In recent years, a lot of indie games are trying not only to entertain the gamer but also to make him think about something important. Therefore, I’ve decided to make a list of the best games with philosophical implications available on the PC.
During the first Golden Age of computer games in the late eighties and early nineties, game designers were severely limited in their work on the one hand by the capabilities of computers, consoles and information transfer media of those years, and on the other hand, by the publisher’s policies. But the rapid increase in the volume of hard drives and, most importantly, the heyday of the Internet and a noticeable increase in its speed led to the Indie Revolution, which began in the second half of the 2000s and continues to this day.
The emergence of digital content stores such as Steam has freed up the hands of independent developers, making them completely free in their work. Now it was not necessary to coordinate the plot of game with the sales department so that truly creative game designers got the opportunity to lay absolutely any messages in their projects. As a result of this, from the second half of the 2000s, the number of games has sharply increased, which, in addition to the entertaining component, carried a powerful philosophical implication and considered such important concepts as death, love, illness, friendship and the meaning of life.
Most of the games included in this selection have finally crossed the fine line separating an entertainment product and a real work of art. In some of them, the philosophical plot is combined with fascinating gameplay, while others are more likely an interactive parable. Here is my list of the games with philosophical themes:
The plot of this RPG with pixel graphics not only touches on such important philosophical topics as good, evil, love, xenophobia, peacefulness and even relations between parents and children. The main theme raised in Undertale is responsible for our actions and awareness of their consequences. The project got into this list largely because the gameplay and plot do not go against each other, so here you can play a truly peaceful character.
This game is quite possible to walk through completely without killing enemies at all. Moreover, such an ending is one of three “true” ones and the only one that is completely good. While the completion of the game by the usual method of the Munchkin genocide not only gives the worst possible endings but also allows you to enjoy a couple of chic moments with the destruction of the fourth wall in the spirit of the notorious Doki Doki Literature Club. So Undertale is one of the few games that not only teach peacefulness but also punishes cruelty.
To the moon
This touching hybrid of a quest with a visual novel tells the story of two people with a very unusual profession. Their job is to create fake memories from terminally ill people so that dying people can fulfill their cherished dream even in their own memory. Trying to fulfill his patient’s dream of flying to the moon, the main characters travel on his memories and discover the secrets of his past. The main philosophical theme that runs through the entire plot of the game is, of course, eternal love.
The Talos Principle
The plot and style of this game is a wise interweaving of high technology and ancient philosophy. Our character is a robot that fulfills the instructions of the deity who created the world. Most of these tasks come down to solving puzzles, for which you need to move tetromino blocks (some sort of a Tetris) through mazes, avoiding traps and other obstacles. Gradually exploring the bizarre world of the game and learning more about it, our protagonist begins to ask philosophical questions about the nature of life and mind.
What Remains of Edith Finch
Formally, this game belongs to the adventure genre, but in fact, it is close to interactive cinema, because the story told here is much more important than the gameplay. Our character is Edith Finch, the last member of an ancient clan to whom, according to legend, a curse hangs. Edith did not believe in his strength before, but having survived the death of all relatives, she believed in it and decided to study the life and death history of her ancestors. The main issue raised by the plot is Fate and our ability to resist it. The topics of life, death, love, and respect for the memory of the dead are also addressed here.
Four last things
This quest based on point-and-click mechanics differs from many similar projects primarily in its game world. After all, we will have to search for hidden objects on the canvases of the great Renaissance artists. The main theme running through the entire plot of the game is human sin and all its varieties. Other religious and philosophical issues are raised in the game, such as death, purgatory, heaven, and hell.
This war of mine
This project combines the very good gameplay of a typical survival game with a powerful anti-war message embedded in the plot. This War of Mine takes place in a city in the former Yugoslavia during the Balkan War in the 1990s. We have to lead a team of civilians trying to survive the horrors of war. For this, it will be necessary to extract resources, insulate and protect the house where our heroes live, avoid soldiers and build relationships with other people. One of the developers personally survived the siege of Sarajevo, so the story told in the game is horrifying with its realism.
This stylish adventure game tells of a long journey through the desert, full of dangers, puzzles, and ruins of a long-vanished civilization. The main philosophical meaning of the game is revealed in its online walkthrough. In this case, you will meet the characters of other players who can help you. At the same time, you will have almost no way to communicate with them, and you can even find out their nicknames only after completing the task of the main campaign.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
This action tells the story of a Pict warrior named Senua, who lost her beloved due to the Viking raid. Now she has a long way to go to the Land of the Dead Helheim, where she hopes to find a way to bring her beloved back to life. Her only companion on the journey will be the severed head of her lover. All the way Senua metaphorically shows her struggle with stress and mental illness, and the final goal is to help her put up with the death of her beloved and learn how to live on. The creators of the game consulted with psychologists, so the features of psychoses were conveyed here with frightening realism.
Formally, this project relates to urban planning simulators, but in fact, we are dealing with a kind of survivor in steampunk style, in which not a single character must survive, but a whole city.
According to the plot of the game, in 1886 a new Ice Age fell upon the world, and to survive it several huge Generators were built to provide heating for the cities located near them. Our character is the mayor of one such city, which should establish fuel supplies to the Generator and ensure the survival of its wards at all costs. For this, you will have to make difficult decisions and make a choice between bad and very bad. The main philosophical thought inherent in Frostpunk is that you cannot be good for everyone, and the life of many people means more than the life of one person.
That dragon, cancer
This philosophical parable tells the sad story of the life of Joel Green, the little son of game designer Ryan Green. At the age of 1 year, Joel was diagnosed with cancer. For 4 years the family struggled with a terrible diagnosis, but no therapy helped. Therefore, parents had to make a difficult decision and turn off their child’s life support system. The game is a set of touching sketches from different life situations that the family experienced during the battle with cancer.
This hybrid of quest and interactive cinema tells the story of Henry, who works as an observer on a fire tower in a national park. He recently survived a breakup with his wife, so his only constant interlocutor is the boss Delaila, with whom he talks on the walkie-talkie every day. Actually, almost the entire game consists of communicating with Delaillay and exploring the forest and its secrets. The main philosophical meaning inherent in the game can be formulated as “Even in the wilderness you cannot escape all the problems and tribulations, so learn to cope with them.”
This project can be called the pinnacle of the development of the concept of sandbox games because the freedom of action here is almost absolute. Developers position it as a “Game about everything” and “Simulator of the Universe”, and things are about this way because you can inhabit all living creatures that inhabit this Universe (and even non-living objects), explore the world, change it. The main theme raised by the plot of the game is, of course, life as such, its nature and meaning.
Let me know in the comments below if I have missed good games with philosophical themes. If you are also interested in other types of games you can take a look at the best RPGs of all time for low-end PCs.