How to Talk About Videogames

Do you ever ponder how Rothko paintings and Doom have both constrained their creators to certain types of expected forms? What about contrasting William Carlos Williams’ imagist verse to Monument Valley? If so ‘How to Talk about Videogames’ (2015) by Ian Bogost is the book for you. It’s full of well written, serious criticism of games in the spirit of Art, Music and Literature criticism. Bogost has a PhD from in Comparative Literature and is a Professor at Georgia Tech. He also designs games. The book is a collection of related essays.

The book has a clever introduction that looks at the purpose of criticism itself which is really good. Bogost says that reviews and criticism are different and deliniates them carefully. Then the book goes on to discuss Mario Kart, Ms Pac Man, Home Alone, Flappy Bird, Bully, Puzzle Games, Sports Games, gaining mastery in games and various Independent Artistic games that aim to be videogames as art.  Bogost also ponders if games will be perpetually an adolescent art form.

As far as this sort of thing goes this book is about as it gets. It’s also worth noting how games, compared to comics and other art forms are getting criticism like this fairly early in their existence. Games are particularly hard to write about because the act of playing is so critical to the game just as criticism of sports in an artistic sort of way is very hard. The book looks at the plot of games and considers how novel the revelation but this sort of criticism doesn’t work as well in things where the narrative isn’t that important.

If you’re interested in games and read The Atlantic or the New Yorker or the arts section of The Economist or something similar then this book will provide some thoughtful and entertaining times.

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