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


Can Games Change Reality?

Posted by jholt9

Frasca’s “Videogames of the Oppressed” offers both poor and good predictions on the use of videogames.  For example, in the intro, he states: “it is still far away from becoming a mature communication form that could deal with such things as human relationships, or political and social issues”. As of 2004, this may have been true. However, recent years have seen many political and social issue games (“Stop Disasters!”, “Unmanned”, “Budget Puzzle”, etc.). Frasca’s assumption that videogames are just “games” is no longer valid.

However, he does convey a good argument for the use of videogames as political/social tools (and using pre 2005 games!). One striking example is the potential that SimCity has for teaching urban planning and development. The emphasis in this example is in the “simulation”: the idea that a videogame can portray real life without negative consequences. He goes on to argue that social/political games should “not to find appropriate solutions, but rather serve to trigger discussions”. In this aspect, Frasca is ahead of his time. Take, for example, “Phone Story”. This game does not offer players to some grand solution, but merely enlightens players about the true paths of modern cell phones/devices. Furthermore, Frasca’s argument that videogames should trigger discussions is ultimately proven by our class (we play and read about videogames, and then talk about broader issues connected to them).

One final point that Fresca makes is that “neither art not games can change reality”. This is not wholly true. For example, Bogost’s (2011) chapter “Electioneering” of How to Do Things with Videogames makes a good argument that Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign used videogames as “advertisements” much better than the McCain campaign (election result…). In fact, many of Bogost’s essays suggest that games can indeed “change reality”. In this aspect, Fresca did not make a wise prediction.


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.


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.