How To Do Things With Videogames

In Print

Book Review

How To Do Things With Videogames

by Ian Bogost
University of Minnesota Press, 192 pp., $18.95

The cover of Ian Bogost's latest book shows an average urban street corner, except the pedestrians' heads have been replaced with brightly colored shapes and pixelated icons. To Bogost, average people are gamers because video games have become so prevalent as to be unavoidable. His 2007 book, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, is widely considered gospel for its exploration of the tools available to game developers and how they can be used to do more than just entertain. Compared with the daunting informational meal of Persuasive Games, his recent release, How To Do Things With Videogames, is just a snack: snappy, but not seminal.

The bite-sized chapters each serve the introduction's main goal of offering examples of how "videogames have seeped out of our computers and become enmeshed in our lives." What Bogost does best is make interesting connections seem obvious without getting bogged down in tech jargon. Over the course of a handful of pages, he can explain why virtual worlds are one of the few places that reward travel for travel's sake, or why abstract violence is more damaging to the psyche than hyperrealistic war games. The most impressive feat is perhaps his ability to tackle the games-as-art debate, avoiding the usual pitfalls and deftly hammering his point home without whining, something many writers have failed to do.

With titles like "Titillation," "Promotion," "Branding," and "Exercise," each chapter brings to light the effect games have on specific areas of our lives, often without our notice. Some portions don't quite reach their perceived destination, but more often than not, chapters begin with distant points that Bogost manages to persuasively and clearly connect. Most significantly, Bogost makes good on his mission statement: to introduce a section of our culture and either highlight the role of video games in that area or, more impressively, makes those connections appear before the reader's eyes like magic.

After Bogost has taken the reader to the often forgotten or unseen corners of the gaming world and proven the medium's undeniable presence (although sometimes questionable worth) in those nooks, he predicts that with ubiquity comes a loss of uniqueness. He argues convincingly that the era of "gamers" as a discernible subculture is reaching its expiration date and that day is something to look forward to. How To Do Things With Videogames gets us there a little faster.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More video games
Top 10 Local Video Games
Top 10 Local Video Games
From majestic vistas to mundane offices, it’s time to play

James Renovitch, Dec. 30, 2016

Top 10 Video Games
Top 10 Video Games
Whether you wanted intimate tales or cars being blown back from explosions, 2015 had you covered

James Renovitch, Jan. 1, 2016

More gaming
Big Games, Big Money
Big Games, Big Money
DreamHack Austin puts competitive e-sports center stage

Tucker Whatley, June 1, 2018

Top 10 Video Games
Top 10 Video Games
From impossible geometry to glitching goats, it's our favorite games of the year

James Renovitch, Jan. 2, 2015

More Book Reviews
Local Flavor
Paleo French Cuisine
The 10,000-year-old diet gets a French makeover

Anna Toon, June 14, 2013

Summer Fiction, Summer Not
You
Follow along with a group of kids maturing along with the tech and gaming industry of the Eighties and Nineties

James Renovitch, May 17, 2013

More by James Renovitch
Austin Artist Pio Pulido Passes
Austin Artist Pio Pulido Passes
Mexic-Arte Museum co-founder was a fixture in the local arts community

July 13, 2018

Hot Luck Offers Discount for <i>Chronicle</i> Readers
Hot Luck Offers Discount for Chronicle Readers
Get tickets this weekend and save some money on all the food and fun

April 19, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

video games, gaming, Ian Bogost, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle