Unit Operations
An Approach to Videogame Criticism

A book about comparative videogame criticism: games, philosophy, literature, and art.

In Unit Operations, I offer a new methodology for videogame criticism as well as a model for potential collaboration between the humanities and computation. I argue that similar principles underlie both literary theory and computation, and I suggest a literary-technical approach that can be used to analyze videogames and other software artifacts. Moreover, this approach can be applied beyond videogames: I suggest that any medium--from videogames to poetry, literature, cinema, or art--can be read as a configurative system of discrete, interlocking units of meaning (as unit operations), and I illustrate this method of analysis with examples from all these fields. The marriage of literary theory and computation, I argue, helps humanists take technology more seriously and help technologists better understand software and videogames as cultural artifacts.

Other themes covered include object technology, psychoanalysis, complex network theory, ludology and narratology, the question of "fun" in videogames, and the challenges of videogame study in the contemporary university.

Works discussed from philosophy include those by Plato, Badiou, Benjamin, Heidegger, Zizek, Derrida, Deleuze, Spinoza, Leibniz; from media theory including McLuhan, Bolter, Kittler, Landow, Manovich, Muray, Postman; from videogames including PONG, Half-Life, The Sims, Star Wars Galaxies, Grand Theft Auto, The Legend of Zelda, SimCity, Tetris; from literature including Baudelaire, Apollinaire, Artaud, Bukowski, Flaubert, Joyce; from film including Spielberg, Jeunet; from science including Wolfram, Barabasi, Dawkins, Gell-Man, Granovetter and many others in all these domains.

The table of contents and sample chapters are available on my publisher's site.

"Bogost challenges humanists and technologists to pay attention to one another, something they desperately need to do as computation accelerates us into the red zones of widespread virtual reality. This book gives us what we need to meet that challenge: a general theory for understanding creativity under computation, one that will apply increasingly to all creativity in the future. Not only that, but we get an outstanding theory of videogame criticism in the mix as well. Highly recommended."
Edward Castronova
Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University
author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games

"Unit Operations is a major milestone on the path to establishing a framework for analyzing videogames as important cultural artifacts of our time. Proposing a comparative approach to videogame criticism that is equally relevant for humanists and technologists, Ian Bogost weaves philosophy, psychoanalysis, literature, film, media theory, informatics, software, and videogames into a narrative that reveals how these seemingly disparate fields relate to and inform each other. Unit operations--discrete, programmatic units of meaning--are used as the conceptual tool for unpacking complex relationships between different worlds: criticism and computation, genetics and complex adaptive systems, and narrative spaces from Casablanca and Half-Life to Ulysses and Grand Theft Auto."

Christiane Paul
Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts
Whitney Museum of American Art

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