Metaphysical Design in Strategy Video Games

Federico Campagna

At the basis of my research lies the belief that video games (and strategy, government simulation video games in particular) are a medium of communication which offers unparalleled possibilities for philosophical analysis and philosophical design. On the one hand, because of their procedural nature, video games are especially available for a critique of the ideologies which structure them as rule-based systems. On the other, video games require gamers to invest time and effort to learn and master their fundamental philosophical structures. Beyond the ludic and narrative aspects, it could be argued that video gaming unfolds as a ceaseless exercise in learning and implementing its philosophical content. Differently from books and films, which offer philosophical content as an object of contemplation, video games convey philosophical structures as sets of rules to be enacted as well as learned. While a philosophical text requires the reader to imagine how its theories might apply to the world where s/he lives, video games allow gamers to inhabit worlds where specific philosophical assumptions are actually in place.


However, despite the enormous volume of business that orbits around strategy video games, no serious and comprehensive research has yet explored the productive connections between the conscious understanding of the philosophical foundations of a strategy video game, and the process of its design.


This research will revolve around two main sets of questions:

  • First: an in-depth analysis of the philosophical units of meaning which are active within the Total War and Civilization series, two of the most successful and most representative mainstream strategy, government simulation video game series on the market. This analysis will unfold by breaking down a number of philosophical categories (namely ethics, epistemology, ontology, cultural studies, philosophy of history, political philosophy and theology) into their fundamental questions, and then applying these questions to the video games examined.
  • Second: a matrix of possible philosophical articulations, as applicable to the design of strategy video games. This matrix will be built on the basis of the philosophical dimensions identified in the first part of the research. The various alternatives in each philosophical dimension will be then experimentally connected with those of other dimensions, in the attempt to create different, possible philosophical structures. Each structure will be then tested against the restraints, requirements and possibilities of video game design.


This research will be relevant both to scholars and to professionals in the industry.

  • It will provide original research in a field which is as yet very much academically under-explored, and it will further develop the relationship between philosophical thinking and video game design.
  • It will provide an example of how philosophers can experiment with the medium of strategy video games to unfold and convey philosophical content. Philosophers seem to have consistently underestimated the potential for philosophical experimentation provided by the medium of strategy video games, while often confining themselves to an external critique of video games.
  • It will provide the video game industry with new tools for the planning and design of future strategy video games.
  • It will be relevant to those studying and working in the emerging field of educational video games: it will provide a new analysis of the embedding of philosophical content into a playable, interactive video game.