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Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism [Hardcover]

Ian Bogost
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 10, 2006 026202599X 978-0262025997 First Edition

In Unit Operations, Ian Bogost argues that similar principles underlie both literary theory and computation, proposing a literary-technical theory that can be used to analyze particular videogames. Moreover, this approach can be applied beyond videogames: Bogost suggests that any medium--from videogames to poetry, literature, cinema, or art--can be read as a configurative system of discrete, interlocking units of meaning, and he illustrates this method of analysis with examples from all these fields. The marriage of literary theory and information technology, he argues, will help humanists take technology more seriously and hep technologists better understand software and videogames as cultural artifacts. This approach is especially useful for the comparative analysis of digital and nondigital artifacts and allows scholars from other fields who are interested in studying videogames to avoid the esoteric isolation of "game studies."The richness of Bogost's comparative approach can be seen in his discussions of works by such philosophers and theorists as Plato, Badiou, Zizek, and McLuhan, and in his analysis of numerous videogames including Pong, Half-Life, and Star Wars Galaxies. Bogost draws on object technology and complex adaptive systems theory for his method of unit analysis, underscoring the configurative aspects of a wide variety of human processes. His extended analysis of freedom in large virtual spaces examines Grand Theft Auto 3, The Legend of Zelda, Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and Joyce's Ulysses. In Unit Operations, Bogost not only offers a new methodology for videogame criticism but argues for the possibility of real collaboration between the humanities and information technology.

Editorial Reviews


"Bogost challenges humanists and technologists to pay attention to one another, something they desperately need to do as computation accelerates us into the red zones of widespread virtual reality. This book gives us what we need to meet that challenge: a general theory for understanding creativity under computation, one that will apply increasingly to all creativity in the future. Not only that, but we get an outstanding theory of videogame criticism in the mix as well. Highly recommended."--Edward Castronova, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University, author of *Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games*

About the Author

Ian Bogost is Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair in Media Studies and Professor of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a Founding Partner at Persuasive Games LLC, and the coauthor of Newsgames: Journalism at Play (MIT Press, 2010).

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 243 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; First Edition edition (March 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 026202599X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262025997
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 7.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,493,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Ian Bogost is an award-winning designer and media philosopher whose work focuses on videogames and computational media. He is Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair of Media Studies and Professor of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Founding Partner at Persuasive Games LLC. His research and writing considers videogames as an expressive medium, and his creative practice focuses on political games and artgames.

Bogost is author or co-author of Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, Newsgames: Journalism at Play, How To Do Things with Videogames, Alien Phenomenology, or What it's Like to Be a Thing, and 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. He is a popular academic and industry speaker and considered an influential thinker and doer in both the game industry and research community.

Bogost's videogames about social and political issues cover topics as varied as airport security, consumer debt, disaffected workers, the petroleum industry, suburban errands, pandemic flu, and tort reform. His games have been played by millions of people and exhibited internationally at venues including the Telfair Museum of Art (Savannah), the Laboral Centro de Arte (Madrid), Fournos Centre for Digital Culture (Athens), Eyebeam Center (New York), Slamdance Guerilla Game Festival (Park City), the Israeli Center for Digital Art (Holon) and The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Melbourne).

His recent independent games include Cow Clicker, a Facebook game send-up of Facebook games, and A Slow Year, a collection of videogame poems for Atari VCS, Windows, and Mac, and winner of the Vanguard and Virtuoso awards at the 2010 Indiecade Festival.

Bogost holds a Bachelors degree in Philosophy and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a Masters and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from UCLA. He lives in Atlanta.

Customer Reviews

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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Criticism and Computation September 4, 2008
Bogost's begins with a promising venture into the video game territory. This time we are promised that video games are distinguished from books and films, and that the "ludology" of video games is recognized as an independent field. Bogost uses philosophy in order to accomplish this mission. Although when it comes to critical arguments, Bogost's approach is mainly Badiousian, he sets forth a rich array of classical and contemporary philosophies, from Plato to Spinoza, Deleuze, and Harman. I have this feeling that at some point Bogost emphasizes too much on the narrative and cultural aspects of video games and therefore, his project falls into the same category of mainstream cultural critiques of video games. But there are sections which penetrate right into the structure of games and their architecture. In these sections, Bogost uses a heavy deal of Badiou's axiomatic set theory to back up his theory of unit operations. This is not essentially a negative point but he could develop a genuine theory of his own and eliminate the risk of associating video games with philosophy which for the most part has the same restricting role of literature (the narrative) and cinema (the filmic) for video games. Overall, Unit Operations is a rich and an insightful book, but falls short in some of its ambitions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrifyingly Erudite, Immensely Useful July 9, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is how interdisciplinarity is done: Bogost weaves Madame Bovary, Grand Theft Auto, cellular automata and Deleuze together into a powerful theory cutting through the my-piece-of-the-elephant scholarship which dominates games studies.

If you have a particular need to feel uncultured and slow witted, this is definitely a 5 star recommendation: it's terrifyingly erudite while being, if not a stroll in the park, at least a manageable uphill hike through difficult terrain.
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3 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly misleading June 24, 2011
By Labouts
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book isn't what it sounds like at first glance. It is a view of video games from a literary criticism perceptive. Don't buy this if your interested in game design if you don't also have a passion for literary criticism.
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19 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Criticism Reloaded March 28, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Unit Operations is every bit as brilliant - and damn fun a read - as those of us lucky enough to've had early glimpses at Bogost's project had hoped.

It's tempting to write a review of this book in the form of a treatment for a mega-million-dollar console game, and that temptation seems to me no accident: this book will change the way you pay attention to ALL, in both senses of the word, coded systems you yourself use.

The backstory of the book's authoring is itself almost too Hollywood (or new Hollywood, since EA, Blizzard, and LucasArts are the MGM, WB, and Disney of our era): author was a Chief Technology Officer for an A-list interactive marketing agency in L.A.; author leaves the biz to become a professor working on recombining the DNA (and languages and ontologies) of software development with the DNA (and languages and ontologies) of literary and cultural criticism; his mutant creation is now on the loose.

Your mission, reader, is to...

To what? Because in the game of Unit Operations, the first-person shooter is transformed into something of an Eleatic archer: where before our attention would just race to the next target, Unit Operations teaches us new ways to listen to the Bow.

The open-source software movement has from its beginning been particularly well-attuned to games with written language's units of operation. Unit Operations provides a long-awaited common ground for both technological and literary culture.

Not since first reading Geertz' Interpretation of Cultures have I had the sense of encountering so path-breaking a work in the level of its critical innovation and the clarity of its readings.
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3 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've Become... Smarter December 31, 2006
A bulging boutique of bottom-up beats bearing from baroque battles to bogus babalities.
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