Summary of Seeing Like A State

Why Strategy Games Make Us Think and Behave Like Brutal Psychopaths


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Seeing Like A State summary
Video gamers as well as people in positions of power make decisions that appear to disregard the individuals they affect.


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Since their beginnings in the early 1970s, video games have become more and more graphically sophisticated. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that people started questioning the morals of this genre. Freelance critic Jonathan McCalmont explains why morally sound people ditch their ethics at their games consoles and suggests the mind-sets of gamers are parallel to those of heads of states. Whether in charge of the game or a state, he says, people adopt a mind-set that focuses on the big picture, losing sight of the individual. getAbstract recommends this analysis to anyone with an interest in the gaming industry or looking for an unusual perspective on politics.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why video games turn even the most liberal of individuals into morally detached oppressors and
  • How the state perspective allows people in power to make decisions that seem to disregard individual welfare.


Since the early 1970s, video games have offered players the opportunity to enter imaginative – yet increasingly realistic – worlds where they take up positions of power, overseeing tyrannical regimes in which morals take a back seat. The common theme with these games is that the individual characters within the game are merely numbers, a means for the players to reach their end goals. Playing these games, even highly moral individuals disregard their principles. There’s no alternative: It’s the required perspective which the games force upon the players. Similarly, when people assume positions of power, they become authoritarian because they have to view the world from a state's perspective. The state’s infrastructure and models require people to abstract away from the individual and make decisions that don’t take their welfare into account.

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About the Author

Jonathan McCalmont is a freelance critic living in the United Kingdom. He has contributed to Strange Horizons, The Escapist and The New York Review of Science Fiction. He also comments at his blog, Ruthless Culture.

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