Reading Response: Unit Operations I

Bogost, Ian. Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. MIT Press, 2006 (Chapters 1-4).

I’m in general agreement with the sentiments Bogost expresses in chapter 4 regarding certain issues in game studies. While I’m sympathetic to the Aarseth’s statement that “’I wish to challenge the recurrent practice of applying the theories of literary criticism to a new empirical field, seemingly without any reassessment of the terms and concepts involved” (51), this sympathy is more with the latter half of the statement. I don’t believe there is a problem with applying literary criticism to video games; it’s just that, as with any other medium, the criticism must take into account the differences between media.

Like Bogost, I find the self-imposed “functionalist separatism” (52) of the field of video game studies to be problematic, even dismaying in its reversal of previous attempts to “connect games to other cultural forms” (53), as this separation can only serve to isolate videogames from meaningful interactions with other cultural objects and reduce many possibilities for criticisms, analyses, understandings, and, ultimately, improvements of the medium.

I also share Bogost’s concern with privileging “the ludic over the literary” (53), as the attempt to cordon off narrative elements, such as cut scenes, from the rest of the game has always bothered me as—and please forgive the tautology—so long as it is part of the game, it is part of the game and can’t just be ignored. This way of thinking also creates the binary between gameplay and narrative that I don’t believe necessarily exists.

Finally, I’m interested in what seems to be a more rhetorical focus, with Bogost mentioning his own desire to “Instead of focusing on how games work…turn to what they do” (53), so I’m looking forward to how that works out in later chapters.

Also, I have a few Bogost-related links in Delicious, but, since they’re now buried, here’s a link to the Persuasive Games site (founded in part by Bogost, focusing on creating games in the “serious” genre for instruction and activism and which refers to video games’ potential as “rhetorical tools”) and an archive of his “Persuasive Games” column at Gamasutra, which in turn links to his website.


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