Review: World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King

World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher KingWorld of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King by Luke Cuddy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up after a friend recommended it to me in the wake of my review of “Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved.” While I think this concludes my foray into pop culture philosophy for a while, I did enjoy this book considerably more than “Halo Philosophy.” The nature of MMOs as shared simulated spaces (alliteration intentional!) invites several intriguing discussions, especially with regards to the metaphysical. Furthermore, so much of what makes MMOs interesting is the people that play them, and even though a first person game like Halo is also multiplayer, it’s really in the MMO space that one can seriously consider questions of character, identity, and self.

As you might expect, not every essay in this book is going to impress, but there are some true gems. In particular, the essays on the relationship between the character and the self really intrigued me. I’ve played a wide variety of characters over the year, including characters of an opposite gender. Thus, I paid particularly close attention to the essay written by a male player who, rather unintentionally, “toured” as a perceived female gamer for several months.

Is this a book I’d recommend to a non-WoW player? Eh, probably not. The authors generally do a good job of not relying “too” heavily on the game terms, but the largest appeal of these pop culture/philosophy books is how the content of your favorite game (or show, or movie, or whatever) can become the fuel for a philosophical discussion. If you’re not already a WoW player, I’m not sure why you’d be interested in picking up a book about it. That said, this is a very solid philosophy primer and if you’re an MMO player (of any game, really), you’ll find something to mentally gnaw on.

Quick aside: it was a little silly, but I really enjoyed the chapters presented in WoW’s “0/1” quest tracker style, as well as the “+3 to intellect” for completing the chapter. It was a fun bit of attention to detail.

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Review: Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved

Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved
Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved by Luke Cuddy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I knew this one was going to be a pop approach to philosophy, being about an FPS video game franchise like Halo, I was hoping that its discussions would be more focused on the lore behind Halo itself. We are, after all, talking about a franchise that was first introduced in a mysterious email chain that quoted T. S. Eliot. The Halo universe can be pretty mythic and deep when it wants to be.

Although a few of the essays do approach Halo from a lore perspective, the majority are more concerned with the philosophical implications and considerations of the actual Halo gameplay. For me, this was somewhat less riveting. There are a few interesting discussions, but overall, my general feeling towards these sorts of arguments is a sort of inward eye rolling. I’m reminded of my philosophy undergraduate days and how my peers could turn absolutely anything into a philosophical debate, even things that seemed rather pointless. This might be indicative that I wasn’t really cut out to be a philosopher, but as this is my review, I’m free to hold to it. But I digress.

The most redeeming aspect of this book is the fact that it’s indicative of the overall progress video games have made as a medium; that we’d ever have a book discussing Halo and philosophy is a sign of progress. That said, I remain skeptical that one can really glean any deep philosophical insight from playing Halo multiplayer. The attempts to bolt things like Leibniz’s “best of all possible worlds” argument onto a Halo deathmatch feel more like an attempt to play to the reluctant reader category, the sort of person that might be enticed towards philosophy if it comes in a tasty Halo-flavored coating. But even for reluctant readers, there are other books I would recommend instead; “Sophie’s World,” in particular, which was the book that hooked me many years ago.

Overall, we’re left with a somewhat interesting book. It doesn’t do anything wrong, but it also doesn’t manage to really excel. The arguments here aren’t going to surprise a dedicated philosophy reader (some are telegraphed enough that you’ll be able to predict them). And while I did like it enough to finish it, I’m not sure to whom I’d recommend this book. Three stars.

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