The Mechanics of Debate Games by the Example of Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher

Published on July 25, 2016

The Mechanics of Debate Games by the Example of Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher

    Today I want to tell you about a game with an unusual gameplay, this is Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher. I hope that this article will inspire someone to create games with the same or similar mechanics. Although, of course, the game cannot pretend to replace disputes with an educated and cultural opponent, this is rather a logical puzzle with the only right solution, but getting to know the experience of creating it and the ideas on which it is based will be useful for those who want to create a puzzle in the same spirit.

    In the story, the protagonist named Socrates has an accident and by mistake finds himself in a kind of “afterlife for philosophers”. His only chance to return to the world of the living is to accept the challenge of the Arbitrator and solve the most ancient riddle of philosophy - the nature of morality, that is, “Find the nature of morality and ethics that will not have flaws, contradictions and will correspond to the realities of the world.” If the Arbitrator finds the answer convincing, he will release Socrates into the world of the living. Otherwise, Socrates will be transferred to the next world for accountants.

    Socrates himself, despite his name, is a simple accountant and he has no ear for spirit or philosophy, therefore he is not able to give even a little bit clear answer to this question. However, local thinkers decided to help him and tell about their views on the nature of morality, and after a critical assessment he will be able to choose the most convincing. Only one attempt is given to the correct answer, therefore Socrates must critically analyze the views offered to him on possible flaws. Under the cat, the mechanics of disputes of his ideological mastermind, the Ace Attorney series of games and the
    mechanics of disputes of the game itself are signed .


    Fan Imitation:

    The ideological inspirer of Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher is the Ace Attorney series of games. This is a simulator of judicial debate (though without any special claims for realism. Let's say the prosecutor can whip people with a whip right in the courtroom with impunity). The most interesting thing happens when a player (playing for a lawyer) gets the opportunity to ask questions to people in court. The character is consistent, message by message, communicates some relevant information. At the bottom of the screen are the buttons "Forward" and "Back" to move from one message to another. If it seems to the player that in some message he has found ambiguity, inaccuracy, self-contradiction, etc., then he presses the “Press” button (“Press”) to clarify this message. If it seems to him that this information conflicts with some evidence (report, witness testimony, just a fact that has become known, etc.) he presses the “Present” button and click on the evidence that seems appropriate to him. If the player decides that a certain person has something to do with this message, he again clicks "Provide" and selects the icon of the suitable person. The game also has a bar whose length depends on how correct the player’s actions are. If a player begins to behave incorrectly (provides evidence inadvertently, tries to squeeze out extra details about rape from the victim of rape, etc.) then the bar is shortened. In case it becomes too short, the game ends. If the player makes progress in the game, then the column grows, encouraging him and showing that he is on the right track.

    Interface Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher and development difficulties

    Link to the game (only this link is available in Russian):

    Official website:

    Mechanics similar to Ace Attorney, so I will highlight the differences. Instead of “Press” and “Provide” for each message, the interlocutor in dispute mode has the following actions:

    1. “Refine”, in which case the interlocutor will try to explain in more detail what he wanted to say, which in some cases may lead to the reformulation of the message, or say that cannot make his words even clearer, for they are so very clear.
    2. “Justify”, in this case the protagonist will demand to justify the veracity of the current message.
    3. “Ask about relevance”, then the main character asks what relation this message has to the conclusion.
    4. "Challenge" with the help of some recorded ideas. Let's say the idea “A person is imperfect and prone to mistakes” can be used against a message that implicitly implies that something a certain person thought impeccably and simply could not be mistaken.

    In real disputes, usually each side has its own thesis which it tries to defend from the attacks of the other side and which it opposes to the thesis of the other side. Let's say one side is trying to prove that the best color is red, to which the other side is trying to argue proving that the best color is purple. However, it is extremely problematic (if at all possible) to create a game where the player will be able to oppose some arbitrary thesis (or arbitrarily created arguments in favor of this thesis) to the thesis of his opponent, for there will be a lot of possible alternative theses and arguments in their defense, as a rule. Therefore, the developers went a different way, instead of trying to create and substantiate their thesis Socrates is trying to defeat others. That is, he has practically no ideas of his own, and he wins in disputes only because he finds self-contradictions and other errors in other people's ideas, he is like a mirror showing the flaws of other people's thinking, which is in fact the essence of the so-called "Socrates Method" created by his namesake. He borrows ideas used for challenging him either from his current opponent or, from previous opponents (in the case of a final dispute with the Arbitrator), from his daughter (in a training dispute with the seller of deer scarers). The exceptions are the ideas of “You have a nasty face”, which is the essence of Ad Hominem, and “People work together” that appears during the first discussion with Hobbes. True, at the very end, he nevertheless puts forward his thesis for a dispute with the Arbitrator, but even in this case nothing changes much, for Socrates begins to smash the opponent's reasons leading to an anti-thesis, whose falsity automatically leads to the truth of the thesis.

    The game borrowed many of the elements of mechanics from Ace Attorney, but the gameplay's mental side is different. In Ace Attorney, the key to victory, as a rule, lies in finding the contradictions between the facts and the testimony of witnesses. However, since Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher controversies occur on much more abstract topics, the path to victory may vary more. For example, in some cases self-contradiction is hidden in the opponent’s logic, in others that the premise of his thesis is unfounded, in the third that the prerequisites have nothing to do with the thesis, in the fourth that it’s not thesis that is defended, in the fifth there is a contradiction between the fact of the real world and the premise of the thesis and etc.

    If a player incorrectly chooses an idea for “Challenge”, then a certain standard sequence of messages is displayed, and for each opponent it has its own, which indicates that the choice was made incorrectly. The game is linear, which means that the “illusion of immersion” will go to ashes every time the player sees that his seemingly quite logical choice of ideas to challenge the opponent’s message is that the game responded with standard messages about irrelevance.
    In order to solve this problem, the developers, during the development, asked the tester players to tell them about where and what ideas they unsuccessfully tried to use as a tool for challenging. In the course of this, a certain pattern of thinking common to many players began to emerge. The next step was to write special answers for each application “Challenge” which went beyond the correct answer from the point of view of the developers, but which at the same time fit into this pattern of thinking. For example, in the training part of the game, you can use the idea of ​​"Deer live in the forest" against the statements "Deer devour our harvest" and "Deer take our jobs." These actions, alas, will not lead to progress, but at least the player will see what exactly is wrong with his counterarguments.

    In Ace Attorney, the drama is created by the fact that in case of failure an innocent person goes to jail. In order to create a similar level of tension in Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher, it was necessary to put something very valuable at stake. In this case, the developers decided that this is the life of the main character and
    his daughter's life
    For the same reason, the credibility bar was borrowed. However, the introduction of this band itself put the developers between Scylla and Charybdis. On the one hand, the too humane system of fines encourages thoughtless passage through a blunt search of all possible options. On the other hand, too rigid a system of penalties was stressful even for players who sincerely want to go through the game with their mind. As a result, from the point of view of the developers, a middle ground was found when only the use of the Ad Hominem “argument” and inappropriate use of counter-arguments are punished with a fine. Everything else, that is, “Refine”, “Justify” and “Ask about relevance” can always be used fearlessly, even if in this context it turns out stupid,

    Since most of the game the main character argues with the characters representing the really existing philosophers with their own unique views, this also in turn caused difficulties for developers. They had to immediately meet the following criteria:
    a) Compress the entire wealth of the ethical system of a given philosopher to a compact and understandable core of the philistine.
    b) To present these views in such a way so that there are clear and logical counterarguments for them.
    c) To be honest with this philosopher, that is, to avoid too much misunderstanding of his views in the name of the previous two points.
    In achieving these goals, the help of Andy Norman, a professor of philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University, who was intensively consulted during development, was invaluable. Although one of the developers, namely Connor Fallon (Connor Fallon), still seems that at least the most difficult of the philosophers represented in the game, that is, Kant, was too much simplified.

    However, the use of real-life philosophers also gave the game a flavor, for thinkers like Kant and Hobbes were rather eccentric personalities, which means it did not take much effort for the player to be interested in interacting with them. For example, when meeting with the main character, Hobbes says the phrase “You should know, Mr. Jones, that my mother gave birth to twins. Me and FEAR! ”Which is a modification of the phrase that the real Hobbes said, namely“ My mother gave birth to twins: me and fear. ”

    Philosophical basis
    The game was inspired not only by the Ace Attorney series of games, but also by Andy Norman’s How to Play the Reason-Giving Game article (in my free translation). Here I give a retelling of his article, those who wish can read the original , the benefit of the article is freely available.

    The game involves two persons, approver and opposer. A game begins when the approver makes a statement that the objector calls into question. This does not mean that the objector considers it to be false, it is just that the objector does not have confidence that it is true. The goal of the game is to find out whether this statement is true from the point of view of knowledge that both participants possess.

    The game can be non-linear, that is, we can have a decision tree with different outcomes.

    When a player makes a statement, he automatically commits himself to his defense. If the defense attempt failed, then he is obliged to renounce it.

    The course of the game depends on whether the assertion being questioned is presumptive or non-presumptive. If it is presumptive, then from the point of view of the default knowledge, the probability of its truth is not 100%, but still quite high. In this case, the burden of proof (or rather, refutation) lies on the opposer. In general, both players may use presumptive statements as their (counter) arguments during the game, unless it has been called into question. If, at the beginning of the game, the asserter put forward a non-presumptive statement, then the burden on his proof lies on it, because a non-presumptive statement looks doubtful from the point of view of default knowledge.

    An objection is a move in a game that challenges a certainty of loyalty, which in turn temporarily makes it impossible to use this statement in its argumentation by players and also causes a joint investigation of its truth by both parties. The possibility of using this statement as a valid argument depends on the outcome of this investigation.

    The course of the game also depends on the type of objection. Objections are divided into two types, pretentious objections and bare objections. In the case of pretentious objections, the objector gives some reasons that make him doubt the truth of this statement. In the case of a bare objection, the opposer confines himself to expressing doubts about the truth of the target statement, and without citing any reasons, implying that the burden of proof lies with the approver.

    Protection is a move in a game that tries to save (in whole or in part) the contested statement. Protection is direct and indirect. Direct protection is to provide reasons supporting the truth of the statement. Indirect protection is to show that the objection somewhere has misfired. For example, that the reasons for the objection themselves have a dubious basis that the burden of proof lies on the other side, etc.

    In order for a dispute to be possible, the beliefs of its participants must be partially overlapping sets. If they completely coincide, then there will be no dispute for they will be completely agree with each other. If they do not have common convictions at all, then the dispute will also be impossible, as the maximum squabble, for the parties will be completely deprived of the opportunity to present such arguments in defense of their point of view, with which the other party could agree. If beliefs are partially overlapping sets, that is, if a dispute is possible, then beliefs from this overlapping area are used to confirm or refute the truth of the statement. As disputes proceed, opponents begin to understand each other better, and the number of common beliefs grows.

    Renunciation is the refusal of a party to protect a given target statement, or the refusal to use a certain non-target statement to confirm or deny the target statement.

    An objection is a refusal of an objector to an objection raised by him. Usually this is the result of the recognition of the truth of the target statement.

    Disputes can be nested. For example, the opposer advanced his arguments against a targeted assertion, but the approver, in turn, questioned the assumption on which the opposing counter-arguments are based. In this case, the dispute will already be about whether this assumption is true or not, after which there will be a return to the original topic of the dispute.


    The game is freely available and there are passages in English in YouTube, however, since there may be people who do not have flash (or they do not set it out of principle) and who are not fluent in English, I specifically recorded a gameplay demonstration video as part of the training chapters where there is a discussion with the seller-swindler Billy. I recorded without sound in order to reduce the file size. Video hosting is based on the open engine MediaGoblin, which means even javascript'y have open source.

    Especially for those who do not want to go through the whole game in order to gain access to all the chapters, I post the save game. Start the game, and then find on your computer where the file with the same name is stored, then replace it.