Why You Should Study Video Games

This is my response to Ian Bogost’s academic article Rhetoric of Video Games.

Going to be honest here, I was not super thrilled to read Rhetoric of Video Games by Ian Bogost. I am not a gamer nor do I have a positive perception of gaming. However, Bogost’s article changed my opinion. I didn’t know that people actually critically broke down video games and I found Bogost’s commentary on play pretty enlightening. Bogost starts by talking about this game called Animal Crossing and his five year old son’s experience with it.

Bogost translates the objectives of the game into real world consequences like the link between being a consumer and constantly accruing debt and how to negotiate the divide. The game pretty brilliantly shows the player where the money they spent on their mortgage/goods/paying off debts goes which is to the character Tom Nook. “By condensing all of the environment’s financial transactions into one flow…the game models the redistribution of wealth…Tom Nook is a condensation of the corporate bourgeoisie” (Bogost 118–19).

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger have described video game play as a community of practice which helps those who play them develop values, strategies and approaches to the practice of play itself. Bogost then breaks down how most people including myself dismiss games for “serious pursuits” instead. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman refers to play as the possibility space created by constraints or a rigid structure in which social and material practices manifest themselves. Video games represent the real world and give gamers the possibility to explore that.

I disagree with Bogost’s dismissal of visual, verbal, and written rhetoric. I think that these can still be used as tools to critique video games. It’s the tools that Bogost uses to critique in this article so I’m not sure why he thinks that they’re not as efficient. I do like his inclusion of a “new rhetoric”, digital rhetoric and agree that it’s something worth exploring as a tool of academic analysis.

Bogost also talks about procedurality which is the structure that allows play to happen meaning the algorithms that are put together to create meaning. What is represented can be real or imagined systems that Bogost brilliantly states demonstrates the expressive capacity of games. I have mostly viewed games to be the opposite of utilitarian, an excuse for people to just be couch potatoes but it’s actually more than that. Bogost’s article has shown me that there is more to video that it is not a mindless pursuit and that it has practical applications.

Bogost then goes on to talk about a few other games and what they accomplish. I guess my argument against Bogost’s theory is how often do people actually put it into practice. It’s not that video games can’t have two purposes: practical and leisurely but do people actually think critically about the ideological implications of the games they play or is Bogost just an outlier? Yes video games are a form of literacy but how many people actually view this as such and utilize it? I think that there is a growing field of critical critique for video games and writers like Bogost are proving their point that this is a medium worth study.

There is a shift from linear mediums like books and film to what Bogost calls “random access media” and it’s even happening in schools too. The elementary school that a tutor at utilizes the computer lab to teach kids about math. There is this software that turns math problems into video games where if the kids get the answers right then something positive will happen in the game. There are multiple games and there is one that looks like Galaga. If the student gets the answer right, the rocket shoots the asteroid. If they get enough wrong the rocket crashes. What’s really interesting is watching how engaged they are. Generation Z has come into a world where we can FaceTime and do a multiplicity of different things with technology so I think it’s beneficial that we add games to what consider to be literacy.