Nammour Philosophy Symposium

April 10 & 11, 2012


Serious people often regard games as merely a form of entertainment and the tendency to attach much significance to their outcomes as evidence of moral immaturity. But the importance of the human ability to care deeply about the outcome of an otherwise pointless contest is difficult to exaggerate. Many of our most important social relationships have a game-theoretic structure. Our ability and willingness to compete for resources according to an internalized set of rules is central to the success of all political, economic and legal institutions. Games are one of our most important tools for cultivating character in the youth. They can also be highly effective means of developing expert knowledge and technical expertise. Games may even help to prevent war. Still, the serious person expresses a legitimate concern. Do we love our games too much? Is our immersion in games now eroding the moral and intellectual qualities required for us to participate effectively in our most important social institutions? Far from helping children to become adults, are games turning adults back into children?

Tuesday April 10th
10:00am - 12:00 pm           Taking Games Seriously 
video icon Click to view. 1 hour 55 min

Game on: Why culture competition beats culture war as a metaphor for cultural conflict
Russell DiSilvestro, Philosophy, Sacramento State 
“Culture war” is a martial metaphor frequently invoked to represent certain sorts of politically charged conflicts in the United States. But “culture competition” is both more congenial and (often) more accurate in representing these conflicts. Obviously, not all competitions are wars. For example, in the most recent summer Olympics in Beijing, the United States put forward a truly remarkable swimmer. He won a record number of gold medals, both as an individual and as a part of various relay teams. He did not win all his races by the same margin. He brought out the very best in his competitors, both when teaming up with them, and when competing against them. “Competition” is a better way of reframing the relationship between “cultures” (however defined) in our pluralistic society. The competition is real: each culture is aiming to win. Yet the end result need not be just winners and losers since cultures can earn silver or bronze even when they don’t win gold. A culture can succeed both in its own right and as part of a larger team. The margins of victory are not the same on every issue. And the competition itself actually serves to bring out the best in each competitor.

Confessions of a soccer fan: Why competition isn’t always good for us
Christina Bellon, Philosophy, Sacramento State
John Stuart Mill famously argued that competition makes us all better, at the same time raising the level of individual achievement and improving society as a result. However, Mill did not give a blanket approval of competition, arguing instead that the utilitarian virtues of competition are quite specific. But why quibble about details? The utilitarian justification for competition by appeal to human excellence is irresistible. Today we believe that competition is good wherever it takes place. We want more! And so everything has become competitive. Children are indoctrinated into the competitive Zeitgeist from birth- the womb if only we could. But does such unfettered competition really make us better? And in what sense of ‘better’ are we being made? I offer a two pronged analysis, arguing: first, that competition understood as a source of motivation for excellence leads us to neglect other equally or perhaps more legitimate sources of motivation; second, that competition blinds us to important collective and co-operative interests, not easily reduced to individual, zero-sum, winner take all (or most) systems of organization.

Games of life and death
Garret Merriam, Philosophy, University of Southern Indiana 
We are often told to 'stop playing games and take things seriously.' This implies that games are trivial, frivolous matters that distract us from the serious things in life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Games give us profound insight into many of the most consequential and important questions we face as a society. Issues ranging from health care, to elections, to the death penalty, to warfare can all be illuminated by a better understanding of how games work. It's time to start taking games seriously; our very lives hang in the balance.

1:00-3:00 pm                       Gaming Virtue 
video icon Click to view. 1 hour 53 min

Winners of Student Essay Competition

3:30-5:00pm Philosophy Club Limeric Slam 
Valley Suite

 Wednesday April 11th

10:00 am-12:00 pm            Changing Games Changing Us
video icon Click to view. 1 hour 59 min

The neurobiology of play
Sarah Strand, Sacramento State
In our evolutionary history, play has served an integral role. Play facilitates brain development. Play strengthens social bonds. Play promotes acquisition of important skills needed later in life. In this presentation, I will discuss the
evolutionary role of play in mammalian species. Included in this discussion will be an evaluation of different types and characteristics of play and how this relates to the play of games, including digital games.

Game changer: The Kinect and human health and well being
Matt McCormick, Sacramento State
Video games are now a bigger industry than movies. They are, by far, our biggest game activity. Many of us are also convinced that they are bad for us--they make us fat, lazy, violent, and insensitive. They are a huge waste of time and money, even in the eyes of many people who love them. And now the Kinect system, and devices like it, are making a troubling possibility real: very soon, millions of us will be physically acting out the most heinous acts of grisly violence and mayhem in our living rooms. What should we think about what video games are doing to us?

The wandering life: Some Daoist Reflections on the openness of video games
Lok Chi Chan, San Francisco State University
Like many terms in the Chinese language, the word for 'game' consists of two characters, 遊戲, or you xi, which we may roughly translate as "wandering play." The game as an act of wandering is interestingly distinct from the ordinary notion which involves a clear objective. (A game of chess, for example, presupposes the goal of capturing the opponent's king.) The notion of wandering (you) plays a prominent role in the philosopher Zhuangzi's thoughts, and, against his philosophical contemporaries, he asserts that the life of wandering is the most suitable life for human being. Coincidentally, in recent years, we see a surge of so-called "sandbox" video games, in which the player is encouraged to wander freely in the game world and deviate from its pre-established objective. Video games, I wish to suggest as a working hypothesis, embody idealized ways of life that are found desirable by the player, and this opens the door to the idea that the popularity of these games with an open world can in fact vindicate Zhuangzi's commitment to the life of wandering. This raises interesting questions about not only the nature of video games, but also the interpretation Zhuangzi's philosophy.

1:00-3:00 pm                       The Aim of the Game 
video icon Click to view. 2 hours 08 min

Winnning, losing, and play without games: A Daoist approach to the martial arts 
Rick Schubert, Cosumnes River College
Every martial art might seem to be a game centrally concerned with winning and losing. And many are. However, some traditional Daoist martial arts not only eschew winning and losing, but all end-directed, teleological activity, advocating "wandering play" as a more enlightened alternative. This presentation uses the resources of the classic Daoist text Zhuangzi and the traditional Daoist movement system Weihai Lishi Quanfa to offer an account of wandering play.

Gaming Wisdom
Mark Alfino, Gonzaga University
Wise people are sensitive to some of the "game theoretic" aspects of life. After a brief demonstration of this claim with examples from wisdom research and game theory, especially "public goods" games and "ultimatum" games, I will try to explain the connection between wisdom and games in more general terms. It may turn out that playing and watching games can help you cultivate wisdom.

Galahad v Odysseus: Moral controversies in sport 
Emrys Westacott, Alfred University 
A common sort of controversy in sport occurs when someone bends or breaks the rules to secure an advantage (e.g. handling the ball in soccer to prevent a goal). There are two main views of such actions. The “Odyssian” view is to see them as clever and legitimate instances of strategic thinking. The “Galahadian” view is that they are less than honorable. I consider different ways of trying to decide which perspective is preferable, and I argue that we should opt for the attitude we think will nudge the ethos of a sport in the direction of our preferred ideal. On this basis, I suggest reasons for favoring the Galahadian point of view.