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 Boston.com’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.