Videogames! Aren’t they the medium of the twenty-first century? The new cinema? The apotheosis of art and entertainment, the realization of Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk? The final victory of interaction over passivity? No, probably not. Games are part art and part appliance, part tableau and part toaster. In How to Talk about Videogames, leading critic Ian Bogost explores this paradox more thoroughly than any other author to date.

Delving into popular, familiar games like Flappy Bird, Mirror’s Edge, Mario Kart, Scribblenauts, Ms. Pac-Man, FarmVille, Candy Crush Saga, Bully, Medal of Honor, Madden NFL, and more, Bogost posits that videogames are as much like appliances as they are like art and media. We don’t watch or read games like we do films and novels and paintings, nor do we perform them like we might dance or play football or Frisbee. Rather, we do something in-between with games. Games are devices we operate, so game critique is both serious cultural currency and self-parody. It is about figuring out what it means that a game works the way it does and then treating the way it works as if it were reasonable, when we know it isn’t.

Noting that the term games criticism once struck him as preposterous, Bogost observes that the idea, taken too seriously, risks balkanizing games writing from the rest of culture, severing it from the “rivers and fields” that sustain it. As essential as it is, he calls for its pursuit to unfold in this spirit: “God save us from a future of games critics, gnawing on scraps like the zombies that fester in our objects of study.”


  • Introduction: Nobody Asked for a Toaster Critic
  1. The Squalid Grace of Flappy Bird
  2. A Portrait of the Artist as a Game Studio
  3. A Way of Looking
  4. The Blue Shell Is Everything That’s Wrong with America
  5. Little Black Sambo, I’m Going to Eat You Up!
  6. Can a Gobbler Have It All?
  7. Racketeer Sports
  8. The Haute Couture of Videogames
  9. Can the Other Come Out and Play?
  10. Free Speech Is Not a Marketing Plan
  11. Shaking the Holocaust Train
  12. The Long Shot
  13. Puzzling the Sublime
  14. Work Is the Best Place to Goof Off
  15. A Trio of Artisanal Reviews
  16. What Is a Sports Videogame?
  17. The Agony of Mastery
  18. The Abyss between the Human and the Alpine
  19. Word Games Last Forever
  20. Perpetual Adolescence
  • Conclusion: Anything but Games
  • Notes


“This is Ian Bogost at his best. Keen intelligence, acid wit, and a restless desire to look beyond the surface and tease out games’ less obvious, more important meanings.”
—Frank Lantz, director, NYU Game Center

“No one else is as wide-ranging, funny, or inspiringly immune to cant or groupthink as Ian Bogost. How to Talk about Videogames is his most accessible and entertaining book yet.”
—Tom Bissell, author of Extra Lives and Apostle

“Ian Bogost can take apart a game’s design and tell you exactly what makes it work and what it means to us personally and to our game-playing society. How to Talk about Videogames has deep insights into a range of current topics. There’s a lot here to learn.”
—John Romero, veteran game creator


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