Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Philosophy of Video Games Pt. 1: I of the Player vs. I of the Avatar

I just picked up Jon Cogburn and Mark Silcox book, 'Philosophy Through Video Games' and read through the first chapter, 'I, Player: The Puzzle of Personal Identity" and thought I would share a few of their thoughts and, of course, sum up my own ideology behind their questions.

The core question of the chapter is based on the I of the player vs. I of the avatar.  When a player finishes a section of a game or completes a task it is common to say, "I just disengaged the bomb" or "I just killed the green monster." 

But, you didn't kill the green monster or disengage the bomb - you wouldn't know how to disengage a bomb and there is no such thing as a green monster (with the exception of the thing that has been hiding under my bed since I was six).

However, we are the ones who are operating the controls of those who did do these actions:

"We will arrive at the metaphysically surprising conclusion that the temporal and spatial boundaries of self are fundamentally vague."

When does the gaming world end and the 'real world' come into play?  In current gaming trends, there are so many concepts and personal adjustments that can be made to characters in games, i.e. you can customize a character's appearance, abilities, etc.  Couple that with the choices and puzzles in the game that require a certain amount of personal decision making, i.e. World of Warcraft and other RPGs.

"They [players] can actually "play" their characters, in the sense that their success in the game can depend upon how good they are at pretending to be the people represented by the statistics that they have recorded on their "character sheets"."

They, more or less, compare several philosophers ideas ranging from the existence of self being based on actual feelings and emotions from a period of time to an extension of the mind that incorporates pretty much all experiences. 

Personally, I don't generally find myself getting that intrinsically involved in games but yet it is difficult not to accept the idea of "I" as the one accomplishing the goals of the game.  When playing Mario Party with three other friends, it is me that is beating them at Pushy Penguins even though on screen it is Luigi.  It is simply a character choice, and a game played by people - no different than if I beat you at poker, both are games where I was the one whose decisions and skills outmatched an opponent.  The question is, because I beat my opponents as Luigi, does it hold the same validity that "I" did it?

The same goes for games like the original Super Mario Bros.  I may have beat King Koopa in 8-4, but it wasn't me that actually jumped over King Koopa but Mario.  Yet, I controlled Mario and figured out the pattern of the game. 

To sum up since this is making my head hurt - yes, it is me that is playing the character and I am better than you.

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