Balance: The Philosophy of Marvel’s Spider-Man

From moment one of playing the game, everyone knew that this was the Spider-Man game for which we have been waiting. Every aspect of this game, from the web-swinging, to the suits and power-switching, to the gradual opening up of tasks and side quests around the map gave the game a smooth and rarely tedious feeling. Tedium is the scourge of any open-world game design, and despite the map being absolutely massive and meticulously crafted, the vicarity experienced with Spider-Man’s movement makes travel from one end of the city to the other feel like mere minutes. When it comes to the philosophy of Spider-Man, everything comes down to a single, ethical rule, “With great power comes great responsibility.” An ethical philosophy akin to Noblesse Oblige, but one that removes the divides of social class and its corruption of reciprocity

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To understand this game, we must look at the unique ways it expresses and evolves that message.

Every major character in this game, from Aunt May, Mary Jane, and Miles Morales to Norman Osborn, Martin Lee, and Dr. Octavius, struggle with how to do what you can to help others. Aunt May gives all of her effort and her health to the FEAST organization, a homeless shelter and food pantry founded by Martin Lee. Yet, while always encouraging others to take care of themselves, Aunt May rarely takes her own advice. Mary Jane, in order to get secret information to the public eye, actively puts herself in harm’s way while submitting herself to the court of public opinion as a reporter. Miles Morales, following in his late father, Jefferson Davis’s, footsteps, also puts himself at risk in trying to procure medicine for the needy, actively challenging the Sinister Six, The Demons, and Silver Sable despite having neither the support of the police nor Spidey’s superpowers. All to follow his father’s adage, “I’m just a guy who does not give up.”

And Peter Parker? Despite his eight years of experience, the immense power he wields still causes him to blame everything that could go wrong on himself, even when there is no conceivable way he could have known or helped a situation.

Even the villains of this world are motivated by the same desire to help people Martin Lee started the FEAST center in order to fight against the injustice of society. Dr. Octavius was driven to improve the lives of veterans, amputees, and otherly-abled people by created new and better prosthetic limbs. A technology that could help his own degenerating motor neurons. Even Norman Osborn sought to use a viral infection to cure his son, Harry Osborn’s, genetic disorder, but instead created Devil’s Breath, an extremely virulent disease that posed a threat to all life on Earth.

So exactly what then distinguishes a villain from a hero is both are seeking to help others? The difference lies in how far you believe that help extends. Yes, Martin Lee founded the FEAST center, but how much harm did he cause in creating The Demons criminal organization? Would punishing Osborn for a failed treatment, an accident, truly undo any of his wrongs? Would it really help more people than it has hurt?

Norman Osborn was filled with good intentions, and had the resources necessary to attempt great things, and to endure when those pursuits failed drastically. His personal obsessions with acquisition, with control, however, made him unable to recognize failure in the face of potential. He could have ordered that the Devil’s Breath be destroyed after realizing its risk, but he did not. His desperation to save his son made him delusional.

As for Dr. Octavius, his hubris as a genius scientist led him to ignore the risks of his direct, neural connection to his prosthetic arms. This caused not only the acceleration of his degenerative condition but advanced it to the rest of his mind as well. HE believed so strongly in the individual righteousness of his invention that anyone who opposed his justice, his personal vendetta, deserved to pay the ultimate price. His self-righteousness was so great that he was happy to not only exterminate the entire population of New York City, but also emotionally manipulate and abuse Peter Parker, his admiring pupil and respected partner, just to prove himself right.

Throughout this game there has been a serious focus on themes of balance. The Kongo statues at Wilson Fisk’s estate sale represent the guardians of the Buddha in the Mahayana, or “Greater Wheel,” pantheon. The Buddha, having attained enlightenment, freedom from suffering, is a symbol of peace. But he is guarded by Misshaku on the right, representing birth and violence, and by Naraen on the left, representing death and potential. Together they demonstrate that, in order to protect and pursue peace, it is sometimes necessary to use violence. It is necessary to know how violence works in the cycle of life and death. Befitting for Wilson Fisk, who perverted the idea to think that by created and controlling crime he would create peace.

Martin Lee was taught by his parents to pursue balance in all things through the principles of Yin and Yang, to see how conflict and harmony exist within each other in an endless flow. The negativity inherent in his powers, however, eventually overtook him. Peter Parker, too, strived to teach balance. As Spider-Man, Peter always encouraged people contribute to their communities, albeit in a way wholly different that vigilante crime fighting. Even when Spider-Man has a 1-0n-1 training session and pep-talk with Miles Morales, he emphasizes balance: match size with speed, be calm and avoid the adrenaline rush, keep your shoulders square, and strike when you opponent is off-balance.

In Marvel’s Spider-Man, every character is faced with the challenge of how to balance power with responsibility. How to balance active force with passive potential? How to balance the positivity of life and the negativity of death. Beyond that, can you balance your values with the values of others to create a more peaceful world?

That is what separates the villains from the heroes.

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The Philosophy of War in Valkryia Revolution

In my first essay on this game I talked about how this game commented more on the nature of history, how it is recorded and understood, than it is about making a kind of commentary on war. I wrote that before having finished the game, and I am glad to report that I was wrong in that statement wholesale. There is more to the philosophy of this game than what first meets the eye.

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An important theme that runs the length of the game is whether or not the war for Jutland against the Ruzi Empire was one of liberation or of invasion. Fo the entire game, the Ruzi Empire has not been the aggressor. Rather it is Jutland that attacked the Ruzi territory under the pretense of ending the Ruzi Empire’s oppressive embargo that came after the empire’s earlier, colonizing campaigns. It is true that our band of traitors that organized the war did so for personal revenge, but the war also addressed legitimate economic concerns as well as the aggressive Ruzi expansion.

Changing beat for a moment, I want to talk about the inspiration behind the Valkyria games. Valkyria Chronicles was a story that took place in a low-fantasy reimagining of our world during the course of what was essentially World War II, asking the question of what the war would be like if magic was invented rather than the nuclear bomb? It was an extremely interesting premise of how a Nazi Germany might have developed had nations access to what is ostensibly magic. Valkyria Revolution takes a significantly greater change by asking the question: “What would the Cold War be like if low-fantasy magic replaced the existence of nuclear power and nuclear weapons?”

As a result, the parallels between this game and our own history is significantly reduced. The juxtaposition between Jutland representing the United States and Ruzi the Soviet Union are clear. There is a parallel United Nations expressing concerns over parallel USSR’s imperial expansionism in a time when the global politik has learned to reject imperialism. Parallel United States simultaneously engaging gin imperialist expansion to contain parallel USSR’s influence, while still condemning imperialism as well. When the character Fritte says, “No country has the freedom of speech that Jutland does,” they might as well scream, “America!” out of a megaphone with how strictly the United States protects speech in our legal tradition.

But what I want to focus on is what this game has to say about Just War Theory. The concept of a just war is one of the most interesting aspects of political science. Nowadays it focuses primarily on the conditions of declaring war, and a list of negative ethical precepts of what not to do during the course of war. As a quick explanation, a negative ethical system is one where an actor is required to avoid an action, while a positive ethical system requires you to take some action. For example, a negative ethic is, “thou shalt not kill,” while a positive ethic is, “thou shalt give to charity.”

Valkyria Revolution, however, pulls back o a more traditional consideration that is almost always ignored in modern Just War theories. That consideration is teleology, or in other words the meaning or purpose behind the war. Like we said earlier, the conflict between liberation and invasion as the driving motivation is constant. It is clear that our characters eventually adopt both sympathy for the idea of liberation while equally accepting that, to the public of Ruzi Empire, despite Emperor Klaudiusz’s manipulation, Jutland is also in fact an invader. Even Jutland’s public opinion starts to sympathize and understand the Ruzi people’s world view. To counter this, Princess Ophelia gives a speech which I highly encourage you to search for online.

This speech turns out to make a very interesting implication about the teleology of war. There is a change of focus from the goals one wishes to achieve to what the war caused at its inception.

A common misconception about the term “teleology” and “telos” is that it refers to a goal, that it refers to something we work toward. In Aristotle’s Four causes: material, form, function, and telos, the term refers to the essence of the thing in question. It is the perfect version of the thing in question in so far as it is the most pure and fundamental aspect of the thing, at which versions of the thing aim. Teleology is what defines the class of things such that it can be recognized regardless of the specific factors or accidentals. So what is the teleology o war? Why can the Fallout series of games continue their catch phrase of, “War never changes”?

In Valkyria Revolution, war has been presented with a unique essence, because war ahs been defined as shock, as the impetus of action, in the context of a people who are defined by oppression or lethargy. Not liberation, nor invasion, but as the active force of change. Before the start of this game, Jutland was a nation in poetry, only motivated by the thought of whatever comes next to stay alive, no luxury to think of anything else. Starting a war forces the world, forces people, to change, to be challenged and to overcome. You will never be able to dictate exactly what that change will be, because the active change of war is raw and uncontrollable.

No matter what power you wield, change is the only guaranteed result of war. So the question for whether or not a war is just become this, “Under what condition is change, any change at all, the best course of action?” It is in answering this question that we understand why peoples who feel oppressed are want to wage war, to start a revolution.

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The Philosophy of History in Valkyria Revolution

A previous title, Valkryia Chronicles, was one of my top games for the Playstation 3, and one of the first games I talked about on my youtube channel. Its means of discussing bigotry and presenting its victims as relatable in an intuitive way to its audience was inspired. However, when I booted up Valkyria Revolution, and discovered that the active, turn-based tactics game had been replaced by something more akin to a dynasty warriors-esque musou game with turn-like mechanics for special actions, I was pretty disappointed. Regardless, it is fun on its own merit, but for awhile I was worried that I was not going to find anything interesting in this new story.

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The Valkyria series has always been about history; how it is remembered and how it is written. It is for this reason that these games always present themselves through a light filter of folding scratch marks. It is a subtle aesthetic choice that functions as a reminder that what you are seeing is not just a game but a historical record. A story made by facts that are meant to be collected and learned. Valkyria Revolution focuses on this emphasis even more.

The setting of Valkyria Revolution is that of a student meeting in secrete with his professor. He has found some inconsistencies in the kingdom of Jutland’s official account of their war with the Empire of Ruz. Particularly in regards to an infamous group known as the Five Traitors. The professor happens to be the sole proprietor of the primary source account of the war by the Five Traitors, the Princess Ophelia, and the Anti-Valkyria Squad.

The game then uses this setting to present two accounts, and the two major theories of how history s made, how societies progress. We all know that history is written by the winners, whoever stand with power at the end of a conflict. From this we get what is called the Great Man Theory of history.

This theory states that major changes in the course o fhistory are directly and primarily the result of the influence of rare, talented, and ambitious individuals who rise up and dictate to a country the path that it shall take. An individual takes the helm and steers the ship, and thus they deserve the credit. However it is somewhat suspicious that every nation throughout history presents that same narrative for every leader of a nation. These rulers most often have direct input into how history about them is written, and thus a clear motivation can be established. Perpetuating Great Man style histories protects the legacy of the individual’s accomplishments as a leader; it helps them to be remembered, which is something we all can identify with, while solidifying a national identity.

This is represented by the Ruzi Empire in game. This is Emperor Klaudiusz and his four generals, a nation that is run entirely and exclusively on the charisma, the ego, the control of a single man. All actions resulting from his decree, and only those actions which he decrees. But why would something like National Identity matter if this is the case? Why would the headline of a national newspaper and the opinion of the public matter to a ruler of this sort? Everything comes from the leader and falls down to the rest, does it not? So would not even public opinion be solely the creation of the Great Men that occupy this theory?

Well these sorts of questions are precisely the reason for the theories of history that counter these notions: The Revolutionary Theory of history.

Now admittedly this is a term of art of my own creation. In my research of what theories acted as an antithesis to Great Man Theory, whatever I came across tied their theory to other schools of philosophy that addressed issues beyond what social actors are the influencing factors on major social changes. Most predominantly were the Communist, Marxist notions of revolution. However they all shared one common theme. The Revolution Theory of history is that he ambitions, and dissatisfaction of the society at large are the reason that great leaders are formed.

Societies are not so much steered by leaders like a captain at the helm, but rather they find an prop up leaders as a catalyst for action. Leaders are the ship’s engine to be maintained by the crew.

The Five Traitors represent the various aspects of society that truly represents what guides a nation: the character Solomon represents Diplomacy, Violette represents Knowledge and Information, Trittle represents Social Education, Basil represents Economy and Innovation, and Amleth, the main character, represents Violent Force through the Anti-Valkyria Squad. These five people, each representing the influences presented in society, dictated the courseof Jutland into war against the Ruzi Empire to resist the dictates of the Great Man represented in Emperor Klaudiusz, and propped up Princess Ophelia as the catalyst to their ambitions. At the time of writing, I have no yet finished the game. So I am not exactly sure which theory of history the game will ultimately conclude on. The Great Man Theory, or the Revolutionary Theory, only time will tell. Though I think it is easy to see which is more likely to win, given which side we as players play.

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The Tyranny of Fun

There is a concept that was first introduced to me by the YouTube channel WebDM which they called, “The Tyranny of Fun.” They focused mostly on how the rules of a tabletop game are freely removed for the sake of the party having fun. Parties and Game Masters are too troubled by the rules of the games, sometimes, and to a certain extreme case people do not want to keep any of the rules intact if it reduces their sense of fun. WebDM highlighted that the benefit of the rules allows for more interesting options for creating different kinds of campaigns and different styles of play. I feel, however, that something was overlooked. For the first time I get to combine my love of Dungeons and Dragons with what I do best: talk about the philosophy of games.

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Now that might mislead you, because I am not going to be talking about some argument for a philosophy inherent in Dungeons and Dragons. I do not really think that is possible with a game as open as Dungeons and Dragons. We will be talking about the disambiguated philosophy of games.

Here is the big question that has become more difficult to keep straight since the dawn of the video game: what is a game? It is a surprisingly hard question. How exactly can we define it? What is necessary to call something a game? It might be simpler to start with what we do with games. We “play” them. So what is play?

Playing is one of the first things we learn how to do as children and is seen in baby animals of many species. Play is how children learn how to interact with the world. It is entirely free-form, no boundaries. Think about how two-year-old children always knock things off tables. It is almost like they have fun doing so, until something shatters or a parent yell. Then pure sorrow, lots of tears, and lots of fear. The child is learning about gravity, as well as social reactions. There is something to be said for how our natural process for learning is fun for us when we are young. We even use play to learn social skills and teamwork. Children are naturally good at improvising different things to do with whatever is at hand. In this way, play sounds very similar to Dungeons and Dragons as a whole. Social skills, teamwork, improvised storytelling and comedy, these are all things that make the cooperative roleplaying in Dungeons and Dragons great.

As children grow up, they learn how to do something else with their play. They learn how to tell other children how to play and what to do. They mimic how adults give them instruction while interacting with their peers, and thus learn how to make rules. By making rules, these boundaries to play, we try to get at a kind of fun. Maybe a kind we have experienced before, but, as we often see with children, once rule giving comes into play and people do not agree with the rules, the play stops. Children fight. The fun is over.

Play is not very fun when you put limits on the free form exploration of possibilities. This is where the Tyranny of Fun begins. We have the most, raw fun when we are unbound. Rules that hold us back take away that unlimited enjoyment of just doing whatever and feeling pleasure from it.

Yet we can still get children to learn and enjoy sports like kickball and soccer. Children enjoy these activities just as much, and often more than, unstructured play. These activities start at giving rules; they start at that thing that makes play no longer fun. How is this possible? Because these things have a kind of enjoyment, an engagement, that play entirely lacks: an objective.

Now we have something to work with. A game is inherently different than simply playing. Play is unbounded, imaginative, and focused on the subjective feeling of fun. But games are different. games have rules and boundaries, all those rules are presented clearly and completely from the start, and they have an objective which can be completed. Whether it be winning a fight, solving a puzzle, or just getting the most points to beat the other team, all games have these basic parts in some way.

What is it that the objective and the rules add to the subjective experience? Play innately has an experience of fun. You just do whatever and enjoy as it goes. Rules do not let you do whatever. Rules are obstacles to be overcome. Rules are the climb, and the objective is the shining mountain top. Rules and objectives make logical order, and thus opportunity to achieve something. With that achievement comes satisfaction. Whereas play helps you learn, games confirm that you have learned. Play has no objectives, thus it cannot end in a satisfactory way. Games do. They can end. Thus, they can build anticipation and result in either glorious revelry or crushing failure. In a game, you can still have a little bit of play, some generic fun along the way, but the feeling at the end is incomparable.

Games naturally sacrifice fun for the sake of something else, for satisfaction of engagement. Here we return to the Tyranny of Fun.

The lose of narrative interest can easily be summed up by the loss of conflict and challenge that the presence of rules offer. Narrative is driven by conflict, and rules offer conflict to people adapted to thinking with the power of free will. The narrative conflict, too, helps to create that satisfaction when you overcome, to create that anticipation for the final objective, the final feeling of satisfaction. The creation of these rules can also point to engagements that are not focused on the feeling of fun. They can be used to evoke sorrow and anger, jealousy and revenge, failure and reprisal.

With this established, even the role of fun regarding play becomes vaguer, unbound from the burden of needing to be fun. “Play Therapy” is a form of mental health counseling for young children and has been proven effective with scientific research. Play Therapy allows children to communicate and process emotional trauma through the language of play. This play is often not fun or enjoyable for the child; sorrow, fear, rage, and violence can be recreated by the child in this imaginary space, allowing children to understand what happened and progress toward emotional closure. If fun can even be separated as a concept from play, then play becomes the very act of natural-intuitive learning, able to engage with painful, negative emotions.

Fun is merely one of a set of subjective, emotional experiences. Whereas aspects like engagement, when you give it definitions like, “attention retention over time,” can be quantifiable, it is not possible to measure that one subjective feeling is more valuable an experience than another. Games can be extremely valuable precisely for their potential to allow people the space to experience fear, sadness, rage, and awe while simultaneously encouraging full engagement despite such feelings being socially reproachable.

Games are not always fun, and they are not meant to be either. Play is not always fun, and it is not meant to be either. You can have fun while in a game, but you cannot let fun deny the other reasons we play games by assuming fun to be the supreme value. Otherwise, you will just have an unsatisfactory experience.

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The Philosophy of Devil May Cry

Many years ago, the human world was invaded by demons from Hell, under the reign of the king of the demons, Mundus. A war raged, but he demons won and enslaved the Earth. Until a demon named Sparda awoke to justice, led the humans to revolt, defeated Mundus and sealed them in Hell, never to return. Years passed as Sparda reigned over humanity to help them maintain peace and harmony, but sensing his influence grow too powerful. He too returned to the demon world, only returning thousands of years later. Then Sparda fell in love with a woman named Eva and sired twin sons: Virgil and Dante.

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Over the centuries, however, humanity’s fascination with demons and their power grew. Religions formed worshipping Sparda as a God, and others sought to bring the demons back to use their power for themselves. Arkham sought to replace the devil by absorbing the power of Temen-ni-guru, an ancient tower used by the demons to travel between worlds. The church of Fortuna, who worshipped Sparda’s teachings, also became corrupt in his absence. Not only did they seek to obtain the power of demons themselves, but they created a demon, named La Vita Nvova, to replace Mundus, thus allowing the church to reign over the human world.

In every instance, these people who sought the power of pure demons were defeated by the progeny of Sparda, whether Dante or Nero. They are defeated by people who are part demon and part human. Yet it is not the demon heritage that allows them to overcome, allows them to grow and succeed. It was their humanity. What the demon-worshippers never considered was what caused Sparda to wake to justice? What makes humanity so valuable?

Throughout the Devil May Cry series, humans are shown to possess an esoteric and tenacious quality that allow them to accomplish the impossible. Whether it be the grand feats of controlling demonic power, or something as simple as Lady, a regular human, surviving the onslaught of demon in Temen-ni-guru. This is because humanity possesses something the demons do not; they possess hope.

Ethics is the part of philosophy that attempts to use logic and observation to establish fundamental principles for being. Thus, establish the rules by which human in the universe play. It takes the question of, “What is.” From experimentation and science and transforms the question to, “Why?” and, “From whence?” Demons in the world of Devil May cry only see what is, and thus, like other animals, only seek self-benefit, only seek to use their power against others they deem weaker. They care for nothing, feel no sadness.

Yet humanity does not just see what is; it sees what out to be. Devil May Cry is a game that revels in struggle, in what is. Yet the games show that the creation of human values make the question change. The question becomes, “to what end?” Not just simply reading the rules of existence as Ethics has done before, but making those rules in the face of unrelenting opposition. Demons may be cool and powerful, but nothing is more stylish than the human spirit.

With the tenacity of the human being, even a devil may cry.

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The Philosophy of God’s Eater Burst

Of all the giant monster hunting games out there Monster Hunter is literally the only one anyone actually knows about. But the reigning prince of this genre has always been God’s Eater Burst. The original game was unexpectedly the most popular game on the Playstation Portable, being the console’s highest seller. It was popular enough to, eventually, be adapted into an anime after the sequel, God’s Eater Rage Burst 2, was scheduled for release. The most confusing aspect of these games is that it has a weird combination of anime tropes, fanservice, and cringy characters that meet a legitimately bleak apocalyptic world populated by monsters who mimic the very gods and myths that humanity once worshipped.

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This game was one of my favorite experiences as I started undergraduate university. Filled with a mysterious, biologically based science fantasy, and filled with so many cultural references, the game boggles the mind from everything from a religious to an empirical fascination. The developer of this game, Shift, also made another hunter-style game called Freedom Wars. Freedom Wars immediately established a philosophical narrative on the nature of freedom as license, and it made me want to go back and see what the game from my freshman year had to offer.

At the beginning of the game, you are a new recruit to Fenrir, a global military government, at their Far East Branch, which is currently engaging in this thing called The Aegis Project, a man-made island that will act as the new home for all of humanity, and protect them from the Aragami, monsters made of fully conscious, individual cells, called Oracle Cells, that network together and consume whatever they can find to grow stronger. The Far East Branch is a particularly dangerous place in the world, because the oracle cells were invented there, and thus the Aragami this part of the world are more numerous and more violent. You get outfitted with a weapon called a God-Arc, an Aragami that has been weaponized and symbiotically fused into your arm.

The twist was that the Aegis Project was an elaborate coverup for something else, the Ark Project. The Ark Project was a space station that used oracle cell technology to safely launch into space, but as consequence would cause an event called “The Devouring Apocalypse,” an explosion of oracle cells that would cause a worldwide mass extinction. Only a select few, wealthy, and high-ranking people can fit on the ark.

What follows is a terrible ordeal where you and your teammates decide to either follow Director Johannes with special permission to board, or Dr. Paylor Sakaki to prevent the Devouring Apocalypse. What plays out is a conflict of ethics, where people sacrifice themselves for the good of the many in a strictly utilitarian perspective against an elitist ethics that feels entitled to sacrifice the many for the sake of survival.

Thanks to some luck and a few unexpected allies, the Utilitarian ethics are victorious in battle. Together, you, your team, and Fenrir recommit to saving humanity the hard way.

When we return to the Far East Branch some three years later, in God’s Eater 2 Rage Burst, as a recruit from a different branch of Fenrir named “Friar,” we find a more prosperous region. However, in Rage Burst 2, we find our former team still struggling to accept the loss of the people who sacrificed themselves.

They often say something akin to asserting that there must have been a way to solve the conflict without the loss, yet no one is able to even posit a solution. They have rejected the difficulty of Utilitarianism, the situations hat call for sacrifice, and seek some kind of utopian, utilitarian sense. The captain of the Friar God Eaters, Julius, becomes so obsessed with this goal, that he let’s himself be completely manipulated by the psychotically destructive Dr. Rachel.

Dr. Rachel, too, wanted to cause a Devouring Apocalypse, and succeeds. To stop this, we counteract it by causing our own Devouring Apocalypse. This was, however, unsatisfying to me. The World is made peaceful and safe, because these two world-ending forces infinitely devour each other, and thus prevent new versions of themselves from developing. Are we really to accept that the main philosophical struggle of this game, the problem of sacrifice, is just an infinite struggle with this specific kind of loss?

Unfortunately, the game does not really give a satisfying conclusion to this conflict. The practical, narrative problem of the chaos caused by the Aragami and oracle cells is solved in a manner consistent with the world’s logic. So in that sense I still immensely enjoyed how the game wrapped, and how the game rapidly changed and forced me to learn a more patient, defensive style by the end. But the philosophical struggle was essentially dropped.

There was no dialogue that tried to move further than chastising he main characters for allowing their friends to be sacrificed. They ultimately left it to a matter of will. If your will is determined to face those Utilitarian challenges, where it seems most prudent to sacrifice some for the good of the many, with a denial of the sacrifice, then you may find a way to reach your goal without sacrificing anything. But such a will comes with the cost that you might lose everything if you fail.

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The Philosophy of Atelier Firis

Atelier Firis is the sequel to Atelier Sophie, and the second of the Mysterious Trilogy. I started playing the game found that the very start of the game was directly influenced by an early and well-known part of the history of philosophy.

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This game begins with our protagonist, Firis, who lives in an isolationist village, cloistered in a cave and locked behind a massive stone door. Only a chosen few are allowed to ravel outside the village to hunt and trade, such as Firis’s older sister Liane. Firis, on the other hand, despite wanting to leave, is forced t stay in the mining village and use her uncanny ability to hear the location of minable ore to help the village’s main source of income in this mercantile world.

Until one day the door that locks this cage is blown open by Sophie and Plachta, the protagonists from the previous game.

This introduction appear to be purely reminiscent of Plato’s allegory of the cave. The allegory of the cave asks you to imagine that for all of your conscious life the only thing you can remember is sitting, chained and staring at a dancing shadow on a stone wall. If your whole experience is just dancing shadows, how would you know anything else? The shadow would be your reality, and you would lose the ability to think of anything else.

Then, one day, you hear the clang of metal ont eh ground and weight lifted from your wrists and ankles. You stand up, turn around, and see the rest of the cave. The first in the middle of the room that cast the light, and the others chained and facing the wall. Now you truly realize the misery of your previous condition, and the source of all the different shadows. You wander towards the front of the cave, and you see the large, blue sky and the vast, open field. Excitement wells up in your chest as your desire to run out to the world consumes you!

But you are given sudden pause. You realize that you are alone, and leaving all the people stuck where you were before. Now you have a choice. Do you leave the cave alone? Or do you try to take people with you?

This allegory is meant to represent the experience of being exposed to a new way of thinking, anew discipline, to new philosophy. It represents that knowledge means nothing without bringing people along and sharing it with others. In Atelier Firis, Sophie and Plachta are the mysterious stranger that frees you from the bonds of the cave with the science and philosophy of alchemy. Sophie recognizes Firis’s innate talent of hearing the voices of materials, a metaphor for understanding Aristotle’s four casus which I explored in my work on the first game in this series.

Together, Firis, Plachta, and Sophie teach the villagers the wonders of chemical science, the value it can create, and prove that Firis, through alchemy, can be as capable and independent as anyone else. Together with Liane, they leave the cave to brace the outside world.

Unfortunately for the purpose of finding philosophy in games, this game marked an experiment in drastically changing the scale and openness of the Atelier games’ formula. A focus on a limited-time mechanic to push the story forward for half the game made the main story much more limited in scale, and thus unable to explore a more detailed conflict. Yet the side stories, which focus on helping characters, develop their individual passions made for a satisfying narrative. Two particular highlights were a historian learning the value of preserving his own culture and not just the cultures of others, and characters that represent the villain of Atelier Sophie, Luard, having reformed to pursue the values of love and charity.

If you are looking for a charming and cute experience that rewards exploration and preparation, Atelier Firis is a wonderful game.

If you found something interesting, be sure to let me know in the comments! All are welcome!

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Noblesse Oblige in Final Fantasy XV

When I set out to evaluate the philosophy of FFXV, I originally thought the message was so straightforward that there was no need to analyze it. XV is a story about a magic prince reclaiming his birthright from an evil usurper, while evil ghosts, gods, and demon-science act as story dressing. They did not add much commentary on the ideas of monarchy, or what that would mean in a modern, Americana setting. The role of the summons, the demons, and the demon-robots were just cool for the sake of being cool, and there is nothing wrong with that. But then I realized something on my second playthrough.

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Final Fantasy XB is mired in dualities. Originally it was meant to be a dark counter part to Final Fantasy XIII, as Thirteen-versus. It later changed to what we know now as this Square Enix love-letter to fans, which embraced its roots with a feudal style fantasy in a modern technological setting. Even its gameplay was oddly divided in this open-world RPG tat makes up the most enjoyable gameplay, and the lion’s share of the playtime, an the hyper-linear main quest narrative, which is more to the form of other Final Fantasies.

Final Fantasy XV’s main story is remarkably linear and short, to the point that your average player, depending on skill, level, and focus, can beat the game in about 6 hours. To compare, a story run of XIII takes about 50 hours My personal lot-time in XV is 125 hours. On my second playthrough I only did the main quest in order to reexperience the story of the game. I realized that, more than just being two distinct aspects of the game, the open-world game and the linear main quest have two distinct narratives. Both of which tackle and criticize the social-ethical philosophy of Noblesse Oblige.

Noblesse Oblige, literally meaning, “The obligations of nobles,” is the idea that wealth, privilege, and power are inherited by a small number of people at birth as a matter of luck. Nobility is created as a result of human social dynamics creating these hierarchies naturally. In order to actually earn their status as a privileged noble such people must dedicate a large portion of their lives and wealth supporting the poor and disenfranchised. To us common folk, this idea sounds pretty good. We see how rich people are usually rich only because they came from money. The old adage, “you need money to make money” rings true. Thus, we expect those people to realize their basic equality with the rest of humanity as an obligation the way most of us must do in order to survive. The problem with this philosophy is what it becomes when nobility actually puts it into practice.

When put into practice, the philosophy ends up putting the cart before the horse. Rather than fulfilling those moral obligations freely, they only meet their ethical burdens if they are guaranteed their wealth, power, and privilege. This frequently results in suppressing common people as soon as their improved quality of life begins to threaten the Noble’s own specific dominance. In Final Fantasy XV, the open-world road trip is Noblesse Oblige from the common perspective, and the main story is Noblesse Oblige from the noble’s perspective.

While our boy-band main cast are exploring the world, looking for the various royal arms to help Noctus reclaim the throne, they also earn money as monster hunters and complete little tasks for a bunch of people. Each of these highlights the struggles of common people outside the capitol city of Insomnia. The destruction of this city represents Noctis’s fall from the thrown and thus his inability to see from the perspective of nobility, despite inheriting the powers of the ruling family.

The first side quest with a hunter, Dave Auburnbrie, occurs through different regions, leading to various hunter missions and collecting dog tags of fallen hunters. These hunts symbolize Noctis using his nobility to provide for people in a way that they cannot easily provide for themselves. As you go through Cindy’s side quest for finding upgrades and feature for your car you eventually find powerful headlights that allow you to travel at night while keeping the demons at bay. Cindy talks about how, despite the safety these lights could bring to the countryside, the capital never made them widely available and thus the people must still cower at night. Noctis and friends promise to right that wrong once he ascends the throne. These light also are reintroduced in the final act of the game by their lighting affect being silently implemented into the streetlights of the roads surrounding the first gas station.

Dino Ghiranze is a non-player character that sends the crew on expeditions to find rare gems that would allow him to start a jewelry business, but it is gradually revealed that these stones have the ability to strengthen people against demons after it is forged into an accessory. Dino ultimately wants to make accessories widely available to help improve the people’s lives and protect them from demons.

Each of these quests are about spending what you have to alleviate the suffering of society. Noctis’s obligation to sacrifice in order to contribute to this social drive is established by the common man contributing to each other as a matter of course. A rising tide raises all ships. Even Lady Lunafreya, as the “Oracle” of world, fulfills this same purpose of nobility. In her few cutscenes and radio broadcasts, she is seen as a travelling healer that stops people from dying to a mysterious illness, which turns out to be teleporting and transforming humans in to demons.

For the main quests, however, it is all about Noctis taking power back from the Emperor of Niflheim, as well as the main villain, Ardyn Lucis Caelum. The main quest is constantly filled with characters like Cor, Gladiolus, and Luna saying that Noctis must claim his right and rule his subjects. Without the open-world gameplay and the sidequests, however, Noctis does nothing to earn the title. He makes no real promises to help the people.

Ardyn Lucis Caelum was once a King of Lucis, same as Noctis, who absorbed these demon-bacteria into his own body to heal his subjects. He was rejected by the Gods to be the “True King,” and thus chose to become a source of the demon-creating disease in order to oppress the world until it was in a state of total darkness, allowing Ardyn to reclaim his nobility. Without those side quests, Noctis’s actions perfectly mirror Ardyn’s. Exiled and unable to return to Insomnia as King, Noctis seeks power to crush those who took that from him. The only difference between Ardyn and Noctis is that Noctis want to destroy other Nobles, and Ardyn wants to destroy everyone. Included in everyone is the Gods themselves, and Ardyn can only do this if Noctis gains each God’s power and becomes the True King. Ardyn kills Noctis, all the people who rejected him are gone, revenge complete.

It is one interpretation of the story that exposure to the demons is why the gods rejected Ardyn. I do not think this is the case. Bahamut, one of the Gods, describes Ardyn as impure in both body and soul. When Noctis meets Bahamut, he receives, “The Revelation of Bahamut” that, “the king will gain the power to fulfill his calling.” At the end of the fight with Ardyn, that calling is to sacrifice his soul, and the souls of his ancestors, to destroy Ardyn’s soul completely. This act ends the line of Lucis, destroys the demonic influence, and ends any presence of Nobility in the world.

From this I conclude that Ardyn must have been rejected by Bahamut because he saw Noblesse Oblige as a tool to guarantee his rule, and thus could not fulfill the true purpose of Noblesse Oblige: to sacrifice that nobility for the benefit of others.

              “Many sacrificed all for the king, so must the king sacrifice himself for all.”

If you found something interesting, be sure to let me know in the comments! All are welcome!

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The Philosophy of God of War

Take a moment and reflect upon what role anger plays in your life. How often do you yell for something other than joyous excitement? Maybe not as much in your adult life, but throughout my formative years anger was the defining emotion of my day to experience. Daily harassment by my peers in school, councilors and therapist telling me to have self-control and to overcome harassment by simply not reacting to it. It was a time when the schools did not really understand the psychological effects of bullying, and they wanted to make me stronger, more resilient, to it. Ultimately it was not resilience that made the harassment stop.

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My daily experience was about proving my self-control and avoiding the consequences when they was not possible. Different periods of my life have come to be defined by different emotions, but despite how obstructive it was, I did not want to deny my anger. To do so would mean to make the reasons for my feeling lack legitimacy. It would mean to legitimize my harassers, It would mean I would have lost to them. Anger was how my young mind demanded recognition. Anger was useful.

For Kratos, this was also true. Agner was his standard mode of being, the tool by which he sought his revenge against the gods of Olympus. Yet eventually he saw the all-encompassing nature of anger. He became calm and stoic, icy in his countenance, until those moments when he needed to release the rage meter to solve a particular problem, to ignite the fires of chaos within.

As a result, the lessons that Kratos passed along to his son, Atreus, were reminiscent of my own upbringing. Kratos tells Atreus early on to harden his heart to his enemies, to focus on the goal, and to only use anger as a tool, not be use by it. The only thing that mattered, the only thing they had to do, was to bring his mother, Faye’s, ashes to the highest peak in all the realms. Whatever deviated from that goal was of no consequence.

In this way, Kratos’s own philosophy is inherently about pragmatism. Pragmatism I a unique philosophical position both historically and meta-ethically. It is the only philosophical school considered to be a unique invention of the United States, and it neither denies the existence of ethical or moral values, nor gives those values any weight or importance when it comes to making decisions or taking actions. Pragmatism is the belief tha you need not and ought not consider higher order principles or rational values when making decisions. Instead it suggests you only do whatsoever is most practical right now, what best accomplishes he goal.

Kratos, say what you will about him, is a very creative character, very thoughtful, though he admittedly only exercises these traits when solving puzzles or killing monsters. Yet he has always been goal oriented. First in his revenge, and now in spreading his wife’s ashes. As Kratos and Atreus find themselves moving through the worlds of Norse mythology, Kratos maintains this pragmatic view of the conflicts of others as well. When in Alfheim, land of the Elves, Kratos frequently reminds Atreus that he is only seeing one side of the conflict. Yet Kratos also emphasized tha tit did not matter. That they would fight through anything if it got in their way. Even though Kratos acknowledged that the Dark Elves could have a reason for fighting that war, he did not care. He had a goal, and, like a good Spartan, would soldier on.

That same ethos of “you only know one side” cam eup often when Mimir told stories of the gods, or when dealing with the Valkyries. Each time that ethos was also dismissed to instead focus on gathering resources. This single-minded focus was, however, cut short when Atreus came down with a sickness, caused by a conflict of the mind. Believing himself to be mortal when, in fact, he was a god, just like his father.

Kratos finally revealed the truth to his son, and what resulted was a massive shift in Atreus’s character. All the lessons of “harden your heart” and “the only thing that matters is the goal” finally sunk in. A God can do whatever they wanted, the power to pursue any goal, so why no do as you please? There is no reason to care for the lives of lowly humans or the whims of the gods. The plight of others means nothing in the face of your own goals. Nothing that Atreus had been taught by Kratos contravened that belief. This is precisely the problem into which pragmatism always runs.

If al you are meant to consider is what is practically important in front of you, how then do you determine what is practically important? You must turn to those higher order principles to deduce what is important. How do you determine your goal? You must deduce them from higher order principles. You must use those principles which you claim to have pragmatically rejected.

For Kratos, that principle is his wife, Faye.

Hearing Atreus ridicule his mother’s wishes while asking to carry her ashes. Hearing Atreus completely devalue his mother, because she was a mere human. Kratos finally realized both that his goal was actually motivated by the higher order principle of love and respect for his wife, and that he had taught his son exactly how to behave as the horrible, selfish, and murderous gods of Olympus and Asgard act. Taught him to feel no remorse for the many lives they disrupt nor the many people they kill.

So Kratos, moving beyond his own shame and his protective, fatherly instincts, set to teaching Atreus to value something. To be better than the gods who came before. That value became clear in Jotunheim, where Kratos and Atreus learned that Faye was no mortal, but in fact a giant of Jotunheim. Making Atreus part God, part Giant, and part Mortal. It is this unification of these different factions that gives the value of hope to this land predestined for Armageddon. In this land of double-cross and deception, a god of hope and connection could get up to a lot of mischief, and play a lot of tricks. In this world, Hope is the greatest power to befit the name Loki.

If you found something interesting, be sure to let me know in the comments! All are welcome!

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Authentic Relationships in Kiznaiver – PhilosAnime

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When I started watching Kiznaiver, it was a passing interest that resulted from listening to the Weebcast on the Mother’s Basement YouTube channel. What trapped me into this show ended up being the remarkably stupid and perfectly crafted triple-pun that is this title. In Japanese, “Kizu” means “wound,” “Kizuna” means a bond or connection, and within the title’s English spelling is the word, “Naïve.” Each of the words encompasses a narrative device and theme in the show, which outline the interactions of the characters and their inability to form mature relationships. That this message is delivered in the form of  a pun perfectly highlights how this story simultaneously has a serious message, but does not take itself too seriously. Beyond the melodrama of the interpersonal relationships Kiznaiver is asking bigger question.

The Kizna Committee that runs the Kiznaiver experiment, working under the assumption that humans are chaotic and destructive toward each other, asks, “Can that problem be solved by making people feel each other’s pain and emotions?” In other words, will people stop causing harm if they are also harmed? It is a question that deals in the implications of a person’s subjective experience as individuals verses the  nature of the human species as a social, collectivist animal. It extrapolates that gap between war and peace to be the result of that failure of groups or individuals to connection to over collectives. It is a debate that goes back to Glaucon’s Ring in the Plato’s Dialogues. Kiznaiver leads us through multiple iterations of the answer to this question as the wound on their arms develops through sharing physical pain, emotional pain, and further into subconscious thoughts and other emotions.

The first hint that we get to Kiznaiver’s answer to this question comes in the form of the show’s comedy. After having their perception of pain linked together, the whole cast routinely forgets hat hitting each other will cause themselves pain while slap-sticking each other at any given opportunity. Now these moments are never the friendly jabs you and I may deliver to our frienders, so the comedy comes out of our understanding of how irrational it all is. Afterall, the very first rule I was taught as a child was not to hit people, and we would think the first change for characters in this situation would be that they do not punch each other anymore. So why would they keep hurting each together when they can feel the same pain?

The second clue comes with the second evolution of the Kizuna mark. The team of extreme teenagers grows from not just sharing initial pain response, but also emotional pain. We are told that this is the first time the experiment has produced those results. We get information on how the first experiment was performed on orangutans, and human children, and to no one’s surprise the main characters, Ka-chan and Sonozaki, are part of that first group of children. This new growth will, and does, lead to being able to read each other’s minds when they have emotional desires they are not verbalizing. This causes a new course of action, as the characters begin to emotionally harm themselves for reach other. The prime example is when Ka-chan and Sonozaki get romantic in full view, while Chidori, the childhood friend of Ka-chan, watched in jealously and have an emotional breakdown at the realization that her unrequired love has no chance. However, Nico, the excentric girl, yells out the most mature line in the whole story, “I am going to get properly hurt.”

For my personal experience, watching this scene came the day after I confessed my romantic feelings to my best friend. I knew I was going to be rejected, but it was important to speak honestly and let myself be rejected. Without doing so, my desires would inevitably color my thoughts and speech, and ultimately cause me emotional anxiety while stunting my ability to seek romance elsewhere. A difference between immature and mature romance is handling rejection. The immature responds with emotional breakdowns, resentment, embarrassment, and lost friendships. The mature response with respecting that person’s right to say no, not letting it mean anything more or less, and choosing to separate amicably. Rejection can be relief rather than sorrow.

Nico runs off to the scene, because she can project her feelings and get hurt for Chidori’s sake, so that Chidori may move on. She is able to do this because Nico has a crush on Tenga, another character in the romance-polygon, but Tenga has a crush on Chidori. Thus Chidori, being rejected by Ka-chan, means Tenga will continue Chidori, meaning Nico has no chance. This results in an emotional feedback loop where everyone connected with the wounds experience seven times more stress than the regular person, making everyone collapse in a state of unconsciousness. The trick of this narrative which seems to come to a head at this moment is that this emotional self-harm behavior began before the wounds evolved to connect everyone’s emotions.

This is exemplified when Tenga, before his crush on Chidori was revealed, offers to help get Chidori and Ka-chan together. This decision creates the condition for the other teenagers to do similar emotional self-harm. But Tenga’s choice at this time shows that this change in behavior is not connected to the wounds, even though it gets attributed to the mark by the characters running the experiment.

In episode 10, after the previously described “all is lost” scene, we resume after the end of summer break when the wounds have all disappeared. None of our main cast are on speaking terms, having emotionally retreated after experiencing a massive trauma, and being freed from the wounds. A totally normal and expected reaction. Of course Nico comes in as the mature one, who recognizes everyone can still be friends. They can still be connected. The rest of the show is spent addressing the fallout for the original Kiznaiver experiment and the traumatic effects of essentially creating large, artificial sensations in some children while removing all sensation from others. Despite the emotional stuntedness, however, Sonozaki and Ka-chan still sought out connections with each other.

All of those inconsistencies I have pointed out are 100% purposeful. This is because the original question of the experiment was flawed. There was no need to attempt to connect people’s pain or other emotions, because we are already connected in that way. The gap between an individual and a collective are presented as a somewhat false dichotomy. This is demonstrated in the show in episode 11, when Ka-chan calls everyone to the roof and emotionally asks for everyone to become true friends, connected without systems. However, this is not just dramatic prose. There is real-world evidence of this as well.

We have certain cells called Mirror Neurons. Mirror neurons trigger our brains to not merely express sympathy, but to recreate sensation when we perceive them in others. When you watch a cringe video on the internet, you are not just imagining feeling embarrassed. You are actually feeling the embarrassment yourself. When you see someone making a sad or happy face, we inevitably feel the same. We may not literally feel what others, but we do actually feel those things for ourselves. Their feelings become our own. I think the final episode explains why these things feed into authentic relationships very well. Thus, I will leave you to re-watch the show for that explanation.

The Greek philosophers discussed these questions of what connects people and form friendship, and how ethics plays a role in friendship. Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics describes different kinds of friendship. Friends of pleasure are connected because the connection makes you feel joy. Friends of utility are connected because they are useful to each other. True friends are connected simply for the recognition of each other’s virtue for its own sake. In the reliably sexist way, Aristotle criticizes the bonds of effeminate men and women created by sharing pain and suffering as being false friendship. Nowadays, we tend to believe that an authentic friendship will have a mix of all these factors at once. While the focus of the show is on artificially sharing suffering, it tackles each of these categories with each character over the course of 12 episodes.

The philosophy of Kiznaiver is not just about emotional experience, social maturity, and authentic friendships, but also makes a clear statement on the nature of the human animal. It argues that humans exist in a nature that is simultaneously an individual and a collective. That the space between, the gap of uncertainty, the lack, enables humanity to form authentic connections with one another.

If you found something interesting, be sure to let me know in the comments! All are welcome!

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE! If you would like to help this channel continue and grow, you can also contribute to the our Patreon page:

https://www.patreon.com/SocraTetris

You can also stay up-to-date and talk with others by following on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/SocraTetres

Don’t know what to watch next? Check out our playlists!

Philosophy of Video Games:

Philosophy of Anime:

My Personal Philosophy Explorations: Philos “Iffy”

Martial Arts Philosophy: Philos-Fighter

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