Monopoly, Solitaire, football and Minecraft are all games, but for C. Thi Nguyen they are also an art form – specifically, the art form of agency, our capacity to set goals and pursue them. In Games: Agency as Art (Oxford UP, 2020), Nguyen argues that a game designer sculpts agency by specifying the goals and abilities of the potential player – what the player should care about and what their abilities are in the game environment. The resulting disposable ends and interesting struggles yields valuable aesthetic experiences that enhance our capacities for autonomous agency. Yet Nguyen, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Utah, also warns of the harmful effects of the gamification of real life, when the simple goals and motivations in games leak into our real- world agency and can lead to social and moral disaster.
Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.