Videogames in Critical Contexts HNRS 353-002 (Spring 2012)


Relaxing Video Games?

Posted by shandler

In class on Tuesday, we discussed Bogost's chapter about "Relaxation".  We even played that meditation game in class.  Can video games actually help someone physically relax?  I think that games can allow someone to relax who is feeling stressed out, similar to a stress ball to release frustration.  However, "Zen games" seem not to relax the body, but instead frustrate.  Holding your hands still, with your thumbs in the same place, and trying not to tilt your smartphone does not sound particularly relaxing to me.  Perhaps I'm just too active and need to keep moving and doing something while I play a game, or else I don't feel like I actually am playing a game, but rather subjecting myself to something unpleasant.  It could just be me, but the game "Cloud" really did not seem fun at all.  It felt like I was literally outside watching clouds (in the boring sense, not the beauty sense).  When I first started up the game, I was confused as to what I should be doing, and it took me a good 10 minutes of flying around and doing nothing until I finally decided to see if I could choose a different level.

Personally, the only relaxation I feel in video games comes in the form of a game that I really cannot lose unless I do not try at all.  Unfortunately, most games made specifically to do this are incredibly boring, because there are no negative consequences for doing wrong things other than wasting time.  Games feel much less immersive if there is some sort of consequence for doing something wrong.  This is why dying in games is so effective; people who play games do not want to die.  If there is no goal to be achieved, in victory even, then there is nothing to the game at all.


The Relaxation Debate

Posted by Taylor

I was thinking about the debate yesterday about using games as a form of relaxation and during class it seemed like a lot of people disagreed with Bogost that videogames can be relaxing.  An example of this was Bogost’s own game Guru Meditiation, originally designed to help people meditate.  Despite its goal, many people felt having to focus on being completely still and worrying about the Guru falling was more stressful than relaxing.

However, other students agreed that games can be used as mindless distractions.  These types of games are hard to categorize because they depend highly on how they are played.  Take Temple Run for example.  A person who is competitive and actively desires a high score will attempt to stay focused and attend to every turn and obstacle the game presents.  With ruined pathways and hurdles at every turn and a pack of demonic-looking guerrillas at the player’s back, this can be an attention-grabbing and even stressful experience.  However, if someone who is only looking to focus their attention on something other than the environment around them—a busy train, a long car ride, or even a long evening lecture—and not on the score, then the experience becomes much more simple.  The player tunes out the guerillas, reacts almost automatically to the obstacles, and feels only a slight inconvenience when his character plunges into the swampy water after a fatal mistake.  He may lose more, that doesn’t matter as long as he is distracted.  Psychologically, this involves the use of schemas and scripts, blueprints for automatic thinking that come from previous experience.  When our minds depend heavily on these mental shortcuts, very little conscious thought is involved.  A popular example of this is the idea that car accidents happen more often within close proximity of one’s house.  Because we become so used to driving the same roads day after day, we pay less attention to the things around us.  Most importantly, we are distracted from our environment.  However, distraction can also cause us to forget our troubles, separate ourselves from an awkward or stressful environment, and make time appear to move a little faster.  I argue that this phenomenon is ultimately a form of relaxation, albeit not in the sense of lounging by a pool in a ritzy resort in Cabo.



One-Play Stand?

Posted by cjon2

After having a long class discussion on the use of casual games and its particular definition, reading Bogost's Throwaways chapter may have finally put a firm grasp on what we had been exploring, yet at the same time it helped me realize that the lines between these definitions in reality tend to be very blurred. He does this by offering a new perspective on casual games: the one-play stand. These are games, also called "Newsgames," that have enough content to be thought-provoking, but are fleeting and temporal in nature. You don't return to them as you do with other games, but rather you linger on them for a matter of minutes and then throw them away, much as you would with a newspaper. This kind of definition gives a new angle into the world of casual gaming and I appreciated it for the mere fact that he accepts the fact that casual is indeed such a widely sweeping word that there really is no way of pinpointing down what it includes and does not include.  For example, he points out that casual games ("as in Friday") often cause the players to return to them over and over again, despite the fact that the level of gameplay and time commitment in the moment is minimal. Others, given their price, appear to be relatively casual in the sense that they are "easy to learn, difficult to master." The time commitment on these types of "casual games" ends up being astronomical and costly. It is when we see stories like these that we begin to wonder when games that are "casual" really do fall under the definition. They're meant to be quick, easy, and made for people who don't particularly care, yet still they end up using up more time and energy than they realize. Newsgames, such as Airport Security, give a fresh perspective on the definition on casual games ("as in sex"), and how we can often enjoy the moment, then forget it.


Stereotypes within Genres

Posted by shandler

Bogost's "pranks" in video games can refer to a satire about certain genres. The game Syoban Action that we played for this week for class was joke about anticipation and repetition of the original Mario game (just taking those aspects to the extreme).  Many games incorporate unbelievable physical aspects to the game that make the game more, for lack of a better term, playable (user-friendly and enjoyable).  Many Role-Playing Games (RPGs) do just this with regard to the interaction of your character and other characters.  College Humor has done many videos poking fun at some of these unbelievable, yet readily accepted, oddities in games.  In class, we discussed how types of media would resort to referencing their own media once many of the good ideas have already been taken.  However, with videos like these, someone who plays games can find humor in a reference to something they know through a different outlet (I'm not sure where "Youtube Videos" would fit as media, but it certainly isn't under "Video Games").  As video games have become more mainstream, references to them in other media was inevitable and "pranks" are not limited to just other video games, I feel, but could be anything from a webcomic to a video or even a blog.


Reverence in Video Games

Posted by jholt9

Following Colleen’s comment in class about the nature of the Tuesday blog posts, I also thought it was interesting that the posted subjects were mainly about art and music. In the first five chapters of How to do Things with Videogames, I was struck mostly by the chapter on Reverence. I think that Bogost’s use of the Manchester Cathedral as an example strengthened his argument that videogames can be used in a religious/reverent manner. His description on the use of the cathedral as a hospital and the use of fighting within it particularly emphasize this argument. What creatures could be so foul as to defile the religious sanctuary of a people?

Furthermore, I agree with Bogost in that the Church of England probably overreacted (maybe not the best term, but you get the idea) about the use of the cathedral in the game. While its use was not authorized, the game play applauds the building more than it harms the ideals of the church. The use of the cathedral is both an emotional and an historical device that strengthened Resistance.


Art History’s Newest Chapter

Posted by jimbo

Concerning the chapter on videogames as art, Bogost talks about proceduralism as a method of making videogames that are art, but this is not the only way they can be considered as art. Rather, I think he severely limits his discussion of art by merely focusing on the art of the last two centuries: the modern rejection of realism and beauty, attempting to make the artefact the purpose of art itself. However, he does not give fair attention to the other 6000 years of Art History. Ancient civilizations used art as a way of telling stories and teaching their mythology (Egyptian hieroglyphics, European cave paintings). Then, with the rise of Classical art (Greece and Rome) this religious/mythical aspect became imbued with an attempt at representing beauty and reality (some would argue they are the same). With the rise of Chrisitanity and the loss of Classical methods, art shifted its primary aim toward teaching the beliefs of the Christian faith. But in the Renaissance, there is a renewed attempt at capturing beauty and realism in art (Botticelli, Caravaggio). This later led to art bringing up other, non-religious themes (e.g. the plight of the proletariat with the Realist movement in the 19th century). Taken together, the Classical movement (400 BC - 300AD) and its rebirth (1400-1900 AD) represent over a millennium of art seeking beauty and a representation of reality. So, then, why does Bogost totally neglect the art of the beautiful? If one were to look at the current trend of videogames, this would appear to be the direction it is taking (think Skyrim). And, if we think of literature as the art of storytelling, videogames have taken an impressive step in that direction with epic series such as Mass Effect or Uncharted (both in their third installments).

While I agree with Bogost that videogames deserve a place in the world of art, I think he oversimplifies art and limits the place of videogames in that realm. “Artgames” notwithstanding, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has an exhibit devoted to “Video Games as Art” and is largely a history of the medium. Like Duchamp's toilet, if for no other reason than being in an art gallery, videogames per se have become a legitimate form of artistic expression.


Videogames: The (Hidden) Yoda to our Luke Skywalker

Posted by lhokanso

In Ian Bogost's book "How to Do Things with Videogames," he writes at one point that in music games, like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, mastering levels of higher and higher difficulty in the game "does not lead the player to a greater state of mastery as a musician, but to a greater depth of understanding as a listener." And although Bogost is really only referring to these two musical interaction videogames and their relation to musical literacy as a result, I think that the idea that he presents here can be teased apart to represent a larger applicable argument to videogames and their ability to teach the player. One of the arguments that many parents and videogame critics present is that videogames are (gasp!) brain-rotting. However, I believe that if we use Bogost's argument about the aforementioned games on a grander scale, we can in fact find greater benefit to the playing of videogames and to our mastery of certain skills. Take for example a first person shooter game like Call of Duty. Most parents would look at this game and think that it is nothing but a violence-promoting waste of time. Perhaps however, if we looked at the game and its intricacy and depth, we would be able to agree that although the game does not make one a better shooter or soldier, it does sharpen reflexes, promote critical problem solving, and an increase an aptitude for spontaneous strategy adjustment (ie. "Crap, we should probably take a different route since this one appears to be chock-full of zombies.") I'd like to think that many videogames can promote this process of deeper understanding of something, and in fact teach the player something, even if it isn't that which the game is mimicking or necessarily representing. After playing most games, even simple ones such as Words with Friends or Temple Run, we walk away having absorbed some sort of benefit. All of the chapters in Bogost's book emphasize this idea of deeper content to videogames than meets the eye, and this statement and these reasons demonstrate the teaching ability of videogames that tends to get lost in the noise (since this specific chapter was about music after all).


Art and Music

Posted by edang

In a previous Honors course, we were told not to ask what art ‘is’, but rather what art ‘does’.  Applied to videogames (a new material for artists to work with), they are not the graphics or the aesthetics themselves that make up the artwork, but rather the actions and gameplay that must be performed by the players.  Ian Bogost refers to this as procedural rhetoric, a term that we are familiar with, to emphasize that in videogames, ‘how’ the player does an action in the game is what causes this new artwork to speak to us, to tell us something new, or to force us to think differently.  Let’s talk about Braid.  Braid is a game about time and regret and forces its players to explore these motifs through innovative and challenging puzzles.   These puzzles build on these themes to force its players to think about a bigger picture outside the game and to make each player paint their own interpretations in their minds.  That is, the videogame causes the player to think less of what the game is actually about and more of the player’s own life based on his/her own personal experiences.  It sounds confusing, but if you’ve played Braid then you might understand.  At first, the game feels like it has a solid, yet mysterious plot that only needs to be solved.  [Spoiler alert]At the end, however, you realize that there is no plot; you realize that your interpretations of the storyline and gameplay all came from your own personal experiences [/Spoiler alert].  As my previous Honors professor would then say is: We do not ask what Braid is; we ask what Braid does.

I wanted to talk about the music chapter but I’ve run out of words.  I would like to just point out the line on page 34: “Playing a song… at higher and higher levels and toward greater and greater mastery does not lead the player to a greater state of mastery as a musician, but to a greater depth of understanding as a listener.”  Just had to quote this for its truth about listening to music.

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Undermining the Multi-use of Videogames

Posted by Que Le

It did not really sink in to me that videogames have such a wide variety of uses until Ian Bogost introduced specific examples of how videogames can portray art, empathy, reverence, music and prank. I had the same assumption as many people that videogames are only a source of entertainment. I believe it is a medium that provides temporal distraction from real life and therefore my perception and importance of videogames do not compare to that of film, art, and literature. To me, videogames do not belong to the same rank as the three mentioned above and saying it has the same reverence to film seems comical. However, my perception has changed and I realize my belief that videogames are only for entertainment is plain stereotypical

While playing "Passage" created Jason Rohrer, I was confused of what to do. I start out as a young man who soon picks up a lady companion to begin my journey. As I continue to walk to the right, the landscape changes and time progresses. The vibrant blond hair my character dons begins to change to a muter brunette color, and soon after a grey color. The fast walking movement progresses to slower paces and finally I see the old couple feebly walk with crooked backs. Towards the end, my wife dies and I continue the journey alone until I pass away too. A 5 minute game play of "Passage" shows more than the simple goal of moving towards the right hand side, it also evokes deep emotions. The reflection that time does not stop, and everyone will inevitably age and die is really what struck me in the game. It mirrors the scene from the Disney Movie "Up", when the main character Carl and his wife Ellie began as children who grew up, fell in love, and married. As the female character in the game, Ellie dies due to an illness and Carl continues to live alone. I was extremely sad when I saw this scene and had the same emotion as I played the game. Bogost mentions that theses artgames simply do not provide a decorative visual depiction, but allow the audience to reflect on a theme or two. Some themes I see in "Passage" are life, death, marriage, time and making decisions. I soon realize that the game is a complete metaphor that life is a journey. The characters start at the left hand side and ends at the right, which symbolizes birth and death. Unlike the game "Braid" where one can go back in time, time in Passage is linear and does not stop, which reflects the reality the man cannot control time. After seeing the powerful effect of such a simple game, I realize that videogames do not have the credit that they deserve because they are infants compared to veterans such as film, literature and music. I am sure that the uses of videogames in society will be diverse as those of film.