A Philosopher's Blog

Openly Gamer

Posted in Pathfinder, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on November 29, 2013
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I started my gaming lifestyle when my mother got me the basic D&D boxed set over three decades ago. Since I was already solidly classified as a nerd by the other kids, I made no attempt to conceal my gaming ways. I also did track, cross country and debate—which actually resulted in more mockery than my gaming. When I went to college, I continued my openly gamer lifestyle, although I also continued my running ways.

In graduate school, I took my gamer lifestyle to a new level—I began writing professionally and my name appeared in print as solid evidence of my gaming lifestyle. While some people leave gaming behind after college, I stuck with it and still have a regular game, usually Pathfinder or Call of Cthulhu, each week. I also have my own tiny publishing operation and obviously still am open about my gaming ways.

Thanks to the popularity of video games, fantasy and science fiction, gaming now has less stigma than it did in the past. However, I know numerous gamers who are careful to conceal their gaming lifestyle from others. For example, one person tells people that he is playing poker or watching sports when he is, in fact, rolling D20s and pushing around miniatures. He also forbids any photos of him engaged in gaming. Another person is careful to conceal his gamer status from his professional colleagues out of concerns that it will negatively impact his career. Others are less secretive and do not deny being gamers—if directly asked. They do, however, do not usually talk about their gaming around non-gamers and tend to have anecdotes of bad experiences arising from people finding out about the gaming.

Jokingly, I tend to refer to people who actively keep their gaming secret as being in the dungeon. Folks who voluntarily tell people they are gamers come out of the dungeon and those who are involuntarily exposed are outed as gamers.

In my own case, being openly gamer has been a no brainer. First, I was obviously a nerd as a kid and there would have been no point in trying to deny that I gamed—no one would believe that I didn’t have a bag of strange dice. Second, I studied philosophy and became a professional philosopher—in comparison being a gamer is rather down-to-earth and normal. For those who are curious, I am also openly philosophical. Third, because I am socially competent and in good shape, I do not have any fear of the consequences of people finding out I am a gamer.

I also have moral reasons as to why I am openly gamer. The first is my moral principle that if I believe that a way of life needs to be hidden from “normal” people, then it would follow that I should not be engaged in that way of life. Naturally, there are exceptions. For example, if I were in a brutally repressive state, then I could have excellent reasons to conceal a way of life that those in power might oppose. As a less extreme example, some gamers do believe that they will suffer negative consequences if people find out about their gaming ways. For example, someone who knows her boss thinks gaming is for Satanists would have a good reason to stay in the dungeon.

The second is my moral commitment to honesty. Being a gamer is part of what I am, just as is being a runner and being a philosopher. To actively conceal and deny what I am would be to lie by omission and to create in the minds of others a false conception of the person I am. While I do recognize that people can have good reasons to create such false conceptions, that is something that should be avoided when possible—assuming, of course, that deceit is wrong.

I do know some gamers who hide their gaming when they start dating someone—I recall many occasions when one of my fellows went on a date or met someone and others, on learning this, said “you didn’t tell her you are a gamer did you?!” The assumption is, of course, that being a gamer would be a deal-breaker. While I do not advocate being an in-their-face gamer (just as I do not advocate being an in-their-face runner), honesty is the best policy—if the dating leads to a relationship, she will eventually find out and dishonesty tends to be more of a deal breaker than gaming.

Naturally, some gamers have made the reasonable point that they want to win over a person before revealing that they are gamers. After all, a person might have a prejudice against gamers that is based on ignorance. Such a person might unfairly reject a gamer out of hand, but come to accept it once they get to know an actual gamer.  After all, gamers are people, too.


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Pathological Gaming

Posted in Politics, Technology, Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on January 18, 2011
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Video games have been accused of being corrupting influences that lead to violence and other bad behavior. A recent study now appears to show that gaming can lead to pathological gaming-a state that seems to be on par with other serious and harmful addictions.

The study in question was conducted in Singapore using 3,034 students from grade 3 to grade 8. The study found that 7.9-9.9% of those in the study could be classified as pathological gamers. Interestingly, 16% of those classified as pathological ceased to fit this classification over the two years while only 1% of the participants shifted from non-pathological to pathological. While the study was limited to one country, the results are supposed to be consistent with what would be found in other countries.

The study revealed that risk factors for becoming a pathological gamer include the time spent gaming, the person’s social competence and the person’s impulse control. Not surprisingly, people who spent more time gaming while possessing less social competence and impulse control were more likely to become pathological.

This is a matter of concern because there seems to be a link between being a pathological gamer and depression, anxiety, social phobias and reduced school performance.

Not surprisingly, certain spokespeople for the gaming industry rushed to condemn the study. After all, if a solid link were made between video games and psychological harms, then it would seem likely that costly lawsuits would soon follow. Of course, the mere fact that the folks in the gaming industry has a financial stake in the matter does not prove that their criticisms are mistaken.

In any case, the study does raise some interesting concerns and does provide a clear focus for discussing causation.

Even it is assumed that there is a correlation between playing video games and the harms the study purports to reveal, there are still legitimate questions about the causality involved.

First, there is the possibility that cause and effect are being reversed. To be specific, people might turn to playing video games excessively because they are depressed, doing poorly in school and having other problems. If so, the video games would not be the cause of the problem. Rather, the pathological gaming would be the effect. To use an analogy, a person who drinks excessively and is depressed and unemployed might be drinking because he is depressed and unemployed.

Naturally, it is worth considering that there might be a feedback mechanism in play: people turn to video games because of these problems and this approach makes the problems even worse. Alcohol presents a clear analogy here: people do turn to drink because of problems and then the drinking can make things worse.

Second, there is the possibility that there is a third factor that is causing the alleged cause and effects. To illustrate this, consider an example from my own life. When I was 15 my mother bought me a copy of the D&D Basic Set. Soon after, I became less social (aside from gaming), I was depressed, my grades dropped badly and I spent a lot of time playing D&D. While it might be tempting to explain these problems by blaming D&D (which was blamed for all sorts of things then), the real reason was that shortly after I started gaming my parents went through a rather rough divorce. After things settled down, I still played D&D (and video games) and my grades, socialization and so on recovered and then improved significantly. As such, my spending a lot of time on D&D did not cause my problems. Rather, the divorce caused me to spend more time on D&D and caused many of my problems.

As such, it is worth considering whether or not there are other factors that are causing the pathological gamers to be both pathological gamers and suffer from the various problems attributed to them.

Third, it is worth considering whether the problems are actually specifically caused by video games or whether it is some other factor, such as the excessive time spent on one activity. To use an analogy, consider blaming obesity on junk food. While this has some appeal, it is not actually the type of food that causes obesity but rather the quantity. A person could eat a diet of bacon wrapped Twinkies and not get fat, while someone else could eat health food in massive quantities and get very fat. If it is the excessive time spent that causes the trouble, then video games might be off the hook for the blame. Then again, there might be something about video games that makes them a special risk. Going back to the junk food analogy, it is tempting to blame junk food because it is high in calories and very appealing.

Based on my own experience, I am inclined to hold that excessive time spent on a single activity can lead to problems-be it video games, a sport work, or texting. However, it does seem reasonable to consider that video games are crafted to be addictive and that they might have more capacity to create problems than other hobby activities.

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Posted in Technology, Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on July 18, 2010
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Life presents many challenges. Unfortunately, people seem to be inclined to add needlessly to them, even in the virtual world of gaming. Being a gamer, I have gotten accustomed to griefing. Roughly put, that is when other gamers f@ck with you, just for the sake of doing so.

My main game now is, of course, World of Warcraft. While the folks at Blizzard have tried to limit the opportunities for players to screw with each other, the enterprising jerks will always find a way. I’ll just use two examples as illustrations.

While I was waiting for my arena team to get into a random battle, I was fishing (yeah, you can fish for fake fish in the fake world of the game). While doing so, someone kept going and putting his character over the bobber  so I could not finishing catching my fake fish. The first time, this is a tiny bit funny. The second time, not at all. The third time, well that was annoying. Out of curiosity, I kept trying to fish so I could see just how long this person would keep at it. After about three minutes I was pulled into the arena battle, but he was still trying to grief me.

In my second example, I was jousting at the Argent tournament and somebody arrived and started trying to block my view of my opponent. This fellow was clearly devoted to his task-he kept bringing out ever bigger mounts (he eventually got up to his mammoth) so as to better block my view. He actually kept this up the whole time I was jousting and then kept following me around.

Being a philosopher, I did not just think “wow, there are some real monkey f@ckers who play WoW.” Instead, I thought about how odd the situation seemed.

Normally, people turn to annoying others when they are bored and have nothing else to occupy their malign minds. However, this griefing was taking place in a video game that is full of things to do. I began to wonder what sort of person would find parking on a bobber or spending so much effort trying to cover my jousting opponent more entertaining than questing, running dungeons or even playing another video game. After all, even if they were so bored with WoW that sitting on a bobber was a great joy to them, there are thousands of other games they could be playing.

I really tried to understand that mind set, one that would think “I could be out playing the game that I pay $13 a month for and doing some of the cool content. You know what, f@ck that. I’m going sit on this bobber like a chicken sits on an egg. Like a damn chicken. I like chicken. I could really use a KFC double down now. No, must keep on the bobber…but the bacon calls to me…no, must keep griefing!”

Despite my efforts, I just could not quite grasp that level of random, senseless monkey f@ckerness. However, I did have one important consolation: while those monkey f@ckers are on WoW doing their griefing, they are not out in the real world doing real griefing (like busting lamp posts or busting bottles in the bike lanes).

More seriously, I do wonder about the psychology and value systems of people who are griefers in games and in reality. As noted above, one explanation is that griefers are bored. But, of course, when normal people get bored with a game, they would tend to stop playing. As such, griefers must have more going on than mere boredom. There must be something extra, something that drives them to that behavior. I suspect this sort of factor (or factors) are involved in a wide range of bad behaviors.

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Defending Gaming

Posted in Miscellaneous, Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on June 25, 2010
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I’ve been a gamer (video games, RPGs, war games and so on) since I was 15. As such, I’ve had to listen to people make fun of gaming and gamers for quite some time. Fortunately, things have been much easier now that video games are cool and big business. However, I do find that my hobby is still subject to criticism.

One stock criticism is that gaming is a waste of time because it does not accomplish “real” things. Gaming is, by its very nature, fake. In the case of video games, the worlds are virtual. In the case of role playing games, it is all in the players’ heads.

Of course, this charge is not specific to gaming. After all, almost all forms of entertainment can be accused of the same thing. Watching other people play sports does nothing real. Nor does watching a movie. Nor does watching TV.

Naturally, saying that gaming is in good (or bad) company does not defend it very well. However, it can be argued that gaming does accomplish something real. After all, relaxation and entertainment are real and humans need both of them. Whether they are acquired via rolling twenty sided dice and pretending to be an elf or by watching men battling over a ball does not really matter. As such, gaming at least has this value.

Gaming also has more going for it than passive entertainment. Unlike watching sports (and swilling beer), a gamer is involved in an activity-so he is at least doing something and not merely a spectator.

Another stock criticism is that gaming is make believe. Of course, the same can be said about many other forms of entertainment. Books, movies, TV shows and so on are often make believe as well.  As such, this hardly a special criticism of gaming.

Another criticism is that gaming is for kids. While there are some games for kids, there are games that are clearly not intended for children. Of course, it could be argued that these games are just kid stuff with serious content and adults should put away such childish things rather than repaint them in grown up colors.

This does have some plausibility. After all, play is something associated with children and perhaps adults should not engage in play. That is, adults should give up sports and games of all types so as to be properly adults. After all, think about sports spectators and athletes. The fans are often screaming and acting like bad children while the athletes are playing kid games like baseball, football and soccer.

However, I think that this is a mistaken view. Adults need to play as well, otherwise (as the saying goes) we become dull (and crazy). If we can still watch and play baseball as adults, then it seems that we can also play games like D&D, Halo, and WoW.

Prisoner Denied D&D

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on January 30, 2010
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In a rather odd story, a prisoner in Wisconsin has lost his appeal to keep his D&D material (that is Dungeons & Dragons).

This is the result of an anonymous letter sent in 2004 alleging that the prisoner, Singer, was forming a gang around the D&D game. Of course, anyone familiar with D&D will know that while D&D players seem a bit gang like (strange lingo, obsession with loot, and so on) they are rather far from the sort of gangs that people need to worry about.

The reason given by officials is that  D&D “promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling.”

The first part of the charge is obviously true. D&D is all about fantasy role playing. Saying that it promotes this is like saying that track promotes running.

The other claims are far more debatable. They are also, as Socrates might say, the old charges that have been trotted out against gaming for decades-despite the complete lack of adequate evidence for such claims. My own experience has been that while gaming does tend to attract people with a desire to escape reality, gamers seem to be no more prone to violence or gambling than non-gamers. These matters are, of course, subject to empirical testing but the burden of proof rests on those who claim that gaming has these effects.

As I see it, it would actually be a good thing to have prisoners playing D&D.  After all, time spent playing D&D would be time in which they are not doing things like using drugs, raping each other, engaging in real violence, or engaging in other activities that create real harms.

D&D also tends to encourage reading, an interest in numbers, as well as the development of the imagination. It can also help people develop social and cooperative skills. True, players can elect to be evil and do evil things to one another, but that usually teaches the lesson that being evil does not work very well.

A more reasonable justification for not allowing prisoners to play D&D is that prison is supposed to be punishment. Therefore, the officials argued, prisoners should be denied what they enjoy.  This, of course, assumes that keeping prisoners bored is a form of punishment and that this has desirable consequences.

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