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Experimental Games

Critique, Play, and Design in the Age of Gamification

Experimental Games

Critique, Play, and Design in the Age of Gamification

In our unprecedentedly networked world, games have come to occupy an important space in many of our everyday lives. Digital games alone engage an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide as of 2020, and other forms of gaming, such as board games, role playing, escape rooms, and puzzles, command an ever-expanding audience. At the same time, “gamification”—the application of game mechanics to traditionally nongame spheres, such as personal health and fitness, shopping, habit tracking, and more—has imposed unprecedented levels of competition, repetition, and quantification on daily life.
Drawing from his own experience as a game designer, Patrick Jagoda argues that games need not be synonymous with gamification. He studies experimental games that intervene in the neoliberal project from the inside out, examining a broad variety of mainstream and independent games, including StarCraft, Candy Crush Saga, Stardew Valley, Dys4ia, Braid, and Undertale. Beyond a diagnosis of gamification, Jagoda imagines ways that games can be experimental—not only in the sense of problem solving, but also the more nuanced notion of problem making that embraces the complexities of our digital present. The result is a game-changing book on the sociopolitical potential of this form of mass entertainment.

320 pages | 46 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Art: Art Criticism

Film Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Media Studies


"Jagoda’s lengthy history of game theory, neoliberalism, and the evolution of the video game form results in a kind of conundrum: if video games arise out of an alienating neoliberal logic, how can they also serve as a method of critique and experimentation? It’s here that Jagoda produces some of his most dazzling and thoughtful analyses of the ways in which games can work on us, and in which we can reciprocally work on games."

Andrew Fleshman | Los Angeles Review of Books

"Over the past decade, the work of media theorist, literary scholar, and game designer Patrick Jagoda has addressed digital games in this fashion: as media entangled with the aesthetic, epistemic, and socioeconomic structures of our historical present. . . . Jagoda’s oeuvre explores the game’s multivalent manifestations and connotations. In doing so, he furnishes a language for engaging games as means of both intensifying and intervening in power relations. Experimental Games marks an accomplished synthesis of his interdisciplinary practice that marries the critical and creative."

Doug Stark | Qui Parle

“The dialectical tension between game and world, the uncanny way in which games interplay with our material reality, is the driving engine of Jagoda’s capacious book, which contextualizes video games within the twin historical developments of cold war ideology and neoliberal economics. . . . Jagoda provides exemplary close readings of specific game forms, focusing extensively on twenty-first-century games, which I found to be one of the most significant contributions of the book to game studies. Providing critical analyses of contemporary video games, both mainstream and obscure, gives the reader a wonderful inventory of objects to explore further.”

Matthew N. Hannah | American Literary History

“Jagoda's Experimental Games is a thorough, insightful elaboration of an art-critical practice that he describes as a 'joyful study' of digital games in the twenty-first century. . . . Jagoda convincingly makes the case for games as inside agents in our historical present, offering alternative pathways to the stifling control and abject precarity of contemporary life.”

Eric Stein | Ancillary Review of Books

"Experimental Games is an accessible, potent, humanistic analysis of games and gamification processes as sociopolitical phenomena rooted in the character-building project of daily life. As games, gamification mechanics, and neoliberalism continue to see contemporary growth, Jagoda’s exploration of their foundations and connections will be an important touchstone for further philosophical analysis."

A. G. Holdier | Metascience

“Experimental art is obsessed with unfamiliarity of form and execution. For the most part, that’s also how game designers have envisioned ‘experimental games.’ Jagoda offers an ingenious new interpretation: What if games could become native hosts for experimentation the way scientific experiment does—posing questions about the world through games—rather than using them as aesthetic objects or instruments alone?”

Ian Bogost, Georgia Institute of Technology

Experimental Games brings together three primary areas of thinking: economics, affect theory, and game studies. Jagoda successfully argues that games in general, but primarily digital video games, ought to be considered as experimental objects and processes in their own right, relevant but not beholden to the usual discourses on the value of trial and error. This is original, nuanced, and well-researched work, noteworthy in its ability to join social science, art, and the humanities in an equally weighted conversation.”

Alenda Y. Chang, University of California, Santa Barbara

“Do we have a right to play? How about a right to fail? In this extensive meditation on the art of games, Jagoda shows how games are intricately intertwined with the logic of neoliberalism and the gamification of everyday life. From Starcraft to Dys4ia by way of Dwarf Fortress, Jagoda toys with a rich spectrum of games, paying particular attention to indie games and art games. What if the point of a game is not so much problem solving, but problem making?

Alexander R. Galloway, author of Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture

"This book is an important foundational text in the field of gamification, as it not only considers video games from a neoliberal point of view, but also does not forget its fundamental duality: ' games have experimental affordances that create alternate ways of being and acting.'"

MEDIENwissenschaft (translated from German)

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Prologue: Game Experiments

Part I Framework

Introduction: Society of the Game
1 Gamification
2 Experimentation

Part II Concepts

3 Choice
4 Control
5 Difficulty
6 Failure

Part III Design

7 Improvisation
Coda: Joy

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