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How to Do Things With Videogames

2011
Author:

Ian Bogost

How to Do Things With Videogames

A fresh look at computer games as a mature mass medium with unlimited potential for cultural transformation

In recent years, computer games have moved to the center of popular culture. Ian Bogost, a leading scholar of videogames and an award-winning game designer, explores the many ways computer games are used today in a series of short, inviting, and provocative essays, arguing that together they make the medium broader, richer, and more relevant to a wider audience.

What can you do with videogames? Play pranks, meditate on politics, achieve zen-like zone-outs, turn the act of travel back into adventure, and describe how to safely exit a plane—among other things, as Ian Bogost explains in this superb, philosophical, and wide-ranging book on the expressive qualities of games.

Clive Thompson, columnist for Wired and contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine

In recent years, computer games have moved from the margins of popular culture to its center. Reviews of new games and profiles of game designers now regularly appear in the New York Times and the New Yorker, and sales figures for games are reported alongside those of books, music, and movies. They are increasingly used for purposes other than entertainment, yet debates about videogames still fork along one of two paths: accusations of debasement through violence and isolation or defensive paeans to their potential as serious cultural works. In How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogost contends that such generalizations obscure the limitless possibilities offered by the medium’s ability to create complex simulated realities.

Bogost, a leading scholar of videogames and an award-winning game designer, explores the many ways computer games are used today: documenting important historical and cultural events; educating both children and adults; promoting commercial products; and serving as platforms for art, pornography, exercise, relaxation, pranks, and politics. Examining these applications in a series of short, inviting, and provocative essays, he argues that together they make the medium broader, richer, and more relevant to a wider audience.

Bogost concludes that as videogames become ever more enmeshed with contemporary life, the idea of gamers as social identities will become obsolete, giving rise to gaming by the masses. But until games are understood to have valid applications across the cultural spectrum, their true potential will remain unrealized. How to Do Things with Videogames offers a fresh starting point to more fully consider games’ progress today and promise for the future.

How to Do Things With Videogames

Ian Bogost is an award-winning videogame designer and media philosopher. He is professor of digital media at Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as founding partner at Persuasive Games LLC. He is author or coauthor of several books, including Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, and Newsgames: Journalism at Play. His videogames have been exhibited internationally and played by millions of people; they cover topics as varied as airport security, disaffected workers, the petroleum industry, suburban errands, and tort reform. His most recent game, A Slow Year, a collection of game poems for Atari, won the Vanguard and Virtuoso awards at the 2010 Indiecade Festival. For more information, go to www.bogost.com.

How to Do Things With Videogames

What can you do with videogames? Play pranks, meditate on politics, achieve zen-like zone-outs, turn the act of travel back into adventure, and describe how to safely exit a plane—among other things, as Ian Bogost explains in this superb, philosophical, and wide-ranging book on the expressive qualities of games.

Clive Thompson, columnist for Wired and contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine

Gamers often beg for a critic with the persuasive power and range of a Lester Bangs or a Pauline Kael. With this book, Ian Bogost demonstrates his capacity to take up their mantle and explain to a larger public why games matter in modern culture. The book’s goals are simple, straight forward, and utterly, desperately needed. How to Do Things with Videogames may do for games what Understanding Comics did for comics—at once consolidate existing theoretical gains while also expanding dramatically the range of people who felt able to meaningfully engage in those discussions.

Henry Jenkins, author of Fans, Gamers, and Bloggers: Understanding Participatory Culture

Those unfamiliar with games should not shy away from this any more than they'd shy away from a book on philosophy even if they've never read texts by Aristotle. Those with a preexisting interest in games, particularly mainstream "gamers," will likely find that even they've underestimated games as a medium. For anybody remotely interested in media studies, it's an excellent survey of the state of this medium.

ForeWord Reviews

Bogost employs some impressive theoretical footwork to explore video games as media—interactive, immersive experiences that can do more than merely entertain.

Fiction Advocate

The most impressive feat is perhaps his ability to tackle the games-as-art debate, avoiding the usual pitfalls and deftly hammering his point home without whining, something many writers have failed to do.

The Austin Chronicle

Bogost’s sense of variety is incisive and well-reasoned.

The New Inquiry

A collection of essays on videogames that confirms Bogost as one of the most penetrating, erudite and original thinkers around on the topic.

The Guardian

The year's best book on the subject of videogames.

The Austin Chronicle

How To Do Things With Videogames is a lightning fast read and the book’s success is largely due to both brevity and charm. As a topical ‘scan’ of an entire medium, the undertaking is noteworthy for clearly articulating down to earth approaches for reconsidering the politics and experience of play.

Creative Applications Network

Vivid and logical.

International Journal of Communication

This little book is compelling and useful as an insightful and thought-provoking discussion of how we might reconsider one of the more significant cultural phenomena of our time.

Leonardo Reviews

How to Do Things with Videogames ... predicts a new era when the videogame medium will be one among many such lively forms in the 21st century’s media ecosystem. I am quite sure he is right, and here is my own prediction: anyone who gives this book a serious read will think so too.

Literary and Linguistic Computing Advance Access

How to Do Things With Videogames

Contents

Introduction: Media Microecology
1. Art
2. Empathy
3. Reverence
4. Music
5. Pranks
6. Transit
7. Branding
8. Electioneering
9. Promotion
10. Snapshots
11. Texture
12. Kitsch
13. Relaxation
14. Throwaways
15. Titillation
16. Exercise
17. Work
18. Habituation
19. Disinterest
20. Drill
Conclusion: The End of Gamers

Notes
Gameography

How to Do Things With Videogames

UMP blog Q&A - "Reality is alright, it's just messy and weird": An interview with Ian Bogost on videogames, social awareness, and the future of gaming

What is your favorite game?
I'll admit that I've always been terrible at picking favorites, and I tend never to have an answer when someone asks. But in the context of How to Do Things With Videogames, I finally have an excuse to refuse to pick: the really interesting and promising thing about videogames is their potential to become ordinary, to become commonplace. Sure, we've got big blockbuster games like we have summer movies or popular novels, and we an always talk about those in terms of our aesthetic tastes. But when we have games for advertising and games for health and games for public policy debate and games as collectible trifles and games as a way to practice parallel parking, then talk of favorites makes less sense.

Read the full Q&A with Ian Bogost.