The Limits of Playing the Powerless and the Doomed in Videogames

Play The Past reviews Ian Bogost's HOW TO DO THINGS WITH VIDEOGAMES.

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In an unusually redemptive reading of the widely disparaged Atari VCS game E.T. (1982), Ian Bogost observes that the game perfectly (though perhaps not intentionally) captured the essence of Spielberg’s hit movie. “It was a film about alienation, not about aliens,” Bogost writes in How to Do Things with Videogames. The film was about the weak, the powerless, the hunted. And the videogame, with its frustrating mechanics and bewildering topology, reenacts this dynamic. The game continually puts the player in a position that dramatizes E.T.’s powerlessness, the opposite of most games, which are fantasies of limitless power.

Bogost goes on to suggest that videogames should associate more frequently with the vulnerable of this world. Games such as Darfur is Dying (2006) and Hush (2008) offer “a compelling invitation to empathize with an actor” in a “geopolitical system” characterized by hardship, injustice, and often, invisibility.

How far can videogames go toward this goal? What are the limits of playing the powerless and the doomed in videogames? Are there historical events or figures that should be off limits to games?

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Published in: Play The Past
By: Mark Sample