Ian Bogost is a videogame researcher, critic, and designer, as well as an author and an entrepreneur. Bogost holds the position of an associate professor at Georgia Tech University, and is founding partner of Persuasive Games. He holds a PhD in comparative literature from UCLA, and worked as a media designer and consultant while pursing his undergraduate degree. Important works by Bogost include Unit Operations and Persuasive Games.
Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism Edit
In this book, Bogost lays the foundation for an idea he will expand on with more fruition in his later book, Persuasive Games: comparative procedural criticism (ix). In Unit Operations, Bogost sets out the explore the "nature of relationships between computation, literature, and philosophy" and argues that "similar principles underlie both contemporary literary analysis and computation" (ix). His training as a Comparative Literary scholar comes across clearly, particularly as he suggests that all mediums, whether film, poetry, song, video games, can be read as "a configurative system, an arrangement of discrete interlocking units of expressive meaning" which Bogost dubs unit operations. "Unit operations are modes of meaning-making that privilege discrete, disconnected actions over deterministic, progressive systems [...] represent a shift away from system operations, although neither strategy is permanently detached from the other" (3). The literary analog for unit vs. system is that "unit operations interpret networks of discrete readings; system operations interpret singular literary authority" (3).
For Bogost, unit operations are a way of bridging the literature-theory/technology divide: "I am specifically interested in the intersection between criticism and computation; in particular, I am concerned with videogames as a type of configurative or procedural artifact, one built up from units of tightly encapsulated meaning" (xii).
In Bogost's explanation, units are "a material element, a thing" and "aggregates of these units, such as works of literature, human conditions, anatomies, and economies can properly be called systems" (5). The concern with simply working in systems, however, is that system operations are "totalizing structures that seek to explicate a phenomenon, behavior, or state in its entirety" (6). In Bogost's estimate, Heidegger's Enframing constitutes a totalizing system. An operation is "a basic process that takes one or more inputs and performs a transformation on it. An operation is the means by which something executes some purposeful action" (7).
Bogost's theoretical and philosophical lineage here is, unfortunately, excessively cumbersome, going through onerous and decontextualized formulations of Liebniz, Spinoza, Badiou, Deleuze, the count-as-one, etc. The extensive lit review seems to overshoot itself and distract for the value of understanding comparative procedural analysis. For Bogost, unit operations are clearest in the mode of example--as informing a "practice of criticism through the discovery and exposition of unit operations at work in one or many source texts" (15). His example of The Terminal, while not illuminating, works to show how thinking in terms of discrete meaning units and functions, rather than settings, genres, mediums, etc. Unit operations becomes an uber-critical mode.
The curious concern here, is whether or not unit operations have a politics (or, since all devices must, technological, conceptual or otherwise, what that politics excludes and includes). Curiously lacking for "unit analysis" is any capacity to tend to traditional identity categories--sex, gender, race, class, ethnicity, etc. This is quite apparent in Bogost's rather cheery reading or the Sims as a game that presents social challenge and offers the opportunity to question social norms in a "low-consequence environment" (88). In this sense, issues of gender, wealth accumulation and sexual agency are liquidated to a stock read of time as resource and the experience of the crowd.