Reading Response: Unit Operations II

Bogost, Ian. Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. MIT Press, 2006 (Chapters 5-9).

I found the passage on game engines in chapter 5 perhaps the most revelatory because I tend to think about the specificity  medium in terms of its effects (interactivity, etc.) rather than in how video games are actually constructed. However, Bogost makes a good case for why engines, like genre, should be studied for “what they enable, and what they forgo of expression in videogames” (60). Of course, as he points out, engines create limitations and enable designs far differently than genres do (“intellectual proprietary, material, functional, and discursive” (60)), although they do intertwine a bit since, for example, an engine originally made for First-person shooter games will incline its users more towards using the engine to create more FPS games (although it’s important to note that they aren’t limited to that genre by the engine, just that it would direct them more towards it).

At the same time, I do question Bogost’s claim that “Unlike psychoanalysis or literary theory, IP is a stable relationship regulated by governments and markets instead of critics” (61), mostly for the use of “stable” since I think he’s claiming a stability that doesn’t necessarily exist. Bogost seems to agree, too, since in the next sentence he writes that “The rules of IP are flexible and may change, but its fundamental principle is legal, not literary” (61). I take issue with his example too; yes, “T.S. Eliot did not license rights to Homer and Dante in order to make their works fungible in his own” (61), but that’s basically because Bogost has picked a literary example where IP rights wouldn’t apply in the first place. Finally, I’m a bit concerned about Bogost’s desire to mix intellectual property rights with literary criticism.

I also appreciated in Chapter 8 when Bogost calls Juul to task for privileging “the formal quality of the game over its expressive potential” (121) as if emergent and thus replayable gameplay is all that a game should strive for. I may not agree with Bogost on everything, but I think I’m willing to defend “videogames need not participate in such an economy. Rather, they may strive to make highly isolated statements that pursue specific goals through the gameplay experience” (122). I would like to see video games (and their audience) outgrow this desire for all games to be always, unthinkingly fun in the same way that film outgrew its need to be always, unthinkingly fun.

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