Roxanne Chartrand – Press A to Enter: Playful Actions and Possible Worlds

In the proposed paper, I will argue Possible Worlds Theory is a fruitful approach to further the
discussion on what it truly means to act during video game play. I suggest that to understand the
properties of our playful video game actions, we must conceive our practice as being characterized
by our capacity to actualize a possible world, mainly in the sense intended within the literary and
philosophical traditions (Plantinga 1979; Lewis 1986; Ryan 1991; Ronen 1994; Doležel 1998;
Yagisawa 2010; Bell et Ryan 2019). When we play, we adopt a very specific posture, which the
French philosopher of play Jacques Henriot calls l’attitude ludique (the ludic, or playful attitude)
([1969] 1976; 1989), a cognitive disposition which precedes play and allows us to enter a
videoludic possible world, different from our primary world. In doing so, we are bound by different
rules: our means are constrained, we have goals and aims that are specific to this artefactual world,
knowledge about the world itself is different – and thus, so are our beliefs and our desires, which
are informed by the way the gameworld (Jørgensen 2013) works.
But while we play, we don’t suddenly stop engaging with our initial ends: we still are anchored in
our primary world, with all of the mental states it involves. That’s what C. Thi Nguyen (2020)
calls agential layering: during play, our fundamental, primary-world agencies become relegated
to a secondary layer of our practical consciousness, and we temporarily adopt the agency and
motivation granted by the gameworld. This, I argue, is a product of our capacity to actualize two
worlds at the same time through our practice of play: we simultaneously actualize the primary
world and the video game world through our actions. We are able to act in ways which don’t
necessarily match with our primary-world values and goals because we are acting under the guise
of the ludic attitude, which allows us to temporarily treat the gameworld constraints as vectors of
our will and ends. This is a way to explain why we perform evil acts, or how we can be coerced,
somewhat willingly, into acting reprehensibly, and how we can justify or rationalize our actions
during play. This framework may lead us to a better understanding of the ramifications of this
unique phenomenon that are our playful actions.

Keywords: playful actions; possible worlds theory; agency; philosophy of action


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Lincoln et Londres : University of Nebraska Press
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Yagisawa, Takashi. 2010. Worlds and Individuals, Possible and Otherwise. New York : Oxford
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Roxanne Chartrand is a PhD candidate and lecturer at the Department of Art History and Film
Studies at Université de Montréal. Her doctoral research, supervised by Dominic Arsenault and
Maude Bonenfant (UQAM), focuses on the philosophy of action in videogames and, more broadly,
on the metaphysical and metaethical implications of the videoludic experience. In her Master’s
thesis, she developed the core principles of a Videoludic Possible Worlds Theory. Among her
other research interests are alternative and queer games as well as science fiction. In addition to
being a research assistant for the Videogames Observation and Documentation University Lab
(LUDOV), she is the founder and coordinator of a videoludic research and experimentation group
led by graduate students at Université de Montréal.