Ian Bogost has been named the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor at Washington University in St. Louis. A lecture and reception to celebrate his appointment were held March 29 in Ridgley Hall’s Holmes Lounge.
A scholar, critic and award-winning game designer, Bogost joined the WashU faculty in 2021 as a professor and director of film and media studies in Arts & Sciences and a professor of computer science and engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering. He is the author or co-author of 10 books and a contributing editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about science, technology, design and culture.
Bogost’s distinguished professorship was established with a commitment from Barbara and David Thomas and in conjunction with the McKelvey Challenge as part of the program’s effort to encourage professorships that combine engineering with other disciplines. A WashU alumna, Barbara Schaps Thomas (AB ’76) spent nearly three decades at HBO, where she served as senior vice president and chief financial officer of HBO Sports. David Thomas is a co-founder of The Leitner Thomas Group, a business management firm based in New York.
“Barbara, it’s great to be here with you to celebrate. Thank you for all that you’ve done to support our mission at Washington University,” said Chancellor Andrew D. Martin, who formally presented the professorship medallion. “Ian, your scholarship and creativity speak to academic programs across the Danforth Campus. It is my honor to present you with the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professorship.”
“Ian has a talent for making complex ideas compelling and accessible,” said Feng Sheng Hu, dean of Arts & Sciences and the Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor. “His work blends a wide range of passions and disciplines with humor, energy and sharp cultural insight — and is playing a pivotal role in building new bridges between Arts & Sciences, McKelvey Engineering and the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.”
“Ian is a scholar, a video game designer and an internationally recognized theorist of digital culture,” said Aaron Bobick, dean of the McKelvey School of Engineering and the James M. McKelvey Professor. “He approaches media from the perspective of both a critic and a practitioner. As intersections between the arts, the humanities and engineering continue to grow — alongside emerging areas like artificial intelligence — we are incredibly fortunate to have him as part of the WashU faculty.”
About Ian Bogost
Bogost’s books include “Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games” (2016), which explores the productive uses of self-imposed boundaries, and “How to Talk about Videogames” (2015), which examines the unique cultural position — part art, part appliance — that video games have come to occupy.
Other books include “Alien Phenomenology, or What it’s Like to Be a Thing” (2012), “How to Do Things with Videogames” (2011) and “Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames” (2010). With Nick Montfort, Bogost is author of “Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System” (2020) and co-editor of “Platform Studies,” a book series investigating the relationships between hardware design, software design and the creative works they support. Bogost also edits, with Christopher Schaberg, the series “Object Lessons,” which explores the secret lives of ordinary things.
As a founding partner and chief designer for independent developer Persuasive Games, Bogost created Cow Clicker, a Facebook game satirizing the nature of Facebook games, and A Slow Year, a collection of videogame poems for Atari VCS, Windows and Mac. Other games have explored a range of social and political issues, from airport security, consumer debt and disaffected workers to the petroleum industry, suburban errands, pandemic flu and tort reform. His games have been played by millions of people and are included in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others.
Bogost holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and comparative literature from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree and doctorate in comparative literature from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before coming to WashU, he served as the Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair in Media Studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology and previously served as chief technology officer at Media Revolution in Santa Monica, Calif.
About Barbara and David Thomas
Barbara Schaps Thomas has been a member of the Arts & Sciences National Council since 1994, serving as chair since 2009. She has been a member of the Washington University Board of Trustees for nearly three decades and is a member of the Board of Trustees Executive Committee and the Nominating & Governance Committee. Thomas also chairs the Student Experience Committee. Additionally, she serves as chair of the New York Regional Cabinet.
At HBO Sports, Thomas was responsible for the financial and accounting operations, talent acquisition, technology and contracts departments at HBO, HBO Sports and Time Warner Sports. She also managed multimillion-dollar events and negotiations for HBO’s pay-per-view arm, TVKO. Currently enmeshed in her second career, acting, Thomas has appeared in independent films and several web series, and narrated, among others, WashU’s Emmy Award-winning short documentary “Our world by degrees: In search of refuge.”
David Thomas, after earning success as an investment banker, co-founded The Leitner Thomas Group, a New York City-based firm specializing in small-to-medium private buyouts. In his retirement, however, Thomas found his true passion as a history teacher at Trevor Day School and ultimately chaired the department, where he created the first high school curriculum in digital humanities. Thomas also served on the board of Meet the Composer, an organization that increases opportunities for composers by fostering the creation, performance, dissemination and appreciation of their music.
Over the years, the Thomases have made generous gifts to support faculty. Prior to establishing the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professorship, the couple created the Barbara Schaps Thomas and David M. Thomas Professorship in the Humanities, currently held by Professor Gerhild Scholz Williams. The couple’s support also extends to students. They have endowed three scholarships in Arts & Sciences; funded multiple annual scholarships; and created a student development fund in the Department of History in Arts & Sciences that provides research and internship stipends to undergraduate students.