Tag Archives: book review

Oh, the Things You Can Do (with Videogames)

I’ve just finished reading How to Do Things with Videogames by Ian Bogost, and I can heartily recommend it to anyone interested in games-based learning or game studies more broadly. Bogost is a prominent games scholar from the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of the game design company Persuasive Games. I’ve read many of his articles and shorter pieces, though I’ll admit that I may be the only Games Network member who hasn’t yet read Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. While a seminal text, it’s quite lengthy, and I haven’t yet found the time to devote to reading it thoroughly. At just over 150 pages, How to Do Things With Videogames is a faster read and a great introduction to Bogost’s thinking on games.

Bogost examines videogames as a type of media and the many, varied ways that videogames have been, are, and could be used and integrated into our lives. He calls this approach “media microecology,” and aims

to reveal a small portion of the many uses of videogames, and how together they make the medium broader, richer, and more relevant. I take for granted that understanding games as a medium of leisure or productivity alone is insufficient. Instead, I suggest we imagine the videogame as a medium with valid uses across the spectrum, from art to tools and everything in between.

The book consists of of 20 short essays in which Bogost examines individual themes that videogames can address or incorporate. Some of the essay themes will be familiar to anyone with at least a passing interest in videogames, like exercise, promotion, and branding. Other themes may be of particular relevance to Games Network members as they seem to fit naturally with games-based learning, like empathy, drill, and work. And then there are themes that speak to aspects of videogames that are perhaps less obvious: disinterest, pranks, snapshots. Each essay includes multiple examples of games that address the theme, some more successfully and some less, and invites the reader to consider how these themes might be addressed in the future.

To take one example, how are videogames used for promotion or advertising? Some corporations have created entire games to promote a product or brand, while others have embedded advertising in the form of billboards or product placement within videogames. But why should we care about promotion and advertising in videogames? Considering the use of promotion and advertising in videogames can add to the critical conversation about their roles in other media: TV, movies, magazines, billboards, etc.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading How To Do Things with Videogames. As I read the book I found myself wondering whether it might be a useful brainstorming exercise to think on ways that each of the themes could be employed in an educational context. I also found the examples and discussion in each essay to be great inspiration for thinking about ways to incorporate games into my instruction — perfect timing, with the new semester right around the corner.

Extra Lives by Tom Bissell: Gaming, with Occasional Cocaine

Extra Lives is in many ways the book about video games I have been waiting for. Forget Bogost’s procedurality or Gee’s 36 theses about why they matter. What Bissel does is articulate — exactly — a fact about video games that I have always found to be a great contradiction for me. I know the writing is almost always terrible; I know the games’ maturity level are lucky to reach even the sophomoric; I know video games have decades, maybe centuries to go before they mature as an art form. Yet right now, as they are, I love them. I am drawn to them compulsively. I crave them. But with all the ways in which they fail as art, why?

Tom Bissel’s book provides one answer, an answer I find extremely compelling. There is absolutely no underestimating the immersive value of games, their ability to allow players to embody their experience in an alternate world. That single fact trumps, at least for Bissel and me, almost every other aesthetic principle that has existed heretofore. In other words, I would prefer to be in a game world than almost anywhere else.

(Review to be continued later.)