The Bads of Gameful Play

Designed Ills

Questor looks at the "bads" of moral exercise that emerge in the design of some games.


Questor: It certainly seems that, if we consider what we've said so far, that gameful play has a lot to offer.

Arbiter: Oh it does. But we should talk about the flip side of our thinking about goods of moral exercise.

Q: Would that be the "bads" of moral exercise?

A: Yes it would. Gameful play is an activity that exercises agency that is peculiar to the game. As we have discussed, implicit in the structure of the game's rules and ends are values. Playing the game exercises those values.

Q: I recall all of that. Continue.

A: Okay. So the "bads" of moral exercise that are involved in gameful play are also intrinsic to the design of certain games. Just as you participate in the virtuous agentive characteristics of justice and wisdom when you play chess (as we talked about previously), some games' designs have you participate with less excellent characteristics.

Q: I think I can see that - there may be something other than excellent characteristics that are exercised when I act in a game? Do you have any examples?

A: I think I have at least one clear uncontroversial example. We can dive into less clear cut examples later if you like.

Q: Sure. What's your example?

A: Well. Gambling often proceeds irrationally and without temperance, or self-control. Although games of chance do not have to be played irrationally, as a person can be playing 'the long game' and can have a 'rational strategy', other gambling games, like slot machines, cannot be played rationally. The agency provided by such games are pure exercisers of irrational and intemperate characteristics of a person. In Aristotelian terms, those qualities are vices. That is, they seem to train you to not think through your actions and to not control your behavior. Such games are games of pure superstition.

Q: I can understand your example, but, if I may ask: who are you to decide what is a virtue and what is a vice?

A: It is a valid concern you raise. These words, virtue and vice, are not the same as 'good' and 'bad'. Perhaps being intemperate and irrational leads, in the long run, to greater or more frequent happiness. That is something to think through. Perhaps even happiness is not an appropriate measure of 'the good life', and therefore not to be considered when we think about these 'moral exercises' that games provide.

Q: Well. I do not actually disagree that happiness is relevant to moral thinking. But I do think there is more to talk about with regard to a relationship between happiness and what you have been calling virtues (justice, wisdom, courage, temperance, etc) and vices (irrationality, injustice, intemperance, cowardice).

A: This is a large topic, and if you really are interested to explore it, I suggest you read Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, as well as Confucius and Augustine. They would get you started. But I'd like to steer our discussion back to the topic of play.

Q: Ah right, we began by asking the question of what play is good for?

A: Correct. And so far we have only been talking about gameful play. Toyful play remains to be explored.