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The Philosophy of Video Games (Also, Philosocom's Subcategory on Gaming)

Updated: May 9

AI art by Mr. Elisha Dvir

Articles primarily on video games:


How Video Games Reflect and Extend Ourselves

To put it simply, video games are an extension of the self, transcending the limitations of our everyday lives. Their appeal cuts across various demographics, from mainstream blockbusters to niche indie gems. While entertainment is undoubtedly a major function it fills, some players seek more than just thrills. We yearn to push our boundaries, to experiment with who we could be, to extend our abilities through a virtual simulation.

At their core, all video games, regardless of genre, offer a temporary escape into an electronic world. We put on the mantle of a character, stepping into their shoes for a predefined period. This chosen persona, be it a valiant soldier, a cunning strategist, or an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances, becomes a an opportunity for self-exploration, between who we are and our ideal selves.

Think of it as a psychological mirror. Our choice of role, the actions we take within the game's world, can reveal hidden facets of our personalities, desires, and fears. Do we wield power with grace or succumb to its corruptive allure? Do we face adversity with courage or crumble under pressure? These virtual experiences, while fantastical, can offer valuable insights into the depths of our own being, in the real world.

Having traversed a vast landscape of virtual realities since childhood, I firmly believe that the true allure of video games lies in this potential for self-discovery, similar with writing. They offer a true safe space to experiment, to explore our potential beyond the confines of the real world, and to discover the multifaceted heroes and villains that reside within us all. Such escapism is a safer space than actual safe spaces.

Holding a controller is like to operating an extension of our brain, each button press a ripple in the digital world, dictating our character's movements and interactions. During gameplay, the screen becomes our portal, our consciousness absorbed by the pixels within its borders. It's like watching TV, but with the added thrill of being the puppeteer, pulling the strings of our virtual selves.

How Video Games Offer Escape and Puppet Mastery

Video games, with their fantastical worlds and limitless possibilities, offer an escape from the constraints of reality, thus allowing us to further eradicate boredom. Here, we can indulge in actions that would be unthinkable in real life, from wielding unimaginable power to forging pixelated romances with characters designed to cater to our every whim (similar to what I call "robot lovers")

However, this allure of the simulated raises a crucial question: does it improve or worsen our modern-day isolation? It is such a question I also covered regarding computers. Dating sims, for instance, present a perfect partner, always available and eager to please, potentially warping our expectations of real-life relationships. Witnessing someone so engaged in these virtual worlds, seemingly more invested in fictional characters than actual people, can be quite disturbing. As such, video games may also make us question the social value of humanity, and not only from the knowledge-related aspect.

It's important to remember that video games are not mirrors reflecting reality, but meticulously crafted escape pods, designed to be consumed for our delightf. They are designed to entertain, to provide an adrenaline rush or a comforting sense of control. In some rare cases, they can actually offer some depth, like Silent Hill 2, but I digress.

Unlike books, where we passively absorb narratives, games put us into the driver's seat, granting us agency within their pre-defined pathways. This active participation, this puppet mastery over our virtual avatars, is what makes them feel like extensions of ourselves, even if those extensions exist solely within the realm of fiction. And because they fail reflecting reality in an accurate way most often, fictional media often serve as poor teachers of reality.

As Epictetus reminds us, most things in life fall beyond our direct control. Yet, we can find solace in the power to shape our thoughts and decisions, even if it's just a small victory in the grand scheme of things. Theoretically, in the real world, we are "pawns", for lack of a better word, to the tyranny of circumstance. "Pawns" of the law, "pawns" of teachers, family, and bosses; and "pawns" of our duties, if we have any. If there is indeed a spiritual realm to reality, we might also be "pawns" to dharma.

You can quit your job if you'd like, but that would mean that you would have one less source of income that is imperative for you to afford being alive and/or taking care of others.

Ultimately, video games are about control, not necessarily in a grand, power-hungry sense, but in the smaller moments of dictating our character's actions. This control, however alluring, serves as a stark reminder of our limitations in the real world.

You can quit school, but that might decrease your job opportunities. You can harass people, but that might put your life in danger or, at the very least, ban you from certain places (even online).

While not all video games allow you to be a God of sorts, you can always start from the very beginning, or even reset a level you're in. Thus, even if your character is about to die, you can always start anew, as if your choices have absolutely no consequences. Even events that have no point of return, can, in fact, be returned to by resetting your game or loading a different file of the game. With this power, you can control a virtual world's concept of time.

That is true in the vast majority of video games, thus making you, the player, a "time lord", or a manipulator of time. In addition, if the game's too hard, you can change its difficulty in most cases, and thus make your time there less painful.

The philosophy of video games is, therefore, that you are capable of far more than what you would otherwise be in real life. That's what makes these worlds a form of great escape and of giving you power you wouldn't otherwise have. By "power," I refer to liberties rather than authority, even though in some cases they are both.

The problem of video games is similar to that of a recluse. Why should one desire the real world, when the virtual one can offer so much more?

Seeking Meaning in Reality's Imperfections

In an age of hyper-personalized "realities" (Like in the concept of a "metaverse"), a sad question arises: Why settle for the messy uncertainties of real-life relationships and societal engagement when you can craft/control a digital persona and live within a meticulously curated virtual playground? These are pressing questions, echoing in the minds of many, potentially driving us further apart, seeking refuge in the fantasies of simulated worlds.

But I, having delved into the alluring depths of virtual fantasies, have found my answer to this existential query. My continued presence in the online realm, this digital echo of myself, is fueled by a different desire: the yearning for relevance.

The thrill of crafted virtual romances and fabricated victories pales in comparison to the profound satisfaction of genuine human contribution. To be thanked, to spark joy, to receive an authentic "well done" – these are not mere ego boosts, but a deep-seated fruits of work, to leave a ripple in the vast pool of existence. This yearning for relevance, for feeling like more than a human ghost, is what I have never discovered in the pixelated realms, despite years of exploration.

For it's all fabricated, fake.

Being realistic, I have come to understand, lies in embracing the imperfections of humans and their connections. But it's in forging bonds with beings who challenge and surprise us, with whom we must compromise and adapt, where human reality exists. It's in contributing to a society that, like us, is flawed and ever-evolving, offering our unique skills and perspectives to weave a richer diversity of shared, authentic experience.

And to want to run away from them is to minimize the worth of our potential in the real world, thus wasting it away in favor of interactive simulations that are nothing more than representation of code and graphics, in the world beyond the mind.

This is not to dismiss the allure of virtual worlds. They offer respite, exploration, and joy. But ultimately, it is in the messy, sometimes frustrating, yet immensely rewarding terrain of real-life interactions that allow us to realize our true potential and make a difference that does not solely lie in interactive fiction. It is in this imperfect dance with reality that we discover the profound truth: to "feel real", AKA, present beyond our loneliness, is to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

I will build my empire, in the real world. It deserves being built here, and not within a screen alone.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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