Wittgenstein meets online gaming worlds


I’d like to partake in a bit of an exercise.

The exercise will consist in describing the sorts of language games that go on in the world of warcraft while considering the use of “I” and “my character” from users of that game.  Basically, I want to try to apply the later Wittgenstein’s “descriptive” approach to meaning, whereby he questions standard explications of the meaning of philosophically-heavy ideas, such as the idea that “the ‘I’ refers to the self of the person uttering it”.  A related or analogous idea could be: if I’m in a state of pain, only I can feel it.

We might begin with a question like “when does the I not refer to the person who is using it and meaning it to refer to himself?”

In the context of an online world like world of warcraft, does someone’s vocal expression “Ah, I was killed by that monster, too.” fit with the ‘normal’ sense of “I”?

Wittgenstein might say something like: well, it depends on how one wants to determine the conditions under which we appropriately use “I” in different contexts.  In one sense, the example above violates the standard sense of the “I” as denoting the being who speaks it/expresses it since it is possible to distinguish in this case between the user of the virtual character and the character itself.

Would it make more sense to say, “Ah, my character was killed by that monster, too.”  I don’t think Wittgenstein would so easily subscribe to the view that in all cases, the latter is more or less precise than the former.  Also, when and if we look at the actual use of the word, we might find that the former is used more often in the context of a game world.  Doesn’t that warrant us taking another perspective regarding the grammatical function of the “I”?

Consider, again:

P: I was killed by that monster, too.

Q: My character was killed by that monster, too.

Couldn’t one say that the function of the “I” in P was grammatically equivalent to the function of the “my character” in Q? Perhaps–in one sense, we might say that “I” and “My character” both refer to a virtual entity being played/controlled by a real person.  Of course, if we say that we’re assuming that the use of either expression makes sense only if it the distinction between virtual (in the sense of simulated) and real (in the sense of ‘outside world) obtains.

The relevant thing to realize is that it is not at all necessary for one to make sense out of P that he or she subscribes to the belief that the use of P is somehow contingent on a  presupposition that the virtual world within which the character exists is categorically distinct from the real world within which the controller or “player” exists.  But talking like this is like talking about shadows of reality-something Wittgenstein’s descriptive method clearly opposes.

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