IGDA Education Summit: Bogost Delivers 'Lovely' Keynote

Ian Bogost of Persuasive Games and Georgia Tech opened day two of the IGDA Education Summit at GDC with a keynote speech on games, academia, and 'love' in the truest (and who are we kidding -- sometimes terrifying) sense of the word.
The word “love” carries so many subtexts and associations. Love-hate relationships. Love and marriage. Fear of commitment. Ian Bogost believes the word should be used to describe video game development education: love between ideas and computation. He’s mostly serious, too. He said as much on day two of the IGDA Education Summit at the 2008 GDC in his keynote address. Bogost is one of the founders of small game development company called Persuasive Games, as well as a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. He’s a frequent speaker at conferences in the game development community, usually representing the academic and research side of things. His Tuesday morning speech sought to reconcile a commonly misused or abused word in the educational sphere, namely, “interdisciplinary.” Bogost’s message was that video game development is something deeper than a series of interdisciplinary studies. Using words like “love” and “marriage” instead of “interdisciplinary” or “cross-disciplinary” preserves the sense that uncertainty still exists between the partners. “The point of marriage is not to make a commitment when we’re certain, but kind of the opposite: to make a commitment when we’re not certain,” he said. “This idea of risking failure when you try to succeed at love suggests how beautiful and messy marriage is.” It’s hard to shake the sense that video game development is interdisciplinary because it merges distinct and established areas of expertise, such as art, graphic art, animation, computer programming, computer engineering, music, and a host of other disciplines toward one common goal. But Bogost noted in his talk that the first step in making sense of video game scholarship is seeing it as a new and whole discipline unto itself. “By virtue of being a new discipline,” Bogost said, “it’s defining its boundaries” and figuring out which pieces fit into its whole. But indeed, it is a whole, and not a cobbling of parts. “What we are doing here is the epitome of interdisciplinary … but what we end up doing more often than not is silo-ing off those activities,” he said as a point of caution. The idea of taking many ideas and influences and outputting one complete whole is not new to video games. Bogost noted that one of Will Wright’s strengths as a game designer is his ability to pursue his interests, usually through reading, and then amalgamate the information and inspiration into a totally new game. These influences (take for example the book Gaia, which inspired a few of Wright’s games) inform the new thing without directly defining it or constraining it. As a medium, said Bogost, video games can be seen along a continuum between “high art” and “tool.” But when asking himself whether game developers should feel obligated to fill every expanse of that continuum, Bogost said he certainly doesn’t. However, developers, as well as educators and students, should recognize that a complete continuum exists, and that it is not currently filled in completely. They should recognize just how much is not yet being done but is possible. “This medium is much bigger than we know how to treat it yet,” he said. “We need to recognize that we are stewards of the relationships … more matchmakers than pedagogues.” The IGDA Education Summit, a two-day conference dedicated to teaching and academic issues in video game development, was held during the first two days of GDC (Feb. 18 and 19). The IGDA, which runs the summit, is a member-based non-profit organization that encourages community among and between game developers, educators, and students.

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