Ian Bogost’s How To Do Things With Videogame struck me as a bit of an odd book. While the book was well put together and contained many interesting thoughts, many of which even changed the way I look at different aspects of videogames, something still bothered me about it. I think part of the problem was how the book was put together structurally. Each chapter covered a different topic, but they almost seemed to be like short little essays on the impact of different parts of games. While I am a fan of books with shorter chapters, I felt like the book did a little too much jumping around from topic to topic. If there was a bit more correlation between each chapter and how maybe they influenced each other, the book may have flowed a bit better. Still even with this problem, reading the book was beneficial in the sense that it showed me several different ways of looking at the same game, no matter what the game is.
In Ian Bogost’s How To Do Things With Videogames, I found the chapter on empathy very eye-opening. I understand that videogames often do play on your emotions throughout the plot with its twists and turns, but this chapter showed that it can be more impactful than just your everyday storyline. I think the example using the example of The Legend of Zelda and Darfur is Dying express this the best. Many games use stealth and cover to the main character’s advantage, attacking from the dark to surprise their target. But Darfur is Dying uses stealth in a much different way. Instead of it being used as an advantage, it becomes your only method of survival. Instead of empowering the player, it actually weakens the player, creating a sense of fear and inability to escape. This is a great way to show the game’s players what life would be like. It’s very moving because the main character in videogames is almost always someone with unique powers or abilities, and to play a game where you are a regular person stuck in a particular circumstance like Darfur, it makes the situation much more relatable.
What’s in it for us?
When people think about games, the mind tends to go to the more popular entertainment games such as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto and the question that comes to mind is “what do games do to people?” However, as a society we tend to overlook games that fall under the umbrella of being training, advertising, or learning games. With games like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, Banquest, and The Grocery Game, results are not related to violence or other negative effects but rather the positive outcomes and goals that are set by the game makers. For Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, the goal is not only to win the individual mini-games but also to foster typing skills and make the user faster and more accurate. These learning, advertising, and training games focus on big picture results rather than sheer entertainment value. They manage to “address more mundane activities” in engaging and interactive ways (122). With entertainment games the question is “what do games do to people.” With learning games the question becomes “what do games do for people.”
Reading Bogost’s chapter Snapshots helped me imagine a world, more so than many of the other chapters, where video games are readily accepted as a formal media, such as photograph, film, and literature. It is interesting that a cultural barrier, almost a taboo, surrounds video games so that even the notions of ‘electronic mediations’ and ‘media/digital culture’ are forbidden, or at least giggled at. Bogost suggests that once individuals can create their own video games through a creation platform more people “appreciate as a craft” (Bogost 76). While the craft of photography is definitely distinguished from the ‘snapshots’ of everyday life, by entering oneself into the craft, they affirm its value. I know that I still have a sort of taboo around video games, but I think its entirely plausible that if I could create my own, I’d appreciate the truly spectacular ones. Some fear that disseminating a craft to the masses will decrease its value through popularization but for a budding formal media, acceptance by the masses can only substantiate it. One can easily understand the laborious value of creating a video game, but not necessarily its ‘artistic’ value (going back the question of, ‘are video games art?’). It is not until one holds the crafting tools in their hands that they understand what it truly means as a craft.
Bogost’s chapter on Exercise in How to do Things with Videogames made me realize how much exercise I’ve done while participating in videogames. It also made me realize how wrong people are when they suggest that videogames are some sort of “lazy” activity. Personally, I’ve gotten some great workouts while playing Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and Wii Sports, but the best part is that you’re likely playing these games with other people. Bogost proves that videogames can be a great way to get up and exercise, while also spending quality time with your friends and/or family. Bogost points out that “exergames” can benefit many people simultaneously. Bogost says, “To incite long-lasting, highly motivated physical activity, exergames do more than issue demands for repetitive physical gestures that produce latent exercise. In addition, they both simulate and create the social rituals that make us want to be physically active, whether through computers or portable devices, and whether alone or with others.” (Bogost, 116).
Videogames offer so much more when it comes to exercise than a lonely trip to the gym. The best forms of exercise are usually the ones that don’t feel forced, but rather, fun. Videogames also offer the convenience of never having to leave your home; exercising can be done right in the comfort of your home. My favorite benefit is the fact that you can do it with your friends and family and it can be fun!
The first question that Bogost starts his book off with is “Are video games art?”. I think that this is a very interesting question and I think that what people consider art is a pretty controversial topic. Personally, I am on the fence when it comes to my opinion of whether I think video games are art or not. I know that it takes a lot of effort and time to create a video game (especially with the graphics they use today). However, I never would have considered it a work of art. Bogost says that art is “hardly a fixed and uncontroversial topic” (11) and it is this quote that made me begin to realize that just because video games may not be what we think of when we hear the word “art”, that does not mean that they could not be considered art. Some video games, like the proceduralist video games that Bogost talked about, represent something (a feeling, situation, etc) the same way a painting would. This is the reason part of me believes that video games can be considered art. Art is a way to express a feeling or situation so if a video game does that, why couldn’t it be considered art? In a later chapter, Bogost discusses something called Kitsch. I looked up some of Kinkade’s work and was amazed. I spent a lot of time on Orisinal.com playing all of the games (they are really cute and fun). I thought that these games and also the other examples he used (like diner dash) could definitely be considered this form of art.
The two ideas that Bogost presented in Chapter 18 were:
(1) All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth
(2) Each game must have an exciting, relevant theme and be easy enough for most people to understand. Finally, each game should be so sturdy that it could be played time and again, without wearing out
Examining “easy to learn”
Bogost makes the assertion that “mechanical simplicity is less important than conceptual familiarity” (128). In essence he is saying that it is not necessarily how easy the controls are but rather how similar the concept is to preexisting games. However, it is not enough for the game similar but also it must possess some type of widespread societal understanding. “Familiarity is thus the primary property of the game, not learnability” (127). However, this begs the question, what about games that are not as straightforward as (Bogost’s example) Pong? How do games like Assasin’s Creed that bare almost no resemblance to any modern day game become so unbelievably successful? Where is the familiarity that Bogost talks about? For those who have not played Assasin’s Creed, it is a game based in two different worlds (both in modern day and in the past). It is the job of Desmond Miles to sift through centuries of ancestral memories and history in order to reach a type of mankind nirvana by discovering the fate of mankind and altering the end of the world. Miles acts as an assassin during different time periods including the 12th, 15th, and 16th centuries in an attempt to recover all the missing Pieces of Eden. An argument could be made that this is just an elaborate puzzle game but is it too different from the basic concept of a puzzle to be considered “familiar”?
Examining “time and again”
“The game’s allure must simply inspire multiple plays” (129). Bogost says that a game must be “catchy” much like a song. It must inspire a kind of cognitive itch within its users. Once Bogost presents this idea, he begins to ground videogaming in a cultural and social context. “Cultural connections help habituate ideas. They give them form, acclimatizing listeners—or players—to the social contexts in which ideas might be used” (132). War games such as Call of Duty begin to make social statements about the state of war. Although COD takes place in the era of World War II, it is no coincidence that the first COD was released in 2003 (the same year the Iraq War began). It could be said that COD could be a means to begin a conversation about the basic concepts of war.
Videogames as Art (Chapter #1)
Ian Bogost begins his book by introducing videogames as media that fits into numerous facets of the modern societal context. Art is the first aspect of this medium that is analyzed. In his first chapter, Bogost draws the comparison between art and its history and games/videogames. Whether or not videogames qualify as art has been a long debated topic. According to Bogost both art and videogames reject traditionalism. Over the centuries art has acted within the social context, challenging societal constraints and spearheading revolutions. Art is inherently a tool and agent of representation and change. Much like art, “…it serves pretty much the same purpose…: to issue a specific challenge to a medium from within it. And that if nothing else is most certainly a feature of art” (17).
This comparison of art and videogames led me to draw a connection between Bogost and McGonigal. In Reality is Broken, McGonigal makes the assertion that gamers find real beauty in the incredibly detailed and epic environments created in games such as World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy. This representation of beauty and dedication should be considered a form of art. Although seemingly unconventional, the amount of animation, creation, and imagination that is exhibited in these videogames is truly beautiful and most definitely an art form.
Although frequently challenged, videogames as art is not necessarily subjective. While some may not fully understand the purpose or message behind a particular art piece, it does not mean that it loses any significance for the artist or other onlookers. For example:
This piece may seem pointless or even silly to some but to others it is a powerful declaration that provokes uneasy feelings of through unlike associations. Just because you do not fully understand the meaning or purpose behind the piece, does not mean that it is not art.
Call of Duty is a solid representation of Bogost’s concepts of Empathy and Reverence. Through the experience of a graphically-dynamic and stunningly realistic world, we feel the sense of gratitude and awe that is created through a position which evokes empathy. Negative critique of the game could always include the fact that it creates an opposite sense of empathy—violence—, but as Bogost says: consumers need to adjust their moral expectations of video games to more appropriately relate to the following fact: games are designed to present an alternate reality, not necessarily to present an ideal reality. When I, and millions of others, pick up the controller to play Call of Duty, or any war-driven narrative game, we are not compelled by the desire to kill and bomb people, but we are driven by the desire to act out an awe-inspiring experience—being a soldier—and to take a walk in someone else’s combat boots. Call of Duty’s environment and its “graphic-realism” creates a feeling of reverence, and the immediacy of player interaction/reaction (first-person shooter, first-person narrative, etc…) allows us to act out a role which “gives us a sense of character,” and intensifies our emotions for other human lives and experiences.
Like one of the other students stated in their post, I found that Ian Bogust’s How to Do Things with Videogames contained chapters that struggled to keep my attention, however defiantly had a lot of interesting and useful information in the chapters I could relate to. One of the chapters that I found captivating and one that has pertinent material in my video game experience was the chapter on exercise and “exergames”. I enjoyed how this chapter effectively summarized the history of incorporating exercise-type movements in various video games (Wario Ware, Wii Sports, DDR) and devices (Kinect, Move, Smartphones), while also discussing not just physical implications of theses types of video games, but also the problems and potential solutions to these issues.
I agree with Bogust’s argument seen on page 116, where he states, “To incite long-lasting, highly motivated physical activity, exergames do more than issue demands for repetitive physical gestures that produce latent exercise. In addition, they both simulate and create the social rituals that make us want to be physically active…” essentially stating that without a sense of competition or some form of social interaction with someone else, the “exergame” will lose its value, and the user will tend to take shortcuts (i.e. Zelda Wii example). Personally, I have defiantly taken shortcuts before when exercising through running / jogging by myself, but have recently found that after I downloaded the Nike+ app for my android, I want to run as far as possible each session to keep up on the leaderboard against my friends and siblings, adding an extra motivational element to what would otherwise be another monotonous run.