the world through algorithms

philosophy of computer games 2015


Every piece of software has an impact on how we perceive and act in the world, from payment transactions to social media through hospital registration and election ballots. As common points, all of these are directly referencing our reality, acting upon it to change it, without or without direct human input . On the other hand, interactive software, and more specifically computer games, afford real-time input and feedback for its players, allowing them to explore further the intricacies of the self-contained system it is. As self-contained systems, they only refer to our reality through metaphor and representation, presenting “a version of” rather than “being based on”. At the frontier between reality and fiction, we start to see hints of a simultaneous presence between praxis and poïesis, between the enactment of the interaction and the abstract creativity of a fictional world.

Computer simulations, then, allow us to interact with a responsive representation of our world. Computer-aided scientific simulations are already in use in multiple fields of the social sciences and international relations, in order to organize and monitor the evolution of large amounts of data based on a certain base set of rules laid out by the researcher. Aiming towards scientific truth, these simulations’ inner workings are closely documented in order to counter the inherent bias of the researcher herself. On the other hand, however, the actuality of game simulations at runtime also hold a certain worldview regarding the environment in which the player evolves, without revealing its source code or acknowledging its political impact.

This article will examine in which aspect are computer simulations are political, in howplayers interact with them, before highlighting and comparing the very different roles and responsibilities of both the player and the designer in how political thought can be crystallized during play. Drawing on this examination, I will then outline in what ways can computer simulations can contribute to political and philosophical thought. Throughout this paper, the terms designer and developer will be used interchangeably as I define them both as authors of a system and a software, even though they might not be limited to a single person.