INTERVIEW: Ian Bogost debates the terms 'casual' 'hardcore' and 'game'

Leigh Harris
INTERVIEW: Ian Bogost debates the terms 'casual' 'hardcore' and 'game'

MCV recently got to discuss the politics of language and with Professor Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech University at the Macquarie University GAME 3 Day Event.

Tell us a little bit about your perspective on the world of gaming.

I am a professor at Georgia Tech, and I direct our program for digital media of which games are a part. I also have a game studio which makes games, which has been around since 2003. We work closely in politics, education, marketing, corporate learning: a bunch of stuff that's outside of entertainment. And I also make some independent games. I'm very interested in games as a medium with general application, rather than games purely as an entertainment form.

What sort of discussion are you expecting from tonight's Politics of Play panel?

I know as much about the R18+ issue as I feel capable of knowing as a foreigner, but I haven't lived through it as a developer, as a player or as a citizen. But my impression is that the Australian government's perspective has been that games are something not capable of being an adult medium.

That's the question I'm most interested in hearing about. What are the foundations of that perspective, where does it come from, those sorts of questions.

It certainly seems like game mechanics are becoming ubiquitous. Everything from purpose-built physiotherapy game-like regiments to being rewarded for your tenth coffee purchase with a free one...

I think even within the entertainment games sector, there's also a breadth of stuff that's not just made to entertain, or at least that's an overly simplified way of looking at it. A game like Bejewelled has little in common with a game like Uncharted, but they're both games. And they're not exactly deserving of sitting under one umbrella. You'd play Solitaire or Bejewelled as a way to sort of reset your brain, sort of an exercise or a ritual. You play Uncharted as this way of going into a cinematic experience.

Even if you look at so-called traditional entertainment games, there's still a lot of diversity that we haven't acknowledged. A functional diversity exists which is yet to be clearly identified.

And the majority of quibbles arise out of confusion surrounding definitions. The term 'game' does seem to be far too liberally applied to all things. What do you think about the terms 'hardcore' and 'casual' for instance?

Well, they're not particularly useful definitions. They're appropriate in that they have been used in an historical sense, so we can use them as a shorthand because we don't have other words to use. Really, what we need when we use these distinctions is something more like 'games which strive to blockbuster entertainment' akin to the summer film versus games which are used in a different way.

So 'hardcore games' is a player-based distinction. Are you committed to games as a lifestyle? Are you a committed player? Do you consider games to be a major passtime or hobby? Do you self-identify as a game player?

That's a less useful way of looking at things than asking what kind of different games are there, and how do they help people participate in different aspects of their lives? Especially today, people will play so-called hardcore games and so-called casual games at different points in their day or their week, whether it means playing a mobile phone game on the train and then playing a AAA game at home, or whether it means participating in some kind of game-like experience that they don't even consider gameplay.

Could you give me some examples?

Well, one of the areas where I've done a lot of research is the application of games in journalism. And a set of examples that we looked at in that research was playable infographics, where you have these information systems you can manipulate. They aren't really games, but they have something in common with games in that they can be played and they can have goals and you may have to configure them in a certain way to achieve them. But they were never designed as entertainment or even as games.

So, I think the term hardcore is less useful as a category of analysis because it assumes that there are these kinds of people who have one sort of experience of games that they partake of. Whereas, in fact, all of us have a diversity of games that we partake of for different reasons at different times. And as that spreads, it starts to make less sense to even talk about gamers, because we all at some point play games for some reason, just like we all, at some point, watch television for some reason. And we wouldn't identify with the label 'tube-watcher'.

Casual / hardcore: it's kind of vestigial. It made sense at a particular time when games were undergoing an expansion out of the console and into other forms of application. But the mistake we made was preserving that split and deciding that that's a category of people.


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Tags: interview , politics , Macquarie University , Macquarie ICT Communications

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