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Philosophy: The Video Game
Shannon Kincaid test drives.
The latest release by Dialectic Games has stunning visuals on every platform (from PSP to Xbox), and it is that rare game which effectively combines aggressive gaming with intellectual challenge. You won’t make it through this game if you can’t think and fight.
While the single player ‘quick’ missions are a lot of fun (Leibniz battling his way through the ‘Best of All Possible Worlds’), the multiplayer games are awesome. If you can imagine Zeno and Heraclitus in the Ring of Paradox, you get the idea.
But it is in Philosopher Career Mode that the action really begins. Players start by designing their own philosopher, choosing everything from weapons, power throws, and defensive moves, to their epistemological and metaphysical assumptions. You can play as a rationalist with a wicked right hook and a bandolier of innate ideas, or as an empiricist with a twelve-gauge and knowledge grounded in experience. Not all combinations work equally well. My Buddhist character with the submachine gun wouldn’t pull the trigger, while the Nietzschean with the laser cannon was almost impossible to control.
Gameplay progresses through five increasingly difficult levels. Level One starts in an Athenian cave, where players must battle their way out of the shadows and into the light. The ensuing throwdown with Plato is frustrating, but if you can hit his divided line with uncertainty points, he goes down fast. And while Aristotle can use his four causes to drain life-points, he is extraordinarily vulnerable to land mines.
Level Two (Rome) is less a battlefield, and more an opportunity to collect axioms. The Stoics don’t put up much of a fight, but an adventurous player can find valuable weapons and premises for use later on. Descartes is the primary challenge of the next level, and his doubt is formidable. Here, the key is to question his method and destroy the cogito. Alternatively, you can blow him away with the bazooka you stole from Epictetus.
Level Four is the British Empire, and players must not only battle with Locke (and don’t try using innate ideas here – the Tabula Rasa will block them every time), but also with Berkeley and Hume. If Berkeley stops perceiving you, you’re dead. Hume is all but unstoppable, and his skepticism will deeply affect your character for the rest of the game.
The most difficult level is Germany. Even if you manage to understand Kant, his synthetic a priori will block the most well-placed cluster bomb. If you can break into the noumenal realm, you will encounter the Hegelian spirit. Here, you must try to defeat idealism without raising the spectre of Marx.
The last level is the ‘New Republic,’ and you will have to face Heidegger and Wittgenstein. If you can take away Heidegger’s dash, he becomes meaningless, but watch out for his critique of technology. Wittgenstein’s grammar-gun becomes garbled if you can lure him into the language cage, yet this is no mean feat, given his ambiguous defense of metaphysics.
The bonus levels seem strained. Guiding your hard-earned character through the meaningless maze of tenure and promotion seems pointless. And no one with a brain would subject themselves to the publication level. The battle with Rorty is a blast (Dewey or Don’t-E?), but the final battle with the problem of consciousness seems to last forever. How does a character in a computer game respond to questions of computationality? It all seems a bit unfair. And this is the whole problem with the game; even if you win, you don’t feel like you’ve won.
Rating: 3 (of 4) game controllers.
© Dr Shannon Kincaid 2005
Shannon Kincaid is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Queensborough Community College, part of The City University of New York.
• Please don’t ask us where you can purchase this game – the fact is that it hasn’t been created yet. But no doubt it will be sometime soon.