Torill Elvira Mortensen, IT-University of Copenhagen, Denmark. June 3 rd 2012. This article was published in Portuguese in the Brasilian journal Fronteiras – estudos midiáticos, v. 13, n. 3 (2011), Setembro/Dezembro 2011, http://www.unisinos.br/_diversos/revistas/ojs/index.php/fronteiras/issue/view/95 . It was translated by Thiago Falcão. Please cite with caution, and make certain to distinguish this from the original publication. Gaming as the morally good life: utilitarian hedonism, the ethic of gaming? Abstract: We play because it’s fun and it gives us pleasure, but what, exactly, does that mean? This article explores the connection between the act of gaming and a philosophy of pleasure, that of utilitarian hedonism. Hedonism in this context is not just as a system of thought concerning itself with enjoyment and pleasure, but a way to look at gaming as a moral act. The article poses two main questions: Is it possible to study pleasure, and can gaming be enjoyed not just for its mechanisms and social value, but also for its value as a model for and a part of a morally good life? To facilitate this discussion, this article draws heavily on the philosophy of utilitarian hedonism, positioning hedonism not as a system of reckless indulgence, but as a philosophy of communal effort towards a general increase in the level of enjoyment for all involved. By drawing on experience with as well as research on gamer behavior and knowledge of game systems, this article demonstrates how gaming can be seen as a lesson in the importance of increasing pleasure for all. By looking at the use of and meaning of the concept pleasure, current game research is drawn into question. The many attempts of research to isolate simple formulas for “the good game” appear flawed and simplistic from this point of view. The philosophy of hedonism argues that “good”, “pleasurable” and “fun” are very subjective concepts, and that while a large group of people may agree that a game is “good”, this agreement may not come from a common
Torill Elvira Mortensen, IT-University of Copenhagen, Denmark. June 3rd 2012.
This article was published in Portuguese in the Brasilian journal Fronteiras – estudos midiáticos, v.
13, n. 3 (2011), Setembro/Dezembro 2011,
http://www.unisinos.br/_diversos/revistas/ojs/index.php/fronteiras/issue/view/95. It was translated by
Please cite with caution, and make certain to distinguish this from the original publication.
Gaming as the morally good life: utilitarian hedonism, the
ethic of gaming?
We play because it’s fun and it gives us pleasure, but what, exactly, does that mean? This
article explores the connection between the act of gaming and a philosophy of pleasure, that of
utilitarian hedonism. Hedonism in this context is not just as a system of thought concerning
itself with enjoyment and pleasure, but a way to look at gaming as a moral act. The article
poses two main questions: Is it possible to study pleasure, and can gaming be enjoyed not just
for its mechanisms and social value, but also for its value as a model for and a part of a
morally good life?
To facilitate this discussion, this article draws heavily on the philosophy of utilitarian
hedonism, positioning hedonism not as a system of reckless indulgence, but as a philosophy of
communal effort towards a general increase in the level of enjoyment for all involved. By
drawing on experience with as well as research on gamer behavior and knowledge of game
systems, this article demonstrates how gaming can be seen as a lesson in the importance of
increasing pleasure for all.
By looking at the use of and meaning of the concept pleasure, current game research is drawn
into question. The many attempts of research to isolate simple formulas for “the good game”
appear flawed and simplistic from this point of view. The philosophy of hedonism argues that
“good”, “pleasurable” and “fun” are very subjective concepts, and that while a large group of
people may agree that a game is “good”, this agreement may not come from a common
agreement about what exactly makes the game good. It is in the nature of pleasure to be
individual, subjective and situational, which defies attempts at creating a formula for
enjoyment both for researchers and designers.
Studying games, it is important for scholars to report and to analyze without making normative
judgments. We look for the motivation for gaming in social networks, social conditions, the need for
escape, entertainment, learning or connections, and go as far as to look at gaming as addictive or
compulsive behavior. What we tend to ignore is exactly the normative aspect of games. This article
focuses on this, and asks the question: Can it be that gaming is a morally good thing to do? Can
playing games help us to improve not just our motor skills or our capacity of strategic thinking, but
also expand our sense of ethics and morals, and afford us the value added by living by certain
Where hedonism tends to be viewed as indulgence and the hedonist supposedly never refuses him- or
herself anything, as a philosophy utilitarian hedonism is perhaps problematic, but definitely not a
matter of unlimited indulgence. Where indulgence often harms both yourself and others, hence
reducing the pleasure of the society, utilitarian hedonism promotes a practice that reduces displeasure
as much as it enhances pleasure: A utilitarian hedonist can gain much by reducing discomfort for
others, and lose by maximizing their own pleasure – the same way as a participant in a game can gain
by making sure others have fun while playing, and ruin the fun by indulging herself and being a
selfish, indulgent player.
This makes it quite interesting to explore utilitarian hedonism as a way to understand the motivation
and the pleasure of gaming, and so I choose to look at gaming as a morally good practice, comparable
Quickly, about gaming
“Gaming” is the act of playing games, today most frequently used about games played online. This
article comes out of the discourse within the field of game studies, an area of exploration connected to
digitally mediated games. Game studies concerns itself both with single-player games (person against
1 This article continues the exploration of the connection between gaming and the philosophy of pleasure I started in the article “The player as hedonist: the problem of enjoyment” published in the Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds by Intellect in 2010.
the system or the machine, such as solitaire or Tetris), and multi-user games where several people play
together with or against each other. This article mainly focuses on games where people play against or
with other people, and in doing so the focus on digital games (console or computer games) is less
evident. While the technology used to play with others may have changed, certain basic rules about
human behaviour have not. Hence it is unimportant if the players engage in a board-game or an online
game, what I look at here is the interaction between players within the rules of their chosen game.
Hedonism and game-world ethics
Pleasure as a normative motivation for action was discussed by Jeremy Bentham in 1781: “Nature has
placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone
to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.” (Bentham, 2000, p. 14).
But before that Plato writes Protagoras, where Socrates argues that pleasure and pain are the only
measures of good and evil:
Well then, my friends, I say to them; seeing that the salvation of human life has been found to consist in the right choice of pleasures and pains, -- in the choice of the more and the fewer, and the greater and the less, and the nearer and remoter, must not this measuring be a consideration of their excess and defect and equality in relation to each other? (Plato & Jowett, p. 48)
The more recent thinker Jeremy Bentham’s version of hedonism is that of utilitarian hedonism, the
belief that pleasure can be described in quantifiable measures, and good and evil can be decided by
who experiences the largest amount of pleasure from an event. Later philosophers have since argued
against this, holding utilitarian hedonism to the defence of such extreme arguments that the sadistic
pleasure of a voyeur or agent of torture cannot justify the suffering of the victims of torture (Svendsen
& Säätelä, 2004, p. 135).
Both Jeremy Bentham (Bentham, 2000) and John Stuart Mill (Mill, 2001) argued for
utilitarian hedonism on the grounds that pleasure includes the social, it is not something which is only
experienced in isolation. It is possible to be pleased with things more people do together, and it is
possible to be pleased with the successes of others. In this point of view envy does not belong, as the
utilitarian hedonist should not dwell on the lack of personal success, but be pleased about the general
rise in well-being in society. This utilitarian hedonist of course lives in a society where others are
equally eager to see the general level of well-being rise, and will be assisted and not envied by his or
her fellow citizens. This is a quite lovely idea of a society based on universal collective labour towards
pleasure and away from pain, and it is ideologically closely related to several religions, political
movements and philosophies at large in modern politics. We also find it in the practice of players in
As mentioned, the main problem with this utilitarian view of hedonism is measuring pleasure
and pain. It does not really stand up to the test of logic as a moral philosophy unless it is possible to
test if the pain of the victim really is greater than the pleasure of the torturer, but it is possible to make
some informed assumptions. In the case of non-consensual torture we have every reason to assume
that the pain will always be worse than the pleasure gained by the act of torturing, and so it is not an
act that can be supported by a utilitarian hedonist. In consensual cases both torturer and victim feel
pleasure at the act, and the pain is perfectly justified. In game-worlds there is a similar simple, but
clear measuring stick, which is strongly connected to freedom and consent. When bad outweighs
good, people leave.
Gosling on pleasure
J. C. B. Gosling discusses how pleasure covers a wide range of activities and experiences (1969). To
understand and argue for or against hedonism it is vital to understand the main goal of this school of
philosophy or of ethical choices. Pleasure is popularly understood as part of happiness, and while
happiness is a wider concept which can be created also by contentment or absence of certain negative
experiences, most will claim that they find pleasure in these absences. Pleasure is commonly used and
understood to describe certain feelings or emotional states:
Now the various terms related to pleasure, such as ‘enjoyment’ and ‘liking’, as well as the expressions which contain some part of the word ‘pleasure’ itself, are in very common use. It is not a sign of great precociousness for a child to become familiar with them quite young. Nor is there any tentativeness about their application: people do not as a rule have much hesitation about whether or not they take pleasure in something and enjoy it. (Gosling, 1969, p. 42)
In games we find a wide range of causes for this commonly recognized pleasure, even if the
directly sensory ones are not the most obvious. Still, even these exist in the delight many gamers take
in their machines: from the “eye candy” factor of beautiful games, to the smooth, shiny surface of the
handheld games, the curves of the controls, and the resolution of the screens. Some games are even
built for sensory input, such as Rez, a PlayStation 2 shooter game by Sega (UnitedGameArtists, 2001).
This game in some countries came with a peripheral called “trance vibrator”, which has been reported
used as a sex toy (Pinckard, 2002).
However, Gosling does not accept pleasure as simply a feeling or a sensation, but argues that
pleasure can be experienced in other ways:
In short, the project of accounting for pleasure as a sensation or quasi-sensation is misconceived. The attempt to treat it as a feeling of some other sort supposes either that all cases of pleasure are cases of feeling pleasure, or feeling pleased, or that other cases are to be explained in terms of these, so that feelings of pleasure are conceptually prior. (Gosling, 1969, p. 52)
His argument against pleasure as simply a feeling is based on the idea that we at all times know how
we feel, we are aware of our feelings. When we are in pain, we are (unless drugged) aware of pain,
when we are feeling sad we are aware of sadness, when we are scared we are aware of fear. Pleasure,
however, can be there without it being considered. We don’t stop in the middle of enjoying something
deeply to tell ourselves “yes, I am feeling pleasure now.” Afterwards you may go on about how much
fun it was, how much pleasure it gave you, but the experience itself does not have the feeling of
pleasure written all over it. Quite the opposite, if you lost a game, it may have been embarrassing,
frustrating, even painful, but it still gave an intense experience of pleasure.
So what is pleasure? Gosling continues the discussion, and makes a wide range of suggestions.
First of all it appears to be connected to something done willingly, with desire (Gosling, 1969, p. 55).
This makes Gosling call it “adverbial views of pleasure” – pleasure understood as something that is
experienced in relationship with something else. For the purpose of studying games this is a familiar
argument, as freedom is a basic trait of games (Huizinga, 2000, p. 8). So game-worlds would, in this
view, always be connected to pleasure.
Pleasure can, according to Gosling, be a performance. Not in the sense of a put-on show, but
in the way pleasure can be recognized in the behaviour of the individual experiencing it. The eagerness
to participate, the attention to detail, the look in the eyes or the focus on the acts: pleasure as
performance is distinctly recognizable. Next, pleasure is a way of attending to something. It may be
skiing downhill or eating a cake: if done without attention, it is not being enjoyed and gives no
pleasure. This way pleasure may be seen as a way of attending to the object of pleasure.
To counter the arguments of pleasure as activity, Gosling introduces the pleasure of dozing. A
sunny afternoon, a relaxed state of dozing in a deck-chair – this is something which it is hard to do
while expressing pleasure or attending intently to it. Many pleasures are experienced only if not
focused on, proving to be elusive if they require any particular activity. And so pleasure can also be
said to be a kind of non-attention, to let go of the struggle to be pleased. An important point is
however that only that of which we are aware can be enjoyed. A deep nap in that deck chair would
perhaps be refreshing and make the rest of the day a pleasure, but sleep, being a state of no conscious
awareness, only brings pleasure in anticipation or in retrospect.
At this point it still looks like pleasure is something which can be had from certain activities,
an argument that would suit gamers very well: the attention to certain actions brings pleasure. This is a
little too simple, as Gosling adds the pleasure of reading, watching movies and plays, in general,
letting yourself be captivated by something which does specifically not require any action except
paying attention. So, pleasure does not derive from the actions performed with involvement and
attention, but also from watching something which specifically does not take place2.
2 However: bear in mind that for instance reader-response theory will argue against Goslings thoughts on reading as an act that does not require action. Since Roland Barthes’ bold statement about the death of the author this
Gosling commits much time to showing what pleasure is not, and by the time he starts to say
that pleasure is actually something, he has mostly disproved it. Still it is impossible to get around the
existence of pleasure, the word relates to more than a linguistic way out of describing something we
might wish existed: Pleasure exists, and it is an important motivator in daily lives. And this is what
Gosling returns to as the common factor of pleasure: the reaction to pleasure, and to being pleased.
The events which bring pleasure are not required to have anything in common, except the fact that
people react to them by being pleased (Gosling, 1969, p. 137). Or as Gosling states it:
It might be objected to all this that if it were true, then relative assessments of pleasure would be impossible. For on the present account the fact that something may be correctly called a pleasure, or even an enjoyment, does not entail that there is any respect in which it can be compared with any other pleasure or enjoyment. Being soothed is so different from being thrilled, being pleased with a floral arrangement so different from being pleased at the prospect of humiliating someone, that the whole project of comparing them as more or less enjoyable seems senseless. (1969, p. 138)
Then to what use is pleasure in research, if it is a concept that has no bearing what so ever on what
people are actually pleased by? Finding out what gives pleasure leads us nowhere, and asking “why do
you like pleasure” is nonsensical, as pleasure explains itself. But the questions we can ask, Gosling
concludes, concern themselves with how judgements about pleasure are made, and what they amount
to (Gosling, 1969, p. 140). They are: ‘How do you find out what you like?’ and ‘How do you decide
which is more enjoyable and less enjoyable?’
Games are fun, games give pleasure
We know that the main reason why people use virtual game-worlds is because they give pleasure. This
is a commonsense statement that keeps coming up in conversations about games, both in research and
in regular conversations. Different explanations have been presented for why people spend so much
time playing games, such as an escape from reality or addiction, both proposed as reasons for why
people play, and keep doing it. An interesting question which is not asked in relation to gaming is
however why people do not play. If game-worlds are so intensely fun, why is not everybody in them
all the time? Another question is why do we need to look for explanations, if ‘it’s fun’ was self-
First of all, games are not fun for everybody. There are people who intensely dislike playing
games. Some may dislike a certain type of games, while others may dislike games in general. Some
theoretical approach has underlined the importance of the readers’ own activity. Barthes (Barthes, 1972; Barthes & Heath, 1984), Eco (Eco, 1981, 1994) and Iser (Iser, 1974, 1978) all point out that the activity of the reader is vital to textual production.
may not think playing is fun at all, but do it repeatedly because they love seeing other people fail and
fall: they like winning, but not playing.
Second, there are non-gaming activities that are more fun than games. Although the
Grasshopper in Bernard Suits’ book says that mountain climbing is a game (Suits, 1978, p. 86), its
game-ness is fairly weak. Watching television, baking, writing or taking pictures are all activities
which people are willing to leave a game for, not even reluctantly. The pleasures to be had in other
experiences are as desirable as gaming. At times, even dozing can be more fun than gaming.
This means that when we look for the fun in games and the pleasures of playing, we are
looking for highly personal preferences. The same game may be enjoyed for a very wide set of
reasons. Ludo may be enjoyable because of its rules, the pretty colours and the cute little pieces, the
challenge, the limitations and the affordances, the simple goals and the potential for easy mastery, as
well as the randomness introduced by the dice, but a lot of people who play Ludo couldn’t care less
about those aspects of the game. They play it because it’s a ritual of social closeness, it brings a group
together, allows silliness and release from conventional behaviour, evens the field between figures of
authority and those of less power, and permits the weak to conquer the powerful, once in a while. The
pleasure and the fun the players have from the game may be the same, quantitatively, but what they
qualitatively enjoy are widely different things.
Hedonism, utilitarianism and gaming
As Huizinga points out, play is voluntary (Huizinga, 2000, p. 7), and so it is an activity people engage
in because they want to. This means that game-worlds need to be systems designed to maximize
pleasure for the participants. Game designers level the playing field. Then they set up a set of rules
that severely restrict the behaviour of the participants, in order to keep the field as level as possible.
Your advantages are reduced until they reach a set point.
In game studies, the options you are given for action (move the bishop diagonally back or
forth, kick the ball in any direction) are often called affordances, and affordances are scarce.
Compared to life, games offer a severe reduction of options. They take away a lot of your advantages,
leaving you with a limited set of tools. These limitations mean that it is possible to create some sort of
balance between pain and pleasure measured in units of pleasure and the units of pain (‘hedons’ and
‘dolors’) (Feldman, 2004, p. 25). If this is possible, the arena becomes more predictable. Also, if you
are denied much, pleasure comes easy; any advantage gleaned from meagre resources makes the
situation better, and leads to an increase in well-being. We see this in very simple and restrictive
games: to be able to achieve something through a single move becomes more significant than if
movement was unrestricted. In a way game-worlds are hedonist utopias: systems designed for the
satisfaction of peoples’ desire for pleasure. They are also hedonist hells: they give satisfaction by
removing options for pleasure.
This means that games will contain the common problems of hedonism: of instant
gratification vs. long-term pleasure, of selfish pleasure through practices harmful to others, and of
balancing the hedon/dolor amount in play: All of these common issues of hedonist reasoning and
argument will be brought, literally, into play.
We see these problems in several of the common practices we face while playing. Cheaters
can be described as the sybarites of games: they want instant gratification, and don’t see that there is
pleasure in the process of gaining advantages through other means. They will use any means available,
within or without the rules, to get what they want, and they will justify it with how it makes games
more fun, for them, while it doesn’t really hurt anybody else. Griefers3 are the fanatics, the ones who
only see their own desire and not the other person’s pain. They will justify their attacks on others and
the bringing of unhappiness by the way their goals are satisfied through their actions. But in most
cases I will claim that gamers are utilitarian hedonists.
The maximised pleasure in game worlds
I claim that the prime goal of a large online game world is maximized pleasure for the participants.
Winning or not losing are not relevant goals in these ongoing worlds. If victory was the goal, nobody
would play in never-ending worlds4. No, the main reward of virtual world games is the act of playing.
This is in concordance with the process of living a pleasurable life, or the good life, as Feldman
explains it with the idea of attitudinal pleasure (Feldman, 2004, pp. 56-57). Attitudinal pleasure is not
sensory, or even immediate, direct pleasure, but pleasure in the knowledge that something is
happening, awareness of a certain state of being, related to, but not the same as what White calls
second-order desire: “That is, a normal person has desires whose subject matter concerns how he
wants his desires to be, or how he wants them to be satisfied, after all” (White, 2006, p. 10).
World peace would give even us who are not directly hurt by war an attitudinal pleasure. In
the same way being in the game-world, participating while not really feeling the immediate joy of
“winning,” is an attitudinal pleasure: pleasure taken from the awareness of the situation without
immediately dwelling on the present. To put it directly into a game-world context: It’s why it is
pleasurable to a certain extent to be part of a raid group while it is learning the different encounters.
3 Griefers are players who are more interested in making things complicated for other players, than in advancing in a conventional fashion. A typical Ludo griefer is for instance that annoying sibling who keeps knocking one player back to the starting area, rather than focus on winning the game: The goal of the griefer is the grief of other players. 4 Examples of virtual-world games that do not end: World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, Everquest.
The group wipes and wipes again, and the fun part isn’t losing or progressing, but to be part of a
complicated process with your friend. The general level of pleasure was increased because you made it
possible for others to enjoy themselves.
This is hedonistic utilitarianism, and it is particularly strong in virtual worlds that are also
games. The practice of support, the formation of guilds, the tasks of group managers and others who
take on support roles: it all underlines how important the increase of general pleasure is for the act of
playing. The idea of “fair play” also ties into this: it is a concept that points out how not only the
pleasure of your team is important, but the pleasure of all teams. There is often little pleasure to be had
in what supposedly is the ultimate act of pleasure in games – winning – if it happens at the cost of the
idea of fair play, the quite enjoyable thought that all had an equal chance to reach that final peak of
Designers occasionally grasp this, and applied utilitarian hedonism has for instance been
included in the design of group play in World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004), first as a player-driven
choice, and then through options encoded in the game structure. In the first versions of WoW groups
would be allowed to compete for good equipment automatically. The options were roll or pass. WoW
has a system in which not all classes can use all equipment, and also has more subtle differences
between equipment for the characters: The object two characters can equip may be considerably more
useful for one character than the other. Players responded to this by developing what became known
as the need/greed system. In this case ‘need’ means that the object will be used to make the character
stronger game-wise, while ‘greed’ means the object will be taken for some other value – crafting,
perhaps – or to be sold.
On some servers the original form of the need/greed system was mainly practiced in two
manners. 1: Every player typed, quickly, n for need or g for greed, and if somebody typed n while you
typed g you were expected to pass and let the one(s) who typed n roll for the object. 2: Everybody
rolled for objects which were ‘bind on equip (BoE),’ this means the object could be traded after the
character picked them up, while everybody passed for objects which were ‘bind on pickup (BoP),’
objects which could not be traded once a player has looted it from the conquered mob. When
everybody had passed on the often valuable items, all would then use the /roll function in the game,
first checking of there were any need rolls, then rolling for greed if nobody needed the object.
This system became integrated in the game structure, and there is now an option for need, for
greed and x to pass on the equipment. The most recent change also allows in-group trading of BoP
How is this utilitarian hedonism? Loot is very closely related to the pleasure of playing WoW.
The characters’ increased freedom within the game is dependent on the quality of the equipment. A
player with really good equipment can explore everywhere, assist others in all situations, and generally
has maximum freedom of action within the game. By foregoing some of those advantages the player
insures that the equipment is distributed in a manner that gives the most pleasure for others as well.
Gamers do, at each instance of need/greed, calculate pleasure vs pain, and ideally choose the path of
the most pleasure for more people.
How important this is to the player community may perhaps be seen most clearly in ‘ninja-
looting.’ Ninja-looting or ‘ninjaing’ means to pick need on an object you don’t really need or you
haven’t won fairly. Ninjaing may give short-term self-indulgent pleasure to the player who does it, but
it leads to considerable anger and annoyance among the players who are refused their fair chance at
the object. It disturbs the balance of the looting situation, and is an offence not just against the group
the player is with, but against the whole community. The ninja-looter maximises personal pleasure,
but reduces it overall.
Wanting, or – is play free?
It appears easy to argue for game-worlds as utilitarian hedonistic spaces, but in order to not fall into
the trap of claiming that games embody the hedonist and ultimate paradise, it is important to look
closely at the idea of wanting. Huizinga wrote into Homo Ludens that games are voluntary and free.
Games are something we want to engage in.
Want is however a quite problematic issue in hedonism. Gosling introduces the example of
going for a walk on a lovely spring day opposed to sit in and comfort a deeply depressed friend
(Gosling, 1969, p. 88). Most of us would comfort the friend, because we feel it’s our duty and it would
taint the walk with guilt, taking all the pleasure out of it, if we knew it added to the suffering of our
However if asked, we’d say that what we really wanted to do that lovely spring day was to go
for a walk; we did not want to spend that time indoors with the depressed friend. But we still do it.
Don’t we want the walk after all? Are we masochists who prefer punishing ourselves? Or are we
unable to say what we want?
While the former example is a conflict of duty and desire, a different situation where we can
say that freedom really comes into play is when we have a conflict of equal desires; we want two
things equally strongly. We desire two objects, but can’t have both. This is a happy and unproblematic
problem, where either choice appears to be good. It is very different from the want set up against duty
or even future satisfaction, it is not the same as want used as an explanation for failure (I could have if
I wanted to), or want as an unconscious aspect of an action: I may be late not because I want to be late,
but because what I am doing is so desirable that I could not end it in time: it entranced me and I was
lost to the act.
So, if you want to play, which kind of want is it? Perhaps what you really want to do one
afternoon is to go for a walk, but you know there are a bunch of people logged who expect you to
come and play with them. Do you want the walk or do you want to play the game? Are you free to
choose? If you choose to go for the walk, you risk not having those people around to support you
when you want to do something later, perhaps they become unhappy and depressed and delete their
accounts if the group keeps failing to get anything done. This is a reasonable dilemma, particularly in
tighter, smaller groups. As part of a unit, pleasure is no longer only a matter of what you want; it has
wider ramifications than your own, solitary choices.
This brings us then to the last meaning of want – we don’t always want what gives us
pleasure, we just get lost in it. A player may truly want to be in time for dinner, but the act of playing
is just too engrossing, it is hard to end. And so we get lost despite threats from annoyed friends and
skipped meals, letting go of something we wanted not as a conscious act, but because it just happened.
The irrational element of pleasure
Utilitarian hedonism attempts to be a rational system where human beings always know what we want,
we know what brings us pleasure, and we know what pleasure is. Gosling shows how this is not true,
and argues that we are highly irrational in the use of the words pleasure and enjoyment, and also in the
recognition of what we want. Pleasure is too many things to be instantly defined, and since it cannot
be defined it can also not be effectively determined as the base of a moral system. I find it safe to
claim that it can also not be encoded.
Pleasure, delight and fun will always be circumstantial. If you have little, a little more
increases your well-being significantly. If you have much, a little less decreases your well-being
insignificantly. The same amount of more or less is not the same to all.
This model is however not useful in the creation of digital worlds, there can’t be an irrational
and circumstantial measurement of pleasure if you are going to design for it
Since games are rational and humans are irrational, a lot of the pleasures that come from
gaming will rely on the overflow of experiences game-worlds offer. It may be the opportunity to spend
hours with friends; it may be the chuckles at in-jokes in WoW or the fun of creating machinima. This
means simple formulas for encoding pleasure are not within reach. It is however good news for
creativity, because it means that the inventive, surprising and different games have as much of a
chance to actually become a success as the tested and tried ones. Since a pleasing game-world does not
have to be created over one winning formula, creating a totally different good game is always an
option. While there may be many pleasures in gaming that were not put into the game, the rules must
put certain absolute pleasures into the game, and then must make it possible (not always probable, but
always possible) for all to score.
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