Master's thesis on video games. Topic suggestions?

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penzilneck

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#1  Edited By penzilneck

Hey all.

I'm entering a philosophy master's program soon and have raised interest in a thesis on the philosophy of video games. I have a few ideas in mind, but I thought I'd check if you, the (awesome?) community, might have any exciting suggestions I hadn't thought of yet. Seeing as it's philosophy, basically anything goes and nothing is so irrelevant that a philosophical approach can't be found.

The topic could be anything from more obvious questions of ethics/morality in and around video games (e.g. violence vs. reality, depiction of genders or minorities etc.), the relevance of games as a philosophically interesting medium (as is now a mostly accepted fact regarding literature and film), the psychological/sociological status of the hardcore gamer (is it mostly escapism? should a gamer feel like he's wasting his time or, on the contrary, accomplishing something?) and so on and so on.

Any suggestions, ideas or discussions are welcome. They don't have to be fully formed whatsoever. The most interesting ideas and revelations often come from the vaguest hunches.

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SexyToad

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#2  Edited By SexyToad

How bout what Sweep blogged about before. Moral decisions in video games.

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penzilneck

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#3  Edited By penzilneck

@SexyToad: That is indeed on my list. Not Sweep's article per se, but the subject. Thanks for the heads up.

When I actually used to play video games closer to a daily basis, I often wondered if I should be justifiably judged on the basis of my actions in those games. Especially games with obvious moral choice systems built in, as I tended to play them at the same time as my friends and I actively did everything I could to stray of the more morally acceptable path they took.

Most noticeably and memorably I was an utter, total monster in Red Dead Redemption.

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EMPRPNGN

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#4  Edited By EMPRPNGN

I think both the morality/ethics questions are very interesting. I find it hard to play, for instance, as a rogue/thief character in RPGs since I don't condone theft in real life. I have to look at it as my involvement in the game's story being that of a narrator rather than a perpetrator.

The escapism topic is also interesting... the issues raised with video games were once (and to varying degrees, still are) raised about film, novels, etc.

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nintendoeats

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#5  Edited By nintendoeats

Perspective in games is an interesting one. At what point do you end and does the fictional character begin? Are you seeing the world as it is, or as the fictional character perceives it? The answer seems to depend on the game, but that in itself is a worth point of discussion.

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StarvingGamer

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#6  Edited By StarvingGamer

Maybe something taking a closer look at why people play their characters the way they play them? Like how some people want to play as an idealized version of themselves and others like to play as someone completely different.

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#7  Edited By inknail

I might recommend looking at video game perceptions and presentations across cultures. I went to Japan earlier this year for a visual cultural history class and a few students chose a similar topic, focusing on the differences between presentation and game interests. For instance, popular Western game boxart (Call of Duty, Halo, Mass Effect, etc.) literally looks exactly the same in Japan as in the US, no title translation, nothing. Whereas Japanese games get (occasionally radically) different boxart and advertising when brought overseas. Some funny examples I saw earlier today (from an earlier time in gaming history, but I think you get the idea:

Strider Japanese art

:
:

Strider US art:

No Caption Provided

Veigues Tactical Gladiator Japan:

No Caption Provided

Veigues Tactical Gladiator US:

No Caption Provided

Sorry for the image dump, just some ideas. Also, it was interesting that at the time we were there Mass Effect 3 was about to launch and one of the students doing a video game related research project reported that nearly none of the game store owners in Japan even knew what Mass Effect was, even those that had cardboard cutouts for advertizing in their stores.

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#8  Edited By MiniPato
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#9  Edited By JoeyRavn

I have a degree in English Philology and I'm also currently working on my degree dissertation, and in the following months, Master's thesis and PhD. My field is literature, so if you're interested on that area of research, I could help you out.

I've always been fascinated by the blurry line between "proper" literature and user input that video games allow for. I'm thinking mostly in visual novels and games like 999, which allows the user to "craft" the story as they progress through the game, like those old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. Each playthrough will have a different ending, and the player is able to use whatever knowledge he acquired in previous runs to open up new paths. The game even requires you to play it several times in order to unlock the best ending, and while this may be at first consider just another forced way to increase replayability, the reason why this is so is actually well explained in-story. I guess that RPGs like Mass Effect or Fallout also count, but they are not quite the same as 999.

Pretty interesting stuff, if you ask me.

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PillClinton

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#10  Edited By PillClinton

Maybe something about video games being more than just interactive entertainment, but an amalgamation of art and technology. Video games are extremely dependent on art in many different forms, from music, to cinematic videos, to hand drawn art, etc., and at the same time the medium is constantly following the progression of technology, and incorporating new inventions and developments before just about any other medium.

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#11  Edited By bacongames

Maybe not a topic suggestion but a word of advice. I don't know how useful or new this will be to you so if your already privvy to this then great. I think if you explore a topic like say, morality and games for example, the question has to incorporate multiple layers in order to fill out a Master's Thesis submission. So when exploring morality for instance, then one can not only explore the ways in which morality is metaphorized and incorporated into player action and identity within a game but also how larger societal morality can interplay with gaming.

Escapism is a good offshoot of that because while the question of whether or not games are escapist is still up in the air, ultimately the assertion and assumption being there reflects the fear and distrust society has about escapism. Contrasting the roles and meanings players have as people who love games and people on the outside concerned about the depths they are willing to go into said game could be a good discussion. Another way to incorporate morality is to consider the controversy around video games and the moral concerns leveled against them by moralizers and law makers alike. The inherent nature of video games as interactive entertainment is a strong differentiator that drives a lot of the fear and concern, mainly "for the children", at gaming's expense. In fact these may be all sides of the same fundamental issue but the point is that making the connections and allowing yourself to expand and contract where it makes sense is important when you've got a lot of work to fill out.

Anyway that's just one example but the point is that multiple layers or offshoot points that tie right back to "video games + x" is a must I think to discerning which topic you might want to approach. Then again this is assuming a "generic" philosophical analysis of video games or a topic, using whatever may seem appropriate to explore the question to a satisfying extent. There is also the long established taking of another established philosopher's ideas and using that as a framework for analysis and comparison. I don't know which one you might chose so I'll forgo suggestions because I'm not one to know enough pure philosophy to make a recommendation.

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penzilneck

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#12  Edited By penzilneck

@zombiepenguin9: @nintendoeats: @StarvingGamer: @inknail: @JoeyRavn: @PillClinton: @BaconGames: Thanks for the feedback, you guys. More work put into your answers than I dared to hope for, which is encouraging. I'm writing up a response to your suggestions and arguments and will post soon.

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Laiv162560asse

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#13  Edited By Laiv162560asse

There was this other thread recently about a similar thing, although that was more of a high school or college project. Bearing in mind that I was pitching these ideas for a lower tier of academia, I'll still just repost some of the 'ethics' ideas I suggested there since I think there could be some MA level discussion thrashed out of them:

"You can choose yourself how far you want to go into the introductory side-question of "Is it useful to think of entertainment media in terms of 'ethical' content and, if so, how does the question of ethics arise in media other than video games?" That could work as an intro or a continuous comparison depending on how you want to work it.

You can also look at the question of ethics in the industry, as opposed to just game content. Where is a push for 'ethical' game development going to come from, considering that the industry uniformly treats most of its workers fairly unethically (ie. huge projects with long stretches of crunch time, unreasonable hours, unpaid overtime, massive layoffs afterwards)? Does it matter if fictional game content is emotionally exploitative when the real world ethics of fair treatment of employees is being overlooked in the first place? Or are both things symptomatic of a race to the bottom in the industry; are creators trying to create the basest, most vulgar content with the broadest appeal, for the cheapest possible outlay? If ethical output exists in other media, what drives it? Can stories which highlight injustices or social problems even be created if the only thing driving creation is market demand, or does there need to be a different catalyst, eg. the work of auteurs creating unique visions? Or is the opposite the case - does auteur theory just give creators the freedom to create uniquely exploitative content without having to worry about fitting into the prevailing moral spectrum? I'm thinking David Cage and Heavy Rain here... its story works on the same kind of principles as Saw, yet one is dismissed as gore porn and the other is hailed as an artistic milestone. Why is that? Are ethical benchmarks different for games than they are for other media and why?"

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Andorski

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#14  Edited By Andorski

How about the possible dichotomy of gaming's inherent goal to be fun versus the medium's ability to provoke other emotions out of the player that can conflict with fun and enjoyment - like anger or sadness?

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Dagbiker

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#15  Edited By Dagbiker

How video games changed our psychology over the years.

How video game input has changed over the years, from 1 button and 4 directions ( Atari ), to 12 buttons and 12 directions (xbox controller ), and voice commands and motion controls (kinect).

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s10129107

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#16  Edited By s10129107

I would be interested in a thesis about videogames as a story telling device. What they are informed by and how they are unique. Progress videogames have made in this regard and inherent limitations.

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Grumbel

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#17  Edited By Grumbel
@Penzilneck said:

The topic could be anything from more obvious questions of ethics/morality in and around video games (e.g. violence vs. reality, depiction of genders or minorities etc.),

Given that moral choices in video games tend to be extremely primitive right now and little more then a narrative toy, I would attack the problem from a more futurist angle: When we reach the point where we can do human like AI and maybe even things like mind upload, what are the moral and ethical implications of that? What happens when a virtual life is qualitatively no different then a real one, but can be respawned, copied and reloaded at will? Will death matter when I have a backup? It's not exactly an easy topic and I don't think I have ever heard any good answers to any of those questions, but given that human-like AI might just be 30 years away, it might be time to start thinking about it.
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#18  Edited By Levio

I was going to say "video game addiction" but that wouldn't fit a philosophy thesis. You could write a whole book about colored-coded loot, exp-bars, achievements, and ladder rankings, and about how they cause addiction behavior patterns.

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#19  Edited By pat_bren

You could talk about ludonarrative dissonance, a big term I heard that basically means a game saying one thing but doing another. An example would be Niko in GTA 4 being nice and calm in cut scenes but the player making him kill 50 hookers afterwards, but cut-scene Niko acts as if nothing has happened.

Another angle perhaps is how load/save or respawn features can influence a player's actions. For example, in Fallout 3, I would sometimes go on a killing spree just to see what would happen, but load it soon after. The "official" me would never go on killing sprees, but the alternate me would.

Another would be to look at how games use their gameplay to put their ideas and opinions forward. An example would be the Metal Gear Solid series anti-war approach (for example in 3 there is a sequence where you must fight the ghosts of everyone you've killed so far in the game). Another would be GTA, whose philosophy is not that violence is good, but that TV and movies think it's good, and GTA is the world as looked at through that lens. Just some thoughts.

EDIT: A heavy one to also look into would be how arcade-y games treat war and killing in general, compared to real life and how games can shape people's opinions on such things.

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#20  Edited By Fat_Magnum

The hot topic lately seems to be about gender stereotyping, me? I'd write about something like..

The Infinite Backpack: Storage Space and the Video Game Hero.

As far as moral stuff goes: Kill or don't kill. A choice we all face every day, no doubt.

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#21  Edited By sergeantz

I think a paper about player agency would be pretty interesting. How much of what we do in a game could really be considered a choice? Is there a difference in thinking when you follow the instructions the game gives you versus doing the same thing of your own volition given the opportunity? If you do a bunch of things in a sandbox game that aren't part of the mission or achievement structure, have you actually done or accomplished anything?

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#22  Edited By gamer_152  Moderator

@SexyToad said:

How bout what Sweep blogged about before. Moral decisions in video games.

I did oneof those too dammit. Anyway, my vote would go towards this one, largely because I think the rather bizarre relationship games have with morality is an interesting one. "Good guys" kill hundreds or thousands without questioning or considering the moral implications, even if they've never killed or been trained to kill before, and even the "moral choice" systems in games are generally very reductionist when it comes to the issue of ethics and become somewhat broken when gameplay rewards are tied into them.

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#23  Edited By lethalki11ler

I hate killing innocents in videogames now. As a kid I didn't really mind but now I just can't stand it. I also feel more entitled on revenge scenarios than random killings. Getting older and having different morals directly affected the way I play, I find that fascinating.

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#24  Edited By beepmachine

As far as escapism goes, I think games aren't inherently escapist in nature. If anything I'd say that escapism is a condition of people, not games. We escape from reality when reality doesn't meet our expectations. Someone looking to do that might use games (and they probably do a better job than other media), but someone content with their life most likely plays just for the fun of it. I don't think escapism is necessarily bad either, and certainly not wrong. Everyone needs a break now and then.

In light of that, you could try tackling something like games being a mix of what the game is and what the player is, or the symbiotic relationship between the two. A game is more than just the code, art, and soundtrack. The people who play a game are literally part of the game. A game that plays itself is not a game. A game can't be a game without a player. Philosophically speaking, I think they have a greater potential to tell us more about ourselves than other media because they require our interaction.

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ultraspacemobile

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#25  Edited By ultraspacemobile

Of what tenor are your own philosophical convictions?

I would be very interested in a paper on the phenomenology of video games, perhaps in which you research how the notion of "completion" informs the player's experience and articulate how that experience changes (evolves?) at different stages of completion. This brings up issues such as the player's sense of agency and how he perceives his interaction through a set of abstract "game mechanics."

On the other hand, it seems a little shallow to focus on video games without positing some greater cultural significance. Perhaps you could design your research to use video games toward the end of proving some more general thesis.