308: The State of Gaming Nature

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The State of Gaming Nature

Judging by Fallout: New Vegas and Red Dead Redemption, centuries-old philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau would've made pretty good game designers.

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Definitely an interesting take on the games. I never really saw them that way, but you do have a very good point.

Good thought provoking article. I really enjoyed reading this and the comparisons made between the game were interesting and original :)

Ahhh it's always great to see someone who understands the true meaning behind Fallout: New Vegas, and the original Fallout's too.

I see too many people complain that New Vegas sucked because it isn't "post-apocalyptic" enough.

That was indeed an excellent article, very thought provoking and carefully structured with deep analysis. I am siding with Red Dead Redemption's outlook on it however, with the simple belief that while the old west was harsher than modern society, it was more honest, as people knew morals and how to conduct themselves properly without needing 'society' to beat it into them. In a place like the old west, people with malicious intent cannot expect to last long in a world where people will defend themselves and each other.

Plus I'm a sucker for a good old six-shooter. ^^

Interesting take. RDR did a wonderful job of evoking sadness at the passing of a way of life, but I had never thought of it as a bookend to Fallout. Makes sense though.

Well now I should probably get around to playing Fallout.

I think that rousseau is right in a way. Man is enslaved by our current society. But our society if very flawed and doomed to fail. In different kinds of society, man would be born free, and could continue to live freely.

In the end, I would go with the New Vegas message. Without civilization of any kind, Humans are little more than animals. Our civilization isnt perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but as the evolution of life, so the evolution of societies will keep improving on what we have now.

Andrew Bell:
The State of Gaming Nature

Judging by Fallout: New Vegas and Red Dead Redemption, centuries-old philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau would've made pretty good game designers.

Read Full Article

What's interesting to me about both Hobbes and Rousseau is that neither seemed to really get into how the genesis of "society" plays into our state of nature. They seemed to speak as though Society was somehow imposed on us by an outside force, some unseen "zookeeper," rather than constructed by mankind itself. Society isn't in conflict with our nature. It reveals our nature, or rather what we feel about our nature, because we created it.

The nature of a man, when you get right down to it, is self. Myself and my needs are the first things I know and understand, all else be damned. I'm hungry, so I cry until food is brought. I want a cookie, so I take it from the jar. We are selfish by nature.

Now, the problem with that statement comes when we try to assign a moral weight to being "selfish." Selfishness is morally neutral, neither good nor bad on its own. We are only so because, at the beginning, Self is all we know. Later, we begin to learn to utilize other people to help meet our needs (such as crying because we understand it will cause others to fill those needs). Even later, we begin to understand that behaving in certain ways (sharing, being polite) greatly expedites this process.

Much later, after much practice, we begin to really understand and empathize with others. We say, "Please," and "Thank you," and, "I'm sorry," because we understand how we would feel in the other person's shoes... but still, we are understanding those feelings through the filter of self.

In the end, society and its rules developed for two reasons: fear and empathy.

Hobbes focuses on the fear: We'd love to take whatever we want, but we know that a world in which that is permissible means it can be done to us. There will always be someone stronger, so we know that we would constantly have to protect what is ours. In a sense, we fear the freedom that others might have, so we forfeit a bit of ours to establish something of an armistice.

Rousseau focuses on the empathy: As social creatures, we understand that we need each other to best survive and thrive. Your broken leg means neither of us will eat tonight, unless I help you. Additionally, if I help you when you're in need, you'll do the same for me when my time comes.

And both men are right, though seemingly opposing. They're entering the same room through different doors, and that room is Self. In the Hobbes-ian view, we fear for our Self and what others might do against it. In the Rousseau-ian view, we empathize with the Self of others because we know what they can do for our own.

Rousseau's angle is the more advanced, to be sure. A person has to be willing to put aside or delay gratification of the Self to truly feel and act upon that empathy. But the fact that such a thing takes effort (and, for many, law) demonstrates that something about it runs counter to our nature. Meanwhile, Hobbes's approach doesn't account for the fact that society somehow emerged from that brutal and selfish nature--something about the "law of the jungle" also conflicts with our nature.

As for the games themselves, I really found New Vegas to provide a more accurate representation of our nature, in that it doesn't put the player in either camp. It shows us both sides (with the raiders on one end, and the Followers on the other, and other factions strewn in between), and then lets us choose--gradually. It's not just a matter of "choose to do combat and leave the helping," or "choose to do the helping and shun the combat." You can make those choices within a single quest, based on how you resolve it.

An interesting take on two games I've read up on but haven't played yet. I like.

Very well thought out article OP, that was a cracking read.

In a way both games deal with the same issue however: the loss of a way of life. RDR mourns the loss of the old ways and resignedly gives them up to the inevitable march of 'progress', whereas F:NV carries a more positive message in the desire of mankind to recover the civilisation that it has lost. Or maybe it's just that the grass is always greener on the other side of the field...

Just wanted to add that in F:NV you can choose to kill Mr.House and drag away the NCR and Caesar leaving Vegas in complete anarchy.

Well written and thoughtful article. Nutritious food for thought.

That was a great and thought provoking article, A very good first piece. Though I can't speak for everyone but reading about Red Dead Redemption always makes me romanticise the game, strangely for what little you do at times in that game I still remember it so fondly, just like GTA4 in fact.

The article only reminded me of the absurdity of pre-darwininan social philosophies.

Civilisation is in our nature, the only reason it exists is because we evolved in such a way that fostered its development.
Our horror, our aggression, our selfishness are as much a part of our nature as our compassion and our sympathy and our generosity.
Man, by his very nature, is a contradiction. We serve others that we deem worthy and condemn those we don't. Each man has his own scale by which he measures the world.
The man who hoardes his wealth and scorns the very idea of charity is as much a victim of his genes as the man who endures suffering so that others might escape it.
If we want to 'rise above', as it were, it is not some long-dead philosopher who's going to help us. It is going to be our own recognition of our natures and our whims.
The true marvel of the human brain is its ability to deny the genes their control, but only if we are aware of 'instinct' acting on us.

As for games, the only one that has even come close is GTAIV. Every character is a victim of their nature, and Nico is the aggregate of all the ideas expressed throughout the game.
As he says himself, he doesn't want to kill but it's the only way he knows how to live.

In Red Dead Redemption you - as Marsden - proceed to murder your old life one gang member at a time. To say that civilisation is the only corrupt force in the game is a little absurd considering that Marsden himself was, prior to the game, a murderer and thief. If he is supposed to represent the 'best of man', then he has left a lot to be desired. This is not to mention that you are very often beset by bandits who plague civilisation from their hideouts in amongst the wilderness. And that the Wilderness itself often likes to come tumbling out at you in the form of a mountain lion or - god forbid - bear.
Marsden's death represents the end of the Old West, but it hardly represents the end of a more 'moral' world. It represents the end of an era and the beginning of a new, uncertain and unclear future. Good and bad are no longer so clearly defined.

As for New Vegas, the Mojave isn't something in need of restoration. It's humanity that is broken. The world itself operates as it always has.
As for the factions:
The NCR is the middle ground between independence and Caesar's Legion, because if you act properly you can actually have all the groups work in tandem with the NCR which brings the greatest balance of stability and freedom to the region.
Independence is absolute freedom. Caesar's Legion is absolute Stability. The NCR is neither absolutely free, nor absolutely stable, but rather than sacrificing one for the other, by sacrificing a small measure of both you gain a level of balance between the two.

This is a really interesting article... sorry that's not very constructive, but there's not a lot to add ;)

Andrew Bell:
The State of Gaming Nature

Judging by Fallout: New Vegas and Red Dead Redemption, centuries-old philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau would've made pretty good game designers.

Read Full Article

even more to the point is how games are effected by philosophy, morality and politics. (the most important thing is that the sentence still works if you replace the word 'games' with the word 'art')

On the other hand. Given the number of quests in RD:R that involve you fighting bandits who, given the oppertunity, would & do burn down everything & everyone in their way for the fun of it. It is arguable that RD:R is also Hobbian, just in a bittersweet way in that for all the beauty & simplicity of life that a character like Marston could find in the Wilds, it's still a brutal place in which he has comitteed more than his fair share of atrocities. It's as much about finding the little things that make even a horrible life worth living (but a life that, ultimately, can only be happy when it ends), as an ode to the desirability of the wild life.

Great article.
However. I kind of felt like Fallout had examples of the Rousseau perspective as well. In the locations where humans carried on the mantle of civilization (the vaults like vault 11) they often met more brutal ends than if they had embraced the anarchy of the wasteland.

I guess I'm in the minority here, because aside from the brief mentions of Hobbes and Rousseau, what is this article saying? Nothing. Brief summations of two games with no real commentary on either.

I haven't been reading the Escapist that long, relatively speaking, but week to week, month to month the content seems to be getting thinner and thinner.

Wow, what a great article. A very interesting take on two games I love. I never thought about it like that, but your points make perfect sense. The beds, especially.

Dastardly:

Andrew Bell:
The State of Gaming Nature

Judging by Fallout: New Vegas and Red Dead Redemption, centuries-old philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau would've made pretty good game designers.

Read Full Article

super snip

oh wow.... I can't give you enough internet points for all that. Thank you for being my post of the day (or maybe the week). I've never really thought of the Hobbes/Rousseau contrast like that.

Dastardly:

And both men are right, though seemingly opposing. They're entering the same room through different doors, and that room is Self. In the Hobbes-ian view, we fear for our Self and what others might do against it. In the Rousseau-ian view, we empathize with the Self of others because we know what they can do for our own.

...and then there's Dawkins, who argues that the genes that cause us to aid people who are genetically similar to us are often favored by natural selection.

Basically, if me and my brother share the gene that causes us to help each other out, the gene is more likely to be passed on because we are aiding each other than an alternative gene that would cause us to fight against each other. Parents caring for their offspring is the strongest example of this.

The main functional difference between Dawkins' view and Hobbes and Rousseau's view is that Hobbes and Rousseau try to approach it as an individual making a rational decision about what is in his best interests, while Dawkin's view approaches it as innate behavior that has been built into out natures.

BloodSquirrel:
The main function difference between Dawkins' view and Hobbes and Rousseau's view is that Hobbes and Rousseau try to approach it as an individual making a rational decision about what is in his best interests, while Dawkin's view approaches it as innate behavior that has been built into out natures.

Ultimately, I think, all three are correct. There must be some genetic basis for both behaviors (as well as many others), but as (relatively) rational beings, we sometimes seek to rise above instinct and make more reasoned choices. The desires for civilization/organization and for freedom/individuality are both present in everyone. This is part of the duality of human nature; the Yin and Yang of existence.

Not to beat a dead horse, but the these concepts are so well expressed through the medium of video games - better, I would argue, than through film or drama, and possibly even literature - that anyone trying to argue that video games can never be art is just ignorant or foolish. No other medium allows the viewer to be a participant that can experience the message in a first-hand sort of way. All forms of art try to give the audience a different perspective, but only video games can make it so direct and meaningful.

Plus, they can be a hell of a lot of fun!

^_^

I suspect, like all things, the real answer is a compromise of both viewpoints. Humanity is neither evil or good, but flawed

Trolldor:

The true marvel of the human brain is its ability to deny the genes their control, but only if we are aware of 'instinct' acting on us.

Sir, you have dared to bring science to a philosophy debate, so now I will force you to stand by your principles.

Why? You have just made an unsupported statement

EDIT: Sorry I was far too harsh towards your excellent and noteworthy contribution.

Statement
1. Human instinct stems from genetic evolution. Correct.

2. Human behaviour can deny instinct. Correct

3. Therefore we can only control our behaviour by recognising the our instinct and it's origins??

The logic doesn't follow. Particularly if you are talking in an evolutionary sense. Neither Gandhi or Martin Luther King studied evolution to come up with their fantastic philosophy and instinct breaking behaviour, but merely philosophers and religious figures.

In a general, psychological sense, we need it to understand humans, but I think it's too much of a logical leap (and probably incorrect) to suggest we need it to be able to modify our behaviour appropriately. It tends to work the opposite, people use it to argue that there is no moral foundation and that they should have sex with as many people as possible and be a douche because that's in line with what genetics has taught them. The study of overriding instincts is what comes after studying instincts and presumably relies (and therefore relies on understanding) a completely different or higher level of mechanism

the7ofswords:

BloodSquirrel:
The main function difference between Dawkins' view and Hobbes and Rousseau's view is that Hobbes and Rousseau try to approach it as an individual making a rational decision about what is in his best interests, while Dawkin's view approaches it as innate behavior that has been built into out natures.

Ultimately, I think, all three are correct. There must be some genetic basis for both behaviors (as well as many others), but as (relatively) rational beings, we sometimes seek to rise above instinct and make more reasoned choices. The desires for civilization/organization and for freedom/individuality are both present in everyone. This is part of the duality of human nature; the Yin and Yang of existence.

Not to beat a dead horse, but the these concepts are so well expressed through the medium of video games - better, I would argue, than through film or drama, and possibly even literature - that anyone trying to argue that video games can never be art is just ignorant or foolish. No other medium allows the viewer to be a participant that can experience the message in a first-hand sort of way. All forms of art try to give the audience a different perspective, but only video games can make it so direct and meaningful.

Plus, they can be a hell of a lot of fun!

^_^

I agree with most everything you say :D Especially the part on videogames being the best medium through which to explore a philosophical theory. There was a pronounced difference in my feelings towards interactions in both of the mentioned games, and I have never so fully understood and accepted Rousseau's theory of morality as I did when I played Red Dead Redemption, though I personally have to disagree with it.

I would also like to add that I think a game could be added to the discussion to greatly enhance it. A few games can be mentioned which don't shift from civilization to wilderness which disprove both theories. They are quite thoughtful and show that morality doesn't exist in a vacuum, that in the prolonged absence of culture, or at least non-hostiles, insanity can set in, warping what is acceptable and unacceptable. In the presence of culture, the different cultures themselves dictate the morality of a situation. Every game with a morality meter takes culture's effect on morality into account (consciously or unconsciously), as it is the culture of the player character, how they were raised, that dictates whether an act is moral or immoral. Killing an innocent carries as much karmic penalty in a town of innocents as it does when a group of bloodthirsty bandits are telling you to in order to initiate you.

Oh gods dammit, no spoiler warning.
There goes the RDR story for me :'(
fuck
where are my amnesia pills?

even before playing either of these, I felt that had many commonalities. both games really appeal to me for similar reasons. Guess I'm a fan of westerns then

BloodSquirrel:

Dastardly:

And both men are right, though seemingly opposing. They're entering the same room through different doors, and that room is Self. In the Hobbes-ian view, we fear for our Self and what others might do against it. In the Rousseau-ian view, we empathize with the Self of others because we know what they can do for our own.

...and then there's Dawkins, who argues that the genes that cause us to aid people who are genetically similar to us are often favored by natural selection.

Basically, if me and my brother share the gene that causes us to help each other out, the gene is more likely to be passed on because we are aiding each other than an alternative gene that would cause us to fight against each other. Parents caring for their offspring is the strongest example of this.

The main functional difference between Dawkins' view and Hobbes and Rousseau's view is that Hobbes and Rousseau try to approach it as an individual making a rational decision about what is in his best interests, while Dawkin's view approaches it as innate behavior that has been built into out natures.

Eh, I'd say that if it is genetic, that doesn't alter our experience. I help Billy move his couch because it feels like the right thing to do, and because I believe it means he'll be more inclined to do the same for me. Now, if those feelings and beliefs are genetically influenced, does it negate the fact that I experience them as feelings or beliefs? If I'm genetically predisposed to have strawberry as my favorite ice cream, does that somehow diminish the sense of enjoyment I get while eating it?

The decision is still a rational one, whether or not it's genetically influenced. I'd say the compromise point between the three would be to say that it's not a conscious decision in the vast majority of cases. That leaves it open to influence from a multitude of genetic and environmental factors. What matters is that we do it because, one way or another, we understand it as being in the interest of Self.

shiajun:

Dastardly:

Andrew Bell:
The State of Gaming Nature

Judging by Fallout: New Vegas and Red Dead Redemption, centuries-old philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau would've made pretty good game designers.

Read Full Article

super snip

oh wow.... I can't give you enough internet points for all that. Thank you for being my post of the day (or maybe the week). I've never really thought of the Hobbes/Rousseau contrast like that.

Glad to be of service!

That's a new way of looking at it... Interesting... All the more reason I should play Fallout! XD

Dastardly:

What's interesting to me about both Hobbes and Rousseau is that neither seemed to really get into how the genesis of "society" plays into our state of nature. They seemed to speak as though Society was somehow imposed on us by an outside force, some unseen "zookeeper," rather than constructed by mankind itself. Society isn't in conflict with our nature. It reveals our nature, or rather what we feel about our nature, because we created it.

I agree that society is not in conflict with our nature, however, it can't be said that society reveals nature, or even how we feel about it (after all, society changes how we perceive nature). Society is our nature, as much as selfishness is; our ability to communicate and empathize with others is probably biologically encoded, not simply trained, which is a strong argument that humanity did not simply create society.

Yet even if that was not the case, and humanity did create it, then society still creates a great deal of our nature, without our willing participation or knowledge of it. Now, as you mentioned, our biological realities shape how we interact with the world, but society still affects how we go about meeting those.

Moving back to your main point: if humanity did create society, even then it is an engine which largely runs on its own, which is in direct contrast to society revealing humanity because humanity constructed it. It would be barmy to claim that humanity has no impact on society, but ultimately humanity as we know it did not create society.

My point is, society and humanity cannot be extricated; society formed us, and we, in a small way, have formed society, much like a child learning a language has their own particular idiolect. There is a dialectic there, I don't wish to sound a determinist, but I find it odd to mention how humanity has shaped society without hitting on how society has shaped humanity.

Aphroditty:

Dastardly:

What's interesting to me about both Hobbes and Rousseau is that neither seemed to really get into how the genesis of "society" plays into our state of nature. They seemed to speak as though Society was somehow imposed on us by an outside force, some unseen "zookeeper," rather than constructed by mankind itself. Society isn't in conflict with our nature. It reveals our nature, or rather what we feel about our nature, because we created it.

I agree that society is not in conflict with our nature, however, it can't be said that society reveals nature, or even how we feel about it (after all, society changes how we perceive nature). Society is our nature, as much as selfishness is; our ability to communicate and empathize with others is probably biologically encoded, not simply trained, which is a strong argument that humanity did not simply create society.

Yet even if that was not the case, and humanity did create it, then society still creates a great deal of our nature, without our willing participation or knowledge of it. Now, as you mentioned, our biological realities shape how we interact with the world, but society still affects how we go about meeting those.

Moving back to your main point: if humanity did create society, even then it is an engine which largely runs on its own, which is in direct contrast to society revealing humanity because humanity constructed it. It would be barmy to claim that humanity has no impact on society, but ultimately humanity as we know it did not create society.

My point is, society and humanity cannot be extricated; society formed us, and we, in a small way, have formed society, much like a child learning a language has their own particular idiolect. There is a dialectic there, I don't wish to sound a determinist, but I find it odd to mention how humanity has shaped society without hitting on how society has shaped humanity.

I don't think we're really disagreeing in any particular way. Mostly, it seems to be how things are phrased.

Certainly, society has a huge impact on how each of us develops, and that development shapes the future of society, which shapes the future generation, and so on. It's a feedback loop, no question about it--akin to the "art imitates life imitates art" cliché.

My point is that society itself grew out of the interactions of the individuals that made up our species at the time. As such, it is a product of our nature--first there was us, and then there was society. Certainly there are layers upon layers of cause-effect twisting in modern times, but at the most basic level we (as a species, not as a modern generation of humans) created society.

And that is what I mean when I say society "reveals" our nature: it's because it was originally a product of that nature. And afterwards, we got into the whole chicken-or-egg feedback loop that defines us today.

It's a good, thoughtful article, and I'm glad to have read it, though I do wish there was some more focus on the morality systems more blatantly in play. New Vegas with its Karma meter and Red Dead with its honour. I think it's important to note the game's own opinion on the morality of the individual as well as the philosophy of the world. We can say that it's not the same as morality because we use the words "karma" and "honour," but no one really buys that. I personally like how Dragon Age does it.

I would also argue that the wilderness is not so nice as claimed in Red Dead. I mean, Bears, for one thing. I feel about as awful when I see a bear as when I see a Deathclaw at low level. Rare yes, and the wilderness is more about plant life in Red Dead, but I get the feeling of outside hostility all the same. In addition, the most efficient method of travel is by horse, and Marston is then generally stuck to well-worn pathways if he wants to make any kind of good time moving from place to place. These pathways can't be called anything but constructs of society, and it clearly shows that society is efficient and the only way to progress.

To take that last sentence a step further, we know that Marston's only real mod of progressing is through interactions with other people. It is society that makes him better, that gives him purpose, even if the society is seen as corrupt and flawed, it is the only place to live in the world. Marston's attempts to escape it, however noble, will inevitably fail, because he seeks a static existence. This static quality exists in Rosseau's idea of the free man of nature, but not in Hobbes'.

So ultimately it seems that Red Dead becomes about the futility of Rosseau's ideas, as much as it attempts to tout the moral highs of it. The civilized world, while a sometimes cruel and unforgiving place, is the symbol of progress, and progress is the birth and death of places, ideas, peoples, and philosophies. The "Old West" gave way to the young culture.

Great article.

Usually when I see articles like this, while I may actually like their idea, I roll my eyes at the notion that they were actually deliberately inserted, remembering one article on Portal (the first) that went on a tangent about how it empowered women by replacing the phallic weapons used to assert your dominance by ejaculating bullets onto your enemies with a magical uterus that creates a opening though which you are reborn into new challenges. (Yeah.) But still, this seems like a deliberate approach - whether civilization/society is good or bad is one of those thinks people feel intrinsically one way or the other and automatically assume everyone feels that way. It may be that this contrast exists not deliberately but subconsiously, as a result of what the people creating those worlds feel intimately. It's essentially impossible to write a perfectly neutral essay, exactly because of the intimacy of those ideals that becomes inseparable from our selves, (and sure we may be aware of a few of our tendencies and do our best to rein them in, but all of them? never!), so why should video games be any different? It's just that the combination of the large amount of people necessary to create a game and their usually low-brow choice of subject matter tends to dampen this choice to a homeopathic degree, something also seen in popcorn summer movies, but when allowed to take a more central spot they do.

I didn't think about any of that while playing rdr. I just wanted to shot things on horse back. But then again I am the one that likes all the pretty songs and I like to sing along, but I don't know what they mean.

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