Unlimited Potential

Bogost’s article on what games are capable of is a very necessary read for a large swathe of people who want the medium to grow and for those who simply don’t understand the value, or at least use, of the medium. It also provides some actually useful delineations between different aspects of games’ varied aesthetics, and shows how each can provide vastly different functions and experiences. However, I wish he had written about some of the socially practical applications, such as simulation of disease, economic collapse, etc., although maybe that’s just in a chapter we didn’t read. Regardless, I think a lot of his ‘applications’ actually provide useful vernacular for segregating meaningful genres for games.

Although I think I, or we as a class, have discussed the failings of current game genres, it might be useful to retread a little bit of territory. Basically, most game genres delineate themselves primarily through mechanical differences, such as First Person Shooters, Platformers, Real Time Strategy, Roleplaying, and even Third Person Shooters. Interestingly, the majority of game genres refer to player tasks and progression, one of the only exceptions being the unbelievable vague ‘adventure’ genre, and even the it could be argued that it does so as well. This is in stark contrast to the rest of nearly all media, which usually delineate based off of thematic content; the main genres of other narratival media are things like tragedy, comedy, mysteries, or horror. Even though there is starting to be a shift towards classifying games based off their themes (although really only with horror), the vast majority of games are still classified by their most of obvious mechanics.

I once tried to make the argument to a group of aspiring local designers that most genres don’t really mean anything by trying to prove that Doom and Mario are functionally identical. Yes, they have different control schemes (one being in first person the other being a 2d sidescroller) and are, for the most part, tonally different, but to my mind that does not constitute a meaningful difference. Both games are about navigation through obstacles at their core, and thematically deal with effectively identical conflicts of simply overcoming those obstacles. Even beyond that, both games methods of teaching, punishing, and providing tools for the player are shockingly similar. While few people bought into my line of thinking at the time, I now have virtually incontrovertible evidence for my case, as its been proven that both games can be beaten with the same inputs. But honestly, that doesn’t mean that much if we can’t actually use that knowledge to create meaningful distinctions between these games and others or create discourse that reveals why these games are the same. Bogost’s terms could provide genres through game function, which, although perhaps not entirely pertinent to narrative games, in turn could be a necessary step for the medium to take in generating it’s own language and classification.

It’s doubtful that all the people who need to read this book have, but I think he’s provided more tools for this tiresome, but very important, discussion all the same.

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