Bogost and Unit Operations

Rather than attempt to talk about what Ian Bogost’s unit operations through the examples given in his introduction and excerpts which we read in class, I am going to attempt to use his ideas to discuss a common tool in video games and what this operation does for the games which incorporate it.

Two universal pieces which interact in traditional literature are the speaker and the audience.  Whether the narrator is third person, second person, or first person, the author creates an entity who tells the story occurring.  The audience is the reader, the person consuming and interacting with the story.  This is typically understood to be something which exists across the different storytelling mediums.  Games, however, have a slight difference where this is concerned.  The creators must tackle the difficulty of providing a story in instances where they cannot possibly create every permutation of experiences they want to offer their audience (the player).

One common way of overcoming this is through the Silent Hero.  I will define the Silent Hero as such: the main protagonist of the story, whose personal appearance, voice, and decisions are not assumed beforehand but are given over to the control of the audience (the player).  The author through this removes many barriers to the audience taking the identity of this character.  Whatever story may be underlying this character, by giving the player control over his/her actions and behavior the game may afterward get on to what it is trying to do: create a hero.  The operation in this context is that of overcoming/embracing circumstances to become a hero.  The story becomes one unit and the audience the other.  By interacting across the (often purposefully) unfocused character, the audience is able to be taught they can change the world and have an effect on the outcome of the story (their life).

This is not restricted to video games, however.  Some poetry makes use of a similar operation implicitly in its reading by using “I” or “you” when describing the events and emotions.  While the direction is not the same (to affirm efficacy), the poetic use similarly allows the author to turn the audience into the speaker, and therefore empower them to experience the narrative.  The main difference here is that the narrative is often fixed and short.  Because of the idiosyncrasies of playing a game, length and linearity are no longer necessary for a reader to identify with and assume the identity of a character in the story.

In conclusion, I believe that this notion of a Silent Hero allows us to understand how players of games from Mario to Mass Effect can describe their actions and accomplishments in the first person- even if describing an in world action (e.g. “I just beat Bowser!” or “I saw one of those giant spiders and ran the other way!”).  This is comparable to similar trends in author-speaker-audience interactions in other mediums, but has its own distinct effect due to the nature of games as a medium of action.  This is my example of how Bogost’s unit operations could be used to explore trends and better understand the medium of video games.



Bogost and Bukowski

First of all I want to start by nerding out over the fact that Bogost’s chapter “Encounters across Platforms” had one of Charles Bukowski’s poems in it, since he is my favorite poet probably of all time.

Second, I liked that Bogost used different examples to help flesh out his points. I’ll work backwards a bit and start with The Sims: Hot Date example since I think it is most relevant to the age group of our class. After explaining his opinion of the game as a parody of consumerism, Bogost says that the chance encounter in the game is the unit of operation. The fact that every time your Sim visits the place of dating (whether it be a restaurant, park, etc.) they could meet someone different; the Sims they meet are there purely by chance. He also says that the game allows interactivity whereas literary mediums do not. In the game, although it is a chance encounter, there are a finite number of situations since it is a simulation, as opposed to the infinite number of interactions that could happen in real life. For example, there is no command to tell your Sim to “watch other Sim walk away.” Because of this, the game allows for the freedom of the player to use their imagination and fill in parts of the narrative that they are conducting in the game. Same goes for the reason you might be able to select a topic to discuss with another Sim, but you cannot hear exactly what they are saying.  With Bukowski’s poem “A woman on the street,” Bogost is showing not only the chance encounter but also interacting with it and accepting it. Bukowski sees a woman on the street in a chance encounter and immediately thinks of her shoes in his room, perhaps on the floor as if she lived with him. By just the image of her, he creates an imaginary situation where he seems to know her intimately enough to say that just her shoes would light his room. He is fantasizing something due to the chance encounter, which makes it into a unit of operation between the poet and the figure that fascinates. Although the lines aren’t meant to be read in this order, I read them as “like all things / that make a difference. / she walks away” which I love because it emphasizes Bukowski’s acceptance of the chance encounter. Although he has given life to her through meeting her and imagining what some sort of life near her would be like, he simply states that she has made a difference, and then she walks away. It is honest and short and gives a poetic interpretation of beauty to the chance encounter.


To be graded hard:

lara croft