lowbrowculture

collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

Everything Bad is Good for You

I’m almost finished moving to my new apartment. It’s not quite time to crack open a beer and relax, but almost. In the meantime, I’ve taken my pastimes out of their temporary hiatus and once again started playing games (the beautiful, memorable Cruise for a Corpse via the wonders of Dosbox) and reading (Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You). Although I’ll probably end up writing something about Cruise for a Corpse later, I’ve got a couple of things I’d like to say about Everything Bad is Good for You.

The last book I read before the move was Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City, a book about the theory of town planning. Most of that book is spent teaching us new ways to look at cities and helping us develop a new vocabulary for describing cities and town planning - most memorably, it introduces the idea of a city’s imageability. Dan Hill took this concept and applied it to videogames in his amazing essay Los Angeles: Grand Theft Reality - I would encourage everyone to read this, regardless of whether or not you are interested in videogames.

Stephen Johnson does something similar in Everything Bad is Good for You (EBIGFY). Like Lynch, Johnson also tries to teach us to look at videogames in a new way and give us the vocabulary to describe video game concepts. Johnson accurately and eloquently sums up the positive aspects of videogames beyond the oft-repeated “improves hand/eye co-ordination” nonsense, such as teaching us the art of making sense of chaos in order to achieve a game’s objectives (he calls this practice “telescoping”). He also describes, on a physiological level, why we enjoy playing games in spite of the fact that they tend to frustrate us for 90% of the time.

Although his section on videogames is barely 35 pages long, it provides a more succinct and lucid essay about the merits of video games than I’ve yet seen from actual videogame commentators.