Category Archives: Bogost

videogames, the humanities and judgment

As we move toward the end of course, it is time for some summative thoughts. I suppose one of my real dislikes about English and the humanities in general is our tendency to make summary judgments about issues. It is an odd contradiction of sorts. On the one hand, we are more than willingly, perhaps even obligated by our discipline, to recognize the uncertainty of interpretation; we will say that a poem or novel or film or painting could mean different things to different people (within reason of course). In part, this keeps us in business. Otherwise the meaning of artistic works could be settled once and for all! On the other hand, we are equally willing to pass judgments that we hold to be as certain as we deem our interpretations to be uncertain. We are quick to say this or that is good or bad, art or not art, racist or sexist, or something.

It is safe to say that videogames produce aesthetic experiences in humans (setting aside any judgment on the quality of those experiences) and that they circulate sociopolitical/cultural/ideological values (setting aside any judgment on those values).We may say the same of any artistic work, indeed any object that humans participated in making. These are the objects we tend to study across the humanities. In this respect they are as worthy of study as object.

However, there’s another glitch. Our traditional methods don’t allow us to study everything. Conventionally we have decided to study those things that we think are the “best” (another judgment): Shakespeare, for example. 40 years ago, we decided that what we had thought of as best was culturally biased (i.e. dead white guys), so we diversified our selection. But we didn’t get rid of the idea that we should study what was best; we just tried to shift our notion of what “best” meant. Alongside this move, we also started to pay more attention to pop culture (i.e. what wasn’t “best”) and the historical contexts of our objects (which also meant studying material that wasn’t “best” but could inform our understanding of the best objects).

I suppose that studying videogames could fit alongside pop cultural studies of popular movies, television, genre fiction, and so on. But I don’t see that as the context in a class on new media. Instead, our more general purpose is to investigate the cultural operation of emerging communications technologies: videogames just happens to be the example. Clearly we make judgments about videogames from video game reviews to studies on their psychological effects. But as a scholar I’m not interested in making those judgments myself; I am interested in understanding how those judgments are made. That is, I am interested in the mechanisms.

How do videogames produce aesthetic experiences? When we look at McGonigal or Galloway we get some answers to that question. We can consider human psychology or we might look at game mechanics, at gamic action as Galloway terms it. How do videogames circulate social values? Bogost offers us a plethora of different ways this happens. Nardi goes in depth into a single game to explore its social function.

So I ask you: what can we learn from studying videogames as humanists? How might emerging media shift our understanding of the purposes and methods of the humanities (purposes and methods invented and designed to operate in a print culture)?

On Ian Bogost

I think what I obtained most from reading Ian Bogost’s book is that as a society we really do have a negative view towards “gaming” and people as “gamers.”  We picture them as middle aged men festering in their parents’ basements, eyes glued to the TV screen, only willing to get up in order to use the bathroom.  But this is not the case at all, everyone plays games, from Scrabble to Call of Duty, everyone enjoys playing games and they can be used for more than just entertainment.

Bogost writes how video games can allow players to experience surroundings that they would not have the ability to experience in person.  These vast stretches of space appeal to individuals in ways that they probably were not aware of; it is the mere fact of visiting either unknown places or places that one cannot visit as they would like to.  Video games are becoming more and more aesthetically pleasing, appealing to senses, and seeming more real than ever.

Being that I am a Political Science major, I found the electioneering section the most interesting, yet very unlikely.  It is relative to the issue I brought up with McGonigal’s book where some worlds just should not overlap; gaming and politics irrefutably should never overlap.  At the end of the day, it does not matter if video games are more than entertainment, they are still in a virtual world, and politics is something way beyond that.  It is something that essentially controls every aspect of our life and we should not use games as a way to aid electioneering.  Bogost explains how election strategy games do exist, but they are “about the political process” not “part of that process.”  To make it a part of the process seems a bit much.  Although the Take Back Illinois game may be heading in the right direction, but still the world of politics and the world around us is changing and evolving every second, a game can never truly simulate the effects of certain policies.

Here is an article written on the Take Back Illinois Game, take note of the last paragraph- “If anything, it’s almost too much fun: The play value of the game almost overrides the message.” Exactly why the two worlds should not overlap.

Video games can still be used for more than entertainment, they can be for the aesthetically pleasing  appeal or even to those who really are in their parents’ basements, but either way Politics should not be a factor in this gaming realm.

Does Technology “save us” or “condemn us”?

I found Bogost’s  essays very interesting. It is refreshing to read these published works about something I regularly enjoy. To see people who truly hold Video Games to a high standard, a standard of a piece of art or music. Ian truly sees video games as a Medium not as a ‘foolish game’.

That brings me to the early thought of, does technology save us or condemn us, specifically video games? I found it rather difficult to wrap my head around, on one hand there are several arguments against them. Such as, violence in games affecting youth as well as an accumulation of non-activity that can lead to childhood obesity. But on the other hand, Ian’s hand, video games can offer much positivity. For example, in video games one can not only experience music, strategy, creation, and narrative but participate and influence those things. Video games can offer experiences and feelings not available through other mediums.

I think that video games can ‘save us’ if respected for their potential importance if used correctly. What I mean is, say someone plays “Battlefield” and their true motive is too engage in a competitive battle and express their  strategic side. That would be using the medium properly, but say someone plays “Battlefield” because they are tempted to bring harm to others and the game allows them to do that. That would be an abuse of the medium, but unfortunately there are those that are unable to see this clearly. But if used properly, one can do many enjoyable, great things with Video Games.

I leave you with this, although there is much negativity towards violent games such as GTA or COD. What are some positive uses for games of that nature? Does the positive outweigh the negative?

Music in Videogames

As a music lover with a special interest in its application in games, Bogost’s chapter on music is important to me. Before I had even read the text I figured he would talk about games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and how games that are directly about playing music can affect the player through tuning one’s ear to become a better listener, but when I had finished the chapter I immediately checked the publication date because there was some points discussed and I feel an important game was left out that only came out recently. The game is called Rocksmith, and it is a game that uses a real guitar, and actually teaches you to play by playing along with your favorite songs, in a similar fashion to the aforementioned games, but uses the real notes to the song.



I have not played this game myself, however, we already know that games can be used to teach without it being a hassle. Learning an instrument is a difficult thing, and because its so hard to pick up, people get frustrated and give up on it entirely. Games can take away the frustration and monotony of playing essential exercises such as scales up and down all day by adding things like reward systems and visuals like progress bars where the player can actually see how far he’s come along. I’d imagine that these games can be created for many other instruments as well, especially anything electric that can plug right into the console the way Rocksmith does. At the end of the chapter, Bogost wraps it all up, writing, “Altogether, plastic guitar, rhythm stylus, and visualizer remind us that music and games share a fundamental property: both are playable , offering their listeners and operators an expressive experience within the framework of melody and rhythm.” (36). This is truly the most important thing, in my opinion, that attracts players to these games, which is their expressive outlet. By adding actual musical practice and experience, these games can actually be pretty useful and enjoyable.



Are You Really Going to WORK More at this Game Than Life?!

When I really ponder the idea, I have never put too much thought in to the evolution of video games.  Now I would not go as far to say we have evolved as much as the characters on the classic show the Jetsons, however, we have come a very long way from using the analog stick and the rectangular Nintendo remote control.  Work and video games are two categories that I thought would never mix but after reading this chapter, I have come to the realization that video games and work definitely do have a direct correspondence with one another.  Within the chapter, it mentions the Wii game console and the Dance Dance Revolution video game. The Wii game console and the games that are designed to play on it are made for it to require the player to exert a lot of energy.  As Bogost stated, “When a bride says “I do” at the pulpit, she enters a new state of commitment completely and immediately.  But when she performs a push-up on her Wii Balance Board, no particular state of fitness arises; it happens little by little, over time, in ways that each push-up can’t fully explain”.  We seem to place much more energy into our video games instead of life decisions.  Now I do not believe that this exert is one hundred percent valid, however, I do know some people who would actually place much more energy and time in to Call of Duty rather than time being spent doing homework or spending quality time with family members.  It seems to be very ironic how video games have consumed our lives and we seem to “work” more at them then real life situations.


One of the more interesting chapters I read in Bogost’s book was #7- Branding.

It starts out using Monopoly as an example, which happens to be another game I’ve always loved. This is followed by a quick segue into Monopoly Here & Now, which involves more money, new places, and new pieces. Most notably, the Motorola phone, Starbucks’ coffee, Toyota Prius, and other familiar markers of today’s world. I’ve played this game for free online, and did buy one that came with the actual board and everything.

Then there was an example from The Sims that Bogost kind of skirted over on page 54, in which McDonald’s had a cute little burger stand in the first game. There was also a downloadable Pepsi vending machine that sold nearly every soda made by the company. I remember when I played the game that many of my Sims were fans of Mountain Dew.

Since then, I hadn’t really seen many in-game ads that actually were meant to be noticed. Sometimes I’d see ones on my Gamecube or my Playstation or something in one of the hockey games, or maybe for in-game products. Meh.

I think it was at last when I played Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2 online that I noticed, in the Vegas lights, that I was trying to shoot terrorists hiding behind posters advertising movies I’d just heard about from friends. I did a sort of double take the first time I noticed this. It was like… “Wow. You mean, they can actually do that? Advertise real things in games?” and then I died staring in pure fixation at this poster.

I then read about the in-game Obama campaign ads in Burnout: Paradise and Madden ’09. I may have caught a glimpse of one in the latter, but regardless, I was surprised a bit. I remembered that little snippet of an ad from RSV2, and realized that, hey, this was apparently a thing now.

What I think I’d really like to know is if people are mostly like me, ignoring all the Nike ads in the sports games and insistence on using Fender guitars in Rockband, or if this kind of advertising is actually effective in some way beyond, “Oh hey, that’s cute, they’ve got a poster for The Lego Movie on this billboard. Novelty at its finest.”

Bogost – Exercise

This chapter peaked my interest as soon as I saw the title. I was curious was Bogost would have to say about Exercise and It’s connection to video games. As someone who follows a daily workout routine  and also wastes a lot of time on video games, I was naturally intrigued. I spend a lot of time at the gym and some days I spend a lot of time in front of a TV screen. Exercise and working out give me a natural high that I really enjoy, but it also makes me feel as if burning hours in front of the TV is alright. If I skip a gym day, I feel really crappy about it and feel like I don’t deserve to sit on my ass and play Xbox or what have you, so the two work together. Bogost talks about motion sense gaming, such as the Wii, Kinect, or Sony Move. I do believe that there is a future in motion sense gaming, but right now It’s just not that good, and somewhat unresponsive. I have a Wii at my house, as well as a Wii fit that my parents got me and my sister one year. I’m guessing they didn’t know much about Wii, but It’s literally been sitting in the corner of our living room for like 5 years. I think the only time we played it was for Guitar Hero a handful of times when we were drunk. I respect the idea of Wii Fit, and other games trying to motivate the user to be more active. I feel like games get a bad rep because It’s associated with just sitting around not “doing” anything, so I think It’s natural for game devs to come up with alternate ways to play games. As I said though, currently they kind of suck, I had a Kinect that came with my xbox, I sold it instantly because I knew I’d never use it. Bogost also mentioned games like DDR which is not only functional, but it’s decent cardio, so I’d say that’s better than Wii Fit. Is there really a reason someone at the very least can’t go out for a jog? People argue It’s about their schedule, but if you have 20 minutes to flail around with a Wii mote in your living room, you probably can go for a jog. Bogost mentioned a game called GoldWalker, which is an Iphone App type deal. GoldWalker seems like a good concept to me, I can see this working. It makes you get real exercise, but also can give you some short term goals to keep it from getting boring.