Reading Note 4

1. Summarize the arguments made in the paper re the main question posed (You know the one that is the title of the article..)

Poremba and Bogost’s “Can Games Get Real?” discusses the categorization of “documentary games.” The essay begins with an introduction of the relatively new genre as one that uses real people, places, and subjects. It goes on to further question what exactly is a documentary game. It asks whether there is a relationship between these games and its namesake media genre. The authors do not accept or reject the title initially, but mention that the name has been given by professionals in the field themselves.

The authors then elaborate on the traditional documentary genre, mentioning that documentary implies the visual grammar of film and photography, and may serve as excess baggage for games. This leads to a transition about transparency. The essay argues that while in documentary films, there is a definitive moment of transparency, in digital media/games transparency exists by running code or by depicting processes, citing the example of JFK Reloaded.

The essay further asks if it is appropriate for the game genre to hijack the nearest existing genre to name itself. Definitions of documentary are mentioned, often reiterating the authenticity and actuality of the genre. The analysis of these definitions leads to the overlap between the discussed definitions and the game genre, stating that documentary games deal in real virtualities instead of limited specific instances. The essay goes on to discuss various facets of games such as realism, and aspects of film theory such as profilmic and afilmic elements. It further discusses these elements in non-filmic media, such as simulations. The authors claim that audiences view documentary to either learn new things or to reinforce that which they already know to gain insight or confirmation. Then the essay takes a different direction discussing the hypermediation of digital media, and the positive effects of the inclusion of media artifacts.

The essay then discusses the expectations audiences should have regarding this genre, including an established documentary quality. The essay outlines the following terms: procedural, interactive, reflexive, generative, poetic. These serve as categories for locating existing works in the genre. The authors go on to discuss the use of this model to evolve new opportunities for these games including a discussion of sports documentary.

The essay concludes by demanding the genre to define its own characteristics.

  1. PlaySuper Columbine Massacre RPG!AND one of the short games listed below, then describe each game’s polemical point of view. Specifically how the game designers positioned the player’s role to make an effective point.


Could not play Super Columbine Massacre RPG! and also did not want to due to its violent nature.


Real Women Have Hair

This game was the first DMA work I was exposed to while I was in high school, and its witty and quirky commentary made me initially interested in the program. The positioning of the player as the remover of the woman’s hair is an extremely effective choice because it forces the player to not only deal with the physical aspect of hair removal but also subtly questions whether the tedious process is even fruitful. The commentary, therefore, is well designed and eloquently makes a statement about society’s expectations of women and the experience of women themselves. The game could have easily positioned the players as the women herself, but by making them outside agents who have to remove the hair, this commentary is much more fulfilling.


Perfect Woman

This game was also extremely well designed and took a firm polemical stance. The aesthetics of the game and the video’s editing itself all worked in conjunction to provide a “perfect” feel to the game, which, in light of the game’s message, worked extremely well from a design point of view. This game took an interesting approach to making its point regarding the societal and self-inflicted pressure on women to be a one-dimensional vision of perfection. By making the players copy poses of the women displayed, the game forces players to think about their own daily mimicking in real life. The positioning of the players is especially effective in this sense because the players then have to think about their own interactions with this pressure, and think about how they are trying to follow the life models on their idols in real life.


  1. You’ve played some “polemical games” – whats is your opinion of the potential (or lack there of) of games as a medium for expression a point of view? does this “get in the way of the fun” ? is it possible/helpful to play and be critical at the same time?

I think it is very possible and indeed helpful to engage with polemical games because you are able to play and be critical at the same time. While I do not enjoy many specific genres within this broader categorization of games, I thoroughly enjoy playing polemical games within genres I am interested in exploring. Thus, these games serve as an entertaining avenue to comment on various experiences that people have gone through or are going through or will go through. It opens a plethora of methods to explore the human experience.

  1. How do you see the relationship between “documentary game” and “documentary film” ? what are the limitations / advantages of each medium in this context?

I think that the essay analyzed the relationship to an unnecessary degree. For me it is obvious that the documentary game is borrowing the word “documentary” from film but has evolved it to mean something specific to its own conventions. I don’t think a name or a categorization provides any limitations for either medium because there is no governing body which will punish either medium for deviating from already existing definitions. Essentially, I think the argument is rather excessive and that both game designers and filmmakers are allowed to use, bend, stretch, and abandon already existing conventions of their respective genres however they wish. Artists and creatives in general should be free to explore their work without any restrictions. The definitions of the genres will be modified according to the work produced, not the other way around.