Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Luke Cuddy interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 8, 2010

Luke Cuddy is the co-editor of  two books on pop-culture and philosophy: World of Warcraft and Philosophy and The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy.  He is also a philosophy instructor, a copywriter for Vandusen Design, and a freelance writer.  In this interview Luke answers some hard-hitting questions about World of Warcraft and Philosophy, talks about how he plays WoW and what the rest of his gaming background has been like.

Luke’s website: Neo-Philosophy

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Could you take a minute and explain what World of Warcraft and Philosophy: Wrath of the Philosopher King is about?

The book is a collection of essays (and a couple of stories) that, in a very informal tone, explore some aspect(s) of WoW as it relates/connects to a particular philosopher or philosophical idea. In some cases, greater social issues are explored—for example, the relationship between Blizzard execs and the players themselves, or the real-world economic implications of in-game actions (like Gold-Farming).

Forgive me here, but how would you respond to someone who said that “philosophy” and “World of Warcraft” don’t belong on the same title page together let alone in an entire book discussing the two?

First, I would ask for this person to give me some premises rather than a conclusion alone. But I think this question really goes back to the distinction between those who believe philosophy itself is a specialized activity, only fit for a select few, and those (like Rene Descartes) who believe that philosophy should be brought to the masses in whatever way possible. Given that I’ve edited two books for Open Court’s Pop-Culture and Philosophy series, you can tell which side I’m on.

Or maybe the person has another intention that goes beyond WoW. Maybe she is implying that the nature of games is such that philosophy cannot help us understand them, and vice versa. After all, the person might argue, it’s only a game; it’s not real. Of course, claiming that the game is real or not is itself taking a philosophical stand on the issue. And even if it were argued that the game is, in fact, not real we could still ask why so many people experience it as real. All of this can help us address a key philosophical question: what is real? If WoW can help us understand this question, what else can it help us understand? Well, that’s what WoW and Philosophy is for…

How do you see World of Warcraft as an ideal environment for exploring philosophical concepts?

It’s a virtual environment with over 11 million users, each with a real life identity as well as an in-game identity. Although players have some limits in terms of creating a toon, they are not limited the way they are in many console RPGs. Furthermore players can do so many things as they play, like raid or gather herbs or terrorize noobs or explore. This vast amount of player freedom creates an ethical minefield. What will players actually do with this freedom? Will they adhere to the moral standards of “good” and “bad” behavior we observe in daily life, or will they hide behind the anonymity of a toon to become a “murderer” or a “tyrant” (as a guild leader, for example)? And these are only the ethical implications…

So, does the book target WoW fans specifically, or did you have a wider audience in mind?

It’s definitely for fans primarily. We want players to see the way that WoW participates in the long history of philosophical inquiry. We want players to think about what they’re doing in the game and why. Other readers can still get something out of the book, but they might feel a bit out of the loop when they come across references to the greater WoW community, like the Gnome Tea Party.

Ruminating on the books subtitle, how would you say Arthas stacks up as a philosopher king? Would he make Plato proud?

Well, despite living an interesting life, Arthas unfortunately doesn’t indicate a direct interest in the quest for knowledge and philosophy. Plato’s philosopher king is just that, a philosopher. I guess we don’t know enough about what Arthas did in his spare time, but my guess is that a detailed study would show that he doesn’t quite stack up. Plus, I don’t remember Plato suggesting that a philosopher king should kill his own father and mentor:)

Based on the reviews I’ve read of the book it seems those who have read it find it impossible to play WoW in the same way as they had before. Would you say the book was then working as intended?

Absolutely. As fans of philosophy, we want people to think about their experiences instead of just experiencing them, at least sometimes. Hopefully people who see WoW differently will eventually see life differently too.

Okay, so you’ve got Plato, Saint Augustine, Kant, Nietzsche and Marx running a 5-man heroic of Icecrown Citadel. Who would be the tank and who the healer? Also, who would most likely be the one to walk out with the phattest loot?

Haha, great question. To prevent a class struggle from occurring, Marx would be the healer, providing potions and buffs for all. And Kant, of course, would be the tank, given that he has a moral obligation to his fellow philosophers. I think Nietzsche’s ability to propel himself “beyond good and evil” might lead him to leave with the phattest loot.

You’re obviously no stranger to World of Warcraft. What has been your experience with the game (when did you start playing, what is your playing style, etc.)?

I love WoW. I think it’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. However, I’m told that I play differently than many other people. Although I’ve been on my share of raids, I prefer solo play. To me, it’s just amazing that there is this entire world to explore in the game, and sometimes it’s easier to explore on your own. I’ve built several characters up to about level 60 mostly by myself, then started an entirely new character and did the same thing. The thing is, I’m really an explorer, in the real and virtual worlds. I got deep into WoW a couple of years ago, but before that I had played one of my friends’ accounts (roommate at the time). Before WoW, I experimented with the original real-time strategy Warcraft games.

Would you mind giving us an overview of your gaming background?

I was a child when video games were coming into their own, consoles anyway. My brother and I had an Atari 2600. Later we got a Sega Master System which I still like despite having been virtually forgotten by the gaming community—the original Phantasy Star was my favorite. Later a friend got an NES. I remember waiting for school to end each day in 2nd grade so we could go home to play Zelda. As a teenager I got into first person shooters, beginning with Doom and Doom 2. Role playing games, of all kinds, are my favorite, though, and I’ve been playing them my whole life. I also play board games with some friends when I can. I like Settlers of Catan and the expansions.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience (assuming they truly exist)?

Sure, I am working on Halo and Philosophy to be published next year. Any ideas?

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One Response to “Reading the text: Luke Cuddy interview”

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