Existential Philosophy of Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus Explained with 8‑Bit Video Games

By this point in his­to­ry, many of us grown-ups did our grow­ing up while play­ing video games. Most mem­o­rably, we did it while play­ing the col­or­ful, pix­e­lat­ed video games of the mid 1980s through the ear­ly 1990s, the hey­day of the “eight-bit” con­soles. These titles and their char­ac­ters — the Mar­ios, the Zel­das, the Mega Men — remain cul­tur­al touch­stones not just for those of us who have land­ed solid­ly in adult­hood, but also for those of us too young to have played them while they were new. Many of us have put away these child­ish things, but many more of us have kept them out, keep­ing them right along­side our grown-up pur­suits, result­ing in projects like the video series 8‑Bit Phi­los­o­phy, which we fea­tured in Novem­ber.

These grown-up pur­suits include not just the study of phi­los­o­phy, but reflec­tion upon the seri­ous exis­ten­tial ques­tions that the sub­ject reveals: Does ratio­nal­i­ty give life mean­ing? Do we enjoy being free? Why should­n’t we com­mit sui­cide? Luck­i­ly, 8‑Bit Phi­los­o­phy has come up with episodes deal­ing with exact­ly these top­ics. For the first ques­tion they turn to the ideas of Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th cen­tu­ry thinker con­sid­ered the father of exis­ten­tial­ism, as illus­trat­ed by Shat­ter­hand, a slight­ly obscure plat­former I great­ly enjoyed in my own youth. For the sec­ond, we see how two for­mi­da­ble bod­ies of work — that of Jean-Paul Sartre, and that of the Final Fan­ta­sy role-play­ing games — come to bear on the issue. For the third, they bring out none oth­er than Albert Camus (who died 55 years ago yes­ter­day), plac­ing his trench­coat­ed, Gauloise-smok­ing avatar into the suit­ably Sisyphean Don­key Kong.

If you’ve put in the hours play­ing both eight-bit video games and read­ing the rel­e­vant philo­soph­i­cal texts, you’ll sure­ly find these videos’ Nin­ten­don­ian aes­thet­ics as impec­ca­ble as their encap­su­la­tions of Kierkegar­rd, Sartre, and Camus’ posi­tions are con­cise. You can find more from 8‑Bit Phi­los­o­phy on Youtube, includ­ing their vin­tage gamer-friend­ly ren­di­tions of Friedrich Niet­zsche on time as a flat cir­cle and what sci­ence has to do with truth.  They cov­er oth­er areas of phi­los­o­phy, too, but some­thing about old video games them­selves — with their end­less cycles of death, regen­er­a­tion, and not inher­ent­ly mean­ing­ful chal­lenges — leads my mind straight into exis­ten­tial­ism every time.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 130 Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es: Tools for Think­ing About Life, Death & Every­thing Between

8‑Bit Phi­los­o­phy: Pla­to, Sartre, Der­ri­da & Oth­er Thinkers Explained With Vin­tage Video Games

Exis­ten­tial­ism with Hubert Drey­fus: Four Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Friedrich Niet­zsche & Exis­ten­tial­ism Explained to Five-Year-Olds (in Com­i­cal Video by Red­dit)

Wal­ter Kaufmann’s Clas­sic Lec­tures on Niet­zsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre (1960)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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