Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 (and sometimes Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory) at York University, Canada

How to Do Things With Video Games by Bogus

Posted on | October 27, 2015 | No Comments

Mark Mungo

In his introduction to How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogost outlines a number of positions taken on media and video games, and his take on them in general.

Bogost outlines the views of Nicholas Carr, specifically his book, The Shallows who viewed emerging technologies such as the internet as harmful to our ways of life, and detrimental to the supposedly reasonable and imaginative minds that arose after the Renaissance and into the Industrial Revolution. Immediately I identify this as an incredibly limited, romanticized view of Western Culture, during an age of endless wars over religion and nationalism, and general disregard towards global civilizations.

Bogost contrasts Carr’s position with Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus, in which Shirky argues that the internet allows for social movement, citing a Korean pop band’s influence in organizing a rally against US Beef.

Bogost asks the question of who is right, and like all academics, striving to move the study forward, posits that neither are entirely right or wrong.

In his support, Bogost cites the work of Mathew Battles, who identifies the “skimming and dipping” as having ancient origins, and calling out Carr for believing not only that the internet introduced this to society, but that literary writing was the only true form of written language.

Bogost goes on to critique Shirky’s admiration for a k-pop led rally against beef… for hopefully obvious reasons. Shirky himself didn’t care about the message, just that it was being communicated through the internet.

Bogost poses his own theory, that “technology neither saves nor condemns us. It influences us, of course, changing how we perceive, conceive of, and interact with our world.”

Bogost argues against media duality (it is positive or negative), and instead posits that a medium should be studied for its spectrum of uses. In it’s most general sense, video games allows users to take on the simulated role of another, from being an urban planner in The Sims, to a stealth ninja in Ninja Gaiden.

Bogost elaborates at length on media ecology, a mode of criticism that views media not in isolation, but in relation to others and society as a whole. He uses Neil Postman’s example of how a caterpillar removed from a forest changes the forest itself.

Okay, A more relevant example is that of Television’s effect on America in the mid 20th century. It was not the old america, plus television, but a new society, where television was not just present, but had an impact on every home, school, church, business, and political campaign.

Bogost goes on to address McLuhan’s “medium is the message”, and though he agrees with it, explains that the message is also the message. What this boils down to is that video games are worth studying as a medium, in general, but also on it’s specific uses, to better understand. Identifying this as media microecology, Bogost suggests that understanding how the specific uses of a medium might give us a better understanding of its spectrum, and therefore indicate its usefulness and impact on society.

Imagine the ways in which society is structured around television at present, and how the internet has created shifts with politicians tweeting, online classes, etc. Bogost later on will go through how video games, in it’s broader definition is changing, and already changed, the way we live drastically.

Bogost posits that the range of capabilities of interactive simulations are wide, and widely used, and moving away from the narrow minded approach to video games, like Carr’s to writing, will do better justice to what Video games deserve. In his book, he demonstrates that video games are a form of simulated realities, with purposes of a huge range, that have already drastically changed modern society, the sign of any great medium. He believes that further study, and a removal from the concept of video games solely for entertainment, or as a medium used by a distinct culture for specific purposes, will push the abilities of the medium further.


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