Intellectual Production #1

PART 1: Define and explain what Ian Bogost means when he says that video games are a microecology.

Ian Bogost claims that video games are a media microecology. Microecology refers to a technique in which one focuses on a single medium and “…seeks to reveal the impact of a medium’s properties on society” (Bogost 7). Borgos likens this approach to removing a caterpillar from an environment to study its impact, or studying the impact the printing press had on 17th century Europe (6). Thus, ‘micro’ refers to a single medium, while ‘ecology’ Bogost borrows from the scientific practice of ecology, in which a scientist focuses on a single creature and studies its individual impact in an ecosystem.

Ultimately, Bogost claims that video games are a media microecology because they are complex systems with many different interwoven mediums (e.g. music, art, texture, etc.)  that make up a cohesive system called the ‘video game.’

PART 2: Define Bogost’s framework for analyzing video games in your own words, and using examples from the text.

The framework Bogost proposes for analyzing video games is to examine a single medium of video games at a time in order to appreciate how the culmination of these ‘micro’ mediums align to make a richer whole (i.e. the video game). For instance, in chapter two, Bogost explores the medium of empathy. He argues that games like E.T. are a medium that allow players to see the world from a point of view other than their own (in this case, a vulnerable alien).  In chapter three, Bogost conducts a similar analysis focusing instead on the medium of music. He argues that games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero provide players with a richer understanding of music, because as players become more “…familiar with a song’s structure and form, players experience the transition from… amateur to the smooth confidence of an expert” (34). In other words, Bogost claims that these musical games can be educational as players gain a deeper understanding of musical composition.  In this way, by examining individual gaming components in isolation, Bogost attempts to establish a greater appreciation for the complexity of the game as a whole.

PART 3: Determine the 3 main points of Chapter 13, Relaxation. Provide examples of each, and a quote that can ‘stand on its own.’

Analysis of chapter 13, ‘Relaxation.’ The three main points of this chapter are outlined as follows. First, contrary to popular opinion, Bogost claims that video games are not just a ‘lean forward’ medium (89). Or, in other words, Bogost claims that all video games are not high-intensity fast-paced mediums that require a high level of engagement from players. Instead, Bogost argues that some video games can be relaxing. For instance, Harvest Moon is a farming game that involves regularly performing routine tasks like milking cows, weeding gardens, and watering crops; these tasks are performed independently of long-term goals.  Bogost argues that games like these that make no social demands (in contrast to FarmVille) and require players to perform tasks that “…require precision, duty, and calm” can have a relaxing effect on a player (93).

However, not all ‘relaxation’ games are successful in Bogost’s view. Games like Cloud that require players to perform tasks that demand extremely precise physical maneuvers to move within the game can create feelings of frustration. Similarly, the game flOw has flashing lights that can cause feelings of anxiety. Thus, for a game to be relaxing, it appears to require slow tasks that do not require difficult movement techniques, sudden lights or noises, or the association of long-term goals.

For this reason, the final component of Bogost’s argument is that for video games to be a successful relaxation tool, game designers must abandon the principle of engagement. Instead, he argues that they should create games that are less likely to overwhelm the senses in order to create a game that does not center around engaging a player. Bogost cites the game Guru Meditation as an example of a successful relaxation game because it relies on the Atari’s primitive graphics and is less engaging than the graphics of contemporary games.

The following quote captures the essence of Bogost’s argument regarding relaxation games: “Videogames may often overwhelm and titillate our senses, but relaxation comes instead from withdrawal and placidity. To relax through a game requires abandoning the value of leaning forward and focusing on how games can also allow players to achieve satisfaction by leaning back” (95).

PART 4: Ask a question about the section

Why does Bogost insist that the principle of engagement must be abandoned entirely in order to achieve relaxation? To me it seems that a certain (albeit low) level of engagement is required in a relaxation video game. Otherwise, wouldn’t the player get bored with the task or become easily distracted by the world around them? In Harvest Moon weeding is not simply blindly pressing a single button on a controller; it involves moving around the stage to find the weeds and then pressing a button. Thus, even if a task is simple like weeding in Harvest Moon, I feel that it requires a (low) level of engagement such that the player still has to focus on the game to be successful.

Reference:

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

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