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Games, Artworks, and Hybrids

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Abstract

Videogames are an interesting example of objects that, at least in some cases and prima facie, have a dual nature: they are games, and they are also (better or worse) artworks—more specifically, fictional artworks. Some authors have contested this view. From a Suits-inspired perspective on games that I broadly share, Brock Rough argues that artworks cannot be games. Here I will present a Suits-inspired account of games, and a parallel account of fictional artworks, to uphold the intuitive possibility of hybrid artwork videogames against Rough’s arguments. On the account I’ll offer, both games and artworks are defined by constitutive rules (as in the Wittgensteinian language-games tradition), but there is a different functional account that explains why their defining rules are accepted or enforced. Two distinguishable sets of experiences that we value for their own sake and may fully occupy our attention play a crucial role in that teleological story, aesthetic experiences on the one hand, and lusory experiences on the other. The view allows a reply to Rough’s points by bringing forth other instances of objects that may aim to serve (and succeed fairly well in doing so) the functions of artworks, and other functions in addition—as in architecture or design. The argument will be partially abductive: a main reason to be offered here for the functionalist constitutive rules account of games and artworks will lie in the way it upholds the prima facie plausible intuitive view on (some) videogames in the face of Rough’s arguments.

Keywords

  • Constitutive rules
  • Games
  • Artworks
  • Fiction
  • Normativity

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I’ll use ‘rule’ and ‘norm’ interchangeably. As I use these terms, rules are just what “flat-out” directives—typically conditional ones: do Q! (if P)—signify, to echo Williamson’s (1996, p. 246) usage for the case of assertion: the specific force that is indicated in default, literal uses of imperative phrases. “Flat-out” directives are those uttered by someone presumed to have the required authority to make a command, as when I say ‘Eat!’ to my daughter, in contrast with ‘Take it!’ said to give advice, or ‘Keep well!’. Kaufmann (2012) argues that a directive that p is synonymous with an assertion that the addressee should/must make it the case that p. On standard Kratzerian contextualist modal semantics, the obligation is conditional on implicit or explicit features that select accessible worlds and order them. This is implausible (Charlow, 2018, p. 82; Roberts, 2018, p. 331); but I do take directives to entail on illocutionary grounds Kaufman’s assertoric counterparts (Charlow, 2014), and I’ll avail myself of this throughout the paper.

  2. 2.

    Similar characterizations can be found in the literature: according to formalism, “games are a product of their constitutive rules … these rules jointly create and define the game” (Kretchmar, 2015, p. 11); “the essential nature of a game is its rule-set and … proper play involves obeying the rules” (Nguyen, 2017, p. 9).

  3. 3.

    Recent discussion of these issues mostly stems from the deservedly influential work of Kit Fine; cf. Correia (2017) for a good account and further references.

  4. 4.

    They are “Platonic” essences, in the (fitting in this context, see below, fn. 10) terminology of Newman & Knobe (2019), as opposed to “causal” essences like that of water. I thus assume the “generalized essentialism” they argue for. It is controversial that artefacts (as opposed to the superordinate category artefact itself) have explanatory natures, but I am far from being idiosyncratic in thinking that they do have them (Evnine, 2016; Preston, 2020).

  5. 5.

    As I make clear below, Sect. 3, unlike Suits I only aim to vindicate formalism for species-like “lower taxa”—in our context, specific games or specific speech acts. When it comes to genus-like “higher taxa” like game or art in general, or assertion understood as a genus encompassing guesses, conjectures, putting forward propositions for their consideration, and so on, the sort of definition I favor is closer to a nominal, non-explanatory one than a real definition.

  6. 6.

    As a matter of fact, as Searle (1969, p. 36) points out, only the whole set of rules will do. A standard way for formalists embracing FD to react to the counterexamples discussed below is to restrict the claim of constitutivity to a designated set of rules, as it were the “important” or distinctive ones. García-Carpintero (2021) offers reasons to reject this move. See also fn. 13 below and related material in the main text.

  7. 7.

    Hindriks (2009, p. 272), Guala and Hindriks (2015, pp. 188–189), Guala (2016, pp. 58–59), and Reiland (2020, p. 7, fn. 9) all assume the linguistic characterization of the distinction in their discussions.

  8. 8.

    This shows that the constitutive/regulative distinction can only be made relative to particular games. Searle begrudgingly admits as much: casting the rule in the “X counts as Y in context C” mold “is not intended as a formal criterion for distinguishing constitutive and regulative rules. Any regulative rule could be twisted into this form, e.g., ‘Non-wearing of ties at dinner counts as wrong officer behavior’.” But then he goes on to argue that, with some qualifications, the formal criterion would do; cf. García-Carpintero (2021) for critical discussion.

  9. 9.

    Formalism as understood here is thus an ontological view. Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that Williamson is committed to its details; perhaps he doesn’t understand “definition in terms of constitutive rules” in the way I am assuming. In fact, in a quotation I provided above he says that “[c]onstitutive rules do not lay down necessary conditions for performing the constituted act”; but in my view they do, if the defining conditions properly include normative vocabulary. Thanks to Samuele Chilovi and Matthew Kramer.

  10. 10.

    It is also in this sense, I take it, that Newman and Knobe (2019) talk of “Platonic essences” in their defense of the generalized essentialism I am assuming here, see fn. 4 above.

  11. 11.

    Suits (1978, p. 52) suggests a form of “legal positivism/realism”, claiming that a move in a game is illegal if and only if a referee decrees it so. But this is a poorly motivated form of conceptual engineering. It leaves out games played without a referee (Kaluziński, 2018, p. 119). And it assumes a questionable view of what referees do, as Russell (1999) points out; referees also make mistakes, as shown in that their decisions are sometimes overruled.

  12. 12.

    Cf. Broome (2013, ch. 2) for a sharp discussion of the current Scanlon-inspired take on the “core” normative notions that I am assuming here. Franssen (2009) provides elaborate analyses of normative talk concerning artefacts in this framework.

  13. 13.

    Cf. McPherson (2011, p. 232) on chess vs. schmess, and Kaplan (2021, fn. 10).

  14. 14.

    Fricker (2017, p. 388) provides a detailed explanation; she shows that both a convention or a social or a moral norm, and a constitutive rule, might well underwrite the very same actually instantiated practice. In Epstein’s (2015, chs. 6–7) ideology, constitutive rules provide real definitions for the kinds they individuate, and they must be grounded (Correia, 2017); in his terms, there must be corresponding “framing principles”. Social norms provide what Epstein calls anchors for kinds that are in force. The external “norms” that explain why practices defined by constitutive norms are in force need not be more than regularities in the behavior of the relevant community, sanctioned by rewards and punishment; this is in fact the way both Lewis and Bicchieri think of them, cf. Hédoin (2015), Guala (2016, chs. 5–6), but see Brennan et al. (2013, ch. 2–4) and Southwood (2019) for a non-reductive alternative that I am sympathetic to.

  15. 15.

    Rough (2018a, 6 fn.) tries to salvage a notion of prelusory goal “separable” from the rules: “The prelusory goal may not always, however, be separable from the institution of the game itself. For instance, checkmate is not a mere configuration of objects in space, but requires the conventions that dictate what moves the pieces can make and what contexts count as checkmate. What makes the prelusory goal separable is that one can still achieve the prelusory goal without following all the rules of the game. Chess serves as an excellent example of this, as learning the game often involves setting up the board, or looking at illustrations of it, in positions that do not start at the beginning, a clear abrogation of the rules, but still follow the rules from there as a way to teach certain principles”. This questionably assumes FD—which Rough indeed holds, as a quote above shows. The whole set of chess rules is needed to define being a checkmate; but they are to be understood in accordance with FN. Rough’s cases don’t pose a problem; the rules are indeed violated, not because of ineptitude or cheating, but for other good reasons; cf. also fn. 18.

  16. 16.

    Martínez (2020) offers a compelling revision of the HPC account.

  17. 17.

    For good examples of how arguments for this may go, well-informed by current science, cf. Franklin-Hall (2021) and Khalidi (2021) on reasons why the sexes male vs. female (in general, and more clearly in particular species) are real kinds of such a historical sort.

  18. 18.

    The latter case could also be treated along the lines suggested in fn. 13. As a matter of fact, the two accounts are complementary: the cases that Rough puts forward are chess in the historical sense, and they are also chess as defined by the current FIDE rules when this is understood in accordance with FN; the rules are not being fully obeyed, for good reasons.

  19. 19.

    Changes are “small” relative to the preservation of the distinctive “lusory means” that the game affords, allowing for distinctive lusory experiences vis-à-vis those afforded by other historically defined good games, kept in existence because of that. See below for elaboration.

  20. 20.

    Polysemy cannot always be explained by assuming a core or central sense, from which the others can be explained, cf. Falkum and Vicente (2015). But in some cases, this is a good working hypothesis; cf. Tyler and Evans (2003) on prepositions.

  21. 21.

    Cf., e.g., Lind (1992). To be fully candid, I have to confess that I would find it utterly impossible to understand—alien—the behavior of someone who would be prepared to incur the costs I am to enjoy a celebrated new production of Strauss’ Rosenkavalier, or a once-in-a-lifetime Giorgione, Vermeer, or Caravaggio exhibition, for the sake of being exposed for a second time to Rauschenberg’s painting, or Cage’s piece—whether or not the accidental sounds made by the audience in the performance are part of it, cf. Dodd (2018).

  22. 22.

    Of course, there is a long tradition of appealing to an aesthetic attitude in characterizing artworks, from Kant to Stolnitz and Scruton, cf. King (2012). The Suits-inspired role it plays in the present account makes it differ importantly from the way King defines it. It thus withstands the objections aptly discussed by Kemp (1999), taking up Kemp’s demand that the discussion of its nature be placed “in the context of a suitably rich theoretical atmosphere” (ibid., p. 399).

  23. 23.

    I am assuming the now standard Dancy-Raz take on normative and explanatory reasons; cf. Álvarez (2017). I think of functions along the etiological lines nicely articulated by Eaton (2020). On the view I am outlining, the etiology determining proper function and proper conditions for function fulfilment is afforded by the account of how the constitutive norms defining the artefact (the artwork) have come to be in place or accepted; cf. Thomasson (2014). As Eaton points out, this allows for artworks to be answerable to the relevant norms even when their makers lack the intentions to yield to them: individuals may be obligated by norms even when they lack such intentions, for different reasons. However, the normative reasons that I am assuming artworks should provide are meant, in prototypical cases, to be owned by, possessed by, or available to artwork producers and their audiences; I take it that a form of “moderate intentionalism” (Livingston, 2005) about proper interpretation (i.e., “Does Mean” interpretation, as opposed to “Could Mean” interpretation, Levinson, 1998) follows from this.

  24. 24.

    Although I agree with Gorodeisky and Marcus (2018) that successful artworks provide normative reasons for an attitude, my view of the aesthetic experience is much closer to the one nicely articulated by Goffin (2019)—and the more general view of pleasant feelings developed by Aydede (2018). I sharply distinguish aesthetic experiences from the aesthetic judgments they may ground and justify; for the judgment can occur without the experience, as the experience can occur without the judgment. (My take on the related debate about aesthetic testimony is close to Franzén’s (2018)). And, while I agree with Gorodeisky and Marcus (2018) and Gorodeisky (2019)—and Kant—that we intuitively take aesthetic experiences to make claims of necessity and universalizability, I think we have good theoretical reasons to resist them, and to embrace a form of (contextualist) relativism (Marques & García-Carpintero, 2014).

  25. 25.

    This paragraph was motivated by an illuminating exchange with Kendall Walton. The point in the text is compatible with the metasemantics allowing for some “value-maximizing” elements in Does Mean interpretation; for instance, to allow for a flat-out assertion of ‘the vote was unanimous’ to say that the vote was anonymous when the malapropism is sufficiently manifest (Unnsteinsson, 2017); or to allow the application of (FR) to Fritz Lang’s 1937 You Only Live Once to be made relative to George Wilson’s (1986, ch. 2) non-obvious (but to a very great extent upheld by clues in the film) interpretation, as opposed to the sentimental standard one.

  26. 26.

    In a similar vein, Juul (2005, p. 226) states that a “game has been designed to be entertaining when one pursues the goal” (thanks to Aarón Álvarez and Alfonso García for the reference). This goal is what rules like the “12 Tenets of Board Game Design for Stonemaier Games”, https://stonemaiergames.com/about/mission-statement/, transparently aim to secure.

  27. 27.

    A referee asked how to locate my discussion in the long debate in the literature on games on the distinction traced in English (but not in Spanish and other languages) between ‘game’ and ‘play’. It is generally granted that the latter has a wider use than the one at stake here (cf. Aarseth, 2014; Clément, 2014). For my purposes, ‘game’ refers to the abstract object defined by constitutive rules, ‘play’ to the activity of engaging it with the lusory attitude.

  28. 28.

    I’d like to note here the most significant difference between my views on fiction and Kendall Walton’s, in many ways the closest to my views and certainly the one that has been most influential in developing them. As elaborated in Chap. 2 of Walton (1990) and the earlier works that it crystallizes, Walton famously assimilates fictional artworks to make-believe games, and other categories including daydreams, and even dreams; Corbí (2020) identifies social rituals, and Stock (2021, ch. 6) legal fictions, and legal-fiction-like gender classifications, as other examples in the category that Walton calls “representations”—items that can be seen as having the prop-facilitated function of prescribing imaginings. Accordingly, Walton (2015a) takes sport games to be fictions. Now, I don’t have any qualms in acknowledging Walton’s ontological category, or its significance. However, as commentators have pointed out (Friend, 2008, pp. 152–154; Woodward, 2014, p. 825), Walton is dismissive of the narrower category that, say, Searle (1974–1975) or Currie (1990) were trying to account for—which is, I take it, that of fictional artworks. This cannot be explained in terms of the blanket notion of prescriptions to imagine, as Walton (2015b) now acknowledges; but as García-Carpintero (2019) shows, it can be along the lines outlined here. And it differs from games for the reasons given in the main text; as Walton (2015a, p. 80) himself points out, “even in the case of spectator sports like professional baseball games and track meets, no one arranges the events of the game to best advantage for appreciation—at least no one is supposed to. The participants play to win, not to put on a good show”.

  29. 29.

    My references in Sect. 2 acknowledge how close my views on games are to Mike Ridge’s. Unsurprisingly, his response to Rough (Ridge, 2018) is also similar to mine. However, I grant more to Rough than he does. I grant Rough the hylomorphism, which Ridge objects to as leading to a “bloated ontology”, p. 8—something that doesn’t worry me in the least. More importantly, I think of both games and artworks as (in the primary sense of the terms for the relevant kinds) constituted by rules, along similar lines to Rough. This is why my own objections stand in the face of Rough’s (2018b) brief dismissal of Ridge’s objections.

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García-Carpintero, M. (2022). Games, Artworks, and Hybrids. In: Terrone, E., Tripodi, V. (eds) Being and Value in Technology. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-88793-3_9

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