Monday, January 23, 2012

Watch Me Work: Travel Games

It occurs to me that the "copy and paste" reading notes method that I've used previously is a nice way to do a blog post with minimal effort. Depending on how interesting the things I read turn out, I might make it a regular thing. For now, here's my summary and thoughts of Chapter 6: Transit in Ian Bogost's "How to Do Things with Games":

Bogost argues that videogames potentially address the lost experience of travel elided by modern transportation technology. He starts by establishing the pattern: with the widespread adoption of the train, spatial travel lost its “aura,” and emphasized the separation from the outside world, and the experience of being between two points. The solution then was to replace the experience with surrogate experience, in the form of travel books and panoramas. Now, we have the same travel loss thanks to planes and automobiles, and Bogost argues that the new surrogate is videogames. Games require continuous movment and experience, demanding the player acts (GTA). As they play, they get a sense of how the space between points functions (Animal Crossing). More than just random local wandering, they allow an experience of the unknown, an aspect of exploring that players come to understand by traveling through. (Final example: Train Simulator.)

I really liked this one. It addresses the spatial aspect and value of videogames quite nicely. He could have gone further into the exploration aspect—it certainly gets some attention when people talk about the imperial side of gameplay, and there is an aspect not just of inhabitation but domination in how players are conditioned to respond to game space. And the notion of the autotravel changes things as well; you travel there once, and then you never go that route again. It means never quite experiencing the same organic connection as the Animal Crossing example—you don’t know that character x wanders down this path every day, because you don’t cross it yourself ever. But it does preserve that initial discovery sense. Likewise, the automap really captures that exploration process, as you get a visual rendition of your exploratory efforts. It feels much more participatory than games that come with a map that you just travel around. And again, there’s some form of visual dominance at play. I like the medial connections he’s drawing, as we don’t often think of transportation as a medium, but it should be considered one. Further, I think there’s an irony that he doesn’t address; thanks to mobile games, they don’t just offer surrogate experiences of spatial exploration, they detract from it, somewhat. Admittedly, he doesn’t address it because he’s talking about positive sides of gaming, but it’s still an issue. You can’t discuss travel and exploration without discussing escapism. This is a nice easy topic to put to a wide application—essentially any game that involves extensive travel can be thought of in these terms.

You know it's a productive essay to think with when the commentary is longer than the summary. It's a good book; please don't recall it on me.

Later Days.

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