My first semester teaching at Northland was not quite what I expected. Transitioning to Northland from the University of Georgia, a much larger school with lecture-hall-sized general education requirements, I was looking forward to smaller classroom environments where I could engage in fruitful discussions about philosophy with my students. Philosophy is one of those subjects that comes alive with passionate discussion, something easier to achieve with fewer students. I was excited to have a classroom that had the feel of a small community of inquiry interested in exploring questions together.
When the school year started and I saw the roster for my Introduction to Philosophy course, I realized I was given a unique opportunity: to teach philosophy through a particular topic that could be decided by the class. Since it was going to be a small group, the students’ collective interests could be incorporated into the course. We spent our first class period deciding upon a unifying philosophical topic for the semester. After discussing the philosophy of art or technology, we eventually landed on the philosophy of video games! (I’ve always been interested in philosophy and video games—in fact, the personal essay I wrote to get into undergraduate school was a conceptual analysis of the Triforce from the Legend of Zelda, so the prospect of teaching philosophy of video games was an exciting opportunity.) The fact that it’s a burgeoning area of study appealed to the class. Much of the literature is new, and readily available through online journals, so I was able to design the course in a manner where students did not have to purchase any required reading or course materials.
What is a game?
In studying philosophy, we often begin by posing initial metaphysical questions—those questions about the nature of reality. In this case, we started with “What is a game?” which is a much tougher question to answer than it may seem! Games can be many different sorts of things, ranging from live sports to virtual games, puzzles, board games, and all the wondrous variety of games that children invent. We had a great discussion around the question, and it was fun to see the students as they began to connect with the ideas and find new ways of applying them.
Is it okay to steal a car?
Ethics is concerned with questions of right and wrong as well as virtue and vice. Is it okay to commit “moral wrongs” if you’re doing it in a fictional world where no one is actually suffering the consequences of your actions? It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt… or is it? In video games, perpetrating harm (albeit virtually) on humans or animals is often the whole point of the game. Students discussed that it may actually be morally impermissible to commit virtual wrongs. The interactive, fictional worlds of video games allowed us to delve into novel moral issues while exploring how we interact with such mediums.
Does every question have an answer?
Maybe, but can we know the right answer? Well, maybe not. I like to think of philosophical questions as multiple-choice questions with a very long list of possible answers, and philosophy is the centuries-long process of considering and eliminating wrong answers while deciding which ones we suspect might be right. So, after engaging in lively discussions, did we land on definitive, agreed-upon answers? No, but I believe that each student came out of the course with a better understanding of how to approach philosophical issues and challenges they’ll face throughout their lives, whether while playing video games or not!
Regularly, class would end and I’d still be there for another half an hour talking with a student or two—which is really what it’s all about! While we may have not found the answer to every question, this class allowed students to engage with and participate in philosophical thought and discussion through a medium that interested them.
Featured image is from The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, courtesy of Nintendo.