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How to Do Things With Videogames

How to Do Things With Videogames

Ian Bogost
Volume: 38
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    How to Do Things With Videogames
    Book Description:

    In recent years, computer games have moved to the center of popular culture. Ian Bogost, a leading scholar of videogames and an award-winning game designer, explores the many ways computer games are used today in a series of short, inviting, and provocative essays, arguing that together they make the medium broader, richer, and more relevant to a wider audience.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7867-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. INTRODUCTION: Media Microecology
    (pp. 1-8)

    These days, you can’t open a website or enter a bookstore without finding yet another impassioned take on emerging technologies’ promise to change our lives for the better—or for the worse. For every paean to Wikipedia or blogging or mobile computing, there’s an equally vehement condemnation.

    On one side of one such contest, the journalist Nicholas Carr argues that the Internet has contributed to a decline in the careful, reasoned, imaginative mind of the period between the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution.¹ Though we may feel that we’re “getting smarter” by grazing across multiple bits of knowledge, Carr suggests...

  4. 1 Art
    (pp. 9-17)

    Are videogames art? It’s a question that’s sparked considerable debate, most notably thanks to the film critic Roger Ebert’s declaration that “the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art.”¹ For the philosopher and game designer Jim Preston, it’s an absurd and useless question:

    To think that there is a single, generally agreed upon concept of art is to get it precisely backwards. Americans’ attitude towards art is profoundly divided, disjointed and confused; and my message to gamers is to simply ignore the “is-it-art?” debate altogether.²

    Preston sheds light on a fatal problem...

  5. 2 Empathy
    (pp. 18-23)

    One of the unique properties of videogames is their ability to put us in someone else’s shoes. But most of the time, those shoes are bigger than our own. When we play videogames, we resemble children clopping around in their parent’s loafers or pumps, imagining what it would be like to see over the kitchen counter. In many cases, these roles fulfill power fantasies. Videogames let us wield deadly weapons. They let us wage intergalactic war. They let us take a shot on goal in the World Cup final. They let us build cities, and then they let us destroy...

  6. 3 Reverence
    (pp. 24-29)

    Videogames are often accused of disrespect, especially for celebrating violence and for encouraging disdain of man, woman, and culture alike. But can a game do the opposite, embracing respect, deference, even reverence?

    In 2007 the Church of England threatened to sue Sony Computer Entertainment Europe for depicting the Manchester Cathedral in its sci-fi shooterResistance: Fall of Man. The church had complained about the game’s inclusion of the cathedral, which was named and modeled after the seven-hundred-year-old church in this industrial city in northwest England. After considerable pressure and public condemnation, Sony issued a public apology.¹ In a statement, the...

  7. 4 Music
    (pp. 30-36)

    We tend to think of music as a purely aural medium. But one need not search hard to find that listening is only one way we experience music. In the ancient world, for example, music and literature were indistinguishable. Epic poetry like that of Homer wasn’t read in bound volumes but sung by minstrels who performed for groups. Shorter ancient verse, calledlyricpoetry, was so named because it was written to be sung with the accompaniment of a lyre.

    From the early first millennium through the Middle Ages, music served a liturgical purpose. The plainchant (most know it better...

  8. 5 Pranks
    (pp. 37-44)

    In one of the many memorable moments of Ricky Gervais’s BBC television seriesThe Office, troublemaker Tim encases jobsworth Gareth’s stapler in Jell-O.¹ Gareth is annoyed, and the viewer is amused, because both comprehend the act immediately: it’s a prank.

    Pranks are a type of dark humor that trace a razor’s edge between amusement and injury. The risks inherent to pranks contribute to our enjoyment of them. This includes the danger of getting caught in the act or the chance that the object of the prank might become hurt or insulted. But risk also gives pranks their social power. Because...

  9. 6 Transit
    (pp. 45-51)

    Automobile manufacturers and airlines sometimes try to hawk their wares by suggesting “the journey is half the fun.” In today’s world of low-frills, high-speed transportation, it’s a tough pill to swallow. But there was a time when one had no choice but to think of the journey as part of the trip, simply because it took so long to get anywhere.

    In the mid-eighteenth century, for example, it would have taken ten days to travel from London to Edinburgh by horse and carriage under the best conditions.¹ By the 1830s the trip took less than two days by railroad. The...

  10. 7 Branding
    (pp. 52-57)

    Monopoly has a long, complex, and generally unknown history. Perhaps the most surprising detail about this classic game about being a real estate tycoon is that it was originally created with an entirely different set of values in mind.

    In 1903—thirty years before the initial release of Monopoly as we know it, Elizabeth Magie Phillips designed The Landlord’s Game, a board game that aimed to teach and promote Georgism, an economic philosophy that claims land cannot be owned but belongs to everyone equally. Henry George, after whom the philosophy is named, was a nineteenth-century political economist who argued that...

  11. 8 Electioneering
    (pp. 58-63)

    Election strategy games have been around since 1981’sPresident Elect, but that title and its progeny were games about the political process, not games used as a part of that process. The 2004 election marked a turning point, however, with the birth and quick rise of the official political videogame. It was the year candidates and campaign organizations got into games, using the medium for publicity, fund-raising, platform communication, and more. That year, I worked on games commissioned by candidates for president and for state legislature, by a political party, and by a Hill committee. And that was just me...

  12. 9 Promotion
    (pp. 64-69)

    In late 2006 Burger King released three Xbox and Xbox 360 titles featuring the creepy King mascot that’s graced the company’s advertising in recent years, as well as memorable former spokescreatures like the Subservient Chicken and Brooke Burke. The titles includePocketbike Racer, a Mario Kart–style battle racer;Big Bumpin’, a collection of head-to-head bumper car games including races, battles, and hockey; andSneak King, a stealth action game in which the player must sneak up on people and serve them Burger King foods (points are awarded for sneaking with “vigor, finesse, and a royal flourish”). To get the...

  13. 10 Snapshots
    (pp. 70-76)

    In the late nineteenth century, photographs were primarily made on huge plate-film cameras with bellows and expensive handground lenses. Their operation was nontrivial and required professional expertise. The relative youth of photography as a medium made that expertise much more scarce than it is today. All that changed when Kodak introduced the Brownie Camera in 1900.

    The Brownie was different. It was about as simple as cameras get: a cardboard box with a fixed-focus lens and a film spool at the back. It took two-and-a-quarter-inch-square photos on 117 roll film, which George Eastman had first used a decade earlier. The...

  14. 11 Texture
    (pp. 77-82)

    I enjoy the ancient Chinese strategy game Go, although I’m hardly an expert. The open-source GnuGO AI built into the computer version of the game I play overpowers me much of the time.

    After many years of having gone without, I received a Go board and set of stones as a holiday gift. Immediately I noticed the most important difference between playing on the computer and off it: touching the board and the stones. I had forgotten how tactile a game like Go is. The black and white often have a different texture from one another, depending on the type...

  15. 12 Kitsch
    (pp. 83-88)

    Thomas Kinkade paints cottages, gardens, chapels, lighthouses, and small-town street scenes. He paints such subjects by the dozens each year, but he sells thousands of them for at least a thousand dollars each, all “originals” manufactured using a complex print process that involves both machine automation and assembly line–like human craftsmanship. The result has made Kinkade the most collected painter in history.

    Unlike most working painters, Kinkade’s work doesn’t go out to exhibition or collection, his most “important” works later being mass-produced on prints or mugs or datebooks for the general public. No, Kinkade’s work is mass-market from the...

  16. 13 Relaxation
    (pp. 89-95)

    There is an aphorism commonly invoked when comparing videogames with other media. Videogames, people say, are a “lean forward” medium, while others are “lean back” media. Leaning forward is associated with control, activity, and engagement. Leaning forward requires continuous attention, thought, and movement, even if it’s just the movement of fingers on analog sticks and digital buttons. It’s one of the features that distinguish games from television, even if the former are often played on the latter. Leaning back is associated with relaxation, passivity, and even gluttony—just think of all those snacks we eat slouched on the sofa in...

  17. 14 Throwaways
    (pp. 96-102)

    Casual games have become an increasingly more popular and important part of the videogame landscape. Proponents argue that casual games both open up new audiences for games and make new styles of games possible, but the genre has largely floundered in a swamp of copycat titles. One reason for this is a lack of imagination about whatcasualmight mean. Here’s an alternative: casual games are games that players use and toss aside, one-play stands, serendipitous encounters never to be seen again.

    According to the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), casual games “generally involve less complicated game controls and overall...

  18. 15 Titillation
    (pp. 103-109)

    Soon after the release ofGrand Theft Auto: San Andreasin 2005, the Dutch hacker Patrick Wildenborg uncovered a hidden sex scene in it.¹ The scene in question was never intended to appear in the game, but its assets had been left on the disk, presumably owing to a cut late in the development process. Two years later, a furor erupted over a sex scene in the sci-fi role-playing gameMass Effect. The scene even had the potential to involve alien lesbianism for some players, depending on the relationships a player had built up in the many hours preceding it.²...

  19. 16 Exercise
    (pp. 110-116)

    Exercise is boring. We hate doing it, and we make excuses to avoid it. And when we do exercise, we usually try to drown it out with something more pleasant. On neighborhood sidewalks, joggers use iPods to make runs feel shorter and less lonely. Behind the glass windows of gyms, members stare at television screens as they wait for their elliptical machines to signal the end of a workout. We know we ought to exercise, but we wish it were less miserable to do so.

    Unlike music and television, all videogame experiences require physical action. Not much action, in most...

  20. 17 Work
    (pp. 117-124)

    When we encounter a work in any medium, our experiences with it can influence how we think about our real lives. But for many players, a videogame is something one doesoutsideeveryday life, disconnected from it, safe, otherworldly. Playing a game is different from sorting digital photos, filing business receipts, or responding to emails.

    Even serious games maintain a distance from ordinary life. A corporate training game or an advergame might be crafted for a purpose outside the game—for example, learning how to implement a fast-food franchise’s customer service process or exploring the features and functions of a...

  21. 18 Habituation
    (pp. 125-133)

    Here’s a game design aphorism you may have heard before: a game, so it goes, ought to be “easy to learn and hard to master.”

    This axiom is so frequently repeated because it purports to hold the key to a powerful outcome: anaddicting game, one people want to play over and over again once they’ve started, and in which starting is smooth and easy. It’s an adage most frequently applied to casual games, but it’s also used to describe complex games of deep structure and emergent complexity.

    In the modern era, this familiar design guideline comes from coin-op. The...

  22. 19 Disinterest
    (pp. 134-140)

    One year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, the U.S. Army hosted a spectacle of military excess outside the L.A. Convention Center’s South Hall, to promote the new Special Forces edition of their popular titleAmerica’s Army. As part of this spectacle, they offered passersby the opportunity to pose holding a large assault rifle next to a camouflaged Special Forces operative and a Humvee. In a nimble perversion of the tourist trap, the army even off ered complimentary Polaroid photos of potential players (and recruits) posed for glorious combat.

    Just like many spectacles, this performance benefited more...

  23. 20 Drill
    (pp. 141-146)

    When considering the unique powers of videogames, we may cite their ability to engage us in thorny challenges, to envelop our attention and commitment, to overwhelm our senses and intellects as we strive to master physical trials of a battle or work out the optimal strategy for an economy.

    Usually we’re right when we think this, no matter the subject or purpose of the game. Indeed, one benefit of games over media like print, image, and film is how effectively they occupy our attention, forcing us to become practitioners of their problems rather than casual observers. From algebra to zombies,...

  24. CONCLUSION: The End of Gamers
    (pp. 147-154)

    We like to think that technological progress is spectacular. Whether our attitudes follow Clay Shirky’s celebration or Nicholas Carr’s censure, we remain certain that something dramatic will happen. Either new computer technologies will help solve our most pressing problems, or they’ll create even more pressing problems demanding totally different solutions. No matter the case, one thing is sure: the present is sensational, and the future will only be more so.

    Certainly it’s true that media do sometimes dramatically change the way we live. The internetworked digital computer may be poised to join media like toolmaking, agriculture, metallurgy, the alphabet, the...

  25. Notes
    (pp. 155-166)
  26. Gameography
    (pp. 167-180)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-184)