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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

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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

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?  


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

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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

to hedonism1.

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.

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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

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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,

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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,

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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

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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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