Games

Edited by C. Thi Nguyen (Utah Valley University, University of Utah)
About this topic
Summary What is a game, and what is the value of games in human life? For some, playing games is a trivial endeavor. For others, playing games can turn out to be quite valuable, and central part of our lives. The discussion of the nature and the value of games has been conducted in several different fields, both in philosophy and next to it. In the philosophy of art, philosophers have focused on largely on questions of whether games are a form of art, and if so, what their relationship is to other more familiar art forms. Some have argued that videogames are a kind of fiction, or interactive cinema. In the philosophy of sport, philosophers have focused on questions of the value and purpose of sport. There, philosophers have suggested, variously, that the purpose of sport is to develop human excellence, or offer a venue for human achievement, or to create opportunities for dramas of hope and redemption. Much of the discussion of games has occurred the interdisciplinary field called Games Studies - much of whose roots lie in various literary critical and anthropological approaches, often emphasizing approaches from continental philosophy. 
Key works The modern discussion about games is usually taken to proceed from Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens. There, Huizinga suggests that games are connected with theater, sport, and religious ritual, in being set apart from ordinary life, inside a magic circle of play. Roger Caillois' Man, Play, and Games offers a pluralist view of play, distinguishing between competitive play, mimetic play, luck play, and vertigo play. In analytic philosophy, the central work is Bernard Suits' The Grasshopper (Suits & Hurka 1978). Suits there, claims that games are the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacle. Suits' account ends with an argument that games are the purpose of life - since, in utopia, all we would do with our time is to play games. Thomas Hurka has offered an extension of Suits' account, whereby the value of games is to be spelled out in terms of difficult achievement (Hurka 2006). This style of account has recently been developed in great detail by Gwen Bradford (Bradford 2015). In the philosophy of sport, some have argued that there are norms of play, which arise from the distinctive aim of sport - what is called the ethos of sport. Robert Simon has argued that the ethos of sport can be derived from looking at what the rules aim at (Simon 2000). J. S. Russell has argued that the ethos of sport is the development of human excellence (Russell 2004); William Morgan has offered some crucial critical responses (Morgan 2004). In the philosophy of art, the discussion has centered around whether games are art, and, if so, what art form they might be. Grant Tavinor has developed an account of games as a form of fiction (Tavinor 2009). Dominic Lopes has developed an account of interactive computer art (Lopes 2009). The philosophical discussion of videogames has also raised some key questions in ethics, especially the interactive representation of evil acts (Luck 2009, Bartel 2012, Patridge 2013). Maria Lugones' influential account of play as shifting between worlds includes an important criticism of competitive games (Lugones 1987). Philosophers should also certainly take note of interdisciplinary work in Game Studies. Key figures in that field include Janet Murray, Espen Aarseth, Gonzolo Frasca, Markku Eskelinen, Mary Flanagan, Mia Consalvo, Jaakko Stenros, Jane McGonigal, Ian Bogost (Bogost 2007), and Miguel Sicart (Sicart 2009). Early work in that field focused on the so-called "ludology vs. narratology" wars, which focused on whether games should primarily be approached as a form of narrative, or whether games should be approached as a unique, non-narrative artifact. A good place to start with Game Studies is Jesper Juul's well-known book, Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds.
Introductions C. Thi Nguyen's recent Philosophy Compass article, "Philosophy of Games" offers a survey of recent work in the philosophy of games, surveying work in game studies, the philosophy of sport, aesthetics, and applied ethics (Nguyen 2017).  Grant Tavinor's Philosophy Compass, "Videogames and Aesthetics", covers specific issues in the aesthetics of video games (Tavinor 2010).  Jaakko Stenros's "In Defense of a Magic Circle: The Social and Mental Boundaries of Play" offers a critical survey of the concept of a "magic circle" - that is, the idea that games and play occupy a special separate space, separated from ordinary life. Randolph Feezell's "A Pluralist Conception of Play" offers a useful survey of the philosophy of play (Feezell 2010). Jesper Juul's Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds is an excellent introduction to work in the interdisciplinary field of Game Studies.
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  1. added 2020-05-18
    The Arts of Action.C. Thi Nguyen - 2020 - Philosophers' Imprint 20 (14):1-27.
    The theory and culture of the arts has largely focused on the arts of objects, and neglected the arts of action – the “process arts”. In the process arts, artists create artifacts to engender activity in their audience, for the sake of the audience’s aesthetic appreciation of their own activity. This includes appreciating their own deliberations, choices, reactions, and movements. The process arts include games, urban planning, improvised social dance, cooking, and social food rituals. In the traditional object arts, the (...)
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  2. added 2020-02-28
    Virtual Pet: Trends of Development.Daria Bylieva, Nadezhda Almazova, Victoria Lobatyuk & Anna Rubtsova - 2020 - Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing 1114:545-554.
    Information technologies are fundamentally changing modern society. Almost any human activity, including the caring for a pet, is acquiring new formats related to communication in the virtual space. The authors analyzed such a phenomenon as a virtual pet that has been developing since the early 90s of the 20th century on the basis of more than 100 different virtual pet modifications. The most popular among users and purchased more than 1 million times a year around the world are examined in (...)
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  3. added 2019-12-16
    "Shining Lights, Even in Death": What Metal Gear Can Teach Us About Morality.Ryan Wasser - 2019 - Digital Commons @ West Chester University.
    Morality has always been a pressing issue in video game scholarship, but became more contentious after “realistic” violence in games became possible. However, few studies concern themselves with how players experience moral dilemmas in games, choosing instead to focus on the way games affect postplay behavior. In my thesis I discuss the moral choices players encounter in the Metal Gear series of games; then, I analyze and compare the responses of players with and without martial career experiences. My argument is (...)
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  4. added 2019-12-14
    Video Games, Violence, and the Ethics of Fantasy: Killing Time.Christopher Bartel - forthcoming - London: Bloomsbury Academic.
    Is it ever morally wrong to enjoy fantasizing about immoral things? Many video games allow players to commit numerous violent and immoral acts. But, should players worry about the morality of their virtual actions? A common argument is that games offer merely the virtual representation of violence. No one is actually harmed by committing a violent act in a game. So, it cannot be morally wrong to perform such acts. While this is an intuitive argument, it does not resolve the (...)
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  5. added 2019-11-02
    Hume's Vitalism and its Implications.Andrew S. Cunningham - 2007 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 15 (1):59 – 73.
    Considers the significance that Hume attached to mental activity -- the "craving ... of the human mind ... for exercise and employment" -- with respect to the phenomena of truth-seeking, amusement and morality.
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  6. added 2019-08-19
    The Right Way to Play a Game.C. Thi Nguyen - 2019 - Game Studies 19 (1).
    Is there a right or wrong way to play a game? Many think not. Some have argued that, when we insist that players obey the rules of a game, we give too much weight to the author’s intent. Others have argued that such obedience to the rules violates the true purpose of games, which is fostering free and creative play. Both of these responses, I argue, misunderstand the nature of games and their rules. The rules do not tell us how (...)
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  7. added 2019-08-12
    Me and My Avatar: Player-Character as Fictional Proxy.Matt Carlson & Logan Taylor - 2019 - Journal of the Philosophy of Games 1.
    Players of videogames describe their gameplay in the first person, e.g. “I took cover behind a barricade.” Such descriptions of gameplay experiences are commonplace, but also puzzling because players are actually just pushing buttons, not engaging in the activities described by their first-person reports. According to a view defended by Robson and Meskin (2016), which we call the fictional identity view, this puzzle is solved by claiming that the player is fictionally identical with the player character. Hence, on this view, (...)
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  8. added 2019-06-15
    Chess is Not a Game.Deborah P. Vossen - 2008 - In Benjamin Hale (ed.), Philosophy Looks at Chess. Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Press. pp. 191-208.
    As described in Benjamin Hale’s Introduction to “Philosophy Looks at Chess”: -/- “Deb Vossen asks whether chess can rightly be considered a game in the first place. She concludes, much to the surprise of many readers, that chess is not a game. Her evocative claim turns on a distinction between a game and the idea of a game, which evolved out of Bernard Suits’s phenomenally underappreciated work The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. She advances this position by way of a (...)
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  9. added 2019-06-15
    Good Grasshopping and the Avoidance of Game-Spoiling.Deborah P. Vossen - 2008 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 35 (2):175-192.
    Traditionally, acts of sportsmanship have been upheld as worthy of praise. The purpose of this paper is to discern whether Bernard Suits’ Grasshopper -- in "The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia" -- would share this approval. The paper begins with a conceptual analysis of good sportspersonship. From this, four action categories are identified including good sportspersonship in the forms of game desertion, changing the game, not trying, and lusory self-handicapping. A strategy for evaluation is derived from the Grasshopper’s theory. Game-playing (...)
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  10. added 2019-06-11
    Ontology and Transmedial Games.Christopher Bartel - 2018 - In Jon Robson & Grant Tavinor (eds.), The Aesthetics of Videogames. New York, NY, USA: pp. 9-23.
    Some theorists claim that games are “transmedial”, meaning that the same game can be played in different media. It is unclear, however, what are the limits of transmedial games. Are all games in-principle transmedial, or only some? One suggestion offered by Jesper Juul is that, if games are understood as sets of rules, then a game is transmedial if its rules can be either implemented or adapted into some new media. I argue against this view on the grounds that the (...)
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  11. added 2019-06-06
    Chess As An Art Form.P. N. Humble - 1993 - British Journal of Aesthetics 33 (1):59-66.
  12. added 2019-06-05
    How to Justify ‘Militant Democracy’.Miodrag Jovanović - 2016 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 42 (8):745-762.
    Decisions in democracy are binding not in virtue of being true or good, but on account of being an outcome of the majority voting procedure. For some, this is a proof of an intricate connection between democracy and moral relativism. The ‘militant democracy’ model, on the other hand, is premised on the idea that certain political actors and choices have to be banned for being fatally bad for democracy. This gives rise to the claim that protected democratic fundamental values of (...)
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  13. added 2019-05-01
    Games and the Art of Agency.C. Thi Nguyen - 2019 - Philosophical Review 128 (4):423-462.
    Games may seem like a waste of time, where we struggle under artificial rules for arbitrary goals. The author suggests that the rules and goals of games are not arbitrary at all. They are a way of specifying particular modes of agency. This is what make games a distinctive art form. Game designers designate goals and abilities for the player; they shape the agential skeleton which the player will inhabit during the game. Game designers work in the medium of agency. (...)
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  14. added 2019-03-10
    An Epistemic Condition for Playing a Game.Lukas Schwengerer - 2018 - Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 13 (3-4):293-306.
    In 'The Grasshopper' Suits proposes that ‘playing a game’ can be captured as an attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs (prelusory goal), using only means permitted by rules (lusory means). These rules prohibit more efficient means, and are accepted because they make the activity possible (lusory attitude). I argue these conditions are not jointly sufficient. The starting point for the argument is the idea that goals, means and attitudes can pick out their content in different ways. They can (...)
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  15. added 2019-01-23
    The Mathematics of Slots: Configurations, Combinations, Probabilities.Catalin Barboianu - 2013 - Craiova, Romania: Infarom.
  16. added 2018-11-01
    Pre-Game Cheating and Playing the Game.Alex Wolf-Root - 2018 - Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 13 (3-4):334-347.
    There are well-known problems for formalist accounts of game-play with regards to cheating. Such accounts seem to be committed to cheaters being unable to win–or even play–the game, yet it seems that there are instances of cheaters winning games. In this paper, I expand the discussion of such problems by introducing cases of pre-game cheating, and see how a formalist–specifically a Suitsian–account can accommodate such problems. Specifically, I look at two (fictional) examples where the alleged game-players cheat prior to a (...)
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  17. added 2018-09-20
    Competition as Cooperation.C. Thi Nguyen - 2017 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 44 (1):123-137.
    Games have a complex, and seemingly paradoxical structure: they are both competitive and cooperative, and the competitive element is required for the cooperative element to work out. They are mechanisms for transforming competition into cooperation. Several contemporary philosophers of sport have located the primary mechanism of conversion in the mental attitudes of the players. I argue that these views cannot capture the phenomenological complexity of game-play, nor the difficulty and moral complexity of achieving cooperation through game-play. In this paper, I (...)
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  18. added 2018-09-20
    The Aesthetics of Rock Climbing.C. Thi Nguyen - 2017 - The Philosophers' Magazine 78:37-43.
  19. added 2018-09-20
    Video Games as Self‐Involving Interactive Fictions.Jon Robson & Aaron Meskin - 2016 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74 (2):165-177.
    This article explores the nature and theoretical import of a hitherto neglected class of fictions which we term ‘self-involving interactive fictions’. SIIFs are interactive fictions, but they differ from standard examples of interactive fictions by being, in some important sense, about those who consume them. In order to better understand the nature of SIIFs, and the ways in which they differ from other fictions, we focus primarily on the most prominent example of the category: video-game fictions. We argue that appreciating (...)
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  20. added 2018-09-20
    Consent, Context, and Obligations: A Response to Ciomaga.Steven Weimer - 2014 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 41 (2):233-245.
    In his ‘Rules and Obligations,’ Bogdan Ciomaga defends a pluralist account of moral obligations to follow sport rules by arguing that no single explanation of such obligations will plausibly apply in multiple contexts. I dispute this claim by showing that consent generates rule-following obligations in a very wide variety of the contexts in which sports are played, including each of those Ciomaga cites in support of his pluralist account. The contractualist or consent-based theory of rule normativity therefore offers a substantially (...)
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  21. added 2018-09-20
    Rules and Obligations.Bogdan Ciomaga - 2013 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 40 (1):19-40.
    The existence of the obligation to follow rules in sport is widely accepted, but there are only a few studies that provide accounts that justify it. Building upon Wolff's challenge to traditional political theories, this study proposes a theory that limits the level of normativity to which participants in sport contests are bound in an effort to maximize their autonomy. Instead of constructing a unitary theory of obligations to follow sport rules, a pluralistic account is offered, one that allows for (...)
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  22. added 2018-09-20
    Resolving the Gamer’s Dilemma.Christopher Bartel - 2012 - Ethics and Information Technology 14 (1):11-16.
    Morgan Luck raises a potentially troubling problem for gamers who enjoy video games that allow the player to commit acts of virtual murder. The problem simply is that the arguments typically advanced to defend virtual murder in video games would appear to also support video games that allowed gamers to commit acts of virtual paedophilia. Luck’s arguments are persuasive, however, there is one line of argument that he does not consider, which may provide the relevant distinction: as virtual paedophilia involves (...)
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  23. added 2018-09-20
    Competition, Redemption, and Hope.Scott Kretchmar - 2012 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 39 (1):101-116.
    Zero-sum aspects of sport have generated a number of ethical concerns and a similar number of defenses or apologetics. The trick has been to find a middle position that neither overly gentrifies sport nor inappropriately emphasizes the significance of winning and losing. One such position would have us focus on the process of trying to win over the fact of having one. It would also ameliorate any harms associated with defeat by pointing out that benefits like achievement, excellence, and moral (...)
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  24. added 2018-09-20
    A Pluralist Conception of Play.Randolph Feezell - 2010 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 37 (2):147-165.
    The philosophical and scientific literature on play is extensive and the approaches to the study, description, and explanation of play are diverse. In this paper I intend to provide an overview of approaches to play. My interest is in describing the most fundamental categories in terms of which play is characterized, explained, and evaluated. Insofar as these categories attempt to describe what kind of reality we are talking about when we make claims about play, I hope to clarify the metaphysics (...)
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  25. added 2018-09-20
    Doping in Cycling: Realism, Antirealism and Ethical Deliberation.Carwyn Jones - 2010 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 37 (1):88-101.
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  26. added 2018-09-20
    A Critique of Violent Retaliation in Sport.Nicholas Dixon - 2010 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 37 (1):1-10.
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  27. added 2018-09-20
    The Incorrigible Social Meaning of Video Game Imagery.Stephanie Patridge - 2010 - Ethics and Information Technology 13 (4):303-312.
    In this paper, I consider a particular amoralist challenge against those who would morally criticize our single-player video play, viz., “come on, it’s only a game!” The amoralist challenge with which I engage gains strength from two facts: the activities to which the amoralist lays claim are only those that do not involve interactions with other rational or sentient creatures, and the amoralist concedes that there may be extrinsic, consequentialist considerations that support legitimate moral criticisms. I argue that the amoralist (...)
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  28. added 2018-09-20
    The Gamer’s Dilemma: An Analysis of the Arguments for the Moral Distinction Between Virtual Murder and Virtual Paedophilia.Morgan Luck - 2009 - Ethics and Information Technology 11 (1):31-36.
    Most people agree that murder is wrong. Yet, within computer games virtual murder scarcely raises an eyebrow. In one respect this is hardly surprising, as no one is actually murdered within a computer game. A virtual murder, some might argue, is no more unethical than taking a pawn in a game of chess. However, if no actual children are abused in acts of virtual paedophilia (life-like simulations of the actual practice), does that mean we should disregard these acts with the (...)
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  29. added 2018-09-20
    What is Interactivity?Aaron Smuts - 2009 - Journal of Aesthetic Education 43 (4):pp. 53-73.
    I argue that the term "interactive" should be considered a general-purpose term that indicates something about whatever it is applied to, whether that is art, artifact, or nature. I base my definition in the notion of "interacting with" something. First, I look for essential features of this relation, and then using these features, I develop a notion of interactivity that can help distinguish the interactive from non-interactive arts. Although I am skeptical of the benefits interactivity affords, interactive artworks are significant (...)
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  30. added 2018-09-20
    Ontology and Aesthetics of Digital Art.Paul Crowther - 2008 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 66 (2):161–170.
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  31. added 2018-09-20
    Violent Computer Games, Empathy, and Cosmopolitanism.Mark Coeckelbergh - 2007 - Ethics and Information Technology 9 (3):219-231.
    Many philosophical and public discussions of the ethical aspects of violent computer games typically centre on the relation between playing violent videogames and its supposed direct consequences on violent behaviour. But such an approach rests on a controversial empirical claim, is often one-sided in the range of moral theories used, and remains on a general level with its focus on content alone. In response to these problems, I pick up Matt McCormick’s thesis that potential harm from playing computer games is (...)
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  32. added 2018-09-20
    Perusasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames.Ian Bogost - 2007 - MIT Press.
    An exploration of the way videogames mount arguments and make expressive statements about the world that analyzes their unique persuasive power in terms of ...
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  33. added 2018-09-20
    Boxing: The Sweet Science of Constraints.Joseph Lewandowski - 2007 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 34 (1):26-38.
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  34. added 2018-09-20
    Games and the Good.Thomas Hurka - 2006 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 106 (1):217-235.
    Using Bernard Suits’s brilliant analysis (contra Wittgenstein) of playing a game, this paper examines the intrinsic value of game-playing. It argues that two elements in Suits’s analysis make success in games difficult, which is one ground of value, while a third involves choosing a good activity for the property that makes it good, which is a further ground. The paper concludes by arguing that game-playing is the paradigm modern (Marx, Nietzsche) as against classical (Aristotle) value: since its goal is intrinsically (...)
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  35. added 2018-09-20
    Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism.Ian Bogost - 2006 - MIT Press.
    A critical approach that marries literary theory and information technology, reading digital and cultural artifacts—whether videogames, literature, or ...
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  36. added 2018-09-20
    Game Flaws.R. Scott Kretchmar - 2005 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 32 (1):36-48.
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  37. added 2018-09-20
    Rule Sets, Cheating, and Magic Circles: Studying Games and Ethics.Mia Consalvo - 2005 - International Review of Information Ethics 4 (2):7-12.
    This paper provides frameworks for understanding how ethics might be expressed in gameplay situations, and how we can study the ethical frameworks that games offer to players. There are many ways to delve into such topics, and this paper considers only a few approaches. It briefly surveys some of the important ques-tions and critiques arising from audience studies, theories of play and games, and work on cheating, and begins to build a framework for considering ethics in relation to games and (...)
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  38. added 2018-09-20
    Social Context in Massively-Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs): Ethical Questions in Shared Space.Dorothy E. Warner & Mike Raiter - 2005 - International Review of Information Ethics 4 (7):46-52.
    Computer and video games have become nearly ubiquitous among individuals in industrialized nations, and they have received increasing attention from researchers across many areas of scientific study. However, relatively little attention has been given to Massively-Multiplayer Online Games . The unique social context of MMOGs raises ethical questions about how communication occurs and how conflict is managed in the game world. In order to explore these questions, we compare the social context in Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and Disney’s Toontown, focusing (...)
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  39. added 2018-09-20
    Are Video Games Art?Aaron Smuts - 2005 - Contemporary Aesthetics 3.
    I argue that by any major definition of art many modern video games should be considered art. Rather than defining art and defending video games based on a single contentious definition, I offer reasons for thinking that video games can be art according to historical, aesthetic, institutional, representational and expressive theories of art. Overall, I argue that while many video games probably should not be considered art, there are good reasons to think that some video games should be classified as (...)
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  40. added 2018-09-20
    Moral Realism in Sport.J. S. Russell - 2004 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 31 (2):142-160.
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  41. added 2018-09-20
    Normative Theories of Sport: A Critical Review.Sigmund Loland - 2004 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 31 (2):111-121.
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  42. added 2018-09-20
    Moral Antirealism, Internalism, and Sport.William J. Morgan - 2004 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 31 (2):161-183.
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  43. added 2018-09-20
    Canadian Figure Skaters, French Judges, and Realism in Sport.Nicholas Dixon - 2003 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 30 (2):103-116.
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  44. added 2018-09-20
    Inside the Beautiful Game: Towards a Merleau‐Pontian Phenomenology of Soccer Play.John Hughson & David Inglis - 2002 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 29 (1):1-15.
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  45. added 2018-09-20
    Hubris, Humility, and Humiliation: Vice and Virtue in Sporting Communities.Mike McNamee - 2002 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 29 (1):38-53.
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  46. added 2018-09-20
    The Ontology of Interactive Art.Dominic McIver Lopes - 2001 - Journal of Aesthetic Education 35 (4):65-81.
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  47. added 2018-09-20
    Practices and Prudence.W. Miller Brown - 1990 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 17 (1):71-84.
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  48. added 2018-09-20
    The Ethos of Games.Fred D'Agostino - 1981 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 8 (1):7-18.
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  49. added 2018-09-20
    Can Cheaters Play the Game?Craig K. Lehman - 1981 - Journal of the Philosophy of Sport 8 (1):41-46.
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  50. added 2018-09-20
    The Aesthetic in Sport.David Best - 1974 - British Journal of Aesthetics 14 (3):197-213.
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