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Philosophy for Fun, Games and Good: Interview with Connor Fallon

Today we feature an interview with AI and Faith member Connor Fallon. Fallon is a senior narrative designer at Riot Games. Riot Games is famous for titles such as League of Legends and Valoriant. Fallon is currently the story team lead for Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons. He is the head developer of Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher, which was originally released for browser in 2013 and was re-released for Windows in 2023.

D. Brenner: Connor, you describe your original video game Socrates Jones, Pro Philosopher as follows: “Everyone Socrates Jones knows seems to love philosophy— everyone except Socrates himself. A simple accountant from New York, Socrates was never interested in philosophical questions or the art of arguing. But when he finds himself debating for his life against a queue of famous philosophers, Socrates Jones has no choice but to expand his horizons in a quest to find the nature of morality.”How did you come up with this idea and what was the initial response upon release?  Were you in a category of your own at that time?

C. Fallon: In college I was introduced to a game series called Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, which challenges you to compare evidence against witness testimony to catch people in contradictions and find the truth. I happened to be taking a Critical Thinking course at the time, and it immediately struck me how the mechanical concept from Phoenix Wright could be remixed to fit a completely different style of debate. I also had a group of friends who had a habit of making goofy games in our free time. So we went for it!

We did not hide our original inspiration from Phoenix Wright. In fact, we share quite a few presentational elements. But I amproud that Socrates Jones quickly grew into something with its own identity. We wound up being the top-rated game the month we released on Kongregate!

D. Brenner:  This past March your company Intelligible Games re-released a more robust version of Socrates Jones on the Steam platform. You are now teasing the release in 2024 of a second game in the series, Pro Philosopher 2: Governments and Grievances. How has the market for this type of game evolved since 2013, and how are you working within that evolution?

C. Fallon: In 2013, there were fewer games released every daythan there are currently. It was much easier in 2013 to release a game like Socrates Jones and have people find it on their own, which was hugely helpful for a strange little game like ours.

In an environment with so many game releases, Pro Philosopher 2 will require more work to get the word out. The game cannotdo any good if people do not know it exists. We will also be doing more to get it in the hands of non-gamers, and potentiallyschools. The game can be accessed easily from an internet browser.

D. Brenner: The world of gaming is often criticized for promoting misogyny, violence, aggression, and anger. In our deeply polarized democracy you have subtitled your gameGovernments and Grievances. In this sequel, you write that players assume the role of “Ariadne Jones, a diligent student preparing for a crucial exam who finds herself constantly immersed in a peculiar philosophical afterlife every time she falls asleep.” Throughout the game, Ariadne seeks wisdom and guidance from great historical thinkers on many subjects. Sheavoids questions of politics until a crisis forces her to confront the question “What is the ideal form of government?”. Does Pro Philosopher 2 aim to reflect your own values and desires for our culture, engagement, and understanding, especially in an increasingly tribalistic society? What sources are you drawing from as you finalize the game?

C. Fallon: Games have evolved a lot in the last decade. While all the issues you first mentioned are still very much present, I wish more people knew about beautiful non-violent games like Journey, Venba, and Mutazione. There are many other games that also reject these behaviors.

But yes, we are tackling political dialogue, a topic that isespecially fraught and certainly has its difficulties. Rarely does amonth go by without real-world developments bringing new weight to one of the thinkers we feature in the game. Right now, more than ever, there is value in creating a space where you can engage with different viewpoints and have others genuinely consider your perspective. We have done a lot of research from the original sources and more recent reflections to try to facilitate the experience. The thesis of the game is this: a world where people engage critically with their own ideas and opinions would be better for everyone.

D. Brenner: What feedback do you receive about the impact of Socrates Jones, especially regarding how players engage with these diverse ideas and think critically about their own beliefs? Also, with puzzle games being the most popular genre among video gamers as of 2022, do you think we may be living througha small Renaissance in the puzzle game industry?

C. Fallon: I wish I could say such a Renaissance was upon us. I think that in our age of interconnectivity, it is easier than ever to get sucked into echo chambers or play games as empty distractions. Technology, unmediated, can harm. Part of our motivation for developing Pro Philosopher 2 is that playersoften told us how the original Socrates Jones kindled in them a love of reason. Every effort to use technology for good matters, and it can have an impact as too. I do believe games are an important outlet for that.

D. Brenner: In what ways does an imaginary setting enable new approaches to thinking? Also, what are your thoughts on the power of narrative in video games?

C. Fallon: The story is an essential element for Pro Philosopher.It is far easier to engage more people with characters and stakes rather than an article or scholarly paper. A player who has never been exposed to philosophy may keep playing simply because they care about Ari and her plight. Or perhaps they just enjoymy stupid jokes.

There are also just some incredible aspects of story tellingachievable through fiction that, sadly, are impossible in real life. Dead philosophers do not innately manifest ideas that reflect on the current world, but it is fun to pretend that they could.

D. Brenner: You grew up in the Catholic Church, correct? How does your religious background shape how you design of these philosophical games? Also, what insights would you offer game creators who are working more directly in the world of faith beliefs around engaging players winsomely, creatively, and deeply?

C. Fallon: I was lucky to grow up in a Catholic family that encouraged me to explore different understandings of the world, while demonstrating that faith can be a source of great community and care. That helped me foster an appreciation of a variety of perspectives, which I think translates directly to the Pro Philosopher series, especially in the sequel.

This is the advice I would give: to engage people with different views than your own, you must appreciate why others believe what they believe.


Thanks so much to Connor Fallon for participating in this interview and thanks to David Brenner for submitting and editing this interview.



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