Lit 80, Fall 2013

Media archaeology explores the components that make up various media elements and technologies and how the origins and interactions between these components have affected the way these medias have developed and established a role in our world. Jussi Parikka presents ideas and observations obtained through media archaeology in his article “The Geology of Media” and his book “Media Archaeology”, yet it was when our class met with the author that we were able to delve into the topic. One of the concepts associated with media archaeology that we discussed was reverse speculation—imagining what the world would have been like if things had gone differently, from a technology standpoint. I found it interesting to wonder, what would our world be like today if Bill Gates did not invent Microsoft? Where would computer programming be now? Would it have taken a completely different route in its design and function? And furthermore, how would that have affected other technologies—such as the development of Apple as a company, or computer software in general? Thinking in this way helps us to understand why our world is the way it is now, and thus we are able to trace the impacts the technology did have on our society and the development of other technologies based on the comparison between the path it took and the path it could’ve taken. This concept is related to William Gibson’s “The Difference Engine”, which explores what the 18th century would have been like if Charles Babbage had succeeded in the creation of the Babbage Engine. The speculative writing draws comparisons between what our world is like today and how it would have been (or how we imagine it would have been) in the past. By looking at the past in this light, we are able to see both how the computer plays a role in our society through the comparison between the known past and the speculative past.

Another component of media archaeology that I found interesting was the observation of technological effects and developments through their relation to Earth. It is easy to overlook that resources play a fundamental role in what is able to develop at what time. Media is more than just data, as it is the device that portrays the data that interprets it and has an effect on how it is perceived—the device gives the data meaning. Development of technology—specifically why certain technologies developed at certain times and how they became the way they are—can be analyzed based on the political economy of the time, particularly in relation to minerals and metals. Similarly, trends in wastes, energy usage, and exploitation of resources provide tracking sources for the development of media elements. The history of media can be traced through what it is made of—chemicals, the developmental processes, and subsequently the develop of technological processes necessary to create and produce the media element. Technology itself can be tied in to the destruction of the world as well, as it has just as much—if not more—of an impact on the world as it develops as the world has on its development. Media develops are thus correlated to pollution, changes in populations, and environmental factors such as storms, weather patterns, or events that affect availability of or accessibility to resources. And environmental pollution isn’t the only kind of pollution that can be traced through technological developments, but mental pollution as well. Though abstract, we are able to see how technology affects our everyday lives and the way we behave and interact. Essentially, geology affects our exposure to media, and our exposure to media affects how our reality is augmented—thus geology is the direct source from which our reality is augmented.

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.

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.