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Violence, Sex and Immorality: Video Games and Philosophy

PhD student Vanessa Gorley combines her interests in philosophy, feminism and video games to introduce undergrads to philosophy.

Date: 3/31/2010
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
According to the NPD Group, U.S. video game sales generated $21.4 billion in 2008—more than double what the U.S. box office brought in the same year. In November 2009, Call of Duty 2: Modern Warfare broke opening-day records for any type of media ever sold, earning $310 million in North America and the U.K. alone.

Vanessa Gorley.
Vanessa Gorley is a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy.

“Video games are extremely prevalent in our culture,” says Department of Philosophy PhD student Vanessa Gorley, “but they haven’t been paid much attention as a cultural phenomenon. Most attention has been paid to the negative aspects of gaming and not the good aspects of it.

“It’s about time we start analyzing what it says about culture and what these changes have to do with society.”

She plans to delve into the topic this summer when she teaches Philosophy 299, a course called “Violence, Sex and Immorality: Video Games and Philosophy.”

Gorley, who’s been playing video games since Breakout was available on Atari, is also taking courses in the graduate program of University of Cincinnati’s Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS), where she is studying gender roles in video games.

She decided to create a class on philosophy and video games to entwine her interests in philosophy, gender portrayal and the virtual world.

Fallout 3.
Fallout 3, an action role-playing game, is one of the video games that will be discussed in PHIL 299. (Photo courtesy of Amazon)

“The course will focus on the social and moral implications of video game play,” she says. “I’m using video games as a medium to discuss traditional philosophical problems, as well as talk about issues that arise from video game play.”

Certain games like World of Warcraft, Fallout 3 and Farmville will be the backdrop to study philosophical ideas like morality and ethical issues, personal identity, and the relationship between the virtual world and reality.

Gorley hopes the class will establish an interest in philosophy for students who would otherwise not get an exposure to the area of study.

“For people who wouldn’t normally take a philosophy class, this might introduce them to the subject and who knows? Maybe they’ll find out they have an interest in it,” she says.

The Video Games and Philosophy course fulfills the humanities and social and ethical issues categories in undergraduates’ Breadth of Knowledge requirements for graduation in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

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