Understanding Video Games text-book
Review of Unit Operations: An approach to videogame criticism

Date posted: July 5, 2006
Updated: Oct 24, 2006

By Christothea Herodotou


Due to a lack of a strong tradition of literature in the area of videogames, most of the books I’ve come across leave me wondering what the other side of the ďcoinĒ is. Bogostís approach to videogame criticism, by gathering vital issues raised in the domain of videogames and by presenting them through a strong argumentation, manages to cultivate a multifaceted perspective affording and encouraging critical reading.

Since there is not yet a consistent language for speaking about games or a discrete field of game studies, Bogost draws from a variety of disciplines to construct a versatile approach to videogames. The result of this attempt is noteworthy account of videogames as a cultural artefact of the 21st century. Central in his approach is unit operationsí functionality - an arrangement of discrete interlocking units of expressive meaning. Bogostís claim is that videogames, like any other medium, can be read as an example of unit operations. Each chapter thrives from a range of philosophical underpinnings from humanities to technological lodgements in order to develop a strong argument for the use of unit operations. For Bogost, unit analysis is the missing link in the study of videogames. It is the link that can consolidate different fields leading to game studies evolvement.

Bogostís continual argumentation along with his innovative approach to videogame criticism allows for critical reading and questioning within the area of videogames. Reading this particular book becomes that kind of game in which the more the reader gets familiar with Bogostís way of thinking, the more s/he engages in it and deepens his/her understanding. In the beginning however, the reading process may not be so pleasant or easily managed - especially if the reader does not master or at least is aware of the basic philosophical underpinnings deployed in the text. This initial dissonance disappears as long as the reader proceeds to following chapters.

As far as the content is concerned, in the initial chapters the emergence of the term unit operations is described. Additionally, several examples (especially from philosophy) are drawn upon in order to clearly explain the functionality of unit operations. In the second part of the book the discussion is focused on videogames, their commonalities with other mediums and the discursive nature of unit operations. The third part of the book is an attempt for presenting unit operations from the perspective of cellular automata and a detailed discussion of simulations. At the final part of the book, Bogostís suggests the creation of a unit operational academy for the formation of unit operations for literature, computer science and other domains.

Overall Bogostís book is an unconventional piece of writing in the domain of games. Without any intention of exaggeration, it is worth reading not only for those only interested in game studies per se but also for those involved in many other disciplines since certain aspects from the richness of the content may well be broadly appealing.

Links to other reviews (inserted by editors):
- Gameology
- Jorisdormans.com

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