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In-Game Action

Part of the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology book series (POET,volume 7)


The aim of this paper is to clarify the nature of agency inside a gaming environment. The problem with understanding in-game agency is that reports of player actions with reference to a graphical game environment is unclear both with regard to the literal content of the actions performed as well who is the proper owner. While we refer to cases of “walking”, “shooting”, “breaking” and the like inside the game, they are clearly none of those things, and nor is it clear that they are supposed to attributed to a fictional in-game subject or to the player at his controls.

Taking a page from externalism in the philosophy of mind, this paper offers an account of in-game action based on the diagnosis that the element of control forces a shift from the represented fictional object to a real on-screen graphical environment. Utilizing the proposal that the basic actions of the player are directed at non-representational graphical happenings, it spells out the typical actions performed inside the game environment and indicates how they should be evaluated.


  • Video Game
  • Game Play
  • Fictional Character
  • Pictorial Representation
  • Causal Interaction

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-4249-9_15
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  1. 1.

    Representations in games can obviously stand for objects that exist, like the cities in flight simulators or the scenarios in games that aims to simulate real happenings, such as simulation of JFK in the game “JFK Reloaded”. However, interactivity implies that the depictions almost always will depict possible rather than actual states of affairs.

  2. 2.

    The notion is traditionally attributed to Elisabeth Anscombe (1957).

  3. 3.

    The view that depiction depend on perceived similarity is obviously contested issue, but most accounts will allow that there is at least something to the idea. The exact nature of the relationship is not important for the argument in this paper. A view on pictorial representation that that makes use of recognitional capacities is found e.g. in Schier (1993).

  4. 4.

    Locus classicus for this view is Davidson’s essay “Agency”. Davidson (1980).

  5. 5.

    See Newman (2002).

  6. 6.

    In the case of the Chinese player, “real” money was involved, since the in-game currency had a real conversion rate. However, I believe the attitudes toward an in-game theft as being real theft could be present in the cases where there is no such conversion rate as well.

  7. 7.

    Gregory Currie in makes this point in Currie (1991).

  8. 8.

    The classical statement of this position is “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’” (Putnam 1975).

  9. 9.

    Locus Classicus for a view of this sort is “Pictures and Make-Believe” by Kendall Walton (1973). He does not think that perceived similarity is a necessary condition for depiction, though.

  10. 10.

    See Aarseth (2005: 62) for a reference to the point that you can tell real lies within a graphical environment.

  11. 11.

    See Retaux and Juliette (2002).


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Correspondence to John Richard Sageng .

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Sageng, J.R. (2012). In-Game Action. In: Sageng, J., Fossheim, H., Mandt Larsen, T. (eds) The Philosophy of Computer Games. Philosophy of Engineering and Technology, vol 7. Springer, Dordrecht.

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