Kelgray and Beyond

int game_engine(void) {

Philosophy of Video Games

Or more accurately, the philosophy of RPG video games.  After spending a small amount of time in Bethesda’s Fallout 3 forums I found a point where two of my passions meet.  Philosophy and videogames. I wanna try to demarcate an RPG and a non-RPG.  Now we could start here with a history of videogames and the RPG genre, but instead let’s start at the present.  Games as they are now.  What makes a game a roleplaying game?

So in order to solve the demarcation issue of roleplaying games we need to come up with a definition of RPG.  I’m gonna equate this to the definition of truth in philosophy.  There are several different definitions of truth.  There’s the pragmatic approach, which is something is true if it is useful (therefore electrons, for example, can be said to exist for certain – which is not actually a certainty in case anyone is wondering – because we use them in calculations and we get results that are right).  The problem with this approach is that it allows sentences to change their truth values based on whether or not the truth of the sentence is useful, but still, it’s a definition of truth that works well in science (for instance, when scientists say that evolution is true, their using this definition).

Another theory of truth is the correspondance theory.  This is the one that is used most by philosophers.  It states that a sentence is true if and only if it corresponds to a fact.  I’m not gonna get into what that actually means here (partially because it’s gotten a little bit fuzzy in my brain and I don’t feel like refreshing myself at the moment), but the point is that there are different theories of what the word means that can be used based on what you’re trying to discuss.

So now we go into RPGs.  Let’s start with what I’m going to call the Analytic theory of RPGs.  It would state that a game is an RPG if the person(s) who developed it say that it is.  Basically, if it’s advertised as an RPG then it’s an RPG.  This would mean that games like Diablo and Final Fantasy would be included in the category.  The problem is that it would also mean that if EA for some reason decided that they wanted to put the letters RPG on the back of the NHL 07 box, then it would also be included in the category RPG, which seems a little silly.  While this may be a useful definition of RPG for searching for games in the genre, it doesn’t seem like it would work so well as a definition of the genre itself.  We’ll say it’s a viable option, but I’d prefer to look elsewhere.

Next let’s take a look at what I’ll call the Wikiological theory of RPGs (or, in this case, more accurately, computer RPGs).  Wikipedia uses the definition:

CRPGs are originally derived from traditional role-playing games, especially Dungeons & Dragons, and use both the settings and game mechanics found in such games.

So what exactly does that mean?  If it’s simply that a table-top RPG inspired the game then that would include games like Mechwarrior.  If it means that it is just like a traditional RPG, then it would only include text-based games (and even those could be said to be excluded because they don’t recognise an infinite amount of possible options the way that live GMs can).  So there must be some middle-ground there.  While this definition seems like a good one for describing briefly what an RPG is, in seems to have way too much of a gray area to really be a good definition.

The literalogical theory of an RPG could be to say that a roleplaying game is a game where you play a role.  But this would include every computer game as in every computer game you can be seen to be a character of some sort and you decide the actions that that character carries out.  So this seems an entirely useless idea.

The theory that I choose to believe in is what I’ll call the Charactorial Theory of Roleplaying Games.  The idea that a game is a roleplaying game if you can make a character and define that character through the game mechanics.  Now I’m not talking about what class the character is, what weapons and size and strength and hair colour the character has.  Those can be found in most any game.  What I’m talking about is the character of your character.  That is to say, the personality of the character.  Whether the character is good or evil (which does not mean clicking a good or evil button, but rather by performing actions that are either good or evil) or somewhere in between.  So this would include making moral decisions.  Being able to have a character that has flaws, like a snappy tongue, or two left feet.  It’s a bit of an incomplete description philosophically, I know, but I got a feeling not too many people made it this far anyway so I’m gonna leave it at that.


April 23, 2007 - Posted by | Ethics, Fallout, Games, Logic, Philosophy, Roleplaying Games, RPG, Videogames


  1. Hey I was just starting to get warm :)

    Comment by briosafreak | April 24, 2007

  2. I guess I should have said leave it at that for now, I am planning another post specifically on the charactorial theory of RPGs, just wanted to split it up into easier to read chunks.

    Comment by Taylor | April 24, 2007

  3. enjoyed it

    Comment by Anonymous | November 21, 2008

  4. Brilliant creative license with the english language.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 27, 2009

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    Comment by Anonymous | June 8, 2010

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