 hours to over 40 hours. Contrast this with the knowledge that all 3 Lord of the Rings movies is roughly 10 hours. This allows for much in depth storytelling, since there is no pressure to limit content based on optimal movie length time. This opportunity is exploited in kinds of video games which are called RPGs (Role Playing Games). In these games, the value of story being told is just as valuable the as the gameplay. So in these games maximise on this advantage over movies and TV shows.

The second advantage, is unlike films and other media, video games allow the user to directly engage in the story. As the story progresses, the gameplay that has been taken to get there gives the player a sense of accomplishment, that they have played a role in the events that have come about in the story. To use a simple example, when the story ends with, say, freeing a villiage from an evil dragon, the engagement in the story gives the player the feeling that ‘they’ freed the villiage from the dragon.

From the combination of deep character development from long gameplay, plus the personal interaction by guiding the characters through their journeys, this allows for increased connection with the story as opposed to the more ‘outside observer’ experience in other media.

This has been argued in more depth by Marcus Schulzke (2014), who argues that video games operate as interactive thought experiments. The link to his article can be found here: https://philpapers.org/rec/SCHSPI-2

Consequentialism and possible worlds: games with alternative storylines and alternative endings

In moral philosophy, the ethical theory of consequentialism decides what actions are morally correct based on the consequences that are brought about. Conseqentialists will use thought experiments to imagine possible worlds that will be brought about by particular actions.

In contemporary video games, there will be alternate endings once the game is complete based on decisions made during the game. This gives the player direct engagement in a thought experiment by making decisions and witnessing the consequences, but also being able to replay the game and make different decisions that would lead to other consequences.

In other games, there may be only one ending, but it will allow for alternative decisions during the game which will result in a different journey, even though the ending will be the same. This can offer considerations other than consequentialism, where philosophers will argue that there will be different actions that will produce the same consequences, but one will be better than the others.

Summary

Therefore, contemporary video games are a great way for kids to engage in thought experiments, especially regarding a consequentialist philosophy. Furthermore, video games allow greater involvement in thought experiments than in other media due to their direct interaction with the story.

Reference

Schulzke, M. (2014). Simulating philosophy: interpreting video games as executable thought experiments. Philosophy and Technology 27 (2):251-265

Published by

Andrew Tulloch

I have a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Philosophy and Sociology, with a Political Science minor. I am currently completing my honours degree in Philosophy.

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