By Dray Agha
Jordan Webber and Daniel Griliopoulos’ 2017 book ‘10 Things Video Games Can Teach Us About Life, Philosophy, And Everything’ argues that philosophy offers a bridge between the virtual world and physical world. Video games are their chosen examples of how the virtual can influence different ‘truths’ in our lives, through philosophy. As an industry, video games have a customer base of 2.6 billion people, and expected market of $130 billion by the end of 2020 (UKIE.org.uk, 2017). Webber and Griliopoulos’ (2017) articulate how playing video games creates two-way interaction: we manipulate the dynamics of the virtual world, and in return the virtual world leaves an imprint on us. The authors focus on how one imprint can have profound philosophical impacts.
As geopolitical scholars, it is important we take interest in how a third of the global population engage in everyday, normal interactions with this form of the virtual world. Conversely, it is vital to understand how the virtual world imparts a view of the world upon these users. I approached Webber and Griliopoulos’ work as a video gamer, but also with a keen interest in geopolitics and all things cyber. From this perspective, I found several elements that resonate with the concerns of geopolitical researchers, including ideas of how the virtual, via video games, has an intimate, personal reverberation in everyday lives. Video games are a technology that can therefore inform scholars on ideas and experiences of everyday, banal geopolitics.
Video Games, Philosophy, and Politics
Scholars have offered their attention on how popular culture effected populations during the Cold War and War on Terror – examples include comic books like the Captain America series (Dittmer, 2005), or films like those of the James Bond series (Dodds, 2003; 2005). It is crucial that scholars further consider how everyday citizens, who play video games, are imbued with philosophies that critique or conform to dominant narratives.
The authors convey how art reflects life, and video games act in the same way as an art. For example, the video game ‘Bioshock’ critiques the War on Terror, disapprovingly reflecting themes on Christianity and free-market principles. Children have been, and are, playing video games that help ‘make sense’ of the world, and these games project a potential virtual future that we might have if only we fight against tyranny. As geographers, we should read Webber and Griliopoulos’ work as a call to realize how video games – and ‘play’ within the virtual world – could be forms of subtle, banal resistance. We could even research further about who exactly has the agency of resistance (the game companies; the consumers).
Figure 2 – Edward Snowden Summarized (sourced from: WeIncluded.com)
The authors advocate that video games have gravity on actors in the geopolitical world. Edward Snowden is illustrated by Webber and Griliopoulos (and others) to have been avid gamer who had his moral and philosophical compass influenced by video games. Snowden’s ‘whistleblowing’ activities of the NSA’s practices can be seen by geopolitical scholars as an action that was influenced by his contact with the virtual world through video games. Although Snowden is an exceptional example, Webber and Griliopoulos succeed in demonstrating how there is a generation who grew up playing video games, and they have been imparted with the various philosophical teachings that these games asked them to perform – i.e to be a solitary character who fights against the injustices of the world.
Webber and Griliopoulos speculate on how future innovations – such as ‘virtual reality’ (VR) technology – will act as catalysts for video games’ ability to convey and imprint philosophy. The authors discuss how VR has the possibility to turn video games into advanced simulations. Geographers have long been interested in how simulation trains our bodies to perform the future – children simulating the future via toys and play (MacDonald 2007), and video games having affect on bodies and senses (Ash, 2013). With VR the authors argue that outstanding levels of immersion can be achieved compared to the immersion that human actors, props, and scenarios just cannot achieve.
It is a shame the authors do not expand on this topic further, as it really begins to flesh out the idea that different philosophies of the world can be made tangible through VR, and those who use, play, and perform in this future VR world may become even more influenced by its teachings. As the market for VR expands, and the demand for greater immersion in the virtual world increases, video games are set to become a synthesis of these two forces. Virtual immersion – via VR – has already been achieved by video game giants like Playstation. Companies are using the latest innovations to tell their stories and to simulate potential realities through the lens of philosophies. Geopolitical scholars can give attention to how capitalist agents and objects are already simulating futures for citizens.
Figure 3 – Child’s Imagination Fueled by VR (Sourced: Getty Stock Images)
VR video games will become near universal in the bedrooms of children, like how games consoles are now. Just like Edward Snowden was instilled with a sense of justice from playing video games, we are bound to see more individuals in the future whose actions are justified by their philosophy of the world; a philosophy given to them, in part, by (VR) video games. There should be a focus within geopolitics on how future citizens are having world-views fostered in them, especially when this is influencing political performances. The future of our physical world is becoming more entwined with that of the virtual, and soon it will be impossible to differentiate between the two. Webber and Griliopoulos set a strong argument for appreciating video games as a way the virtual world is able to affect us back. Video games will be at the forefront of welding the physical and the virtual, and we may gain an advantage as commentators of the political world if we realise its potential now.
Video games, and VR, are technical innovations at the advent of accomplishing outstanding levels of immersion. If simulation – via video games – are exercises in the future, scholars should scrutinize the types of futures that citizens will inhabit. Ordinary citizens can be educated, empowered, or indoctrinated, by carefully designed and deliberate devices that will soon be universal to households and bedrooms. Geopolitical research can dissect, and possibly direct, how advanced virtual immersion may influence its users and fundamentally change their world view for the better or worse – all through video game technologies.
Ash, James (2013) Technologies of Captivation Body & Society, 2013, Vol.19(1), pp.27-51
Dittmer J (2005) ‘Captain America’s Empire: reflections on identity, popular culture and post 9/11 geopolitics’ Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95: 626-643.
Dodds K (2003) ‘License to stereotype: James Bond, popular geopolitics and the spectre of Balkanism’ Geopolitics 8: 125-154.
Dodds K (2005) ‘Screening geopolitics: James Bond and the early Cold War films (1962-1967)’ Geopolitics 10: 266-289.
MacDonald, F. (2008) Space and the atom: on the popular geopolitics of Cold War rocketry, Geopolitics, 13(4), 611-634
https://ukie.org.uk/research (Statistics on the video game industry)
https://www.gq.com/story/glenn-greenwald-edward-snowden-no-place-to-hide (Information on Snowden’s philosophies, moral compass, and roots as a video gamer)
Dray is a student on the Geopolitics and Security MSc course at RHUL. When he’s not diligently flying (crashing) his drone, he keenly reads up all things cyber, ideas of State power, and how to action a peaceful, cooperative future. You can find him on Twitter Follow @DrayRafA