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Lessons from the political minefield of Pro Philosopher 2

If you thought discussing politics in 2024 was hard, try making a game about them.

Connor Fallon, Blogger

July 4, 2024

10 Min Read
Key art featuring the word nonsense

I’m Connor Fallon, the main designer and writer for Pro Philosopher 2, an upcoming indie game where you challenge over-the-top anime renditions of famous philosophers in a series of puzzly debates. If that sounds familiar, you were probably around for our first game, Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher, which was a bit of a cult hit on Kongregate in 2013. (Now rereleased for free on Steam!)

Back then, I wrote about the challenges of adapting Ace Attorney-inspired gameplay to fit the more abstract nature of philosophical debate. As a team, we’ve learned a lot since then – having shipped multiple AAA games during the day and Elsinore on the side – so it would be natural to assume development of the sequel would be easier. But Pro Philosopher 2 posed a whole new set of challenges and lessons, all stemming from one simple fact: Pro Philosopher 2: Governments and Grievances is directly about political philosophy.

If you thought discussing politics in 2024 was hard, try making a game about them!

But… Why?

Good question, section title that I wrote!

Initially, political philosophy just felt like a natural evolution from tackling moral philosophy in Socrates Jones – another topic people had gut feelings on, but few had taken the time to formally reflect on. Many of the arguments featured in Pro Philosopher 2 were drafted in the months after the first game shipped and before we started working on Elsinore. But by the time we actually committed to the sequel in 2019, the political climate had gotten… more obviously intense.

Those “gut feelings” people had? Scarred over and solidified in the face of increasingly toxic discourse, with algorithms amplifying extremism for engagement. People are increasingly isolated in ideological echo chambers, and about the only thing that everyone can agree on is that the vibes are bad, man.


In choosing to stick with political philosophy as our topic, we had to accept an increased chance of backlash. When the core question is literally “what is the ideal government,” there is no “keeping politics out” of your game. There’s no doubt it would have been safer to just… not.

But early playtests helped ground us. We deliberately sought out players of all sorts of views, and the appreciative responses we got made it clear the same broken discourse increased the value of what the game had to offer. We could let people engage in intriguing political, philosophical brain twisters from the comfort of their gaming setups, without judgment and rage of a real political debate.

Thus we came across the core of our pitch: Pro Philosopher 2 is the “power fantasy” of being able to have discussions with anyone, and have them actually listen to your points. Like you wish your grandpa would.

But even if we had decided to go for it, it wasn’t going to be easy. So here are a few lessons that our team learned along the way:

Lesson 1: Start From the Source

In order to deliver that fantasy, we must explore different political viewpoints on their own terms – to show why they are compelling AND where they stumble. This requires understanding the ideas very well, which inevitably leads to one place: the philosophical texts themselves.

It would be self-defeating for a game about making philosophy more accessible and fun to claim “only the original text will do!”, so let me be clear: there is a ton of value in overviews. My old professor of philosophy, Andy Norman, happily sent over briefs to get us started, and online resources like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy are thorough enough. But for our purpose, details that are sensible to gloss over in such summaries prove to be invaluable in figuring out how Machiavelli would respond to random query 342.


Doing the work to dive into these philosophers was a key bit of “practicing what we preach,” and was necessary to accurately capture the nuances of their viewpoints. In doing research for this game, I personally grew to appreciate several philosophers with views radically different from my own. I believe this comes across in the text – our philosopher’s personalities may be comically exaggerated, but their ideas are not straw-manned.

Going all the way to the source can also be a bit of a shield from the maelstrom – if someone comes to our doors with pitchforks upset about a random line in chapter 3, we can direct them to send their complaints to wherever Locke is buried. That only goes so far, as we’re still interpreting, platforming, and remixing these ideas, but it helps.

Lesson 2: Incorporate the Mess

The first Pro Philosopher game was not without “problematic faves” – Immanuel Kant comes to mind – but few would blame Kant for their inability to feed their family. The philosophers in 2? Quite a different story.

Political philosophers shaped the way governments and leaders operate today – and often in complicated, conflicting ways. Machiavelli’s The Prince has been cited as an inspiration for many a strongman, but there is also ample debate around whether it was intended to endorse or expose the behaviors it describes. Confucius’s honored position in Chinese history is not without its share of baggage. And when you get to some of the philosophers we have yet to reveal…


There is a MUCH higher chance players will have existing associations with the philosophers in Pro Philosopher 2 than those in the first game. In our early tests, one player was excited to talk to Machiavelli, while another dreaded the notion. If such feelings are not acknowledged, the discussion feels incomplete. In extreme cases, it can alienate the player entirely.

So we took all that mess and put it into the text.

In the first game, we had a conceit that the philosophers had some awareness of the current world, mostly used for pop culture jokes. In the second this is for more dramatic ends. Both our original cast and the philosophers themselves are aware of the impact of their ideas, and these feelings about legacies are openly discussed – allowing various starting lenses to be “seen” and represented through different characters.

Letting our historical characters have messy feelings about themselves and others produces some of our richest moments in Pro Philosopher 2. It means we’re carrying a lot more baggage, but I don’t believe the game would work nearly as well without it.

Lesson 3: A Unique Difficulty Modifier

This being “Game Developer,” I’ll assume some familiarity with managing complexity and difficulty progression (the Editor can also surely link to some good resources!) As with most games, we designed our content to ramp up over time, and playtested to see how well those plans worked out. However, Pro Philosopher had to contend with a unique variable that was inconsistent between players, and virtually impossible to tune.

One of the largest factors in a chapter’s difficulty was how much you agreed with the philosopher. Specifically: the hardest chapter was usually the philosopher you agreed with most.


Psychologically, it makes sense. If you already believe Locke’s model of government is deeply flawed, you have a set of objections in mind– and it’s likely at least one of them will present itself through your questions. But there is no button to say “you’re right, no issues could ever arise with these statements” in this game. Challenging someone you agree with inherently requires a larger adjustment of the player’s own worldview.

Beyond generally ordering our chapters so that more modern and relatable philosophers come later, this somewhat unpredictable spike was one we had to live with. The upside is that it works very well for our themes: that it’s just as important to question yourself as it is other people. Most of the characters in our story – and the philosophers themselves – confront this at some point. It’s only fitting that players feel it as well.

Lesson 4: You Can’t Predict Topical Storms

Political hot-topics are not constants. Events right now – or three years from now – could dramatically alter how people interpret content we wrote years ago. As a case study, here’s an example of a Confucius exchange, remaining largely unchanged since the first draft in 2015:


A fairly standard Confucian idea! I remember learning about the Mandate of Heaven when studying Chinese history back in 2007. But fast forward to 2020, and this line gained remarkable weight with playtesters. Suddenly it was about something specific: the pandemic.

“Ah-hah!” playtesters would say, “Confucius is calling out [insert chosen leader]’s failure to stop things getting this bad! He’s saying they deserve to lose!” They didn’t question if the connection was intentional – it was just so obvious the connection was there. And though I didn’t plan them, these connections were exciting and engaging to people – proof that these old ideas were relevant right now!

But continuing our playtests into 2024, this Confucius line now produces very little remark. I didn’t change the line at all – the world changed around it. Now, different bits of the game jump out, connecting to new conflicts and events. Which leads to the next lesson…

Lesson 5: Resisting the Current of Current Events

Name a crisis, local or international, past or present, and there is likely something in Pro Philosopher 2 “about” it. We deliberately chose philosophers that touch on grand, recurring patterns and conflicts, after all, and many of those patterns are happening right now. That’s a big part of why this game is worth making.

There were reasons, potentially, to lean into this. More explicit topicality could help generate buzz and help with marketing, and indie games need every advantage they can get. But a version of the game where we asked Locke how the responsibility of government applies to Trump’s trials would be worse in the long term – because while those specifics are Hot as of my writing this, they will quickly become yesterday’s news.

But as observed earlier, lines between the past and the present make the whole game more compelling. So we made choices in our frame narrative to draw those parallels out – most significantly rewriting the main character’s mother, Pythia Smith, into a politician. Her experiences create a specific, modern example of these patterns – a story like many current situations, but not exactly them. And as Pythia connects the arguments to her own experiences, players are encouraged to do the same.

In short: Pro Philosopher 2 is not the game for Hot Takes. It’s the game for slow-cooked takes. Drawing explicit lines in the text would doom us to be about yesterday’s problems, while trusting players to make connections themselves lets us be relevant to all the todays to come.

So… was it worth it?

Since development on this game started, we’ve seen a pandemic, several tumultuous global elections, natural disasters and brutal wars. We’re doing our best, but the world is complex and messy. It’s not lost on me that a good number of the lessons here boil down to “accept you can’t control it.”

But even after accepting so much: YES, it’s absolutely worth it.

People who playtested the early builds years ago will message me to tell me how much they think about the game. How they discuss the ideas with their families and friends, how it gave them lenses to better understand the conflicts happening now. How some of our stupid jokes come to mind during difficult times. If even just a few more people get that experience, and gain better tools to deal with the problems of today, then we’ve made something that matters.

We’re doing our best. And that’s better than doing nothing.

Pro Philosopher 2: Governments & Grievances will release on Steam in Fall 2024.

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