Lit 80, Fall 2013

Literature as Data

October 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Shane Stone in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Although it offers benefits, the idea of analyzing literature as big data has become a controversial issue. The most volatile aspect of the issue is whether or not literature is data. If data is defined as information, then everything, including literature is data. It is because data has a connotation of codes and numbers, that academics like Stephen Marche suggest that this is “the end of books as we know it.” However, by viewing literature as data and analyzing as such, it is more like what Kim suggested in class, this is the “expanding of books as we know it.” Looking at literature from a different point of view is encouraged in all literature classes because to many the importance of literature lies in what it represents and how people understand it. If this is the case then why are some academics up in arms about looking at it from the scope of a computer? Perhaps if distant reading were explained as macroanalysis, as suggested by Matthew Jockers, people would be more at ease. Through his definition, treating literature as data creates a school of thought that compliments reading; like how macroeconomics compliments microeconomics so too would macroanalysis compliment close reading.

One of the aims of this class is show us how different forms of media change the way we experience written work, thereby augmenting reality. Similarly, using different media in analyzing written work is another way of augmenting reality. It not that the literature is changing, but rather what can be gained from it has been augmented to enhance the learning experience.

Game(r) Critique

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by Mithun Shetty in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

            I have played video games for most of my life. My first video game device was the Gameboy Color, on which I played games like Pokémon Yellow, Red, Blue, and an assortment of others religiously. My first console, the Nintendo 64, was also played into the ground – 3D environments of the Legend of Zelda and Mario 64 brought me to a place that a 2D handheld screen could not. However, regardless of what the game looked like, I’ve always been able to immerse myself in both the environment and storyline of the game. Rather than a mere diversion, most games became an alternate reality for me – I handled the tasks and challenges of the game seriously and sometimes forgot that I was even playing a game. This early experience to video games was definitely a formative experience for me as an individual.

Games have a profound academic value and should be studied – they are multidimensional works that have value in the natural sciences and humanities alike. A game is absolutely a work of art – this is evident in the video game Journey for the Playstation 3. Simply looking at the game is breathtaking – serene landscapes, minimalist ambient noise, and character designs are carefully detailed to produce a pleasant audiovisual experience. One could study a game environment similar to how he or she might study a painting in a museum – more often than not, game environments are specifically designed with a purpose (as opposed to simply repeating a series of textures to fill empty space). Perhaps the environment seeks to disorient the player with bright colors or strobe-like visuals. These types of games could be classified as abstract art:

LA Game Space Experimental Game Pack 01: “DEPTH”

As technology and computer hardware are continually advancing, so too are the graphics of the games being produced in terms of replicating real-world images. Games are becoming so life-like by way of texture detail, colors, shading, and a slew of other computer miracles. In a decade alone, one series managed to completely reupholster its image while maintaining its gameplay:

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition (2011) vs. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

These types of games are prime examples of realism in art and can be classified into their own genre.

Further, games can also be studied from a psychological or neurological perspective. Exposure to video games, especially at a younger age, changes how individuals choose to handle real-life situations (BBC). Depending on its difficulty, a game can make an individual more detail-oriented or thorough in real-life tasks. Additionally, studies have shown a correlation between playing video games and hand-eye coordination skills (CNN). Also, the effects that the environments of games have on the visual cortex can provide information regarding certain patterns that explain how humans direct their attention to external stimuli (USC). The level of engagement required in individual games would be interesting to study as well. As Laetitia Wilson describes in her “Interactivity or Interpassivity” (2009), all video games are interpassive experiences. Compare this idea to the idea of interactive games, which have a direct effect on the player. An interactive game (such as Portal) requires a serious level of engagement from the player. It requires critical thinking skills, spatial reasoning skills, understanding of changing physics, and much more. Interpassive games, such as Flow, are much less taxing and serve a different purpose. They are “calming” games which feature soothing colors, music, or simplified gameplay. Interactive games have the player creating his or her own emotional states, whereas interpassive ones transfer these emotional states to the player passively.

Games are also quite useful in providing concrete examples to abstract philosophical concepts. Many philosophical or ethical dilemmas are difficult to understand on paper; video games allow the player to more profoundly understand the dilemma by “living” the experience. For example, The Company of Myself requires the player to kill what is assumed to be his girlfriend/wife in order to progress. The player can choose to continue the story and kill her, or cease playing. Another example is found in the Bioshock series. The game takes place in a dystopian society under the sea. Without getting into too much detail, the player is often times presented with the decision to harvest a parasite from another type of character (which yields more monetary gain but kills the characters) or exorcise the characters (which saves them but yields less monetary gain). The effects of this decision are manifested in the ending of the game, which changes according to how many characters were killed or saved.

Bioshock 2: Harvest or Adopt (Rescue) Little Sisters?

Bogost says that a medium is characterized by the variety of uses it has: “we can understand the relevance of a medium by looking at the variety of things it does” (Bogost 3). The aforementioned examples already qualify games as a medium, but they merely scratch the surface of what games have to offer. It is quite easy to see games as a medium when they are compared to classical examples of media. Books, for example, contain information and, in some cases, rely on the reader’s imagination to transport them to a different reality. Video games do much the same – they contain text information, graphical information, and also serve the function of transporting the player to an alternate reality. The feeling one can get from playing certain games is an escape from the real world. The avatar/perspective in the game is a conduit for the player to experience a wider variety of physical skills or abilities. This alternate world allows us to use our imagination and experience sensations beyond our physical capabilities. Cloud gives players the gift of flight; The Company of Myself and Braid gives players the ability to control time. These functions provide something books cannot – they have a wider range of functions and can convey information in a different manner. It is likely that people consider games as not being a medium due to the subject matter and general stigma of many commercial video games (violence, sexual themes, time-wasting, etc.) However, games have serious potential to be used as valuable tools of transmitting information and should be utilized as such (in addition to recreational purposes).

Works Cited

Bogost, Ian. How To Do Things With Video Games. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011.

Fleming, Nic. “Why Video Games May Be Good for You.” BBC, 26 Aug. 2013. Web. Nov. 2013. <>.

Roach, John. “Video Games Boost Visual Skills, Study Finds.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 28 May 2003. Web. Nov. 2013. <>.

Steinberg, Scott. “How Video Games Can Make You Smarter.” CNN. Cable News Network, 31 Jan. 2011. Web. Nov. 2013. <>.

Tortell, Rebecca, and Jacquelyn F. Morie. Videogame Play and the Effectiveness of Virtual Environments for Training. Http:// USC, 2006. Web. <>.

Wilson, Laetitia. “Interactivity or Interpassivity: A Question of Agency in Digital Play.”Fine Art Forum 17.8 (2009)

Game(r) Critique

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by David Hemminger in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

That games are a form of media is hardly a question. As McKenzie Wark writes in the third chapter of Gamer Theory,

Games have storylines like the historical novel, which arc from beginning to end. Games have cinematic cut scenes, pure montages of attraction. Games subsume the lines of television just as television subsumed cinema and cinema the novel. But they are something else as well. They are not just an allegory but a double form, an allegory and an allegorithm. Appearances within the game double an algorithm which in turn simulates an unknown algorithm which produces appearances outside the game. (Wark 67)

Games in fact implement all of the power of classical literature, whether it is novels through in-game text and plot or film and theater through cut scenes and videos. Therefore they must be considered a medium so long as novels and cinema are considered media, leaving us with the question not of whether or not games are a medium, but instead whether they are a useful one.

As Bogost argues, “we can understand the relevance of a medium by looking at the variety of things it does.” (Bogost 3). Games can certainly be used for a variety of things, falling all along the spectrum of entertainment and artistic statement. That games can be made for the purpose of entertainment is clear, but we also find that games such as “The Company of Myself” make use of their specific medium to express their theses in ways that could not be done otherwise.

“The Company of Myself” makes use of player agency (or at least an impression of such) to put the user into the shoes of the narrator in ways that other media can’t quite achieve. In the introduction, the narrator explains:

I know that you don’t want to hear me describe my admittedly less than fascinating lifestyle, so instead, I’ll describe my day with a much more interesting allegory.

The user then takes control of a character who, feeling forced to solve problems on his own, makes use of many copies of himself in order to face various challenges. The only point in the game in which the character cooperates with an entity other than his own self-copies is during a short series of challenges he resolves with the help of what appears to be a girl he once knew. The narrative text never makes explicit the nature of this new character, but through the mechanics of the game the user discovers that the girl is incorporeal, suggesting that she is no more than a ghost or a memory. The medium of the game allows for the user to make this discovery for himself, rather than having to be told, which is a powerful artistic tool. Furthermore, at a later point in the game the user is forced to “kill” this memory in order to progress, placing him inside the narrator’s mind in a way that only the player’s agency in games can allow.

We later discover that the narrator did in fact murder his girlfriend and now lives in the psych ward of a hospital visited only once a week by a psychiatrist. The “reality” of the game world and the allegory of the narrator merge, and the user is pulled into the two through a powerful first person perspective and what is now true empathy.

The Game “Cloud” makes an artistic statement in a different way. The game acts as a commentary on gaming from within the genre itself; specifically it challenges the idea that games need to be fast-paced or have long term goals. Slow-paced with a distinct focus on the scenery within the game, “Cloud” consists simply of the player’s avatar flying through the clouds. The game is both beautiful and relaxing, but it has no clear, immediate goals or challenges.

In order to place games in a critical context, we reexamine Mattern’s criteria for evaluating digital work (Mattern). Most importantly of these, for any game to be critiqued as a work of literature, it needs to have a clear thesis supported by the structure and function of the game. In the example of “The Company of Myself”, the game mechanic of working with copies of oneself, the incorporeal girlfriend, and forcing the user to murder the girlfriend in order to progress all function to support the theme of loneliness and put the user into the mind of the narrator. With “Cloud”, the game makes its statement about games simply by inviting the user to play a different type of game. Examples of games fitting this criterion are sparse, but these two games demonstrate that games are in fact a valid medium for literature.

One weakness that games in academia have today is that there is currently very little in the way of a system for formal peer review and consultation. While many games are open source, they are rarely reviewed in a critical context. However, this is not necessarily a permanent weakness of games as academic works. It is simply a fact about the current state of games in academia that would need be changed in order for games to be truly critiqued.

Given the rich possibilities for incorporating literary elements into games such as player agency and game world design, games provide an excellent field for serious academic study. While the study of games is still young, the large set of high quality, unstudied games makes it a promising field. Bogost comments, “Yet most of us haven’t begun to think about games in this way, as a medium with many uses that together pervade contemporary life, and as a result, interesting adoptions of the form have been labeled illegitimate or simply ignored.” (Bogost 7-8).  Over the next few years, this should and likely will change as more scholars recognize the literary power of games.

Bogost, Ian. How to do Things with Video Games. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. 12-13. Print.

Mattern, Shannon Christine. “Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited.” Journal of Digital Humanities. 1.4 (2012): n. page. Print.

Wark, McKenzie. Gamer Theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007. 67. Print.

Video Games: A Critical Analysis

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by Zhan Wu in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Very much from the occurance of colossal computers that filled rooms in the early 1970s to the ultrabooks super thin laptops we have nowadays, video games have existed to fill our needs for entertainment and maybe even learning. Video games have increasingly become sophisticated as newly operating software were produced and better-performing hardware were invented. Indeed, the digital information boom at the end of the 20th century engendered a series of ultrafast developments that led from the creation of multi-pixel 8-bit video games such as Pacman, to the open world non-linear games such as Grand Theft Auto, which take on several gigabytes on the computer’s hardware storage capacity.

With the sophistication and proliferation of games, people have engendered more complex and mixed reviews about them. Computer games were originally for entertainment for those very few who could afford computers only. As software became cheaper to manufacture, the word “PC” (personal computer) emerged, and families were already buying PCs and software (including video games) in numbers.

Before we go deep into the societal impact video games have for the generations around this time, a choice must be made of whether video games are mediums or not. A simple look-up in the dictionary tells us that mediums are “an agency or means of doing something.” Ian Bogost, in his book How to Do Things with Videogames, claimed that: “ games are models of experiences…we operate these models…our actions [are] constrained by their rules…we take on a role in a videogame, putting ourselves in the shoes of someone else…” (Bogost 04) Simply said, video games are a means for people to immerse themselves in information models to assume a role in a certain environment. Therefore, according to Bogost, (and I would strongly agree) video games are a medium.

It is not untrue that video games caused quite a dilemma for families in the 80s and 90s. In fact, many families reported that their children were virtually addicted to video games and did not put enough attention on the family. The problem persists till today as a main family and societal issue. This is also why “All-too-familiar questions arise about whether games promote violent action or whether they make us fat through inactivity.” (Bogost 05) In his bestseller, however, Bogost talks about how parents and people alike have simply misjudged video games as a dichotomous choice of good or bad, which he dubbed as the “media ecological approach”, rather than seeing games as a medium which is able to influence culture in numerous ways (microecology). I generally agree with Bogost’s idea. Games act as a medium by impacting people’s daily lives continuously, both in communication and perception. I will explore this along with examples in the next three paragraphs.

YouTube, a large video-sharing website as you might know it, has a very large gamer community. And many game commentators post game walkthroughs and reviews for the large audience on YouTube for a living. In fact, according to YouTube statistics, gaming commentators and reviewers alike will upload up to 75 gigabytes of video data to the website every ten seconds. Each gaming video might have more than a million comments (many of which the commentators rely to) and there are plenty of private discussion and public Q&A sessions. From this perspective, I believe that these videos undoubtedly have a large impact on the lives of millions of people who are watching the videos on a daily basis in terms of communication. Again, the gaming content of those videos are irrelevant compared to the impact the videos have on collective communication in gaming communities, as Bogost would have it: “The things a medium does to a culture are more important than the content it conveys.” (Bogost 04)

On the other hand, video games can alter our perceptions dramatically. How our perceptions are changed depend on the type of the video games and our perceived cosmopolitan view of the world. When engaging in video games, we are both acting out the role of the protagonist according to our general perception of the world while simultaneously abiding by the rules of the “model” (the gaming environment) that were created by the game developers.

A good example would be the Portal series created by Valve Corporation. The protagonist in the game is a test subject who has to navigate across numerous test chambers with her portal gun, which can created interdimensional space. Her goal is to flee the “unethical” testing facility, but is constantly stalled by the facility’s main AI computer, GLaDOS. Each test chamber is unique, and there are several ways to finish a particular level. It all comes down to how the video game player perceives the level. Also, there are many moral decisions to make in the game, further altering the gamers perceptions about certain aspects. In one level, for instance, after using the Companion Cube extensively, the player has to make a choice of whether incinerating the cube and pass the level or get stuck in the level with the cube. And it again depends on how the player perceives the game. In fact, many players on the Steam Community Hub reported feeling extremely emotional at that moment.

To acquire a more comprehensive view about video games in our society, we must think more critically about them, not just dismiss them as superficial objects that someone might get addicted to. Parents and families, along with other people who are in presence around video games, need to regard games as a medium which has multifaceted uses rather than only one or two. That said, games are currently used not only in entertainment, but also in medicine, psychiatry training sessions, tools for soldiers to simulate real combat and even placebo means in hospitals etc..In terms of communication and perception, as aforementioned, video games acts as an indispensable means to a medium by encouraging all sorts of discussions and perceptual alterations. The various uses of games cannot be overstated, and most of them have profound impacts in different sections of our society.

Last but not least, I definitely believe that it is vital for people to study gaming behavior. There are myriads of reasons for doing so. Social-cognitive psychologists could research brain pattern behavior when people are playing games. I personally have always wondered  why people’s body do physical movements when they are actually playing games set in virtual reality. Furthermore, researching possible changes in perception of thought would be a great basis for developing our understanding of human behavior. The bottom line is, as games become more and more a part of people’s daily lives, the necessity to study them extensively is ultimately of extreme importance for the comprehension of human physical and psychological behavior to our community.


[1]Bogost Ian, HOW TO DO THINGS WITH VIDEOGAMES, University of Minnesota Press.

[2]Portal, Valve Corporation, Accessed Sep.29, 2013.

Gamer Critique

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by Sai Cheemalapati in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Video games, since their introduction in the mid 1900’s, have come a long way in breadth and scope. When they were first introduced, processing ability was measured in the thousands of operations per second. A game consisted of a blip on the screen representing a person or a ball.  Today, with processing ability measured in the tens of millions of operations per second, games are visual spectacles rivaling the clarity and scope of real life. The often-made comparison is that video games are ‘interactive movies’ (Rutgena).  I argue that video games act as a medium for communication where storytellers can build an epic world and players can channel a bit of their own personalities into their game avatars.

Ian Bogost states “videogames are a medium that lets us play a role within the constraints of a model world” (Bogost 4). The model is constructed by teams of engineers and artists to encompass the scenarios of play – complex rules that govern the virtual world and what is allowed. This world is a medium through which the writers can express a story, and through which we can express ourselves in the form of an avatar. The avatar is a representation in the game where we can act on its virtual surroundings. Through the avatar, we have an impact on the virtual world, and our decisions produce tangible impacts in the virtual world. Consider the video game ‘Skyrim.’ The player is allowed in the beginning of the game to create his or her own avatar. The player can chose from a number of races and hundreds of different options to customize the character to his or her liking. As a result, a personal connection is made. The medium allows for the player to transfer a bit of his or herself into the game and invest in the character. As an open world game, the player is free to journey wherever he or she wants and follow any storyline they choose. There is no pressure in the game to follow the main storyline, and no pressure to play in a particular manner. Players can choose to be magicians, or warriors, or archers or any combination of skill sets. As a result, they build their own story around the character as they level up, gain skills and make a name for themselves in the world. Players feel loss when their companions die or excitement when a new piece of armor looks really cool on their avatar. In the process of playing, a real connection is made to a virtual character. As a medium, the game has succeeded in creating a connection. Many people get addicted to progression – to keep going back and conquering monsters in dungeons to get that new sword or level up one more time.

It is natural to ask why this should be true – that a connection to the player is made in a game like ‘Skyrim.’ Games are a very powerful medium. Like movies can tell powerful stories through images and media, games too can deliver similar experiences. The difference comes through the interactivity. The ability to control characters and put hours of time into a scenario creates a connection that most mediums are unable to capture. The idea of choice comes into play – that games succeed because they allow players to choose what they want to do and how they want to do it.

Wark proposes in his book “Gamer Theory” that “The gamespace of everyday life may be more complex and variegated, but it seems much less consistent, coherent and fair” (Gamer Theory 32).  His suggestion is that games work perhaps because they operate so differently from our world. They must work, as a computer game, on a set of rules defined by the world. As a result, it seems more inherently fair and precise.

Consider another example – the game series ‘Sim City.’ In this video game, there is no story. The player is the mayor of a virtual city with a budget. There are no goals or directions. The mayor is able to place plots and roads and nurture a virtual city and watch it grow. The irritations and mundane realities of being a real mayor are forgone for the satisfaction of placing lots and watching homes rise spontaneously. By playing to the rules of the simulation, a bustling city can be built in no time at all to the satisfaction of the user. What is inherently separated from reality plays to fantasy – the idea of building something through nothing by sheer virtual power. Like Wark says, Sim City removes much of the reality from the game. By dropping more realistic roadblocks in city building and making the player essentially a God in the world, the game world is fair to the user’s demands – to build and destroy.

It follows from the above examples that games are an effective medium for communication between the player and the game and vice versa. Consider a more nontraditional game such as “Flow,” for example. “Flow” has no epic story like big blockbuster games, but it too has an impact on the player. As the game starts, the player is an organism in an underwater world. There are no directions and no indications of where to go. It’s easily observed that moving the mouse causes the organism to move, and that by approaching smaller creatures the organism can eat and grow. With a little bit more experimentation, it can be observed that eating an organism with a red dot moves the player to a deeper level, while eating an organism with a blue dot moves the player to a higher level. The game plants you starting as a lowly creature and you slowly build up until you defeat the final boss. Then you start all over again with a new creature, which you previously encountered as an enemy. The game chooses to start off with no directions or indications for symbolic reason perhaps. The player is a weak organism that has to eat and find it’s way in the world. You find out you can eat others to grow stronger and that others can eat you if you’re not careful. As you grow you learn the way the world works and you can outsmart and defeat your enemies. As a survivor, you were naturally selected to continue your lineage, and at the very end of your journey your organism lays an egg, which hatches back at the beginning. The game tells a story about life and slow progression and is oddly addicting. There’s an anxiousness that is built in the player to see what’s next – to try to get that next stage of evolution or see just how big the organism can get. “Flow” is a game that’s intended to be artistic – to make the player think and interact with a piece of art designed to be beautiful in visuals, audio, and interactivity.

Video games have come a long way since their inception to become artistic masterpieces. They build on established forms like movies, and through the option of choice they allow a new level of involvement for players. They are unique in this manner as there are few mediums that are able to demand so much involvement and evoke so much emotion.


Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. Print.

Wark, McKenzie. “Agony.” Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. N. pag. Print.


Rugnetta, Mike. Idea Channel: Top 5 Most Artful Video GamesPBS. Web.

Are video games a medium, at least one deserving scholarly criticism? If we define a medium as “an agency by which something is accomplished, conveyed, or transferred”, it is clear that games are technically media just by showing the player the state of their character throughout the game. But the scholarly importance of video games is muddled by the fact that they are, in fact, games. They have rules and objectives. You can win. There’s no way to “beat” a film or a painting. Even a game with an excellent plot may still be bogged down by gameplay which does nothing to enhance the story.

But while the goal/choice oriented nature of games may detract from areas where other media excel, the ability for the player to make choices and participate in a game’s virtual world introduce a whole new realm of creative possibilities unique to the medium. In “How To Do Things With Video Games,” Ian Bogost attests that “we can understand the relevance of a medium by looking at the variety of things it does.” (Bogost 3) Games can, of course, tell stories in all the ways that books and movies can, conveying information through text and video, but they also include the ability for the player to affect the game through their actions, thus giving them an additional sense of investment and responsibility within the world of the game. It is one thing for a movie to depict the execution of a civilian by a soldier; it is another for a game to have the player take the shot.

This draws to light one of the great limitations of video games – they are pre-rendered, every possible outcome anticipated in lines of code. “When we play games, we operate those models, our actions constrained by their rules: the urban dynamics of SimCity; the feudal stealth strategy of Ninja Gaiden; the racing tactics of Gran Turismo.” (Bogost 4) If this is the case, then it appears to defy intuition that a player can have any true choice. Whatever semblance of freedom the player may have, they are ultimately confined to the options that the games developers had the foresight to account for. This may give players the illusion of choice, but wouldn’t it also deny them true agency? A game’s world is certainly confined to its specifically laid out rules, but is the “real world” much different? No one truly has the freedom to do anything. Individuals are confined by the laws of physics, their resources and their abilities. If we accept that individuals can possess agency in a reality without absolute freedom, why is a video game arbitrarily too confined to allow for a genuine choice? Many games can accommodate every choice a player is reasonably likely to make, meaning a player may never even notice that they lack a truly free choice.

This can be a powerful tool, as in Shadow of the Colossus, where the protagonist is told to hunt down and kill 16 colossi. There is little to do except kill these creatures, but most players never even question whether killing the colossi is morally right. It’s a video game, and you’re the guy with a magic sword! Of course you should kill them. They’re presumably evil. It isn’t until the player has slain many of these colossi that the game begins to explore the implications of killing these creatures. Several colossi will not attack unless provoked. Several appear to fear the player, and fight only for survival. One colossus does not even fight back as it is being slain. The lengthy journeys between colossi, featuring minimal soundtrack and no living creatures but the protagonist and his horse, give the player ample time to ruminate on the implications are of killing what appear to be the last vestiges of life in a barren wasteland. The only real way for the player to avoid killing the colossi is to stop playing the game, but the ethical questions that the game raises hit much harder when the player is first allowed to act without considering them. “Was I rash to assume these creatures were monsters? What do I actually know about them? In another life, what else might I have done without question?” The game may only present the illusion of choice, but the illusion is potent enough.

One of the colossi, cowering in fear of the player's torch. In order to kill it, the player must chase it off a cliff.

One of the colossi, cowering in fear of the player’s torch. In order to kill it, the player must chase it off a cliff. [1]

Of course, even if a player appears to be given some choices, they are rarely, if ever, given every choice. Most games are inherently interpassive. Laeititia Wilson of the University of Western Australia defines interpassivity as “a mode of relating that involves the consensual transferal of activity or emotion onto another being or object – who consequently ‘acts’ in one’s place.” (Wilson 2) This mostly manifests in games through pre-rendered actions or scenes. Players project an identity onto their avatar within a game. When this avatar acts without the player’s direct control, players must forgo their agency and accept these new actions as part of the identity they project onto the avatar. In directly plot-driven games, players should identify with the playable character and take the character’s responses to situations as a cue for how they themselves should feel as observers and implicit participants. The line between the audience’s identity and the character’s is slightly less defined in a game than in a movie, but the ability for characters and stories to impact the audience remains consistent across these media. If a character acts in gross contrast to how a player would react to a given situation, it may threaten the player’s immersion within the game, but even without immersion a game’s cutscene is as compelling as a scene from a book or movie.

Besides choice, games offer the potential for players to become immersed in their worlds in ways that no other media can offer. For instance, Braid puts the player in the perspective of Tim, a scientist who uses time travel to return to his past and fix a great mistake. Its gameplay forces the player to view the world as Tim does, with time as a variable to be manipulated. For both Tim and the player, every mistake is impermanent, a minor inconvenience that can be erased with the push of a button. This shows the player how Tim views the world differently from others on a fundamental level. At the end of the game, the ability to reverse time is used to demonstrate how deluded Tim has become about his past and his role in the life of “the Princess.” As the player traverses the final level, the princess appears to flee a large, hulking figure as she removes the obstacles that hinder Tim’s progress. However, everything around Tim is moving in reverse, implying that this is not the true sequence of events. When the player reaches the Princess’s tower, time finally begins to move forward. This time, the Princess is fleeing Tim, laying traps for him along the way. Clearly, though Tim can’t see it, he is the monster of the story. Moreover, he is blinded to his role in the story because he no longer perceives time and consequence like a normal human being.

Braid’s epilogue reinforces this notion that Tim’s reliance on scientific tools has distorted his vision of reality. Several events are presented to the player as Tim, or someone like him, experienced them. However, if the player obscures Tim from view, the event is described from the Princess’s perspective. For instance, consider how this scene:

He worked his ruler and his compass. He inferred. He deduced. He scrutinized the fall of an apple, the twisting of metal orbs hanging from a thread. He was searching for the Princess, and he would not stop until he found her, for he was hungry. He cut rats into pieces to examine their brains, implanted tungsten posts into the skulls of water-starved monkeys.”

is replaced with one in which the Princess laments Tim’s inability to recognize her:

Ghostly, she stood in front of him and looked into his eyes. “I am here,” she said. “I am here. I want to touch you.” She pleaded: “Look at me!” But he would not see her; he only knew how to look at the outsides of things.”

Tim’s pursuit of scientific knowledge has again blinded him to the full scope of reality, and directly impedes his ability to be an impartial observer. Braid explores this theme with the interpassivity unique to video games. The player can only see the alternate perspective when Tim is removed from the screen – that is, when the player is no longer viewing the text as Tim.

Video games are still a fledgling medium with numerous uses yet to be discovered. However, they have already demonstrated themselves to be potent tools for creative expression and personal introspection. The ability of a gamer to choose, to explore, to interact with and inhabit the virtual worlds in front of them, ensures that the greatest games will be personal in a way that no other medium can boast.


Works Cited


Braid –

Shadow of the Colossus –

Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. Print.

Wilson, Laetitia. “Interactivity or Interpassivity: A Question of Agency in Digital Play.”Fine Art Forum 17.8 (2009)


Game Critique

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by Xin Zhang in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Game Critique

With the development of the computational ability of machines, the videogame as an important tool for entertainment enters into everyone’s life and affects the society development directly or indirectly. Videogames, together with other traditional media like newspapers and films, carry their information and give people an extended reality while they spread information. From the view of media microecology[1], the videogame as a part of this ecology should be studied if we want to know the media ecology critically and systematically.

Are videogames media? This question has been debated for a long time by many scholars with so many people with old fashioned thinking believing that videogames designed for entertainment with interaction, computational models and digital roles should not be recognized as media. Those people ignore the impacts and nature of videogames behind the computational structures and entertainment activities. A medium is defined as “(1) a channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment — compare mass medium (2) a publication or broadcast that carries advertising (3) a mode of artistic expression or communication (4) something (as a magnetic disk) on which information may be stored”[2] in Merriam-Webster dictionary. It is obvious that videogames are media considering that information is communicated while videogame is interacting with the player and this information always reflects the designers’ thinking about space and time, life and death, justice and evil, society and nature, and so on. In addition, the videogame is a much more powerful medium compared with traditional media that can only affect people by texts, sounds and images. In a videogame, one can interact with the computational program; can experience a virtual life with their avatar in it; can live in a universe that has totally different rules from the real one. With the computational model, digital roles and interaction with players, videogames have huge amount of users and are more widespread compared with traditional media which can be easily seen from the download frequency of videogames and the region of gamers and the amount of games in everyone’s smart phone. Not everyone likes reading Hamlet but everyone likes playing Angry Birds; New York Times is not popular in every country but Angry Birds is popular everywhere in the world.

The videogame like other medium has its own diversity and extends from purely artistic uses to purely instrumental uses. It is true that some videogames are full of violence. But not all! The violence in films is no less than that in videogames. We should see the whole situation and give a critical opinion towards videogames. The videogame as a medium is a platform for designers to show their opinions and thinking about life and about world by means of computational models. For example, games like Flow and Cloud try to make the player have a slow pace when playing. That is the designer’s attitude toward life. With the simple structure and slow pace, Flow and Cloud tell us to take a low pace and enjoy the simple life. Videogames have unmatchable advantages over other media as for conveying new ideas about space and time. Portal and Braid are the two typical representations of games that give the players a total new concept about space and time. In Portal, the player uses the gun to create holes on walls to change the space structure of the world. Going into the hole, the player will shift to another space linked by holes. And in Braid, time can be controlled by the player. The player can learn from the past and uses the new concept of time to complete missions impossible for normal time sequence. Besides entertainment, videogames can be practical and used as instrumental tools in many cases. The simulation games like flight simulator are well known for their function for training pilots and soldiers. Scientists have realized the power of games and they have designed many serious games to help solve scientific problems by the collective intelligence of massive players all over the world. For example, Foldit is designed by the biology scientists in order to find new structures of proteins that could be useful in medicine design. In this game, the player design structures of proteins according to the rules and the system will score every structure. The structures that earn high scores are studied by the scientists to see if they have special properties. And many research accomplishments have been got by this way.


Fig. 1. A screenshot of the game Foldit.

“Medium is message”. Regardless the contents of a videogame,  the videogame itself is an object that is informative and should be studied. “Gamespace is everywhere.”[3] The word “gamespace” is induced by the videogames. In videogames, what players do is to compete with others to earn high scores. What players do is just obey the rules and make use of the rules to do activities that have been programmed before. Is that like some people’s life? For some people, they go along the way that has been designed by their parents or themselves years before. That kind of life is programmed just like what the designers do to games. The real difference between real life and games lies in the fact that things happen in the next moment are unknown to people. That is the real meaning of life. People should abandon the “programmed” way and think about what they really want. Otherwise, they will live in a gamespace until death. Videogames invoke the thinking of life out of gamespace.

The videogame has become a new medium that comprises the media ecology with other media. As a medium, it has the common properties with other traditional media. And at the same time it has some unmatchable advantages over other media due to its computational model and ability of interaction. In order to learn more about modern media and their functions, it is necessary to study videogames critically in terms of the contents and forms.


[1] Bogost, Ian. “Media Microecology.” Introduction. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. N. pag. Print.

[2] “Medium.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <>

[3] Wark, McKenzie. “Agony.” Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. N. pag. Print.






Game(r) Critique

September 29th, 2013 | Posted by Craig Bearison in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The digital era has produced many new ways for people to receive, transmit, and interpret all types of data, ideas, experiences, etc. These new tools, such as television and more recently the internet, have drastically and forever changed our perspective and even how we think about information and its dissemination. Given the extent and magnitude of their societal affects, these digital age media have been the subject of critical analysis both positive and negative. Since digital age mediums largely serve as replacements for print material, critiques on them tend to focus on how they work in comparison to their print correlates and their affects on us as humans. Video games are no exception to this trend. Like other digital forms, video games are now woven in to our society as a valid medium for information exchange worthy of scholarly consideration.

Digital media allows for easier navigation through data when compared to print, which is limited to elements like footnotes and tables of contents. Additionally, digital interfaces also create the possibility of influencing how information is perceived by individuals and, consequently, what it is taken to mean (Hayles 4). Simple tools like hyperlinks and page tabs contribute to this affect, but it is features like layout/design flexibility, video, and animation that make digital media distinct from traditional print. They are able to accomplish things that more traditional media cannot by nature of their design. With this definition in mind, video games are a medium of their own because they can make unique contributions other media cannot.

Bogost argues that  “we can understand the relevance of a medium by looking at the variety of things it does” (Bogost 3). Subtracting the word relevance from the above statement, I agree that looking at what the medium does is certainly the best way to understand it. I also agree with Bogost’s later critique of McLuhan’s suggestion that we look at properties of a medium and ignore individual messages. He writes, “Instead of ignoring it, we ought to explore the relationships between the general properties of a medium and the particular situations in which it is used” (Bogost 5). I think this advice about what it means to ‘look at what the medium does’ is particularly relevant for video games. It might be easy to get caught up in the abstract or technical aspects of video games when talking about their potential. However, as a popular phenomenon, what video games are actually being used to do in society matters too. It is important to be realistic.

The message and content of polarizing and wildly successful video games like Grand Theft Auto certainly influence how video games are perceived in society and can influence the trajectory of the medium’s development, usage, and purposes. Regardless of whether or not the argument that these games are harming children in whatever ways holds any merit, this belief can damage the credibility of video games as a legitimate way of distributing or generating knowledge worthy of scholarly examination. The belief that video games are just for entertainment is already common and it might prevent the critical study that video games deserve. This notion is being combated by the recent growth in educational or fitness games. On the ‘properties of the medium’ side of the analysis, the creation of more interactive systems, like the Nintendo Wii, have helped popularize this trend. Regardless, it is a shame that people are taking this black and white approach to video games as useful and serious or useless and for entertainment because games like Grand Theft Auto offer many interesting areas for inquiry. Even if these games have no instructional value, one reason they are still worth studying is because of the interpassivity or surrogate self that exists in these role-playing games. Interpassivity serves to provide emotion transfer/extension and also an opportunity for self-creation/editing/exploration by proxy (Wilson 4). What does it mean that this is occurring within the context of a hyperviolent and unrealistic environment? Perhaps video games are serving as an outlet for some sort of built up rage or need for violence that some people might have. One reason video games are worth studying is because they can help us better understand the human psyche.

Returning to the issue of how to assess the relevance of the medium, I think this can only be done by points of comparison. What can video games do that other media cannot or what do video games by nature do better than other media. One example we talked about in class was the ethical dilemma presented by the game The Company of Myself. In this game, the player must kill his wife in order to advance and ultimately beat the game.  Perhaps due to the surrogate self affect, all of us hesitated at this point in the game and had to think about if we actually wanted to kill wives and if there was any other way to advance. We all eventually decided to kill her and move on; it became an issue of our lives versus someone else’s life and we all chose self-preservation. While over simplified, this example makes it easy to see how video games can be used to simulate and start conversations about ethical situations in ways that other media cannot. This is valuable because simulating real world scenarios can be a useful tool for learning or assessment. Although not REALLY a game (more like a short animation), Passage provided an interesting and unique way of representing concepts like free will. The player only has the option of moving forward in life and has no control over what happens to him. The character eventually dies with no explanations or meaningful occurrences. Video games allow for all new ways of presenting information and ideas. Studying video games will allow us to better understand which techniques work the best and thereby allow us to increase their effectiveness as teaching tools.

A lot of what video games do is remediation. They take bits of representation from other media and repurpose them to populate the game (Wark 32). As we saw in the above examples, this remediation is still valuable because often the video game format can be a better form of representation and allows for new nuances of the material to be uncovered. However, I think that as video games are becoming more sophisticated, we are moving beyond video games as just remediation of old data. Video games are now able to create and display new types of data inconceivable in other media. For example, another advantage of video games we discussed in class was their ability to play with space and time better than other media. The game Portal made us manipulate space in ways we would never consider otherwise and Braid played with our understanding of time. While it could be argued that films like Inception are equally as capable of making us consider time and space in new ways, I don’t think films as a medium can quite match video games when it comes to manipulating senses because of the active engagement involved. Video games are definitely a medium of their own and should be studied to learn more about ourselves and to learn new ways to improve ourselves.


Bogost, Ian. How To Do Things With Video Games. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011.

Hayles, Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2012.

Wark, McKenzie. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007.

Wilson, Laetitia. “Interactivity or Interpassivity: A Question of Agency in Digital Play.”Fine Art Forum 17.8 (2009)

Changed The Game

September 29th, 2013 | Posted by Shane Stone in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Are video games a medium?

There is an apparent answer isn’t there?

Although you may think there is, it is a controversial debate with both supporters and opponents. In fact, when I told my roommate what my assignment was he immediately responded “video games don’t teach anybody anything” and he asked me to explain why I thought they did. Rather than replying I told him to read my blog post.

My method of answering this question is based on the definition of medium. According to Merriam-Webster the definition of medium is “a means of effecting or conveying something.” Based on this definition I suggest that video games should be included under the umbrella of media.

From cave paintings to motion pictures, forms of media have co-evolved with society to more accurately and effectively communicate “something” to people. Similarly to any form of media, video games send direct messages, but what sets video games apart from other forms of media is how they communicate them. Video games are an interactive form of media that allows players to be a part of the game and to make choices. Yes, one can argue that in board games like dungeons and dragons this is equally true and that with proper imagination a reader can become part of a book just as easily. However, in How to Do Things with Video Games Ian Bogost highlights that “videogames are computational, so the model worlds and sets of rules they produce can be far more complex” and much more realistic (Bogost 2011). The dungeon master asking you to slay a dragon is much different than a mission given to you in Call of Duty. Missions in these games challenge your morality. In 2009, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 presented a controversial mission entitled “No Russian” where the user is told to massacre hundreds of civilians. This is different than the dragon because the player has to pull the trigger, witness the pain, and hear the suffering of the victims. However, game play allows for the user to not participate and act as a bystander (which is arguably just as bad). Decisions like this make gamers reflect on themselves and who they are. Not all the lessons of video games are as deep and thought provoking though. Pokémon for example, allows players to control an avatar that is an adolescent traveling the world with animal-like companions. Through this journey the player learns about independence, fiscal responsibility, and the importance of treating “animals” with kindness.

Image from Flickr

Image from Flickr


Understanding the relevance of video games as a medium is not limited to lessons learned, but includes how video games are impacting society. Scholars in the field of media ecology have started investigating the effects video games have on life. In McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, he proposes that “the game…is the sole remaining ideal” in life, and the world we live in is “gamespace” (Wark 008). He elucidates his point by describing the world of “The Sims.” In this world there is no such thing as idle time because every action is just a part of the overall plan to advance the life of your avatar. Although video games are more notably abstract, you find more parallels between our world and The Sims’ world than expected. In today’s society, more and more people are focused on advancing their lives to achieve a goal, but when “[they can do what [they] secretly wanted to do all those years ago… [they]can’t remember” what it was (Wark 017). The game’s designer, Will Wright explains how “The Sims” also acts as a parody of consumerism because players spend all their time acquiring objects that are meant to save time. Just like in “The Sims”, today’s society is overwhelmed by the compulsion to have the next big thing, but all of this time spent on these objects defeats their initial intent to save time. It is not just what games are saying about our lives that needs to be studied, but how these games are affecting our psyches and lives. The most popular topic in this genre is the potential correlation between violent video games and shootings in America. Is this truly the case? Or is this as baseless as schools banning Catcher in the Rye after the Lennon shooting? Millions of people have read Catcher in the Rye or played a violent video game and only a small percentage have participated in a shooting. Rather than focusing on this, I believe that the attention should be shifted to studying military training, especially those of drone pilots. Earlier I discussed how video games challenge our morality, but is it possible that games could potentially dull that sense? Pilots use video game simulations during training, and then when they execute missions their stations resemble that of a hardcore gamer. Bogost argues that technology is “changing how we perceive, conceive of, and interact with our world… it structures and informs our understanding and behavior” (Bogost 2011). By making it a less realistic scenario, is the military using technology to isolate morality from killing? (Though one could use this same argument to defend that video games correlate with shootings, there is an inherent difference between the two. This is intentional training, with the purpose of training to kill).

With the introduction of more mobile technology, video games are no longer limited to time spent at home. Sony has allowed for game play to transfer from console to handheld and the Facebook app has allowed for players to harvest their “Farmville” crops on the go. With the ability to keep this connection with video games at all times it has become harder to “jack out” and return to reality (Gibson 1984). Perhaps the break suggested by Wii during gameplay is not just advocating exercise, but jacking players out to remind players what reality is. As video games become more accessible, it becomes a medium for a more diverse population. Although gaming was once thought to represent a niche audience, times have changed. Video games are “woven into everyday life,” but not everyone is aware (Bogost 2011). Unfortunately, as suggested in The Matrix, “no one can be told [this]. You have to see it for yourself” (The Matrix 1999). So now this leaves you with one question. Which pill will you take?


Works Cited
Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. Print.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.
The Matrix. Prod. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. By Andy Wachowski and Larry          Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. Village Roadshow Pictures, 1999.
Wark, McKenzie. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.

Game(r) Critique

September 29th, 2013 | Posted by Kim Arena in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Just like many other technological elements, video games act as a medium that are capable of portraying themes, emotions, lessons, judgments, truths, and many other factors that can teach us things about the world, ourselves, and others. In the introduction to How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogot states, “We can understand the relevance of a medium by looking at the variety of things it does” (3), and games play a much larger role than just providing entertainment, whether we are aware of this or not. Games can be used as to train people—more emotionally and mentally than physically—for real life situations. Army soldiers play video games to prepare their reaction times and emotions for battle and astronauts utilize virtual reality for flight simulation. In both cases, the participants are able to undergo real life experiences minus the reality, thus ultimately removing the aspect of death. And it’s not to say that this doesn’t have an affect on their experiences, as there is a survival element within all of us that is activated in the presence of near-death situations. Yet, being able to prepare for the other emotional aspects tied into such scenarios can prove advantageous. But games don’t have to be “educational” to prove a point, and the point that they prove may not even be intentional.

I know from playing games I have experienced real-life emotions—such as an increase in heart rate, sweaty hands, an increase in concentration—in response to situations, regardless of whether or not those situations are considered “realistic”. In that moment, you are immersed in the game, you are the avatar, and it is that life that is your focus. But just because you are removed from reality doesn’t mean that you cannot learn from these “artificial experiences”. In fact, games provide a means for us to explore the world (or worlds) and experience perspectives that reality may inhibit us from perceiving. There are elements of a game, such as multiple dimensions or “power-ups”, which do not exist in our reality yet that still allow us to connect to the world in ways similar to how we would connect to our world, to aid us in challenges and direct how we approach problem solving. The study of games and reflection of ourselves—within the constraint of the rules of the game’s creator—could offer interesting insight into us as humans and the way we approach different situations and react to scenarios.

Games don’t have to be “life-like”, such as Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, or the Sims, all of which simulate real-life situations. I found that I learned more from the ones that removed me from the realism and placed me in a situation where I didn’t feel like I was in a game, or even experiencing it. Take for instance Storyteller, a relatively simple game that involves moving three characters around a fixed setting. The game seems simple, yet it became more interesting as you began to realize how moving the characters affected the ending. As I continued to play around with the characters, I began to see a pattern of which combinations would produce which endings. I had become a “god”, capable of manipulating the fate of the three characters. This is how the game became more than just a game; this is where it became a medium. It provides us with an interface through which we can examine our own morals and the consequences—without having to “actually” experience them. But just because it isn’t “real” doesn’t mean the game doesn’t invoke emotions. As I toyed with the characters, I realized that I was experiencing different emotional reactions to the different endings, and these reactions demonstrated how I perceive relationships and the subsequent actions that I took. Once you have created one story, and thus generated an ending, you can continue to manipulate the characters to change that ending. I found that the endings the included the death of one of the characters (usually marked by a blackened sky) made me go back and automatically try combinations that would reverse the black sky. However, in the relationships that ended with two of the characters alive (and with hearts and a blue sky), I was content and almost reluctant to change anything, regardless of whether the third character was dead or alive. These characters do not have names, do not have a back-story, are not portrayed as good or evil, and do not speak. I was judging them based on how I had placed them within the setting and on the resulting outcome, an outcome dictated by an algorithm. Though I was the “god” I was still confined to the rules of the game. It didn’t matter who they were or the intricate details that would play a role if they actually had “lives”. Yet I still cared about them, and sought to have a happy ending, even if that required the death of one. What does that say about me as a person? Am I that quick to judge, that quick to take sides? Am I that indifferent towards one life if it means the happiness of two others? These are all things I began to think about as I continued making combinations, and it was through the medium of this game that I was able to recognize these aspects of my self.

Storyteller is a simple game, a prototype even, and yet I was able to discover traits and think differently than I had before. If such a simple medium were able to provoke such an outcome, it would seem that the game as a medium holds truths and insights that go beyond beating an algorithm. You don’t just play a game, you experience it, and just as you learn from experiencing life, you learn from the game.

The same can be said for “The Company of Myself”, through which you learn the story of a lonely character’s life as you progress through levels. Each level begins with a quote from the character, aimed at giving you a hint for completing the level but also depicting the sad reality of the characters isolated life. The character is alone for most of the game until he falls in love with another character, Kathryn. For a few levels, you work with both of these players together, and through this you experience the bond between them as they help each other, and thus the gamer, progress to each level. However, at one point you are required to sacrifice Kathryn in order to complete the level. When I was playing, I experienced a sense of guilt for having been responsible for her death, yet conflicted because there was no other way to complete the level and continue going with the game. This guilt that I felt is shared by the character, as demonstrated through his quotes at the beginning of the levels. The game portrays a story in an interactive way that forces you to experience questions and sympathize with emotions in ways that another medium, such as a book or medium, could not. While those allow you to feel emotions and connect with the characters, you are detached from the story, whereas the video game element allows you to immerse yourself in the story, to be the one making the decisions–and it is that factor that affects how we perceive and reflect on the story we are given.

Games reflect elements of our lives and are models of our experiences, thus they will be different for each person who interacts with them. Games serve as a medium through which we can reflect on ourselves based on the reactions and decisions we make through game play. Life itself can be considered a game—both have goals, achievements, rules, challenges, and consequences and require contemplation of morals and values. When we play a game, we are playing a role with our actions, constrained by the rules of the game, yet free from the confines of death, as death is not as absolute in a game. But just because we have a reset button doesn’t mean we don’t treat a game as we would treat our own life.

Bogot, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Print.