Tag Archives: videogames

Fun + Games at Indie Essentials

A couple of weeks ago my partner, kid, kid’s pal, and I piled into the car and drove to Queens to see the Indie Essentials exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image. It’s a fantastic exhibit of playable games: 25 videogames + 1 tabletop game in a huge gallery space.


While my kid and his pal gravitated towards (and stayed stuck to) the fun frantic team-based game Killer Queen Arcade, I wandered through the exhibit in what was (predictably) a vain attempt to play everything I’d never played before. Some games I stuck with for only a few minutes: I was frustrated by the many inputs for QWOP (is everyone? seems likely), and while I enjoyed the aesthetic of SlashDash the gameplay involves too many buttons pushed too quickly for my middle-aged reaction time. It was amazing to see Minecraft projected onto an enormous screen — I spent some time just watching kids of various ages playing in the pixelated snow. And there were a couple of other multiplayer games that I had to pass up, either because they were too crowded or because I couldn’t drag my kid away from Killer Queen Arcade to play with me.

Reflecting on the visit later, I realized that the games I spent the most time with all had a strong narrative component. I started with a couple of quick plays through Passage, which was both fun as projected onto the wall, and frustrating because I pretty much never ever want to play a game as a white male. For an interesting take on teaching with Passage I recommend reading Zach Whalen of the University of Mary Washington’s post Using “Passage” to Think about Cultural Privilege.

I spent a fair amount of time playing Gone Home, The Path, Porpentine’s Twine Compilation, and Kentucky Route Zero. What I found attractive in each of these are the elements of exploration, discovery, and research — not too surprising for an academic librarian, for sure. These elements combine to create a narrative as you play through the game. Though in the context of the exhibit it was also interesting that you’re forced to play in a very non-linear way: dropped into the game at the point at which the last visitor stopped playing, figuring things out as you go.

Because my visit came so soon after the CUNY Games Festival I spent much of my time at the exhibit thinking about how the games (or the mechanics they feature) could be used for teaching. Some of the games could be used as texts — students could be asked to play through and discuss or reflect on the game’s content and play. Others are good models for games students could make, in Twine, for example. And I wonder whether even the games that are just games, without any obvious educational content or application, might be useful. Could Spaceteam be a fun and low-risk way to encourage a sense of teamwork in student groups in a course?

More than anything it was awesome to have the opportunity to see and play lots of different games. The exhibit closes on March 2, and if you’re in the NYC region and haven’t taken it in yet, it’s definitely worth the trip.

Image by IndieCade.

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.