Philosophizing About Games and Philosophy

Put on your thinking caps for a discussion revolving around the political philosophy theory “state of nature” and its relation to videogames.

As outlined in a Baltimore Sun column, state of nature was first put forth by philosopher Thomas Hobbes who believed that a lack of civil restraints on society would turn people into savages that would do anything to preserve their own liberty or safety, with an emphasis on life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Hobbes’ view is contrasted by fellow philosopher John Locke, who held a more optimistic view that people are generally reasonable and would not seek to harm others, even when left to their own devices.

The Sun author writes that “Readers of online material already know how the anonymity afforded by the World Wide Web enables nasty and slanderous exchanges rarely seen in face-to-face conversations. More tellingly, video games often encourage this phenomenon.”

He goes on to offer a juxtaposition of state of nature as witnessed in two online games. In the first example, Runescape is offered as adhering to Hobbes’ view. When first launched, the game allowed more skilled players to attack newer ones that were unable to defend themselves. Developers eventually had to step in and restrict player-versus-player combat to particular areas in the game.

On the other side of the fence, a game similar to Runescape, named Armies of Gielinor, was able to utilize an unwritten rule that protected newbies from veteran players, giving more credence to the views of Locke.

The author concludes his article by noting, “The path we choose – in video games as in real life – is up to us.”

GP: So, what does all this mean? Unfortunately philosophy is not known for offering concrete answers.  As mentioned in the article, if you have a computer, you have witnessed Hobbes’ views in action online, probably multiple times a day. Earlier this week I was struck by something that could be linked to Locke’s views, though it’s not game-related. As a fan of’s Big Picture photo blog, I checked it out earlier this week only to read that the blog’s author was sick and taking the day off. Every single user comment on that post was positive, something rarely seen online.

Share any examples you may have witnessed—from either side—in the comments.

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  1. ZippyDSMlee says:

    The trouble is Hobbes has the train of thought places societies morals as an absolute that must be adhered to.Locke seems to "gets it".

    Until lobbying is a hanging offense I choose anarchy! CP/IP laws should not effect the daily life of common people!

  2. Shadow D. Darkman says:

    Technically, Hobbes and Locke are both right, it just depends on the situation.

    What I think is, we humans can be so stupid and unknowingly destructive, that pre-operation Charlie Gordon from "Flowers for Algernon" and Lennie from "Of Mice And Men" look smart and like a friend to all living things, respectively. HOWEVER, we humans also have an untold potential, a la Son Gohan from DragonBall Z, for brilliance on par with that of the residents of Zeal in "Chrono Trigger".

    But as I said in my previous comment, everyone has their own beliefs. IMO, sharing your beliefs with others is fine, so long as it isn’t preachy, but forcing others to accept your beliefs is out.


    "The dream of Zeal is alive!"

  3. ZippyDSMlee says:

    Ok *shifts gears to moving, that grrr and smoke and tinker along strangely*


    You have 2 or 3 clashing trains of thought here one is civil society somehow buffers man from being human (Hobbes), another that in the throws of chaos most people will be do what’s right/needed(Locke) The last 2 as I see it would be the power anonymity gives the common human and what happens when they indulge in fantasy.  

    Imo…..  civil society is cake and the cake is a lie(its pompous holier than thou wank that tries to put the cart before the horse)…….. at the most what society gives us is stability no matter the forum of it tends to conglomerate  our numbers and the drive to survive together in some shape or form rather than facing it all alone, dying in vain by greater numbers….


    Has the right idea, humans are by nature wavering, chaotic if you try and force them through a standardized square hole you’ll wind up with bruised thumbs and a broke hammer. Humans not only desire but require diversity but not the fake phallic inept PC nazi kind we see so much of today….


    The modern naysayers are putting the cart before the horse by blaming bad behavior routines on casual use of the brain, imagination or dare I say “media” things like books and such.  Anonymity gives us power to be ourselves if we seem to be selfish self absorbed weak minded ass holes its more due to society not taking care of the poor not taking care of education generally not doing the things it needs to do to keep society at large not breathing through their mouth, yes we can blame individuals in this process but after a certain point it becomes a problem of the whole not just some….. I mean you want to blame the net but my lord people…how many decades how many centuries have we have anonymous letter mail you think just cause you got to write it all out it somehow stopped trolling, flaming and general mental abuse of communication? I mean this sounds like theater all over again….that’s shakespearean if you forgot , theater was all well and great until they started letting in the masses……

    As for the Freudian issues with playing with fictional mothers…er….. I mean fictional characters come on people……can you not find a new row to ho and not dig the well trodden path of intellectual graft……….

    Until lobbying is a hanging offense I choose anarchy! CP/IP laws should not effect the daily life of common people!

  4. hcf says:

    Philosophical discourse is sufficiently "nerdy" that we should generally welcome any opportunity for the "rank and file" public to interact in dialogue even not in a meaningful way.

    In fact, if it encourages even one XBox Live inhabitant to develop themselves by "thinking about how and why we think", then it may have done a public service greater than our public education system can manage. 🙁

  5. Wavy gravy says:

    Well for one it is an article about the philosophy, it isn’t an actuall ‘Philosophy Essay’ so no one would expect it to be written as such.

    Secondly there is an implicit argument throught the whole article summed up in the last line. ("The path we choose – in video games as in real life – is up to us.") He seems to be suggesting that neither Locke nor Hobbes are completly right. It would seem that in the virtual world, as in the real world, our interactions with others are not restricted by any overwhelming natural psychological forces, or human nature (within reason of course). It is ultimatly a choice………………….. The author even goes to the effort of noting some of the limitations to any conclusions that can be drawn from the examples.

    Thirdly philosophers don’t just read philosophy books, or articles written in a strict formula. I know many philosophers at my university who would find this article very interesting.

  6. KayleL says:

    For an article that is talking about philosophy, they don’t make a proper argument. Real philosophers won’t even look at this article because it does not correctly propose like how a philosopher would. (thank you philosophy class)

  7. hcf says:

    That is basically what I intended to communicate.

    Schools of philosophy differ primarily in the assumptions they make about things which cannot be proven (and the reasons they suppose for having those assumptions).  They are all the same in one regard however, which is that if you accept their lemmas, and follow through with the application of logic, they inexorably defer to a single conclusion in a given circumstance.  That was the thrust of my intent.

    It’s inappropriate to try and predict human behaviour from a philosophy however, after all serial killers aren’t merely adherents to a foreign philosphy, so one can’t say that either Hobbes or Locke are correct merely in citing existence proofs contrary to the idealistic interpretation of their expectations.  In this regard, the article we’re discussing is misplaced.  One doesn’t amass a sufficient hoard of evidence to prove the basic assumptions of a philosophy.  They remain, eternally, assumptions.

    You have struck rather directly on the primary dialogue of the utopia, that a utopia for some must inevitably be a dystopia for others, but the lesson is not to eliminate individual thought, but rather to advance the philosophy of the public major.  When a single philosophy is predominantly selected by all the individuals’ moral agencies, then the resulting society can properly be called a utopia.  But then what is this universal philosophy?

    It’s a question we may need to answer relatively soon, if we are to start creating machines with an individual capacity for thought.

  8. Shadow D. Darkman says:

    "WHICH philosphy gives the concrete answers?"

    Depends on the person, really.

    In any case, it’s neither here nor there. To each their own, and to everyone else stop forcing it on others.


    "The dream of Zeal is alive!"


  9. ZippyDSMlee says:

    So polished "trains of thought" can boil down a question to yes/no (concrete more or less ) but its the individual that puts a hole in the concrete pool?

    Thats kinda like saying that humanity would be a prefect harmonious utopia  if we just got rid of that pesky independent thought. I suppose shades of truth are there.

    *tries to think alil more* Ok I get what you are saying its the indecision from the smaller groups in the larger groups that breaks their solidarity and thus makes that practical train of philosophy….but most would see it from the outside in IE see the groups of philosophy arguing over something therefor there is no solid ground IE its not concert.

    PS:mmmmm Hobbes……..Fable…….annoying short brutes….geee……

    Until lobbying is a hanging offense I choose anarchy! CP/IP laws should not effect the daily life of common people!

  10. hcf says:

    Yes, of course I know all that.  The answer to your question is that every school of philosophical thought gives a concrete answer.  That the answers you get from different schools of philosophical thought (that the outputs may be different if you change the inputs) may be different doesn’t make them any less concrete.

    I will try to say this again for your benefit alone; The problem of philosophicl indecision lies not with the foundations of philosophy, unless it is a poor or incomplete school of philosophy, but rather with the individual’s moral agency which rejects decisions not in line with its own expectations.

  11. sharpshooterbabe says:

    I have played Runescape & most of the players on there are teenie boppers. & young teens. The lvl 70-145’s will pick on the newbies & call them noobs & make fun of them for it.



    "It’s better to be hated for who you are, then be loved for who you are not." – Montgomery Gentry

  12. Beacon80 says:

    I wonder, though.  In Runescape, how many high level characters didn’t antagonize newbies?  I think by and large the internet doesn’t make people worse, it just increases the number of people you interact with by thousands.  So that’s a lot more of people from every walk of life, and since we only really notice the people who annoy us…

  13. sharpshooterbabe says:

    I agree w/what you are saying. But get that person out in the open in public w/him/her or you & I bet they wouldn’t say a thing to you to your face. That burns me the most! People on the net say a bunch of shit don’t can’t back it up in person, face to face. I grew up being taught if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all. It’s that simple.



    "It’s better to be hated for who you are, then be loved for who you are not." – Montgomery Gentry

  14. hellfire7885 says:

    Heh, it depends on the person. Even online I try to be respectful, unless a someone is being a dick toward me from the get go, then I feel no obligation at all to be nice back.

    Essentially the net, since there are no violent repercussions, can bring out who a person truly is. If there were no reprucissions in face to face itneraction, they’d still be assholes. People will happily drive you to suicide if they can as they don’t have to deal with it if you do it. If a person really is a monster, the net ddin’t make them one, it just let their true self out.

  15. sharpshooterbabe says:

    Are you a philosopher or did you major in it?



    "It’s better to be hated for who you are, then be loved for who you are not." – Montgomery Gentry

  16. Flamespeak says:

    You, sir, have no idea what you are talking about.

    WHICH philosphy gives the concrete answers? You are aware there are several different philosophical stances that one can take on any different situation or problem with near polar opposite views, right? Which one of those is the concrete answer?

  17. DarkSaber says:

    Is that what YOU want to be true?


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  18. hcf says:

    Philosophy *does* give concrete answers.  The problem is human capacity to accept them when they don’t reinforce their own moral agency.  Said another way, there is the truth, single and universal, and then there is what we want to be true…what we will search to find a convincing reason to be true.  They are not always the same.

  19. sharpshooterbabe says:

    Hmmm now Im wondering if I should even get the game WOW. Thanks for the input. But not just games, in real life, there are dicks, mean people & hateful, negative, vein people. Unfortunately females I think are the worst. & yes I know I am talking about myself, but I was raised a diff way to respect others & give people the benefit of the doubt till they prove to me or anyone else that they lost that respect a long time ago. Then just play the same game they do when they are rude, you be rude back. Plus no one wants to be around people like that.



    "It’s better to be hated for who you are, then be loved for who you are not." – Montgomery Gentry

  20. Adamas Draconis says:

    In Dragonrealms, theres an unspoken rule about attacking Empaths, since they almost literaly defenseless until high levels. And people break that rule or attack much lower lvl charecters tend to both face the same punishment, namely being "walked" which is basicly killed multiple times until the charecter is forced into Permadeath and stripped of their gear as well.

    Hunting the shadows of the troubled dreams.

  21. jsmuli2 says:

    This reminds me of Gemer Theory, the book about the Allegory of the Cave and the similarities with video games.


    From the description:

    Gamer Theory uncovers the significance of games in the gap between the near-perfection of actual games and the highly imperfect gamespace of everyday life in the rat race of free-market society. The book depicts a world becoming an inescapable series of less and less perfect games. This world gives rise to a new persona. In place of the subject or citizen stands the gamer. As all previous such personae had their breviaries and manuals, Gamer Theory seeks to offer guidance for thinking within this new character. Neither a strategy guide nor a cheat sheet for improving one’s score or skills, the book is instead a primer in thinking about a world made over as a gamespace, recast as an imperfect copy of the game.

  22. Roh02 says:

    without putting an actual life at risk (yours or theirs) I dont think this can be fully accurate

    secondly alot of the d**ks online are very young and dont have nearly as much life experiance as adults yet (and likely arent yet who they will be as adults)

    and being young (not big) arent likely to have been in any serious real world violence if they did they would quickly learn its not the way for a kid as there ar many much larger than they are

    I was a good kid over all although I had an issue with my temper for awhile (Irish origins heh) but I got over that before I grew up

    my temper rarely manifested without alot of provication and certainly not in games (nice outlet though most likely helped keep it in check if anything) all my controllers are intact … my brother on the other hand ruined a few but then he’s a prick without or without games

    my point is unless your dealing with fully formed adults and real world consequences not "civil restraints" more if you hit someone youll likely be hit back etc etc you cant really deem games as a real example

    you could argue the lack of repercussions shows you who we REALLY are but frankly we REALLY live in the REAL world using games as an example is … for want of a better word "broken"

  23. chadachada321 says:

    Hobbe’s and Locke are both right. However, in my eyes, Locke is more correct in that he supports freedom over oppression. I’d prefer fighting for my freedom instead of accepting a lack of rights for the sake of "security."

    -Optimum est pati quod emendare non possis-It is best to endure what you cannot change-

  24. GoodRobotUs says:

    Most people will not kill unless they feel their is some kind of gain to be obtained from doing so, whether it be sustenance or conquest. In fact, I’d say an individual human, removed from herd mentality, would be unwilling to risk his own hide unless vital, you can’t send a ‘few good men’, you are, alone, responsible for your actions.

    The problem is this, we might be less violent with complete freedom to act, but, oddly enough, we would also be less advanced, the struggle to define and control what ‘Freedom’ is, is part of what defines us, many Holy texts are based around a struggle for freedom from an oppressor, and always those struggles are violent, but considered worthwhile due to some vision of perfection that may be obtainable at the end of the road.

    I’d say Freedom is an important thing, but if there is ultimate Freedom to act, then there must, in balance, be ultimate freedom to accept the consequences of your actions in a society which consists of thousands and millions of humans inter-acting. You cannot simply isolate out a single person and define their actions, you must consider it from a social aspect as well.

    As far as thought is concerned, if anyone tried to regulate our ability to play through scenarios in our head, then they would take away the very thing that lifted us up in the first place, our ability to plan, to simulate possible outcomes in our minds and reject unwanted ones, it’s those abilities that make our actions so much further from instinct than other animals.

  25. Cerabret100 says:

    pretty much, I love WoW, but i freaking HATE 99% of the people on the forums.

    They’re all elitest and hateful douchebags, whom god forbid someone isn’t up to their high standards.

    I’d like it if you could click on someone’s name and see ALL their characters so they can no longer hide behind lvl 1 alts.

    I love it when someone is such an ass, their server really does blacklist them from any organized function and inability to create a bogus character to post in the forums would go a ways torwards weeding some of them out.

    Either that or blizzard really needs to dust off the ban hammer division.

  26. DarkSaber says:

    People are dicks.



    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

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