“How to Do Things with Videogames” by Ian Bogost [Books, Review, Games]

From Roger Ebert's pedantic proclamation that "video games can never be art" to the clichéd fawning over the truckloads of revenue generated by each new release in the Modern Warfare series, gaming consistently inspires overarching conversations about media and culture. At this point, these 'big conversations' should surprise no one, as with each passing year gaming becomes less esoteric and permeates more and more demographic groups (e.g. the popularity of social games on Facebook, senior citizens embracing the Wii as an exercise platform, etc.). So while gaming may be everywhere, it is strange that it is often difficult to locate conversations about it that speak to how we actually integrate play and simulation into our everyday experience. What can games tell us about relaxation, work and routine? What do they have to say about movement and the body? How might we subvert gaming conventions through pranks and humour? Ian Bogost's recent book How To Do Things With Videogames thoughtfully considers questions like these while endeavouring to re-frame the medium through a series of focused, topical texts that draw on familiar and engaging points of reference.

Organized as 20 bite-sized chapters, How To Do Things With Videogames carefully considers how gaming has been leveraged to explore sex, art, politics, branding and boredom – all the touchstones of contemporary life. Within each of these articles, Bogost carefully blends accessible pop culture references with illustrative gaming examples as the basis of his ruminations on how the medium functions as a cultural mirror. The "feel and weight" of Go pieces sets the stage for a meditation on haptic feedback, a FPS shootout set in the Manchester Cathedral serves as a gateway into a conversation about awe and reverence. Bogost's knowledge of game history is encyclopedic and it is hard to come away from this book without a renewed appreciation for just how weird and wonderful game design can get – some of the more obscure references to SimHacks, mundane minigames and naive game tourism are priceless.

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