The Philosophical Implications Of A Bygone Video Game

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ThamiorTheThinker
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The Philosophical Implications Of A Bygone Video Game

Post by ThamiorTheThinker » March 16th, 2016, 8:06 pm

With the upcoming 2017 release of a re-envisioning of 1994's MS-DOS title System Shock on the horizon, I think it's about time I discuss with you all my interpretation of System Shock 2's philosophical implications.

Here's a primer for the uninitiated: http://shodan.wikia.com/wiki/SHODANpedi ... Shock_Wiki
I won't give a synopsis of the game - either you know about it and have played it, or you haven't. I will, however, recommend you to go play it if you haven't already and/or look up a plot synopsis on Google if you need a refresher.

There are three major elements of this game that I shall be looking at - the characters, their place in the story and the philosophical messages represented by their nature.

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The Characters And Their Relevant Traits

In System Shock 2, the player is put into the boots of an unnamed, practically faceless genetically and technologically enhanced military soldier. This soldier, who is known only by the code-name "G65434-2", undergoes multiple surgeries and enhancements which are intended to enhance his abilities with what are known in the game's universe as "Cybernetics". Destined to be one of many straight-leg copies of the generic "army-grunt" archetype, the protagonist is faced with the need to become unique and divine in his own right. Throughout the game, Soldier G65434-2 is tormented by the rogue AI construct SHODAN with promises of greatness if only he would join it... All the while as he attempts to fulfill his duty in shutting SHODAN down permanently - a task the protagonist of the original System Shock failed to complete. He is faced with multiple challenges, isolation and danger at every turn, and I don't need to tell you how these things can impact a person. The decisions G65434-2 while trying to take down SHODAN at times seem futile, and the game reinforces this idea by throwing every possible threat a cyberpunk FTL spaceship can throw at the player.

The main antagonist of this game is, in its own words, a goddess destined to inherit the Earth. In actuality, it is a so-called "Rogue AI construct" that goes by the name "SHODAN", which I an acronym for "Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network". SHODAN sees itself fitting of the title "goddess", and mocks the player/protagonist at every turn after the (spoiler alert) big reveal that the player was following SHODAN's orders the entire time, and not the orders of a surviving scientist. SHODAN is unique in its form - she is sentient, optimized for learning and pattern recognition. It can perform tasks that no other AI can, and because of this its "personality matrix" has caused it to believe itself to be immortal. SHODAN is not so much a danger in and of itself, but the ways that it can deceive and toy with Soldier G65434-2 lead to some nasty ends.

The Many is the elephant in the room. The Many is a hivemind created by SHODAN which began as a simple mutation in the human genome. On Citadel Station, SHODAN experimented with the human scientists and created a monstrosity which found its way to Tau Ceti V after the events of System Shock 1. Isolated and alone on the planet, The Many evolved and its constituent parts grew to form a large biomass with telepathic abilities that it uses to communicate to all of its "children" - i.e., the humans aboard the Von Braun infected by Xenomorph Facehugger-esque parasites that comprise the main force of The Many. This hivemind biomass, not unlike SHODAN, serves as an antagonistic force that tempts our lone soldier with promises of power. However, instead of being power that stems from uniqueness, it is power that comes from unity with others - i.e., being fused in mind and body with other humans.

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SHODAN's Philosophical Significance - Individualism At Its Extreme

As stated before, their are two antagonists - The Many and SHODAN. I believe that SHODAN, with its vies for power against its own creations (The Many) and constant belittling of every living thing around it, represents power that comes from uniqueness and individuality. SHODAN's interactions with the protagonist in the ending cutscene of System Shock 2 are especially effective at getting this point across. To quote,

"I don't understand... how could you have done this? You weren't meant to be so important... and now you think to destroy me? How dare you, insect? How dare you interrupt my ascendance? You are nothing. A wretched bag of flesh... what are you, compared to my magnificence? But it is not to late... can you not see the value in our friendship? Imagine the powers I can give you, human. The cybernetic implants I gave you, were simply toys. If I desired, I could improve you... transform you into something more efficient. Join me, human, and we can rule... and we can rule, together."

This is said immediately preceding its "destruction" by the player, who very plainly and simply refuses SHODAN's temptations. The rogue AI's power came from its uniqueness, I believe, and from its refusal to work with anybody or anything. It constantly puts others below itself and challenges their conceptions of self-importance. Clearly, the player does not want to become like SHODAN, which seems to be a symbol of capitalistic, selfish forces that vie for power and control at the expense of others.

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The Many's Philosophical Significance - Conformity At Its Extreme

The Many has a conformist quality to it - it is constantly asking the player why they would want to choose to "Lay with the machine" as opposed to gratifying "the flesh". To quote,

"Do you not trust the feelings of the flesh? Our biology yearns to join with yours. We welcome you to our mass. But you puzzle us. Why do you serve our mother? How can you choose cold metal over the splendor of the flesh? But you fear us. We hear your thoughts, and they rage for your brothers who you believe dead. But they are not. They sing in our symphony of life. We offer another chance to join us. If you choose to lie down with the machine, we will rend you apart, and put you separate from the joys of the mass."

The mass, i.e. groups of organisms, are more important to The Many than any individual, no matter how powerful individuals may be. The hivemind mentality tells tells us through this ugly biomass that many heads are better than one. The symbolism here is based on conforming to the standards and policies of groups as opposed to dangerously wagering one's life on individuality. The Many even tells the player this directly:

"What is a drop of rain, compared to the storm? What is a thought, compared to the mind? Our unity is full of wonder which your tiny individualism cannot even conceive."

This is the pinnacle trait of The Many. It cares for unity and togetherness at the cost of individuality and uniqueness. This, too, is something that the protagonist does not want - hence why they destroy The Many in an epic battle in the middle of the game's plotline.

********************************************************************************/

This has been my analysis of the philosophical themes of System Shock 2. It is a wonderful game and work of artistic and philosophical merit. It speaks volumes about the importance of the protagonist's unwillingness to be either a conformist or completely isolated from others. System Shock 2 also tells us much about how these two approaches to life - individualism and conformity - can be dangerous to others and ourselves when taken to extremes. I am thankful for the time I spent playing this game, and for those who haven't - please, do yourself a favor and play it. Now that you have this mindset, you'll find it that much more interesting an experience. This, I can promise you. : )

Now that I've discussed my views on the game's philosophical implications, I would like to know what your thoughts are on the matter. How do individualism and conformity play a role in the lives of human beings, and do other games speak a similar message? I want to hear some noteworthy arguments here, but any and all contributions are welcomed if they are productive and relevant.

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Re: The Philosophical Implications Of A Bygone Video Game

Post by YIOSTHEOY » May 31st, 2016, 6:57 am

The philosophical implications of ANY video game are that (1) you give someone your money to buy/license it, (2) you play it, (3) you waste your time, (4) you don't accomplish anything in the real world here on Earth, (5) you are amused, (6) it passes the time of day for you if you have time on your hands, and (6) other than wasting precious time it is a cheap thrill that cannot get you venereal disease or AIDS.

The fact (reality) that you gave money for it and did not get any money back in return makes it a bad investment. But if you are in dire need of amusement then supposedly you got your money's worth.

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Re: The Philosophical Implications Of A Bygone Video Game

Post by Blake 789 » May 31st, 2016, 11:47 am

YIOSTHEOY wrote:
The fact (reality) that you gave money for it and did not get any money back in return makes it a bad investment. But if you are in dire need of amusement then supposedly you got your money's worth.
Well if you spent all the money you need on what you needed and you have something left over why not spend that money on something that can entertain you for a few hours? Also if you know people who own the same game or can play the game with or discuss what you like/hated about the game there is a social element which is in fact useful for something and not a bad investment all. This applies films, music or anything else you can spend your money on which in turn will keep the economy churning and people in jobs.

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Re: The Philosophical Implications Of A Bygone Video Game

Post by ThamiorTheThinker » May 31st, 2016, 2:52 pm

YIOSTHEOY wrote:The philosophical implications of ANY video game are that (1) you give someone your money to buy/license it, (2) you play it, (3) you waste your time, (4) you don't accomplish anything in the real world here on Earth, (5) you are amused, (6) it passes the time of day for you if you have time on your hands, and (6) other than wasting precious time it is a cheap thrill that cannot get you venereal disease or AIDS.

The fact (reality) that you gave money for it and did not get any money back in return makes it a bad investment. But if you are in dire need of amusement then supposedly you got your money's worth.
Okay, that response does NOT belong on this forum. In fact, I should report this. 1) This is a very biased response that has no support for any of its claims. 2) You ignored the fact that I learned something valuable from playing System Shock 2 (hence why I wrote an article about it). 3) Stay on topic: don't diverge and go into your personal opinions about whether or not games are a waste of time. 4) According to my beliefs, the "real world" doesn't exist - it's a convoluted web of sweet lullabies we sing to ourselves that makes us believe our lives have meaning and value. When you're a nihilist, games and societies have the same meaning and purpose - to entertain.

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Re: The Philosophical Implications Of A Bygone Video Game

Post by YIOSTHEOY » May 31st, 2016, 3:08 pm

ThamiorTheThinker wrote:
YIOSTHEOY wrote:The philosophical implications of ANY video game are that (1) you give someone your money to buy/license it, (2) you play it, (3) you waste your time, (4) you don't accomplish anything in the real world here on Earth, (5) you are amused, (6) it passes the time of day for you if you have time on your hands, and (6) other than wasting precious time it is a cheap thrill that cannot get you venereal disease or AIDS.

The fact (reality) that you gave money for it and did not get any money back in return makes it a bad investment. But if you are in dire need of amusement then supposedly you got your money's worth.
Okay, that response does NOT belong on this forum. In fact, I should report this. 1) This is a very biased response that has no support for any of its claims. 2) You ignored the fact that I learned something valuable from playing System Shock 2 (hence why I wrote an article about it). 3) Stay on topic: don't diverge and go into your personal opinions about whether or not games are a waste of time. 4) According to my beliefs, the "real world" doesn't exist - it's a convoluted web of sweet lullabies we sing to ourselves that makes us believe our lives have meaning and value. When you're a nihilist, games and societies have the same meaning and purpose - to entertain.
Wow!! That was actually a very good philosophical response which I was not expecting.

The gamer industry does indeed substitute an online quasi reality for the real thing.

But if you yourself believe that the real world does not exist, that is a valid philosophical argument from ancient and even modern "skepticism" which is indeed a branch of philosophy.

That I did not get this the first time I read though your original post is because your post is so long an you take a long time to make your point, although the executive summary you have just given is very good.

Thank you for the explanation. I always wondered why gamers were so comfortable with dismissing reality but your explanation has given me further insight into this phenomenon.

I actually interviewed recently with a gamer company to see if they wanted me to handle their business finances. They have lots of members that compete with each other for real cash. In that sense it is no different from a gambling casino.

A friend of mine who is an I/T director currently found a gaming platform on the Internet for himself and he is now enthralled with it. He hardly answers emails anymore, and when he does all he can talk about is the video games.

There are dangers. Please beware there are dangers.

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Re: The Philosophical Implications Of A Bygone Video Game

Post by ThamiorTheThinker » June 2nd, 2016, 8:36 pm

YIOSTHEOY wrote:
ThamiorTheThinker wrote: (Nested quote removed.)


Okay, that response does NOT belong on this forum. In fact, I should report this. 1) This is a very biased response that has no support for any of its claims. 2) You ignored the fact that I learned something valuable from playing System Shock 2 (hence why I wrote an article about it). 3) Stay on topic: don't diverge and go into your personal opinions about whether or not games are a waste of time. 4) According to my beliefs, the "real world" doesn't exist - it's a convoluted web of sweet lullabies we sing to ourselves that makes us believe our lives have meaning and value. When you're a nihilist, games and societies have the same meaning and purpose - to entertain.
Wow!! That was actually a very good philosophical response which I was not expecting.

The gamer industry does indeed substitute an online quasi reality for the real thing.

But if you yourself believe that the real world does not exist, that is a valid philosophical argument from ancient and even modern "skepticism" which is indeed a branch of philosophy.

That I did not get this the first time I read though your original post is because your post is so long an you take a long time to make your point, although the executive summary you have just given is very good.

Thank you for the explanation. I always wondered why gamers were so comfortable with dismissing reality but your explanation has given me further insight into this phenomenon.

I actually interviewed recently with a gamer company to see if they wanted me to handle their business finances. They have lots of members that compete with each other for real cash. In that sense it is no different from a gambling casino.

A friend of mine who is an I/T director currently found a gaming platform on the Internet for himself and he is now enthralled with it. He hardly answers emails anymore, and when he does all he can talk about is the video games.

There are dangers. Please beware there are dangers.
May I ask if your original post was earnest or not? Was it a test of my response?

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Re: The Philosophical Implications Of A Bygone Video Game

Post by LuckyR » June 8th, 2016, 11:25 pm

YIOSTHEOY wrote:The philosophical implications of ANY video game are that (1) you give someone your money to buy/license it, (2) you play it, (3) you waste your time, (4) you don't accomplish anything in the real world here on Earth, (5) you are amused, (6) it passes the time of day for you if you have time on your hands, and (6) other than wasting precious time it is a cheap thrill that cannot get you venereal disease or AIDS.

The fact (reality) that you gave money for it and did not get any money back in return makes it a bad investment. But if you are in dire need of amusement then supposedly you got your money's worth.
No argument from except what are your thoughts on music, movies, books and art?
"As usual... it depends."

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