As a cultural construct, video games are better known for blowing shit up and somehow causing rape than as a scholarly pursuit. Still, like any other form of entertainment, video games engage us, capture our attention and, perhaps, alter the way we see the world -- and examining how they might do that provides the foundation for what Dr. Ian Bogost, a literature and video game critic and experimental builder of video games himself, is interested in. This afternoon, he'll be talking about "Materials: Books, Games, Media and Other Platforms" at the CU-Boulder campus, where he will surely make you consider the experience of interacting with media in a different light.
A professor at Georgia Tech, Bogost has a background in comparative literature, which is basically, "You look at one book, you look at another book and then you try to pull out element of how we react to or understand books," says James P. Ascher, the guy behind Scriptalab, the CU-Boulder program that's bringing Bogost to speak.
In Bogost's case, he transferred that background (although he still does work with books) to the realm of video games, essentially asking the same basic questions that comparative literature does. What's interesting about Bogost, though, is that he also writes and builds games himself. "He looks at games from a literary standpoint, he unpacks these ideas and then uses these experiences to actually craft things," Ascher muses. "He's saying, here's what's going on, I'm going to write my essay and then I'm going to actually make something."
One prominent area of consideration for Bogost has been the minimalist game, exploring the question of how little can you do and still be playing a game. For example, in one experiment, he reappropriated the auxiliary equipment of Mogul Maniac, a 1982 skiing game for Atari that came packaged with a foot joystick. In Bogost's game, which he called Guru Meditation, the player would get points to sit on the board as still as possible.
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"Of course, it's actually very difficult to sit absolutely still," observes Ascher, "so it asks this question, can doing nothing be a game?"
Bogost then repackaged the same game for the iPhone, which leads to more questions still: How does the platform of the game change the experience? Do we have the same reactions when we play it on the Atari with the foot joystick versus when we play it in the hand with a phone? These are the same questions, says Ascher, that Scriptalab is asking about literature -- if you read a book on paper, how does the experience change when you read it on a Kindle?
Ponder that, meditation guru, and then find out for yourself tonight at the ATLAS Black Box Theater on the CU-Boulder campus at 3 p.m. The event is free and open to anyone, and there will be a reception with Bogost to follow.