[Designer, Philosopher, Author]
This issue features a microinterview with Ian Bogost, conducted by Michael Thomsen. Bogost is a designer, philosopher, and author who’s helped shape the artistic and intellectual scaffolding of video games over the last decade. He has designed games about political policy, meditation, the ennui of a Kinko’s worker, and, in Cow Clicker, his most recent and somewhat controversial work, he’s satirized Facebook games and the players who keep coming back to them. He is the author of Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, one of the foundational histories of commercial game design, as well as Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames and Newsgames: Journalism at Play. His most recent book, How to Do Things with Videogames, is a collection of essays that describe the unconsidered variety and depth of a form capable of addressing anything from poetry to pornography.
Microinterview with Ian Bogost, Part I
THE BELIEVER: What is a video-game poem, and how do you go about making one?
IAN BOGOST: The game poem is an attempt to continue the poetic tradition in video-game form, not necessarily using language, but still embracing constraint and condensed symbolism. With A Slow Year I took two fixed endpoints: the Atari 2600 platform on one side, and, on the other side, the poetic traditions of imagism and haiku, forms that precisely and concisely capture a particular idea or image in a small measure of language. I asked myself: If you take these two things and use them like the ends of a jump rope, what does it feel like to use that apparatus as a designer? What does it mean for a player? In my case, the Atari 2600 already had the prebuilt material constraints that haiku has, because the hardware is incredibly rudimentary.
BLVR: A proceduralist might argue the true poetry of games comes from the elegance of their rules, not their images. Were you consciously rejecting that idea?
IB: Despite the Atari's visual simplicity, A Slow Year communicates through images as well as through its rules. The games are simple yet difficult, and playing them relies entirely on visual observation. In that respect, the proceduralist preference for rules over images is somewhat upset. One of the great things about the present moment in games is that we're finally beginning to admit that there are different styles. It's not a matter of someone being right and someone being wrong, of one design strategy being more productive than another. Instead, we're letting a thousand flowers bloom and seeing what happens. We'll likely see conflicts erupt around this diversity. Anytime you have wildly different ways of approaching artistic expression, you also have wildly varying opinions about the results.