PoliticsIn this section on politics, Bogost explores the uses of computer games as agents of political representation and change. Games, because they are procedural, expose the underlying logic of political action, ideology, and metaphors.
Chapter 2: Political Processes
I would like to begin my review of the chapter on political processes with a statement made at the end of the chapter: “When we interrogate political issues as procedural systems—as the emergent outcomes of interconnected, independent rules of cultural behavior—we can gain a unique perspective on such problems” (98). Bogost offers a critique of both America's Army: Operations (a first-person shooter, military recruiting game) and A Force More Powerful (a strategy game that supports peace and group action). He argues that the rhetoric of both games divorce war and peace from very real material, social, and cultural conditions, disguising the ideological message under the procedure of gameplay. America’s Army emphasizes duty, honor, and rewards for a job well done while A Force More Powerful connects democratic governance with free-market capitalism in a fairly unproblematic way. Josh On’s Antiwargame, on the other hand, uses procedural rhetoric to “highlight the causal or associative connections between seemingly atomic issues” (82). According to Bogost, the game opposes war by linking domains, such as the government and the private economic sector, to expose how broken logic affects post-9/11 conflicts. While these games all show how politics work, or at least should work, Bogost identifies another genre of political games that use the trope of failure. Games such as Kabul Kaboom, New York Defender, and September 12th all make a point that certain types of political action will never lead to a “win.” September 12th, for example, can never end; any attempt to blow up the terrorists will perpetually create more terrorists; choosing not to blow them up means that they can run around free. Bogost ends this chapter with an exploration into political games that expose how systems work or how material conditions affect people without any end-game of their own. President Elect, for example, teaches players about campaign management. Darfur is Dying, on the other hand, teaches players about how difficult it is to be a refugee in Darfur. Both of these games are abstractions of fairly complex processes and histories; however, as Bogost argues, these games expose a cultural logic at work.
Chapter 3: Ideological Frames
Bogost’s strongest claim in this chapter is that computer games are active participants in the political realm, both affecting and being affected by the metaphorical frameworks of US political culture. He uses Lakoff and Johnson’s work Metaphors We Live By to examine the ways in which games participate in contemporary political metaphors, such as taxes-as-theft and surveillance-as-safety. He adds to Lakoff and Johnson’s work, noting that these theorists explored verbal and visual metaphors as active participates in shaping worldviews, or frames. Bogost adds procedurality as a participant in these frames. He writes of Tax Invaders, a shooting game that equates taxation with theft, that it “offers an unusual view onto the conservative frame for tax policy. In playing the game, the player is encouraged not only to reaffirm a conservative position on taxation, but also to practice using a conservative frame for that position” (108). The very act of shooting down the legislators who propose and support taxes supports not only a complicity with this worldview but an active involvement with it. Likewise, a game like Vigilance 1.0 compels the player to join a framework of “moral bookkeeping” by determining which actions are acceptable, what types of actions are comparable (five instances of littering with one instance of prostitution), and which actions show moral depravity. In his final example for this chapter, Bogost examines Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. This game is interesting because it provides the familiar moral frame of criminal behavior as depravity, yet it also offers examples of moral strength through healthy eating choices (to beat obesity) and hard work (to overcome poverty). Ultimately, this chapter succeeds in placing computer games into the semiotic landscape of politics; computer games, like words, operate within ideological frames, and it is important to examine them as serious artifacts of complex discourses.
Chapter 4: Digital Democracy
In his final chapter on politics, Bogost critiques political uses of digitized media, arguing that people rely on computerized technologies to disseminate information, which does not take advantage of procedural rhetoric’s ability to change representation (124). He offers history computer games, such as Civilization, Medieval Total War, and Zeus, as successful games that use procedural representations of history. Following this, he explores the documentary game, such as Waco Resurrection and 9/11 Survivor among others, concluding that these types of games “represent the material, social, and cultural conditions that underlie historical events” (134). It would make sense, Bogost argues, that games can provide similar insight into contemporary political events as well, at which point he turns his attention to his personal attempt at creating a contemporary political game: The Howard Dean for Iowa Game. In reflecting on the experience of collaborating on this game, Bogost acknowledges that the game succeeded in instantiating its underlying logic of grassroots organization through the procedures of sign-waving, door-to-door conversations, and pamphleteering. However, the game failed to convince Iowans to vote for Dean because the candidate’s positions were occluded—candidates were secondary to the logic of grassroots action. Voter persuasion was addressed better in Take Back Illinois, a game that fore fronted candidate positions on certain topics. Computer games, Bogost concludes in this chapter, offer an excellent opportunity to deal with the complexity of public policy because they are able to represent complex systems.