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Monday, 16 April, 2001, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Six nerds in search of a computer game
Aristotle - inspiration for computer games?
The link is not immediately apparent, yet one American computer games company thinks its software designers could learn a lot from the likes of Homer and Wittgenstein.

It plans to get academics to explain classical and philosophical literature to its staff. The idea is that they will adapt classic plot lines and heavyweight tomes for the games market.

I think therefore I spam

Philosophy for the computer age

Inspired by this brainwave, Chris Horrie suggests some texts ripe for gamesploitation.

Plato-Station II

The aim here, as in much Greek philosophy, is to achieve eternal life by pursuit of dryness.

But before the player can even boot up the game he must prove that both he and the computer actually exist.

With that little puzzle out of the way, the aim is to collect "dryness" points - since Plato's teaching was that "moist" things (such as fruit, sea water and cheese) were impure and subject to decay. "Dry" things (such as rocks, gold and the sun) were pure and therefore immortal.

Also, following Plato's theories, if the player (assumed to be a man) loses the game at the end of level one by being overly moist he is punished by being re-incarnated in level two as a woman.

If s/he continues to be bad (or damp) s/he suffers the ultimate insult of being re-incarnated as a fish.

Goethe's Faust - Online Russian Roulette Learning Game

In the original, Faust does a deal with the devil, selling his soul in return for perfect knowledge.

Thomas Mann: Deal with the devil
This could be adapted as an educational game, requiring the latest direct-neural interface.

First the player wires up his brain directly to the computer. He then has a thrilling choice:

(a) keep soul but die immediately by electrocution; or

(b) give soul to devil and in return have entire content of the internet downloaded instantly into brain.

The game is best played when suffering hallucinations during intense bouts of brain-fever caused by venereal disease, as with Thomas Mann's version of Dr Faustus.

Franz Kafka's Human Insect Transformation Game

The player starts off by being transformed into a gigantic cockroach. The challenge is to try and make friends with people, persuading them to see beyond the shiny black exterior, scrittery legs, bug eyes and massive pincers, and embrace "the real you".

Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka: A Gamesmaster if ever there was one...
Points are gained by going to work and raising a family in the normal way while being an insect preoccupied with sniffing out dung and avoiding bug-traps - which is tricky.

The downside is the limit to one player and the lack of blood and guts beyond the insect player biting the heads off people who try to help him.

Dante's Infernal Sin Sim City

Dante's vision of the seven levels of the hellish Inferno is a dream come true for games software mechanics.

Inferno drawings
Inferno: Boticelli's original sketches for the forthcoming computer game
Starting with the warning to "abandon hope all ye who enter here" the player is given a guided tour of the Infernal Kingdom by Virtual Virgil. As is the case with many computer games, the estimated playing time is all eternity.

The aim is to commit enough simulated sins to hop from one circle of hell to the next - ending up in the highest/lowest level of damnation - Blue Screen Hell. Here the player is frozen wide-eyed, motionless and alive in a block of ice forever.

Wagner's Digital Ring Cycle @ E-Bay-reuth

Uncle Wotan's Virtual Valkeries lead players through complex interactive galleries in pursuit of the golden ring of the Niebelung, stolen from heroic warriors by jealous dwarfs.

Lara Croft
Lara Croft - soon to be replaced by the digital Brunhilda?
The traditionally broad-chested chief Valkerie, Brunhilda, could well become the thinking man's equivalent of Lara Croft as she bounds from mountain top to mountain top warbling like a canary.

The scenario consists of the usual demented heavy-metal gothic nonsense full of castles, loud repetitive music, explosions, mountain pathways, leather-clad Xena-types and naked Rhine Maiden babes - so, perfect for computer games designers and fans alike.

An added attraction is that the computer explodes at the end of the game, setting fire to Valhalla and bringing about the end of the universe.

Luigi Pirandello's Six Nerds in Search of a Computer Game

This is one for computer users who have well and truly "lost the plot".

Based on the famous Six Characters in Search of an Author, players have absolutely no idea of what the game is about or for, and the whole thing is utterly pointless...

... as usual.

It requires six players. But there is no particular reason for this.

The game does basically nothing for a while and then suddenly stops. It is deliberately unfinished, prompting players to program their own ending, which means the game is cheap to make.

Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy

The aim here is to think your way out of a paper bag - a feat which professional academics have spectacularly failed to achieve during more than 2,000 years of pontificating.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Players follow what amounts to a maze, going up and down various blind alleys before arriving back where they started.

At one point - during the Descartes phase - players are required to send pointless e-mails to hundreds of people under the heading "I think therefore I spam".

It ends enigmatically with Ludwig Wittgenstein sitting in a deckchair leaving the player none the wiser.

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