Slow Games, Slow Poems: The Act of Deliberation in "Slow Year"

Abstract (in English): 

“Video games are actions,” declared Alexander Galloway in a manifesto that stakes out the
essential differences between videogames and other forms of expressive culture, such as
literature, photography, and cinema. But what about videogames in which action looks like
inaction? What about videogames in which action means sitting still? What about a videogame
that purports to be less a game and more a meditation—a work of literature? In this paper
I explore a prominent yet remarkably understudied example of a slow game—a game that
questions what counts as “action” in videogames. This game is A Slow Year (2010), designed
for the classic Atari 2600 console by Ian Bogost. Comprised of four separate movements
matching the four seasons, A Slow Year challenges the dominant mode of action in videogames,
encouraging what I call “acts of deliberation.” These acts of deliberation transform the core
mechanic of games from “action” (as Galloway would put it) into “experience”—and not just
any experience, but the kind of experience that Walter Benjamin identifies as Erfahrung, an
accumulation of meaningful history that stands apart from the more fleeting moments of time
in the modern age (Erlebnis) that parade themselves as experience.

An essential element of A Slow Year that facilitates its reimagining of experience is its form,
which Bogost likens to a game poem. This is a curious phrase, a compound noun with each
word carrying equal weight, not at all like the more common phrase “poetic
game,” in which the adjective serves in the name of the noun. These are not poetic games or
game-like poems. They are poems, and they are games, both at the same time. Bogost uses
the phrase to evoke a number of poetic and textual associations, but certainly one of the most
important of these is the notion that formal constraints delimit and paradoxically give way to
poetic creativity. Rhyme. Meter. Line counts. We are familiar with these formal elements, which
derive primarily from oral culture, when encountering poetry. A Slow Year asks us to consider
what new constraints arise when poetry escapes from words and rhetoric and settles into
images and processes. Bogost’s four game poems are a product of—and more meaningfully a reflection upon—constraints. The constraints inherent in the Atari VCS platform. The
constraints of games. The constraints of poetry. I argue that Bogost combines these constraints
and the triply minimalist result manages to align sound, image, and action into a coherent
whole that is playable and even winnable—yet resonates with stillness, inactivity, and

(Source: Author's abstract, 2012 ELO Conference site)

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Title Developers Year initiated
Atari 1977
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Eric Dean Rasmussen