Joseph Erwin – Freelance Dungeon Master

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Using RPGs to Tackle Philosophical Questions

In a world of make-believe, anything can be done, within reason. As such, I’ve used RPGs to provoke meaningful questions. It’s amazing what a bit of context can add; a question or situation is more compelling when it’s someone’s character in that situation.

For example, in a sci-fi game I ended up proposing a question about life, death, and continuity of consciousness. When confronted with an unknowable alien artifact, the party’s psychic realized they could push their way in with the help of another psychic to help them. Except I neglected to mention one thing to the party: the device was created with extreme quarantine measures, and was designed to disintegrate and reconstruct anyone who requested entry.

I told the player privately so they wouldn’t think they were totally dead, and then, well…

“Yea, you instantly disintegrate.”

And the NPC psychic on hand confirmed it: their mental signal was snuffed out in an instant of agony. They died. Cue chaos.

However, as I mentioned already, they were not dead, merely reconstructed. Everything was the same, barring some minor differences in vein and muscular formation as a result of the rapid-produced clone biology. A question we then had to ponder, once it was revealed what had happened:

“Was the character the same person, or were they killed and replaced?”

And yes, the game SOMA asked this same question.

Seeing as how their neurons were perfectly copied, there was certainly no termination of consciousness, merely an interruption. When it resumed, nothing about them had changed. It was an inspired little moment we all shared, and is right up there with the “bag of holding: bellybutton edition.”

The added context made it resonate so much more, which I find helps immensely in philosophical questions. It’s a little too easy to get bogged down with broad ideas like “is a person with no eyes or brain alive???”

Posts may slow down a little as things get busy, but I’ll upload when I can.

Published by Joe Erwin

I am an independent creator and GM with a deep love of storytelling and adventure! I desire most to share these things with others, and I hope to do that through my work and my writing.

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