PHIL 401 A: Advanced Topics in Philosophy

Spring 2023
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm / SAV 131
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):



This course examines video games and game studies from a philosophical perspective. What is a video game? Do video games necessarily involve both gameplay and fiction? Are video games art? Are they a distinct artistic medium, or are they just “interactive cinema”? Are VR or augmented reality games different art kinds from traditional video games? Is there an art of agency in games? Can a game play through be an artistic performance? Do players identify with characters in a game? Do video games elicit real emotions or merely simulated ones? Are virtual worlds real? Can video games be moral or immoral? Can the way one plays a game be immoral? What is ethical game design? Can video games serve as philosophical thought experiments? Can video games do philosophy? 


There are no books or games to buy for this class. All readings will be made available in Canvas. For games, we would like to thank the generous support of Crows Crows Crows and Extremely Okay Games.

Learning Objectives

In this course students will learn how to:

  • Read actively and annotate a philosophical text
  • Reconstruct and evaluate philosophical arguments
  • Define and apply philosophical concepts relevant to the course materials (such as artwork, art kinds and media, video game, ludology, ludonarrative dissonance, etc.)
  • Employ textual evidence to argue for a philosophical reading of a text or video game
  • Evaluate moral and aesthetic features of video games and game design
  • Analyze and interpret the philosophical significance of video games
  • Communicate philosophical ideas and arguments in dialogue and written forms
  • Formulate and prioritize objectives for classroom discussion
  • Contribute to collaborative discussion with peers in order to analyze and evaluate philosophical texts and arguments
  • Facilitate and lead discussion in order to accomplish specific objectives

Grading and Course Requirements

Grading is done on the UW 4.0 scale, not on a % scale. Each assignment that you do accrues UW points, and your grade at the end of the quarter will just be the sum of all the points that you accrue. In a sense, all of the assignments are optional, though you must earn at least 0.7 points to get credit for the class. You need to set your own course goals, keep diligent about doing the work to meet them, and track your progress throughout the quarter.

There are three groups of points for the class:

  1. Participation and In-Class Assignments (1.5 points max)
  2. Final paper (1.0 points max)
  3. Optional assignments (1.5 points max)

Here is elaboration on each group:

  1. Participation and In-Class Assignments (1.5 points max). Participation in class is required; there is no remote option for this course. Participation and in-class assignments are worth 0.1 points for each day. At the start of each day students will be divided into groups, and a random discussion leader will be chosen for each group. The discussion leader is responsible for leading the discussion for their set of students for a set period of time. In order to get credit of 0.1 points for participating, students must do all of the following:
    • Participate in the random selection of leaders; since that will occur at the start of class, you must not be late in order to earn credit.
    • If selected as leader, you must be fully prepared with notes and actively lead discussion for the set period of time. If not selected as leader, you must be fully engaged and offer contributions to the discussion as well as encourage contributions from your peers.
    • Submit to Canvas a final 5-minute reflection writing prompt assigned at the end of class.
  1. Final paper (1.0 points max). For the final paper, you must write a 6-to-8-page thesis-driven argumentative academic essay, using one or more readings from the course. You can choose from one of the provided topics, or create your own (must obtain written approval one-week before it is due). Additional directions and a rubric will be provided in Canvas. The final project will be due during finals week at the end of the quarter.
  2. Optional assignments (1.5 points max). The rest of the 1.5 points in the course are earned by completing optional assignments. Each week will have one or more optional assignments worth 0.5 points each. Optional assignment are typically 3-4-page papers on the assigned readings and games for the week. See Canvas for rubrics and additional details.
Catalog Description:
A study of philosophical topics at the advanced level. Topics vary.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
July 20, 2024 - 1:02 pm