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The Philosophy of Game Design: Phenomenology.


A little while ago (actually longer ago than I intended to leave it before doing a follow-up blog) I wrote a bit about some of the semantics of game design in relation to fun specifically. I’ve been thinking recently about the nature of phenomenological philosophy and want to say a little about how it relates to game design generally, and game design as an art form. So, if that sounds like the worst possible thing to read about, feel free to skip this one.


Phenomenology is the study of phenomena as separate from physical being. One analogy often given is to imagine a scientist bought up in a totally monochrome environment from birth who is even clad in black and white clothes from head to toe at all times so they are unable to see even their own hands. This scientist then learns everything there is to know about the scientific nature of colour, and once they know all that there is to know about colour, they are released into the outside world. The question is whether they would then say something along the lines of “Yep, exactly what I expected” or “Oh, yeah, I just learnt something there”. In short, if you think they learnt something when they’re introduced to actually seeing an actual colour, that something is what phenomenology is trying to talk about. Whether there is something there or not has been an area of debate in philosophy for many years, but I want to try to talk about, if there is, what it means to game design and how it might be motivating game designers.


Its often said that comedy is one of the hardest genres to work in for performers, and I think part of the reason for that is that it’s a phenomenological genre. What I mean is, if someone makes a big spectacle Superhero movie, it’s as close to an objective fact as you can get here that it has big set pieces with epic things happening in them. Even more so, if someone makes a movie of a novel or a historical event, they can show that its relatively objectively