The Art of Videogames (Grant Tavinor)

Tavinor, Grant (2009). The Art of Videogames. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Tavinor looks at games using tool-set from the analytical philosophy of art,using especially the philosophy of fiction.

As the book is drawing on analytical philosophy, the discussion of the definition of videogame is inevitable. Fortunately, Tavinor does not just start a definition project, but discuss the different kinds of definitions and their uses. Definition offered is well-developed, but it trust the idea of intended use that makes skeptical (this is not fully though-out, but a hunch).

A big part of the book deals with games as fiction and character-based games. Again, the treatment of fiction start with a closer look of concepts used in game research. Aarseth’s argument that functional game objects are virtual, not fictional, is rejected. Tavinor present a compelling argument why the game objects are fictional and videogames are usually virtual fictions (I have criticized  Aarserth’s fictional–virtual–real dichotomy earlier, see After that Tavinor discusses what kind of fiction games are using Walton1 theory as a stepping stone:

Modern, fictively rich video games … allow their players to step into a visuospatial fictional world in the guise of a player-character. The player character is the player’s epistemic and behavioral  proxy in the game world, allowing them to discover the many facts of the fictional world, and to act in the world. (p. 84.)

Tavinor also discusses narrative in, emotions in, and ethics of videogames, as well as games as art. Tavinor’s emotion theory seems rather close to what I have proposed in my paper Goals, Affects, Empathy in Games.  Tavinor writes:

Big Daddies in BioShock are so threatening that the players must steel themselves before encounter. … This is because, fictionally, the player-character and the BigDaddy do “exist” in the same ontological game world. (p. 142.)

I partly agree with this, but I see that BigDaddy can be frightening, because it threatens the players real goals at the same time BigDaddy fictionally threatens the  player-character.

This is a book worth of reading. The arguments are well-presented, and hopefully we will see this same kind of rigor in argumentation more in game research.


  1. Walton, Kendal (1990). Mimesis as Make-Believe. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Published by lankoski

Petri Lankoski, D.Arts, is a Associate Professor in Game Studies at the school of Communication, Media and IT at the Södertörn University, Sweden. His research focuses on game design, game characters, role-playing, and playing experience. Petri has been concentrating on single-player video games but researched also (multi-player) pnp and live-action role-playing games. This blog focuses on his research on games and related things.

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