Some time ago, an Innocent Bystander, after glancing through a copy of Mind, asked me, “Why do philosophers talk so much about Games? Do they play them a lot or something?”(Midgley 1974, 231)
Games are a classic preoccupation for philosophers. Chess is a favourite topic of analysis, and sports have also preoccupied at least the minds of many philosophers (Hickson 2022; Wimsatt 1968; Lewis 1979). The philosophy of computer games, however, is a newer problem. They introduce their own philosophical problems, some related to the ones traditionally associated with the philosophy of games, like rule-following (McDowell 1984; cf. Juul 2005), but some having more to do with the digital nature of computer games (Chalmers 2017; McDonnell and Wildman 2019).
There is also a small group of philosophers who are interested in combining insights from game studies with philosophical research. This research is often aligned more with game studies than philosophy, but this distinction – like all such distinctions – depends on how one draws the lines around those fields. This work happens around the Game Philosophy Network and some of it is published in the Journal of the Philosophy of Games. Both feature philosophers interested in games, and games researchers with philosophical inclinations. But the group is small, and getting more people into these topics that we find fascinating is hard, since there are no degrees or study programs focused on these topics.
That is why we applied for – and fortunately got – a grant to help with exactly with this problem. The funding came from The Joint Committee for Nordic research councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS), and allowed us to organize three workshops: in Berlin, Copenhagen and Jyväskylä, all in 2023. All of them focused on the philosophy of games from slightly different angles: the first was about action in games, the second about representation and the third about phenomenology, hermeneutics and existentialism.
We especially tried to get new people into the field, which meant among other things using some of the funding for travel grants for early career researchers so that they have the funds required for traveling. We couldn’t pay for all the travel costs involved with the workshops, so we also supported remote participation, meaning that we got to see work all the way from Canada to Australia.
The final workshop was held in October, in Jyväskylä. The participants ranged from traditional philosophers looking into problems related to the virtual nature of games, like Tom Poljansek’s talk on understanding virtual objects from a Husserlian perspective, an approach he called “immersive realism”. Or Kumru Akdoğan, who examined game objects with a social ontology approach.
Different phenomenological approaches were well represented. For example, Sara Heinämaa talked about Aurel Kolnai’s (1965) abstract games – Kolnai is perhaps best known for influencing how Bernard Suits thought about games (Suits 1969). Kacper Karwacki talked about the phenomenology of disgust, and Andrea Andiloro about atmosphere as a phenomenological concept for understanding video games. David Ekdahl presented his research combining philosophical phenomenology with empirical work on understanding intercorporeality in esports. Understanding embodiment was also important for Aska Mayer, who presented their work on augmented bodies in science-fiction games. Olli Leino represented both the existential and hermeneutic traditions with his work on gameplay as performance.
This is but a small sample of the broad variety of philosophical work presented in Jyväskylä. For a fuller picture, the abstracts for the presentations are available online.
The organizers for all three workshops included John Sageng, Rune Klevjer, Pawel Grabarczyk, Ida Kathrine Hammeleff Jørgensen, Espen Aarseth, Jonne Arjoranta and Maria Ruotsalainen.
Author bio and contact
PhD Jonne Arjoranta holds a doctoral degree in digital culture from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland and the title of docent from Tampere University. He is specialised in philosophical hermeneutics, game studies and internet cultures and is interested in playful politics, game hermeneutics and geek culture. His dissertation Real-Time Hermeneutics: Meaning-Making in Ludonarrative Digital Games deals with the structures of meaning in digital games. He has published, for example, in Game Studies, Games and Culture and International Journal of Role-Playing. He is the editor-in-chief for the Finnish Yearbook of Game Studies.
Chalmers, David J. 2017. “The Virtual and the Real.” Disputatio 9 (46): 309–52. https://doi.org/10.1515/disp-2017-0009.
Hickson, Michael. 2022. “Illusory Checkmates: Why Chess Is Not a Game.” Synthese 200 (5): 406. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-022-03855-z.
Juul, Jesper. 2005. Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Kolnai, Aurel. 1965. “Games and Aims.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 66: 103–28. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4544725.
Lewis, David. 1979. “Scorekeeping in a Language Game.” Journal of Philosophical Logic 8 (1): 339–59. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00258436.
McDonnell, Neil, and Nathan Wildman. 2019. “Virtual Reality: Digital or Fictional?” Disputatio 0 (0). https://doi.org/10.2478/disp-2019-0004.
McDowell, John. 1984. “Wittgenstein on Following a Rule.” Synthese 58 (3): 325–63. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00485246.
Midgley, Mary. 1974. “The Game Game.” Philosophy 49 (189): 231–53. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3750115.
Suits, Bernard. 1969. “Games and Paradox.” Philosophy of Science 36 (3): 316–21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/186226.
Wimsatt, W. K. 1968. “How to Compose Chess Problems, and Why.” Yale French Studies, no. 41: 68–85. https://doi.org/10.2307/2929666.