New Book: The Clouds – An Experiment in Theory-Fiction

Prof. Stefano Gualeni, well known contributor to the game philosophy community  (Institute of Digital Games, University of Malta) just released a new book with Routledge! The book is titled The Clouds and is a science-fiction novella. The Clouds is a unique kind of publication. It is not only a work of fiction, it is also a philosophical text. Its experimentation with its narrative format sets the stage for the exploration of a handful of philosophical ideas that might be especially relevant for game scholars and sci-fi scholars.

A particularly original aspect of The Clouds has to do with its editorial structure. The novella is only the first half of a larger book titled The Clouds: An Experiment in Theory-Fiction, which contains

  • eight parts of fiction (the chapters of the novella)
  • three parts of non-fiction (three canonical essays), and
  • a dash of meta-reflection (the afterword by the author).

The various philosophical themes of the book are, thus, first presented as fictions (weaved into the narrative of the novella, typically as key components of its development), and then in the more traditional form of the essay (that is, explained argumentatively by leveraging actual facts as well as existing works on related themes).

As an example that hopefully resonates with game scholars, it might be useful to refer to the many fictional games that are featured in the novella. Fictional games are playful activities and ludic artefacts that are encountered exclusively in works of fiction, and whose uncommon qualities serve a number of interesting functions within the work of which they are part (see Gualeni & Fassone, 2022). Some of these functions relate to the fictional context in which the novella takes place, adding detail to the fictional world and contributing to the indirect characterization of the protagonists. Some other fictional games are less oriented on the narrative, and instead serve speculative and more broadly philosophical purposes. This second kind of fictional games invite the readers to infer the ideologies that are at work in certain scenarios or to think along their implausible and often uncanny rules and behaviours.

Within the fiction part of The Clouds: An Experiment in Theory-Fiction, these games are encountered by the reader as part of their subjective relationship with the fictional world. As a counterpoint to this narrative invitation to imaginatively explore philosophical and speculative ideas, the non-fiction part of the book offers a more canonical analysis of each of the fictional game in the novella with frequent references to academic literature concerning games in fiction, philosophical games, and fictional games in particular. It should now be clear that the essayistic part of the book takes a detached, analytical approach to the same philosophical themes treated in the narrative part, explicitly articulating broader and more general perspectives on themes such as the philosophical uses of games within fiction.

Recent works that also experimented with mixing fiction and theory in the context of philosophical enquiry include the 2021 volume Philosophy through Science Fiction Stories, edited by Helen De Cruz, Johan De Smedt and Eric Schwitzgebel, but also Federico Campagna’s Prophetic Culture: Recreation for Adolescents (also published in 2021) and Jack Bowen’s The Dream Weaver: One Boy’s Journey through the Landscape of Reality (2006).

Does The Clouds: An Experiment in Theory-Fiction manage to meaningfully combine theory and fiction? Will it convince game scholars and philosophy enthusiasts that there is more to their discipline than academic texts, lectures, or blog posts like this one? Well, pick this new book up and find out!

Works cited

Bowen, J. (2006), The Dream Weaver: One Boy’s Journey through the Landscape of Reality, New York (NY): Ace Books.

Campagna, F. (2021), Prophetic Culture: Recreation for Adolescents, London (UK): Bloomsbury Academic.

De Cruz, H., De Smedt, J., & Schwitzgebel, E. (eds.) (2021), Philosophy through Science Fiction Stories, New York (NY): Bloomsbury Academic.

Gualeni, S. & Fassone, R. (2022), Fictional Games: A Philosophy of Worldbuilding and Imaginary Play. London (UK): Bloomsbury.