Elijah Millgram


In his “Games and the Art of Agency,” C. Thi Nguyen makes an intriguing and very plausible suggestion: games, or at any rate a great many of them, are artworks whose medium is, roughly, how one goes about doing what one does. In assigning an objective, laying down the constraints under which it has to be achieved, and specifying the terrain on which it will be played out, a game sculpts the decision-making processes of its players, the ways they see their environment and option space, their motivations, and much else. Thus our by now quite extensive repertoire of games constitutes a library of agency. This library allows us to try on different modes of agency before deciding which is best for us—for a given type of occasion, or generally. It can help educate us into unfamiliar forms of agency, by providing the sort of controlled exercises that allow beginners the practice they need, which is to say that games are exercise and preparation for autonomous agency. And it promises to broaden and enrich our philosophical treatments of the topic, in part by serving as a testbed for competing theories of practical rationality; if we want to get a realistic sense of what it would be like to decide what to do, in the way that one or another theory of practical deliberation says, we can experiment with it in an appropriately designed game.