I will confess that most of what I know about philosophers I learnt from Monty Python, and apart from being able to prove that Bertrand Russell is indeed a plum pudding, philosophical discourse is not something in which I am fluent.
So setting off with Sophie was either a brave leap towards enlightenment or a foolhardy trek up the garden path. Having returned, I lean towards the latter.
I have never read the book by Jostein Gaarder, which was a best seller the world over. Sophie is 14 and finds two questions in her mail box: "Who are you" and "Where does the world come from?" A Socratic tutorial in philosophy follows.
Here, essentially the same thing occurs. Yet despite the best efforts of Alberto and the Major, supported by a cast of philosophical luminaries, not even the Gadfly could sting me out of ignorance. The Big Questions were just too big, and the little ones were rather dull.
I learnt early on that I was a causal determinist, and much later that I found examination of moral concepts unnatural. In between, I poked about in a multimedia set of images and interactions that were the doors to philosophical ideas and the persons that had them.
I went through the doors only as far as was necessary to move on. None of them did I find inviting enough to enter, make myself at home, and study in detail. What appeared to be a quite detailed encyclopaedic pull down menu was pretty much left alone, except when finding the answer was essential to progression.
Sophie seemed to fare better than I did. She conversed with me by e-mail, enclosing photos and video clips of various goings on. She herself received some rather strange e-mails from Major Knag, via a third person, the somewhat mysterious Alberto. Whilst we both seemed lost at the start, Sophie seemed to have caught on by the end to the deeper concepts being revealed, and was able to have several meaningful dialogues with a number of persons including the Major.
I, however, was pretty much none the wiser, having not really engaged at all with the journey. I did get the right answer at the end (and no it isn't 42), but didn't feel particularly enlightened.
The sum of the parts of Sophie's World is a well-put together multimedia introduction to western philosophy. It is not really a game, and leans heavily on the edutainment button. It does have puzzles within the interactions, which are all quite easy with the possible exception of the Pentalpha game. I found this little game perhaps the best part of the whole thing. Once it's solved it can't really be done again, but for such a simple thing it took me some time to solve.
Each time you complete a chapter, an icon appears on a menu bar at the bottom of the screen. You can revisit past chapters whenever you like. From the same menu bar you can access a help menu, and quit, but you can't get subtitles. The game auto saves when you leave, and gives you the option to pick up where you left off the next time you play.
It didn't take me much more than an hour to get to the end, but as I said I did not spend any time in the encyclopaedic database. Nor did I spend much time reflecting on the concepts. Perhaps I did Sophie's World a disservice by not doing so, but nothing inspired me to want to stay longer.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002.
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Windows 3.1 or Windows 95/98, 486DX processor (Pentium recommended), 10Mb disc space, 16 Mb RAM, 2x CD ROM, 640x480, 256 colours (16 bit colour recommended), 16 bit Soundblaster compatible audio card