Letter III to Alex: On the Video Game as the New Novel


On this ground you surely understand that you are the teacher and I am the student. Nonetheless, I will do my best to respond.

You see, the most I know of video games is that they exist. I suppose my initial reaction would be to advise you against them but you seem quite adamant they have something of use to the philosopher. And I’ll be damned, it is something useful that you are connecting with your friends abroad through them. I have always thought one could not understand humanity through the eyes of a homebody so I am glad you keep in touch with those across the pond.

Still it surprises me that you believe, “the video game can cut through the heart more than a film or television series” for I am recalled to the days when I was a young man drawn more to the theatre than my anthologies. What’s more, I never imagined the source of my pride in your growth might be linked to video games? To be clear, I believe you are talking as serious as a paradigm shift in the relation of philosophy.

The worlds you describe to me sound something like what Middle Earth is to her: a playground. And it sounds as though the developers have come out to bat. Take this Tarkov you have told me about. Nikita seems a Dostoyevsky and his Tarkov a truly Hobbesian (or Orwellian?) place. And Tamriel? Sounds ripe for a hero’s journey not unlike the Hobbits’.

But a piece of loose garbage could be a philosopher’s playground, no? I could make an analogy between man and the stray trash unnoticed amongst the city bustle, no? We could call a recycled bottle the body of the starchild, right? I only tease. Let me talk to your strongest points:

You have made the case that in the video game, the player (the reader of sorts), experiences the world in a less tertiary sense and, as you have pointed out, that makes the philosophy more intimate. With this first assertion, I am no longer sure I could call cinema it’s own paradigm shift for, in film, the viewer is really afforded a role no closer than in the novel. They are still spectators, inconsequential to outcome. Likewise, the fallout only befalls them in the third degree. But in a video game, the player may be as consequential as the artist.

Now, to your second point that these games have infinite playability, I think you drive home the substance and potency of this medium. You read a novel and it is likely to end up our piece of garbage from earlier. But you live through Tamriel for months and years (as the kids are already doing of their own accord anyways) and it steals a place in your heart.

You have yourself a big fish here. I am unsure whether this ground is much traveled by academics. They wouldn’t dare stray their elitist eyes from their books for a teenage vice, would they? Nobody is willing to come right out and say that the video game can and already is a vessel for philosophy…but you. So write me something of Tarkov or Tamriel. At least to assure me this isn’t some scheme to avoid your studies!