In our previous Weekend Roundup, we mentioned that @tall_shrimp‘s Philosophy Game Jam had just finalized entrants for the voting round. As promised, we ponder the most troubling dilemmas this side of the trolley problem:

(Content Warning: Given the heavy themes of self-harm, nihilism, and death in some of these titles, please proceed with caution if you don’t have an appetite for such themes. We will provide individual content warnings per title, as some are not as heavy.)

The Death Of Socrates (By @PereBite)
(Content Warning: Suicide)

Socrates is being tried for corrupting the youth of Athens. Play as Socrates poisoning himself as punishment. Alternatively… experience an analysis of choice, ending, and death in games

What appears at first as a simple ball-and-paddle game becomes a challenging meta-narrative, confronting the player with a question, how difficult must a game become to spur the player to even play it? Why does the player *want* to overcome the challenge of trying to kill Socrates? And why do we go out of our way to to explore outside of the game’s rules in pursuit of unseen, possibly non-existent rewards?

Reach the exit!

Sense Data is a fascinating demonstration of how we compose reality through the lens of sense. It leverages the writings of Bertrand Russell in order to challenge the player’s preconceived notions of our ability to know what we see, feel, and think about our environment.

Should The Stars Have Eyes? (By The Portrait Prophecies art collective )
(Content Warning: Self-harm, Suicide, Dysphoria, Gore)

She was not feeling very well, so one night she decided to go for a walk in the woods. She had only been outside the city once before. Soon she had no idea where she was, and no matter how far she walked everything looked the same.
Keep her safe while she walks through the woods.

I haven’t come across the works of art collective Portrait Prophecies before, but this title was a refreshingly different entry in the philosophy jam offering some representation and color-blind accessibility.

An unfortunately common experience for many transwomen is a life of isolation and internal struggle to cope with negative stimuli or thoughts, and “Should The Stars Have Eyes?” is an artistic, bleak examination of this struggle through the framing of it as a puppet show for it’s audience. Watching the events unfold in a puppet theater, an unpleasant fellow in a top hat jarringly eggs on and chuckles at the main character’s suffering. The reality of a disenfranchised individual’s suffering being seen as performance art by gawking onlookers is a theme that will likely resonate with many from under-represented walks of life.

There is a glimmer of hope in the face of the game’s intentionally difficult design, by betraying the expectation of one’s audience and living for yourself in the face of negativity the protagonist is able to reclaim her agency and no longer serve as a puppet for other’s amusement.

ZAMBONI SIMULATOR 2019: An Examination of Existential Nihilism as it Pertains to Ice Resurfacing (By Marmot.Games)
(Content Warning: Discussions of Divorce, Suicide, Self-harm, Substance abuse, assault, domestic abuse, Depression)

Zamboni Simulator 2019 is a game about existential nihilism, depression, family, love, and ice resurfacing. It is an almost all original game including original art and music, but with recycled junk philosophy.

This entry probably left one of the deepest impressions. The ice rink you are responsible for resurfacing becomes an empty auditorium for the empty protagonist’s thoughts to reflect back at himself. It’s an upsetting glimpse into the daily tragedies that are all too common themes of working class Americana.

The act of resurfacing the arena becomes a grim, almost zen retrospective of the circumstances that led the Driver to his current situation. Whether intentional or not, the game has myriad details (like the fact that he’s coldly reflecting while, well, polishing a reflective surface in an ice rink) that make it extremely authentic and thoughtful.

With a crisp, well-acted voice-over this game sprung to life as an authentic characterization of its subject and really stood out as one of the better entries. It’s worth playing through to completion for the narrative arc contained within and general presentation. It’s incredible that this was thrown together in a three day time span. There’s so much to say about this entry, but you really should just play it.

Judge, Jury, Executioner” (By @BoomBren)
(Content Warning: discussion of the following; incest, kidnapping, torture, blackmail, statutory rape, cannibalism, murder, stalking, slavery)

A court simulation, discovering many moral theories along the way. You play as a traveling judge that must decide if either the plaintiff or defendant have broken the law. As the days pass, the number of codes increase, increasing the difficulty over time. 

Aside from these highlights, the entire jam is worth taking a look at, especially “Judge, Jury, Executioner” (By @BoomBren), a judge simulator that puts the player at odds with the whims of a capricious king, a labyrinthine and questionable legal system, the idea of ‘success’ in following the edicts to the letter and its (hopefully present) dissonance with your moral qualms.

Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice