169 | C. Thi Nguyen on Games, Art, Values, and Agency

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Games are everywhere, but why exactly do we play them? It seems counterintuitive, to artificially invent goals and obstacles just so we can struggle to achieve them. (And in some games, like Twister, the fun is in losing, even though you’re supposed to try to win.) C. Thi Nguyen is a philosopher who has developed a theory of games as an art form whose medium is agency. Within each game, we have defined goals, powers, and choices, and by playing different games we can experiment with different forms of agency. A dark side of this idea is to be found in “gamification” — turning ordinary-life activities into a game. Games give us clarity of values, and that clarity can be seductive but misleading, leading people to turn to conspiracy theories about the real world.

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C. Thi Nguyen received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is currently associate professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah. He has written public philosophy for venues such as Aeon and The New York Times, and is an editor of the aesthetics blog Aesthetics for Birds. He was the recipient of the 2020 Article Prize from the American Philosophical Association. His recent book is Games: Agency as Art.

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