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Leonardo: How to Do Things with Videogames

By John F. Barber
Leonardo Reviews

Bogost_HowLike many digital technology artifacts, videogames are subject to far-reaching claims of either ruining or rescuing society. In How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogost posits "a less flashy answer": Rather than ruin or rescue, technology influences and/or changes the way we perceive of and interact with our world. Evoking Marshall McLuhan and his argument that any medium extends human experience because it structures and informs our understanding and behavior, Bogost, a noted games theorist, designer, and builder, argues that we can understand any medium by examining what it can do. The "things a medium does to a culture," he says, "are more important than the content it conveys" (4). Think McLuhan's famous probe "the medium is the message."

For example, the medium of photography can document the atrocities and celebrations of war––record-fleeting moments in time––preserve the ordinary moments of family life, or capture the speeding car for ticketing. The uses of photography can vary widely, and it is this breadth and depth that make it a mature medium.

Like photography, says Bogost, videogames are a medium because they have properties that precede their content. Rather than textual descriptions or visual depictions, videogames are models of experiences the operation of which require that our actions be constrained by their rules. And, since videogames are computational, these model worlds and the rules they embody can be quite complex. Therefore, understanding the properties of videogames helps us to understand their nature and implications.

Read the full review here.