Do Good Games Make Good People?

In Kevin Decker (ed.), Ender's Game and Philosophy: The Logic Gate is Down. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 89-99 (2013)

Brendan Shea
Rochester Community And Technical College
Ender Wiggins, the title character of Ender’s Game, spends much of the book playing games of one sort or another. These games range from simple role-playing games with his siblings (“buggers and astronauts”) to battle room contests to a strange fantasy game in which he must kill a giant and confront his deepest fears. Finally, at the end of the book, Ender and his Battle School classmates play one final “game” that leads to them (unknowingly) destroying the bugger homeworld and wiping out nearly the entire species. The games that Ender plays undoubtedly prove crucial to his development as a military commander. It is worth asking, however, whether these games help Ender develop into a morally good person—a person who takes seriously the concerns and interests of other people. This question is one with deep relevance for our own lives, since games and sports play a major role in shaping the way the both children and adults approach the world. In this essay, I'll take a closer look at the role that games play in Ender's moral development. I'll begin by offering a preliminary definition of game, according to which games are a specific type of goal-directed, rule governed activity. I’ll then consider how games relate to play, which is a sort of activity done for its own sake. These distinctions will be fleshed out with examples taken from the book, which clearly demonstrate that not every game is a type of play. I'll then discuss the impact that games have on Ender's moral character—the combination of qualities that lead him to make good (or bad) moral choices in his life outside of game-playing. I'll argue that Ender's experiences show that the relationship between good games and the development of good character Is a complex one, and that there is certainly no guarantee that a well-designed, challenging game will be the sort of activity that builds good character. I'll conclude by briefly discussing the lessons that Ender's games have for the more mundane games that most of us are used to playing.
Keywords Philosophy of games  Value theory  Bernard Suits
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