We often try to bring you interesting and original interviews here at PSXE, and our latest is with author, professor of digital media at Georgia Institute of Technology, and founding partner of Persuasive Games LLC, Ian Bogost.
His new book, "How To Do Things With Videogames," explores the benefits of interactive entertainment, and he tries to prove that gaming is both a legitimate and important medium. In the first part of our interview, we talked about how focusing on violence is missing the bigger picture, why defining anything as "art" is tricky, and how video games can break through into mainstream media.
PSXE: Video games are continually targeted for excessive violence. Many believe this overrides all potential good gaming has to offer. What would you say to that?
Bogost: "Games are a tool. As a medium, this machine has a lot of potential and it can be used for a variety of purposes. The violent stuff; well, I'd put that inside the movie spectaculars, like a Hollywood blockbuster usage of games. It's one way we use games. We create this fantasy world and test our inabilities. We want to feel powerful and we want to fantasize and live in a different place and time. Other mediums do this, too.
If that were the only way to use the moving image, that would be a shame. But it isn't the only way it's used. It's not the only way games are being used; if all you choose to see is violence, you're missing most of the picture."
PSXE: Gaming may be mainstream, but why isn't it viewed on the same level as music and movies? Why doesn't the industry get more mainstream exposure?
Bogost: "Even if gaming has fantasies about being as big as Hollywood, it doesn't have the same value. In movies, there's still a strong artistic creative compass that studios want to use to frame their work, so they put the people involved on The Tonight Show. And that's where people learn about the work.
The game industry hasn't done a good job of presenting their work as an alternative medium. Those of us who know what games can be talk, but they don't really talk to the world beyond their communities. Those outside that circle are allowed to draw their own conclusions. If you see a screenshot from Heavy Rain, you could conceivably think it's a game like Grand Theft Auto. A game like Flower is a little tougher to confuse, but it also isn't clear what it actually is. What does all this mean for the average ordinary person? We're all just sort of living in our own little world."
PSXE: Roger Ebert got a lot of attention when he said video games weren’t art. Later, he retracted the statement. Are games art in your eyes?
Bogost: "This question assumes we have any idea what 'art' really is. During different periods of human history, art has meant different things. There was a time when art was restricted to rituals and ceremonies. By the middle of the 20th century, the traditional idea of art just got blown up; then art was just anything you could get away with. Most of the time, people don't know what they mean when they say, 'videogames are art.' It's not exactly like paintings and opera, which have a certain position in the cultural world. And that has changed over time, too.
I think the question to ask is, 'what do games do for art?' and 'how do they change what it means to experience art?' This could mean changes into the way art is conceived and experienced. It could mean new ways of framing artistic practice. I don't think there's one answer. Is the urinal on display at the museum art? Well, it did something, it had an effect on the art world. It doesn't really matter if it was art or not. Art gets judged by history and situated in relation to other works."
In the second part of the interview, we talk about the "gamer" label and how we should leave it behind if we want to progress, the dangers of focusing on ultra-realism, and when mainstream media sources will finally give this industry some respect.
In the meantime, be sure to check out Ian Bogost's blog . Also, we definitely recommend the book; it's really empowering for video game fans and a breath of fresh air in comparison to the negative feedback we often hear. So head on over to Amazon and consider a purchase.
Part II will go up soon, so stay tuned.