“Video games” is a phrase that carries a lot of connotations. For some, it signifies a passionate hobby and a way of escaping from the mundane stresses of the real world. For others, it’s just what keeps the smelly guy across the hall up until dawn every night. For much of the world, though, games are still passed over as nothing more than child’s play and adolescent toys.
One Tech professor is trying to change that, though, and his efforts recently gained recognition from an unlikely source: Playboy magazine.
Ian Bogost, an associate professor in the School of Literature, Communication and Culture, was featured in the Oct. issue of Playboy in the Playboy Honor Roll, which honors 20 professors across the country who are “reinventing the classroom.” Bogost, whose work focuses on how games can be used as more than just entertaining toys, was dubbed the “Indie Gamer” as part of the magazine’s annual college issue.
Bogost was not aware of the honor until after he was named.
“Playboy contacted me after I had been chosen. I’m not sure how the process works exactly, but one day I woke up to an email in my inbox from Playboy. That was a surprise to be sure,” Bogost said.
This is not the first time Bogost’s work has been featured by the mainstream media, though. His work has been featured in several newspapers and magazines like Wired, Scientific American and the The New York Times, and Bogost has appeared as a guest on several television and radio shows, like The Colbert Report and NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Bogost was one of 20 names picked from a list of around 200 writers, academics and contributors to the Playboy Forum.
“Ian Bogost is a true visionary,” said Josh Schollmeyer, a Playboy senior editor. “Video games are no longer considered mindless entertainment in large part because of his thinking on the subject. To wit: He has proved that they can be as useful to learning as text books and as fundamental to conveying the day’s news as the editorial cartoon.”
While the article focused on each honoree’s research, that was just one of the dimensions candidates were judged against. Playboy also took into account each professor’s relationship with policy, society, the classroom and his or her field.
“We attempted to choose professors who scored highly in all four areas,” said Steve Mazeika, Playboy junior publicist.
Bogost says this reflects how a professor’s research and teaching are no longer separate arenas.
“[M]y sense of the future of the classroom is that it is a lot more connected to research anyway. Students are less interested in old, stodgy disciplines than they are in specific questions and problems,” Bogost said.
He enjoys work in academically unexplored territory.
“The wonderful thing about working in a developing field such as video games is that I’m constantly coming up with ideas I’m sure haven’t been fully explored yet,” Bogost said.
As an example, he listed one of his upcoming books, Newsgames. The book is a joint effort between Bogost and two of his Ph.D. students about how games have been and can be used in journalism.
“The idea of using videogames for journalistic purposes is just one example of the many untapped potentials of the medium. There are lots more,” Bogost said.
In addition to writing about games, Bogost often gets his hands dirty and develops them, too. He is one of the founding partners of Persuasive Games, a studio that, according to a statement on Bogost’s site, creates games that “influence players to take action through gameplay.” Playboy highlighted the game Killer Flu, one of the studio’s recent games that shows how quickly the flu can mutate and spread. The feature said that Bogost’s games “play more like wry documentaries than Grand Theft Auto.”
As for what Bogost is working on at the moment, he has just started working on a new authoring system that allows people to make editorial games. He also has two new books in the works, How to Do Things with Video Games (which looks at the ways games are being used to do new things) and Alien Phenomenology (which looks at the different ways something can be perceived).
Oddly enough, mainstream articles like these help Bogost examine his research’s impact on the public.
“I consider this work completely integral to my academic life. It’s my goal that my scholarly work help people understand their world, and so mass market media coverage helps gauge some of that success,” Bogost said.