How to Do Things with Videogames

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Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 2011. Print.

With How to Do Things with Videogames, Bogost aims to deconstruct common misconceptions the general public have with videogames as a medium. Bogost is a professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as an award-winning videogame designer. Two important credentials considering the aim of this work. His experience as both a theorist and a producer of videogames lends itself well to the issues he raises in the book. Bogost is not only concerned with theoretical problems, he is concerned with theory in practice.  He draws upon actualized examples of his own creations, as well as the creations of other designers to ground the approach he takes, ultimately creating a work that is approachable and understandable by a wide audience.

Bogost sees videogames as a medium that is currently undergoing a period of emergence. Although the medium is several decades old, it has yet to emerge fully into the pop-culture landscape. As a result of the medium’s ongoing emergence, it has many assumptions associated with it by those who are newly approaching it. Those on the “outside” of videogames often have assumptions about their content and reception, as well as assumptions regarding their properties and the contexts in which those properties are deployed. To combat this, Bogost aims to portray videogames on more of a spectrum. It is not “serious” games versus “entertainment” games, or any other binary opposition. He projects a spectrum of uses that ranges from videogames as art, to videogames as tools, and everything in between. Due to this scope, the potential audience of the text itself is quite diverse. Bogost’s writing on the potential of videogames could prove interesting to those looking to study the theoretical side of games, those looking to harness the potential and produce their own game, and those merely looking for new games or new ways to enjoy old games.

For the academic, Bogost does not shy away from the theoretical. Unsurprisingly, Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is often cited as a conceptual framework to understand what videogames are doing, and their overall cultural impact. The work owes much to its observations of current theoretical scholarship, as Bogost’s examples of videogames are frequently contextualized with the help of contemporary social and cultural work. The book provides several jumping off points for further scholarship, and academics seeking out new areas of inquiry will find many potential avenues in the work.

For the videogame creator, the book does an excellent job sketching out a map of some potential uses of video games. Those versed in the craft of videogame creation may realize new ways to apply their skills. The chapter on “Electioneering” in particular comes to an open ended conclusion, as Bogost acknowledges a gap in videogame production which works as a call-to-arms for those seeking to create a new videogame.

For those merely looking to enjoy videogames, the book is still valuable. While it does call upon the staples of the videogame industry as examples (i.e. Tetris, Grand Theft Auto, Halo), the book also calls forth lesser known indie titles as great exemplars of the medium. Titles like To the Moon and Braid, which are considerably less “popular,” are discussed in depth, offering up potential new experiences for the emerging videogame connoisseur. Furthermore, the work ultimately expands upon contemporary ideals and stereotypes of what constitutes a videogame. For the average videogame player, this expansion may bring to light new games and new genres they had not encountered, or even considered before.

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