Notes for Ian Bogost Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games
Key concepts: advergame, affluenza, anti-advergame, constructionism, digital rhetoric, dissemination, effective expression, enthymeme, evental site, going meta, graphical logic, operational logics, persuasive games, play, procedural enthymeme, procedural literacy, procedural representation, procedural rhetoric, procedural trope, procedurality, process intensity, simulation fever, simulation gap, rhetoric, simulation fever, unit operations, vividness.
Related theorists: Althusser, Clark Abt, Badiou, Baudrillard, John Beck, Burke, Chris Crawford, Derrida, Jared Diamond, Dubner, B.J. Fogg, Gaede, Gee, John de Graaf, Gramsci, Charles Hill, Mark Johnson, Ralph Koster, Lacan, Laurel, Lakoff, Shuen-shing Lee, Steven Levitt, Manovich, Marx, Murray, Papert, Piaget, Dorothy Sayers, David Williamson Shaffer, Kurt Squire, Sutton-Smith, Turkle, Vygotsky, Mitchell Wage, Tony Walsh, Wardrip-Fruin, Weizenbaum, Judith Williamson, Zizek.
(viii) Videogames are considered inconsequential because they are perceived to serve no cultural or social function save distraction at best, moral baseness at worst.
(viii) But creative progress on the part of the development community and critical progress on the part of the academic and journalistic community require a deeper knowledge of the way videogames work—precisely how they do whatever it is we would have them do to count as expressive cultural artifacts.
Procedural rhetoric defined as persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions.
(ix) I call this new form procedural rhetoric, the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures. . . . While “ordinary” software like word processors and photo editing applications are often used to create expressive artifacts, those completed artifacts do not usually rely on the computer in order to bear meaning. Videogames are computational artifacts that have cultural meaning as computational artifacts.
Crucial to note that Bogost focuses on human oriented rhetorical domains, whereas the path I steer is right into the inner workings of machines with the rhetorical outcome of instilling programming as problem solving and even a way of conducting humanities research. I am taking seriously the lead suggested by von Neumann, Hayles, and others to study our thinking machines to facilitate studying ourselves. Also important to replicate depth of multipurposive criticism and reflexively guided production of programmed machines.
(ix) I believe that this power is not equivalent to the content
of videogames, as the serious games community claims. Rather, this
power lies in the very way videogames mount claims through procedural
rhetorics. . . . From this vantage point, in the following chapters I
interrogate three domains in which videogame persuasion has already
taken form and still has great promise: politics, advertising, and
(x) The research that produced this book is twofold. On the one hand, I am an academic videogame researcher; I play games, research their histories and influences, and record my subsequent claims about their meaning. On the other hand, I am a videogame designer; I make games designed to have an impact in the three domains that are the subject of this book. The videogames studio I cofounded, Persuasive Games, shares its title with this book, and I intend this work to reflect both theoretical and game design goals.
Software studies could go off and document the PLATO computer education system, which illustrates procedural rhetoric by simulating tenure acquisition.
(1) In 1975, Owen Gaede created
a simulation of the first year of secondary school teaching, for the
PLATO computer education system.
(2) Tenure outlines the process by which high schools really run, and it makes a convincing argument that personal politics indelibly mark the learning experience.
Procedural rhetoric practices persuade through computational processes, separating it ontically from other media.
(2-3) I suggest the name procedural rhetoric for the new type of persuasive and expressive practice at work in artifacts like Tenure. Procedurality refers to a way of creating, explaining, or understanding processes. And processes define the way things work: the methods, techniques, and logics that drive the operation of systems, from mechanical systems like engines to organizational systems like high schools to conceptual systems like religious faith. Rhetoric refers to effective and persuasive expression. Procedural rhetoric, then, is a practice of persuading through processes and computational processes in particular.
(4) Procedural systems generate behaviors based on rule-based models; they are machines capable of producing many outcomes, each conforming to the same overall guidelines. Procedurality is the principal value of the computer, which creates meaning through the interaction of algorithms. . . . This ability to execute a series of rules fundamentally separates computers from other media.
Symbol manipulation at the heart of procedural expression due to human bias for rhetorical operations. Interesting boundaries created for unacknowledged domains of machine operations that may also entail unit operations functionally equivalent to symbolic persuasion. Yet the subject area intersects viable approaches to classes of machine operations undifferentiated with specifically human rhetorical phenomena, namely unit operations in general; Bogost's own interest in platform studies exemplifies this adjacent area of study.
(5) For my purposes, procedural
expression must entail symbol manipulation, the construction and
interpretation of a symbolic system that governs human thought or
(7) While we often think that rules always limit behavior, the imposition of constraints also creates expression.
(7) We think of computers as frustrating, limiting, and simplistic not because they execute processes, but because they are frequently programmed to execute simplistic processes. And the choice to program only a simplistic process for customer relations exposes yet another set of processes, such as corporate information technology operations or the constraints of finances or expertise that impose buying off-the-shelf software solutions instead of building custom solutions.
(7-8) I have given the name unit operations to processes of the most general kind, whether implemented in material, cultural, or representational form.
(8) In these cases, asking how does this work? Requires taking a set of cultural systems apart to see what logics motivate their human actors.
Would Diamond's procedural historical approach be like Freakonomics? Of course.
A notable example comes from microbiologist Jared
Pulitzer Prize-winning book Guns,
Germs, and Steel,
an alternative approach to understanding history. Instead of
recording the events of human history, Diamond looks at
configurations of material conditions like geography and natural
resources and asks how they produce structural, political, and social
(8) Steven D. Levitt's work on microeconomics also exposes processes.
(9) Procedural representation explains processes with other processes. Procedural representation is a form of symbolic expression that uses processes rather than language.
(9-10) Human behavior is one mode of procedural expression. . . . But human behavior is a challenging medium to muster for arbitrary expression. It is difficult to coerce even a small group of people to execute a particular process again and again, without rest and without incentive.
Before computers scant material conditions for experiments with procedural expression, for example, variable enactments of Plato's Symposium or repetitions of Kennedy's assassination. Important to distinguish tool use of computer programs and expressive, inscriptive practices like Eliza or the Turing imitation game.
(10) Murray cites Joseph
as an early example of this kind of procedural expression.
(11) No matter their content, these computer programs use processes for expression rather than utility. As an inscriptive practice, procedurality is not limited to tool-making.
Procedurality versus the Procedural Programming Paradigm
Procedurality understood as authoring processes, not a programming style like object-oriented; still invites examination of procedural programming in terms of basic stored program architecture.
(12) Procedural programming is a paradigmatic extension of the notion of procedure as subroutine. As a programming method, procedural programming became privileged over unstructured programming, in which all code exists in a single continuous block. . . . Strong proponents of the more recent paradigm of object-oriented programming may shudder at my liberal use of the term procedural, but I am not referring to the programming paradigm. . . . Rather, I understand procedurality as the fundamental notion of authoring processes.
Procedural Figures, Forms, and Genres
Wardrip-Fruin operational logics are set of standardized unit operations such as graphic logics packaged as game engine and textual logics as natural language parsers.
(13) Noah Wardrip-Fruin has used the term operational logics to refer to the standardized or formalized unit operations that take on common roles in multiple procedural representations. He identifies two operational logics that are particularly common, graphical logics and textual logics. . . . In the videogame industry, sets of graphical logics are often packaged together as a game engine, a software toolkit used to create a variety of additional games.
Procedural tropes include natural language processing, text parsers, and models of user interaction: crucial to Bogosts thinking is their commensurability with forms of literary and artistic expression supporting the trope analogy.
Wardrip-Fruin also cites textual logics as a common procedural
NLP, mentioned above, is an example of a textual logic, as are the
text parsers inherent in Z-machine text adventure games and
interactive fiction, such as Zork.
(13) Outside of videogames, procedural tropes often take the form of common models of user interaction.
(14) Taken together, we can think of game engines, frameworks, and other common groupings of procedural tropes as commensurate with forms of literary or artistic expression, such as the sonnet, the short story, or the feature film.
(14-15) The inscription of procedural representations on the computer takes place in code. . . . The systems impose constraints, but they are not subject to the caprice of direct human action.
Example of Socrates trial for ideal of efficient causation in ancient rhetoric can be extended with favorite Cicero example; enthymeme and example are other rhetorical figures.
(15) Rhetoric in ancient Greece—and
by extension classical rhetoric in general—meant public speaking
for civic purposes. . . . Spoken words attempt to convert listeners
to a particular opinion, usually one that will influence direct and
immediate action, such as the fateful vote of Socrates' jury.
(16-17) Socrates' negative opinion of textbook rhetoric notwithstanding (see below), the Phaedrus offers evidence of the method by which fifth-century Greeks thought oratory could be best composed.
(18) The adept rhetorician does not merely follow a list of instructions for composing an oratory (technical rhetoric), nor does he merely parrot the style or words of an expert (sophistic rhetoric), but rather he musters reason to discover the available means of persuasion in any particular case (philosophical rhetoric). This variety of rhetoric implies an understanding of both the reasons to persuade (the final cause) and the tools available to achieve that end (the efficient cause), including propositions, evidence, styles, and devices.
Interesting to apply philosophical rhetoric to the problem of learning how computers work for philosophers of computing leading to pmrek; it will lead from oratory to other practices, notably working code, just as Bogost seeks to include procedurality.
Importance of enthymeme and example as rhetorical figures that will be applied to new media.
(19) The enthymeme and the example offer instances of a broad variety of rhetorical figures developed by and since Aristotle. Like procedural figures, rhetorical figures define the possibility space for rhetorical practice. . . . Combining these with the structural framework of introduction, statement, proof, and epilogue, Aristotle offers a complete process for constructing oratory.
Rhetoric Beyond Oratory
(19) Rhetoric in writing, painting, sculpture, and other media do not necessarily make the same direct appeals to persuasion as oratory. Rhetoric thus also came to refer to effective expression, that is, writing, speech, or art that both accomplishes the goals of the author and absorbs the reader or viewer.
(21) Rhetoric becomes a means to facilitate identification and to “bridge the conditions of estrangement that are natural and inevitable.”
Burke rhetoric extends to all forms of human symbolic systems.
(21) Following the tradition of oral and written rhetoric, he maintains language as central, but [Kenneth] Burke's understanding of humans as creators and consumers of symbolic systems expands rhetoric to include nonverbal domains.
(21) Visual communication cannot simply adopt the figures and forms of oral and written expression, so a new form of rhetoric must be created to accommodate these media forms. Helmers and Hill argue that visual rhetoric is particularly essential in the face of globalization and mass media.
(22) According to Hill, images are more “vivid” than text or speech, and therefore they are more easily manipulated toward visceral responses.
(22) J. Anthony Blair argues that visual rhetoric needs a theory of visual argument to escape this trap.
(23) Randall A. Lake and Barbara A. Pickering offer several tropes for visual argument and refutation, including substitution, in which an image is replaced in part of a frame with connotatively different ones, and transformation, in which an image is “recontextualized in a new visual frame, such that its polarity is modified or reversed through association with different images.”
(24) Kevin Michael DeLuca attempts to address visual argument through the concept of “image event,” a kind of visual documentation of a rhetorical strategy.
As example of studies of visual rhetoric demonstrate, for any media, determine how it inscribes symbols to determine its rhetorical potential. Compare to Hayles MSA.
(24) The very notion of a visual rhetoric reinforces the idea that rhetoric is a general field of inquiry, applicable to multiple media and modes of inscription. To address the possibilities of a new medium as a type of rhetoric, we must identify how inscription works in that medium, and then how arguments can be constructed through those modes of inscription.
Criticizes digital rhetorics that abstract materialities of specific forms of computing.
(25) Digital rhetoric
abstracts the computer as a consideration, focusing on the text and
image content a machine might host and the communities of practice in
which that content is created and used. . . . But for scholars of
digital rhetoric, to “function in digital spaces” often means
mistaking subordinate properties of the computer for primary ones. .
. . But [Laura J.] Gurak does not intend interactivity
refer to the machines ability to facilitate the manipulation of
(26) What is missing is a digital rhetoric that addresses the unique properties of computation, like procedurality, to found a new rhetorical practice.
Manovich replaces rhetoric with database logic, but fails to appreciate process intensity and favors hypertext over its supporting programmed systems.
This challenge is aggravated by the fact that rhetoric itself does
not currently enjoy favor among critics of digital media. In one
highly visible example, new media artist and theorist Lev Manovich
argued that digital media may sound a death knell or rhetoric.
(27) While hypertexts themselves exhibit low process intensity, the systems that allow authorship and readership of web pages exhibit high process intensity.
(27-28) More plainly put, Manovich ignores the software systems that make it possible for hyperlinks to work in the first place, instead of making loose and technically inaccurate appeals to computer hardware as exotic metaphors rather than as material systems.
Does reaching this insight that procedural rhetoric is programmed call for focus on programming? Not merely scholarship that foregrounds code, but scholarship conducted in free, open source software project communities. See refinement on page 62 that seems to steer away from working code.
(28-29) Procedural rhetoric is a general name for the practice of authoring arguments through processes. . . . In computation, those rules are authored in code through the practice of programming.
Exemplar of procedural rhetoric is The McDonalds Videogame, whereas Grlpower Retouch and Freaky Flakes do not exhibit procedural rhetorics despite being provocative, must address vividness and dialectic; compare to active versus critical learning for Gee, and critical code.
Procedural rhetorics afford a new and promising way to make
claims about how things work.
Consider a particularly sophisticated example of a procedural
rhetoric at work in a game. The
a critique of McDonald's business practices by Italian social critic
(31) The McDonald's Videogame mounts a procedural rhetoric about the necessity of corruption in the global fast food business, and the overwhelming temptation of greed, which leads to more corruption.
(31-32) G!rlpower Retouch unpacks a process, the process of retouching photos for maximum beauty. It uses sequences of images combined with written text to explain each step. . . . However, Retouch does not deploy a procedural rhetoric, since it does not use representational processes to explain the actual processes used in photo retouching.
(33) The argument Freaky Flakes mounts is more procedural than Retouch, but only incrementally so. The user recombines elements to configure a cereal box, but he chooses from a very small selection of individual configurations. . . . Most importantly, Freaky Flakes fails to integrate the process of designing a cereal box with the supermarket where children might actually encounter it.
(34) Procedural rhetoric must address two issues that arise from these discussions: first, what is the relationship between procedural representation and vividness? Second, what is the relationship between procedural representation and dialectic?
Procedurality belongs between actual experience and moving images with sound on Hills vividness continuum from most to least vivid information, and they mount propositions with internal consistency of program execution; seems linked to ideal of living writing in antiquity as best rhetorical mechanism.
These capacities would suggest that procedurality is more vivid than
moving images with sound, and thus earns the second spot on the
[Hill's] continuum, directly under actual experience. . . . Given
this caveat, procedural representation seems equally prone to the
increased persuasive properties Hill attributes to vividness.
(36) For one part, procedural rhetorics do mount propositions: each unit operation in a procedural representation is a claim about how part of the system it represents does, should, or could function. The McDonald's Videogame makes claims about the business practices required to run a successful global fast-food empire. . . . These propositions are every bit as logical as verbal arguments—in fact, internal consistency is often assured in computational arguments, since microprocessors and not human agents are in charge of their consistent execution.
Dialectics have broad media ecology: distinguish between ability to raise procedural objections by altering game play and emergence of dialectical reasoning about the subject whose proceduralities are represented in the videogame; example of The Grocery Game, which allows modification of rules of shopping by automating otherwise too costly behaviors for saving money with coupons and timed bulk purchases at particular grocery stores, and peripherally criticism of game mechanics in message boards substitutes for modifying code.
What about raising objections? One might argue that many
computational systems do not allow the user to raise procedural
is, the player of a videogame is usually not allowed to change the
rules of play.
(37) For another part, all artifacts subject to dissemination need to facilitate direct argument with the rhetorical author; in fact, even verbal arguments usually do not facilitate the open discourse of the Athenian assembly. Instead, they invite other, subsequent forms of discourse, in which interlocutors can engage, consider, and respond in turn, either via the same medium or a different one. Dialectics, in other words, function in a broader media ecology than Blair and Turkle allow.
(38) Consider an example of a procedural representation that addresses both of these concerns. The Grocery Game is a website that gives subscribers access to a special grocery list, sorted by grocery store and U.S. location. . . . The Grocery Game addresses this issue by automating the research necessary to produce lists of common products that maximize weekly coupon and in-store specials for a given week, while encouraging larger purchases of basics to last many weeks.
(39-40) While the game does not provide the user with direct access to the search algorithms that generate its lists, so that a user could wage these objections in code, it does provide a flourishing community of conversation. . . . The community discourse at the game's message boards are not always related to objections to its underlying procedural rhetoric, but the availability of this forum facilitates active reconfiguration of the game's rules and goals.
(40) Interactivity is an entrenched notion in studies of digital media. Janey Murry rightly calls the term “vague” despite its “pervasive use.”
(42-43) Another way to understand the role of interactivity in procedural rhetoric is through the concept of play. The weak coupling between model and experience in Balance of the Planet does not arise from a poverty of procedural representation. Rather, it arises from the awkward way that representation is exposed to the player. . . . I suggest adopting Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman's useful, abstract definition of the term: “play is the free space of movement within a more rigid structure.” Understood in this sense, play refers to the possibility space created by processes themselves. . . . This is really what we do when we play videogames: we explore the possibility space its rules afford by manipulating the game's controls.
Procedural enthymemes complete the claim by playing the game, which may include listening; thus by procedural rhetoric games exercise often clever and unexpected biases in our actions, which when uncovered and critically engaged potentially inspiring radical change (Badiou event, and so on).
In the context of procedural rhetoric, it is useful to consider
interactivity in relation to the Aristotelian enthymeme. The
enthymeme, we will remember, is the technique in which a proposition
in a syllogism is omitted; the listener (in the case of oratory) is
expected to fill in the missing proposition and complete the
(43-44) Another way to think about the simulation gap is in relation to rhetoric. A procedural model like a videogame could be seen as a system of nested enthymemes, individual procedural claims that the player literally completes through interaction. . . . Ironically, Chris Crawford [designer of Balance of the Planet] himself has offered a definition of interactivity that addresses this very problem: “I choose to define it in terms of a conversation: a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think and speak. The quality of the interaction depends on the quality of each of the subtasks (listening, thinking, and speaking).
(44) For one part, videogames are among the most procedural of computational artifacts. All software runs code, but videogames tend to run more code, and also to do more with code. Recalling Crawford's term, videogames tend to offer more process intensity than other computational media.
(45) For another part, videogames are generally a more expressive subgenre of computational media than other types, for example, productivity software. . . . But videogames are uniquely, consciously, and principally crafted as expressions. As such, they represent excellent candidates for rhetorical speech—persuasion and expression are inexorably linked.
(45) For yet another part, videogames are often interactive in the particular way I described above; they require user action to complete their procedural representations. As such, they provide particularly promising opportunities for the procedural translation of rhetorical devices like enthymeme. . . . Sid Meier, designer of Civilization, has argued that gameplay is “a series of interesting choices.”
(46) Procedural representation models only some subset of a source system, in order to draw attention to that portion as the subject of the representation. Interactivity follows suit: the total number and credibility of user actions is not necessarily important; rather, the relevance of the interaction in the context of the representational goals of the system is paramount.
(46) In my previous book, Unit Operations, I argued for a comparative understanding of procedural expression, using the concept of unit operations to define the elements of procedural representation common across media. In this book, I argue for a similar understanding with respect to rhetoric. . . . Despite my preference for videogames, I should stress that I intend the reader to see procedural rhetoric as a domain much broader than that of videogames, encompassing any medium—computational or not—that accomplishes its inscription via processes.
Distinguish between persuasive games, persuasion to continue playing, and rhetorics of play: unusual Atari VCS Tax Avoiders game exemplary.
I give the name persuasive
videogames that mount procedural rhetorics effectively.
(47) Partial reinforcement is certainly a type of persuasion, but the persuasion is entirely self-referential: its goal is to cause the player to continue playing, and in so doing to increase coin drop. . . . Instead, I am interested in videogames that make arguments about the way systems work in the material world. These games strive to alter or affect player opinion outside of the game, not merely to cause him to continue playing.
(47) As arcade games suggest, there are reasons to leverage videogames for goals orthogonal to those of procedural expression. The increasing popularity of and media attention paid to videogames means that merely producing and distributing a videogame may have its own persuasive effect.
(48) Videogames created with a more genuine interest in expression and persuasion may still underplay procedurality in favor of visual images.
(49) The tenuous coupling between visual appearance and procedural rhetoric also hinders videogames that seek to make persuasive statements about issues in the material world, but fail to adopt effective procedural representations for those issues.
(51) A more successful procedural rhetoric can be found in the 1982 title Tax Avoiders, an unusual game for the Atari Video Computer System (popularly known as the Atari VCS or Atari 2600).
(52) Tax Avoiders mounts an interesting and relatively complex procedural rhetoric about tax avoidance strategies. . . . These metaphors of locomotion correspond quite well to the abstract processes of work, investment, and taxation.
(52) Finally, I would like to make a distinction between persuasive games, procedural rhetoric, and the rhetoric of play. . . . Sutton-Smith's project is a general one, focused on the cultural role of play, not the culturally embodied practice of playing specific games. He identifies seven rhetorics of play, including play as process, fate, power, identity, the imaginary, the self, and frivolity, each of which orchestrates play in different ways and for different ends under the same ostensible name (hence the ambiguity).
(53) I am discussing the rhetorical function of procedural expression in the tradition of representation rather than the tradition of play. This said, Sutton-Smith's rhetorics may prove useful in contextualizing procedural rhetorics among the values of play. This is not an effort I will attempt here, but which Salen and Zimmerman attempt in their text on game design, Rules of Play. . . . Without realizing it, Salen and Zimmerman helpfully clarify the difference between Sutton-Smith's rhetorics of play—the global, cultural roles for exploring themes like ownership and property—and the procedural rhetoric of a game—the local argument The Landlord's Game makes about taxation and property ownership.
Games versus Serious Games
(55) [Clark] Abt offers a definition of serious games: “We are concerned with serious games in the sense that these games have an explicit and carefully thought-out educational purpose and are not intended to be played primarily for amusement.” Abt quickly admits that this does not mean that serious games “are not, or should not be entertaining,” but the message is clear: serious games are created under the direct influence and guidance of external institutional goals.
(55) Since then, Woodrow has founded and funded the Serious Games Initiative, an ad hoc networking and knowledge sharing group with a thriving membership.
(57) Serious games are videogames created to support the existing and established interests of political, corporate, and social institutions. To apply this principle to the industry domains of the Serious Games Summit proves a simple task.
Serious games designed for educational purposes but may not interrogate institutions and worldviews.
(57-58) Such goals do not represent the full potential of persuasive games. If persuasive games are videogames that mount meaningful procedural rhetorics, and if procedural rhetorics facilitate dialectical interrogation of process-based claims about how real-world processes do, could, or should work, then persuasive games can also make claims that speak past or against the fixed worldviews of institutions like governments or corporations. This objection—which bears some resemblance to Socrates' opposition to sophistic and technical rhetoric in the fifth century BCE—suggests that persuasive games might also interrogate those institutions themselves, recommending corrective and alternatives.
Connect notion of serious to underlying system structure to critical code studies.
Badiou terms situation, multiplicity, count-as-one, state, and event form basis of seriousness underlying structure of a system.
(58) The notion of the serious as the underlying structure of a system is particularly compatible with the concept of procedurality. Procedural representation depicts how something does, could, or should work: the way we understand a social or material practice to function. I connect this idea to contemporary philosopher Alain Badiou's notion of the situation, a “structured presentation” of a multiplicity, a particular ontological arrangement. Badiou applies transfinite set theory to philosophy, understanding being to mean being a member of. The gesture of including a concept in a situation is akin to the set-theoretical notion of belonging, which Badiou names the count-as-one. I have previously correlated the count-as-one with the unit operation, the gesture of conceiving of a particular process as an encapsulated concept. Badiou further understands situations to have a state, the logic by which the elements in a situation are counted as one—or the reasons why the structure is organized the way it is. It is the state that is commensurate with “seriousness” as the nature of a thing, the reasons that make it what it is. Badiou further articulates a concept called the event, which offers a chance to disrupt the state of a situation and reinvent it, wholly anew, under a different organizing logic.
Prefers persuasive games over serious so as not to exclude highly crafted commercial examples.
(59) Despite the possibility of rescuing serious games under the definition I have just offered, I do not want to preserve the name. Instead, I would like to advance persusasive games as an alternative whose promise lies in the possibility of using procedural rhetoric to support or challenge our understanding of the way things in the world do or should work. . . . The concept of serious games as a counter movement apart from and against the commercial videogame industry eliminates a wide variety of games from persuasive speech. It is a foolish gesture that wrongly undermines the expressive power of videogames in general, and highly crafted, widely appealing commercial games in particular.
Games versus Persuasive Technology
(59) Since the late 1990s, Stanford University experimental psychologist B.J. Fogg has been advancing a concept he calls captology. . . . Fogg's research has produced a book entitled Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do.
(60) However, further interrogation shows that captology is not fundamentally concerned with altering the user's fundamental conception of how real-world processes work. Rather, it is primarily intended to craft new technological constraints that impose conceptual or behavioral change in users.
(60-61) Perhaps these tools [reduction, tunneling, tailoring, suggestion, self-monitoring, surveillance, conditioning] offer valid ways of using technology to alter behavior. But not one of them deploys rhetoric; instead, all of Fogg's techniques use technology to alter actions or beliefs without engaging users in a discourse about the behavior itself or the logics that would recommend such actions or beliefs.
Persuasive technology tools of captology are not critical deployments of rhetoric; foreground psychological manipulation, not dialectical user responses.
(61-62) More strongly, captology appears to rely only one psychological, not dialectical user responses. . . . In the nearly three hundred pages of Persuasive Technology, Fogg devotes only a half-page sidebar to the subject of rhetoric, dismissively labeled “A Brief History of Persuasion Studies.” . . . A better name for Fogg's work would perhaps be manipulation technology.
and White Boxes
(62) If computational expression is fundamentally procedural, and if computational procedural expression is crafted through code, then what is the role of code in the practice and analysis of procedural rhetoric?
Understanding code supplements, not essential to studying procedural rhetoric of videogames; address from top down through procedural literacy rather than bottom up through code literacy. Is procedural literacy similar to an engineering design orientation of the overall system?
Code is not usually available in compiled software like videogames.
Software subsystems are closely held trade secrets, and one simply
cannot “open up” The
Auto III to
look at the cod running beneath. . . . To watch a program's effects
and extrapolate potential approaches or problems (in the case of
testing) in its code is called black-box
Such analysis makes assumptions about the actual operation of the
software system, assumptions that may or may not be true. To watch a
program's effects and identify actual approaches or problems in its
code is called white-box
(or sometimes, glass-box
Such analysis observes the effects of the system with a partial or
complete knowledge of the underlying code that produces those
effects. . . . Publicly documented hardware and software
specifications, software development kits, and decompiled videogame
ROMs all offer possible ways of studying the software itself. Such
study can shed important light on the material basis for videogame
understanding of code supplements procedural interpretation.
particular, a procedural rhetorician should strive to understand the
affordances of the materials from which a procedural argument is
(63-64) Turkle's real beef is not with Sim City, but with the players; they do not know how to play the game critically. Understanding the simulation at the level of code does not necessarily solve this problem. . . . Rather than addressing this problem from the bottom up through code literacy, we need to address it from the top down through procedural literacy, a topic I will return to in chapter 9. Part of that practice is learning to read processes as a critic. This means playing a videogame or using procedural system with an eye toward identifying and interpreting the rules that drive that system. Such activity is analogous to that of the literary critic interpreting a novel or the film critic reviewing a film—demanding access to a computer program's code might be akin to asking for direct access to an author's or filmmaker's expressive intentions. Despite the flaws of twentieth-century critical theory, one notion worth keeping is that of dissemination, the irreversible movement of the text away from the act of authorship.
Games and Procedural Rhetoric
(64) In the three sections that follow, I will consider approaches to and examples of procedural rhetorics in three domains, namely, politics, advertising, and education. I have chosen these fields for several reasons. For one part, they are areas I know something about—I have worked professionally in all these areas, I have done academic research and writing in all these areas, and I have created videogames in all these areas. For another part, these represent typical domains for discussions of rhetoric and persuasion in general, and thus are low-handing fruit for procedural rhetoric and persuasive games. For yet another part, they offer clear goals and referents in the material world.
(67) BioChemFX is a first-responder training tool designed to simulate bioterror attacks on urban environments.
(71) Whom do you save? BioChemFX can predict the flow of the gas, but we need a different simulation to convert an understanding of the physical world into a set of values that drive impossible decisions.
(71) One of the clearest examples of political doctrine's direct impact on a social ill was the Irish potato famine of 1845 to 1850.
(72) The purity of British adherence to laissez-faire economics at that time offers a fungible example of how philosophies can act as logics for political thought and action. In this case, laissez-faire offered a logic for reasoning about social and political problems. . . . These rules of political behavior are an example of a procedural system that underwrites political, economic, and daily practice. Of course, a computer is not enforcing these rules; rather, they are driven by social, cultural, and political convention.
Overview of ideology including Marx, Gramsci, Althusser, Zizek, Badiou.
Hidden procedural systems that drive social, political, or cultural
behavior are often called ideology.
(73) For Marx, ideology entails the delusion that ideas are material; in particular, the petite bourgeoisie sees itself (has an idea of itself) as universal.
(73-74) Gramsci's notion of hegemony characterizes the ability of stronger social classes to impose a worldview on subordinate ones, so that the latter see that worldview as natural. . . . For Altuhusser, ideology exists “in an apparatus, and its practice.” The subject is crafted according to the roles the ISAs have already created for him; Althusser calls this process interpellation. . . . Ideology remains material for Zizek, but this material reality is distorted and malignant.
(74) Alain Badiou calls the logic that dictates a situation's organization a state, or “that by means of which the structure of a situation . . . is counted as one.” . . . The possibility of restructuring a situation depends on the void, or null set, which leaves open the possibility of reconfiguring the situation. For Badiou, this takes place through an event, which also founds subjectivity.
(74-75) Videogames are particularly useful tools for visualizing the logics that make up a worldview (following Gramsci), the ideological distortions in political situations (following Zizek), or the state of such situations (following Badiou).
(75) In 2002, the U.S. Army released an unprecedented government-funded first-person shooter (FPS) game. America's Army: Operations was conceived and openly publicized as an army recruiting and communications tool, one crafted “to recreate the U.S. Army for the benefit of young civilians.” The game represented a major step for the military-entertainment complex; it was created on the then-current Unreal 2 engine, a costly professional-grade game engine, and released for free on the army's website.
(76) These constraints seek to create an accurate representation of procedure and policy for army engagement, rather than a fictional universe for casual tete-a-tete combat.
(76) America's Army enforces the U.S. Army's strict rules of engagement (ROE), which preclude the brouhaha of typical squad-based fighting games.
(76) But the game also ties ROE and chain of command directly to the moral imperative of the U.S. Army.
Proceduralizing Army value system with game honor mechanics.
The correlation of honor with the performance of arbitrary and
politically decontextualized missions offers particular insight into
the social reality of the U.S. Army. . . . The average citizen's lack
of familiarity with the specific actions that warrant a ribbon or
medal ensure that these designations signify the soldier's abstract
worth rather than his individual achievements. America's
honor mechanic successfully proceduralizes this value system.
(77) But in America's Army, each team always takes on the role of U.S. Army soldiers—the players never directly pilot the opposing, enemy team.
(78) This line of thinking accurately represents contemporary U.S. attitudes about military conflict. Our perspective is not only right, but there is no explanation for the opposition's behavior save wickedness. . . . The possibility of legitimate grievance on the part of the enemy—or even a coherent historical circumstance that underwrites opposing action—is ruled out of army conflicts.
(78) The game's goal of sensory verisimilitude sets an expectation for political verisimilitude—and indeed the ideology of the enemy accurately represents the United States' one-sided perspective on matters of global conflict.
(79) Playing America's Army offers an unusually fungible perspective on the “state” of U.S. foreign conflict, to use Badiou's term on both its ontological and political registers.
(80) Whereas America's Army is an action game, A Force More Powerful focuses on strategy, particularly models of training, fund-raising, and organization necessary to create and administer civil disobedience.
(80) Despite efforts to characterize general, abstract methods for nonviolent action, one might wonder if a generalized model for political overthrow is even possible. A Force More Powerful characterizes revolt independent of historical, cultural, and regional specificity.
(82) Videogames like America's Army and A Force More Powerful accentuate the incompleteness and complexity of political situations. While these games offer basic holistic models that attempt to explain intricate political situations through a single logic, other procedural arguments attempt to highlight the causal or associative connections between seemingly atomic issues.
(83) Antiwargame makes a number of interrelated claims about the nature of the post-9/11 political and social environment, each claim simple and direct. First, business and the military are indistinguishable.
(84) Together, the game's rules form a systemic claim about the logic of the war on terrorism, namely that the purported reasons for war—security and freedom—are false. Unlike other pacifist arguments, the Antiwargame's opposition to war is not based on antiviolence; rather, it opposes war by claiming that a broken logic drives post-9/11 conflicts.
Rhetoric of Failure
(84-85) Once the player completes these rule-based syllogisms, Antiwargame offers a procedural representation of how its authors perceive U.S. foreign policy to be broken.
(85) I want to suggest that such games operate by a common procedural rhetoric, the rhetoric of failure. Tragedy in games tends to find its procedural representation in this trope.
(87) Lee suggests that games like Kabul Kaboom and New York Defender “are meant to morph the player from an in-gaming loser into an off-gaming thinker (I lose therefore I think).” . . . Videogames that deploy rhetorics of failure make a subtly different statement than those that are simply unwinnable, or that actively enforce player loss.
(89) Thus the procedural rhetoric of the winnable Madrid is more subtle than a straightforward rhetoric of failure: reverence and memory fade, and we must use precision and diligence to keep them alive. However, such a strategy is worthwhile and can lead to overall social change.
Politics, Simulating Politics
(91) But all of the games follow a common procedural rhetoric: elections are won by electioneering, not by politics.
(92) Otherwise put, election simulators assume political stasis: politicians seek to find the properly shaped tabs to suit the slots in popular opinion.
(92) That is to say, the game is not a simulator of political policy. Rather, it is a simulation of political strategy, which has nothing to do with policy.
(93) The Howard Dean for Iowa Game simulated grassroots outreach, arguing for local, individual action as the primary mode of campaign support. . . . Here the procedural rhetoric argues for a particular type of campaign activity as most likely to maintain ongoing support for the candidate.
(94) Specimens like Bush vs. Kerry Boxing and White House Joust are not political videogames. If anything, they are poor simulations of political videogames. These games apply a political skin to existing procedural mechanics, without attempting to transfer those mechanics into rhetoric supporting a political argument. These graphical logics may or may not make visual arguments about the world, but clearly they do not make procedural ones.
(97) But we must distinguish the rhetorical use of videogames for politics and the inscription of procedural rhetorics in videogames about politics. Darfur Is Dying proceduralizes the experience of the Darfuri villagers at a particular moment in the crisis, abstracting the historical dilemmas that partially explain such a terrible outcome.
(98) The interrelated structure of political issues suggests that procedural rhetorics may offer more promising methods for exposing political ideology than verbal rhetorics. . . . despite the promise of videogames for representing political thought, proceduralizing politics is hard work, and work that is largely unexplored in commercial videogames.
(98) Procedural rhetorics in political videogames make claims about the particular interrelations between political processes, why they work, why they don't work, or how society might benefit by changing the rules.
(99-100) Cognitive linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson propose that metaphor is central to human understanding. . . . Turning to politics explicitly, Lakoff argues that the most important consideration in political discourse is not how politicians respond to the “facts” of the external world, but how they conceptualize or “frame” that world in their discourse about it.
(100-101) Frames or contexts are not merely theoretical structures for intellectual navel-gazing; they are operational models that are actively influencing public policy.
(101-102) Chris Crawford's 1985 classic Balance of Power is often cited as the first political game in which diplomacy outweighed brute force. . . . Instead of manipulating the physical environment itself, as the player does in Sim Earth, in Balance of the Planet the player manipulates social responses to environmental conditions.
(103) Despite the interesting promise of embedding graphs and statistics into a satirical action game, Bushgame does not mount a procedural rhetoric. Instead, it peppers a traditional action game with written and visual rhetorics, in the form of pop-up text and graphs about the problems with Bush's leadership.
(103) As videogames become part of endorsed political speech, they will become more tightly integrated with existing strategies for political discourse.
(103) Understanding political rhetoric in videogames intended to carry ideological bias requires a theory of framing as a procedural rather than a verbal strategy.
(105) Tax Invaders extends the verbal metaphor of “taxation as theft” to the tangible plane.
(105) In another example of procedural enthymeme, the player completes the game's argument by firing projectiles that defend the nation from Kerry's potential tax plans.
(106) But Tax Invaders frames the metaphors of its rhetoric as embodied activities, not as words or images. Bush (and the player) fire projectiles at the tax hikes, representing the metaphor of taxation as enemy threat.
(106) Thus, while Tax Invaders does little to represent actual tax policy, it frames taxation in a way that reinforces a conservative position.
(107) There is perhaps no more effective metaphor for theft than alien invasion.
Rules of the game Tax Invaders construct unit operation for conservative frame on taxation; use of procedural enthymeme.
(108) Tax Invaders constructs a unit operation for the conservative frame on taxation itself. Whereas verbal rhetoric invokes the frame (or context, to use Luntz's word) without acknowledging that it even exists let alone structures the rhetoric, procedural rhetoric depicts the frame in tangible form, in the rules of the game.
(109) In French artist Martin Le Chevallier's installation game Vigilance 1.0, players seek out deviants on surveillance-screen-like sections of an urban environment.
(110) By forcing the player to see the consequences of the metaphor of vigilance as comprehensive regulation, the game challenges the ideological frame it initially represents. The game's purpose is not to promote surveillance nor moral purity, but to call such values into question by turning the apparently upstanding player into one of the depraved whom he is charged to eliminate.
(111) The notion of equivalence between actions and their consequences evokes another metaphor for political thought, what Lakoff calls “keeping the moral books.” In Lakoff's view, we conceptualize well-being as wealth. Changes to our well-being are thus akin to gains and losses.
(111) In one version of procedural fairness, the failure to account for improprieties puts the books out of balance. Vigilance allows the player to experiment within this frame.
(112) As the player identifies more and more deviants, the game slowly but progressively changes its focus from balancing the society's moral books to questioning procedural fairness as a legitimate strategy for running the society in the first place.
(113) San Andreas added a new dynamic to the core GTA gameplay: the player-character must eat to maintain his stamina and strength. However, the only nourishment in the game comes from fast food restaurants.
(114-115) The tension between personal responsibility and social forces is related to another of Lakoff's metaphors for political thought, what he calls “moral strength.” . . . Lakoff argues that moral strength is a fundamentally conservative political frame that stands in contrast to the liberal equivalent, empathy and nurturance.
(115) Under this interpretation, San Andreas's enforcement of fast food eating serves to expose the social forces that drive the poor and working-class residents of the inner city to consume fast food habitually. The game even allows the player to reap the health detriments of a fast food diet in the form of lost stamina and diminished respect.
(116) While major technology challenges impede the development of credible character interactions in an environment as large scale as San Andreas and its surrounds, the game makes no effort to alter character behavior based on race, social standing, or location.
(117) Lakoff argues that the conservative frame for crime is an extension of the “strict father” model of seeing the world. . . . Unlike the strict father, the nurturing parent believes that support and assistance help people thrive, and that people who need help deserve to be helped.
(117) Any morally upstanding young man would find a legitimate job and earn his way off the street without resorting to criminality. But interestingly, the game turns this frame in on itself. To succeed in the mission-based story of San Andreas, the player effectively builds a sizable, if illegitimate, business of thug activities—based on a staple of drive-by shootings and armed robbery.
(118) He [CJ] acts with a similar underlying value structure as the conservative, but uses lawless rather than lawful material production as his medium.
Designing Procedural Frames
Games still unterritorialized by ideology, yet have been part of political discourse all along.
(120) But unlike consumers of film, television, books, and other linear media, videogame players are accustomed to analyzing the interaction of proceduralized logics as a part of the play experience. Whereas particular political interests have effectively colonized some media—liberals and documentary film, conservatives and talk radio, for example—videogames remain indefinite about their political bent. This situation underscores both a promise and a threat. . . . Although it is first an analysis of political discourse, George Lakoff's Moral Politics could equally be described as a scathing critique of the failure of liberal political discourse. Perhaps today it seems optimistic to claim that videogames might offer the most salient locus for discussions of how we think about political problems. But in time, and perhaps not much of it, we will wonder why it took so long to realize that games have been a part of public political discourse all along.
(122) In a commentary affirming “that the internet has become an essential medium of American politics,” analyst Michael Cornfield outlines five online campaigning innovations that came out of the Dean campaign: news-pegged fundraising appeals, “meetups” and other net-organized gatherings, blogging, online referenda, decentralized decision making.
(123) One notable omission from Cornfield's list of innovations is social software.
Imagine in a virtual reality game setting, to propose alternate forms of democracy, political action, and consumer engagement to explore philosophical question of how would a generation of casual programmers alter engagements with procedurality.
(124) However, all of these techniques also have another common property: they rely on computer technology solely for its ability to change and accelerate dissemination, not for its ability to change representation. In short, what political technology lacks is a meaningful engagement with procedurality.
(125) As software systems, these games can be seen as historiographies, representing history with rules of interaction rather than patterns of writing. . . . Educational technologist and games-and-learning theorist Kurt Squire has shown that Civilization offers students a better understanding of world history, especially the relationship between physical, cultural, and political geography and history. The historical representation of Civilization bears a striking resemblance to that of Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.
(126) While videogame-based recreations of historical events like D-Day and Pearl Harbor have been common for the last two decades, recent videogames have taken on more specific moments in history, fashioning themselves after another newly politicized medium, the documentary film.
(128) Although the subject matter itself is comparable to documentaries and news broadcasts, to understand what the games are saying about these historical events we need to ask how the player interacts with procedural rules to create patterns of historical and social meaning.
Use of voice commands as procedural rhetoric in Waco Resurrection; consider ideas like Macy Conferences game that traverses a long but specific topic for videogames based on specific moments in history, fashioned after documentary film.
salient feature is not the representation of the Branch Davidians'
Waco compound—a simple feat of 3D modeling—but the use of voice
commands as a primary input method. By obliging the player to utter
Koresh's messianic interpretations of the book of revelation, the
player is forcibly immersed in the logic of a religious cult. . . .
On further review, Waco
that the 1993 Waco event exemplifies an entire system of contemporary
American religious expression and extremism. But unlike the
“authorized” religious fervor of, say, fundamentalist
Christianity, fanaticism of the Branch Davidian sort is illegitimate,
unsupported, and in fact in need of government intervention and
(129) 9-11 Survivor's procedural expression arises principally from the interplay between spawn locations in the building and obstacles the player might face while trying to escape.
(130) 9-11 Survivor invites us to empathize with the victims of the WTC attacks, but more so it invites us to reflect on all the potential traps and escapes in our workplaces, homes, shopping malls, and public spaces—to consider our changed relationship with such spaces since 9/11.
(134) By writing an account of history as a procedural system, Diamond gives us access to a system for making sense of individual historical moments and personalities. Even though they appear to represent or re-create historical events, games like JFK Reloaded and Waco Resurrection server much the same purpose: they represent the material, social, and cultural conditions that underlie historical events. Given the opportunities that historical videogames espouse, it should be possible to construct videogames that facilitate the player's understanding of contemporary political processes and issues.
Rhetoric in Digital Democracy
(135) In December 2003, Gonzalo Frasca and I co-designed the first videogame endorsed by a U.S. presidential candidate. The Howard Dean for Iowa Game was commissioned by Dean for America to help fence-sitter supporters understand the process and power of grassroots outreach.
(136) The game mounts two procedural rhetorics to address the campaign's challenge. The first represents the logic of grassroots outreach.
(137) The second procedural rhetoric is a simplified representation of the kinds of real-world action supporters could perform once connected to a local group.
(139) The procedural rhetoric in support of grassroots outreach was sound, but it inadvertently exposed the underlying ideology of the campaign, one that would eventually cause it to unravel. The failure to put coherent political rhetoric in the hands of its army of supporters was the Dean campaign's Achilles' heel. Dean had political views, but nobody knew anything about them, so they invented their own impressions of him.
(141) To communicate the rhetoric of interrelations, Take Back Illinois maintains a set of scores for each subgame and uses those scores as inputs for settings in other games. For example, higher performance in the educational reform subgame increases the efficiency of job training centers in the economic development game. The parameterized interaction between simulation models serves as a rudimentary procedural rhetoric for the interrelationship of these issues in particular, and other issues by extension.
(142) To play the game successfully, the player is forced to acknowledge the campaign's position on the issues it represents—for example, it is impossible to win the medical malpractice subgame without reducing maximum noneconomic damages for malpractice lawsuits (although reducing them beyond reason decreases the likelihood of faults). The procedural rhetoric is a compressed version of the campaign's policy position.
Summary argument is that videogames, rather than the Internet medium as an abstraction, offer culturally and procedurally relevant subject matters for communicating political rhetorical ideas.
(143) The Internet's affordances for rapid updates and ad hoc access have opened new frontiers for the dissemination of information and the creation of communities. But the ad hoc assemblage of routers and computers that make up the Internet cannot necessarily provide meaningful subject matter upon which to focus that attention. To hold up the Internet as the apotheosis of technology-enabled campaigning ignores the procedural power of computers, discounting the very core of what makes computation a meaningful medium for expression. As a culturally relevant, procedurally replete medium, videogames offer a promising way to foreground the complexities of political issues for the layperson.
(149) As Baudrillard suggests, “consumption is a system of meaning, like language.” While it is dubious to think of buying in and of itself as automatically meaningful self-expression, indeed this is the very mechanism advertisers have come to rely upon. In the face of this hyperconsumerism, many economists have given up entirely on the distinction between needs and wants.
(150) Essentially, consumers have become aware that advertisers market to get them to buy, not to answer to their needs.
(151) This new realization is really knowledge of the procedural rhetoric of mass-market television advertising: networks create content designed to appeal to segments of the population, then sell interruptions in the broadcast for advertisement designed for the group.
(152) Now that consumers have decoded the logic of the advertising network, marketers are marrying permission marketing to strategically chosen frames. Marketing has shifted away from a focus on the procedural rhetoric of media technologies—integrating ads into rules of network programming formats. Instead, advertisers focus on the procedural rhetoric of the frames themselves—integrating ads into rules of consumers' perceived cultural station.
(152) Many early boutique agencies peddling Web-based advergames claim “credit” for coining the term, but a formal definition of “advergame” is commonly traced to a 2001 whitepaper by Jane Chen and Matthew Ringel, analysts at interactive agency <kpe>.
(153) Contrary to Baudrillard's suggestion that the procession of simulacra always deepens the illusion of depth, perhaps the dissonance between the virtual and the real Disneylands actually exposes a similar dissonance between Disneyland and the real world. In the medium of videogames, advertising's pervasiveness might lead to its critique.
Three Types of Advertising
(153) More abstractly, a persuasion game is a game in which an interested player discloses information to another player, who has to make a decision that affects the payoff of the disclosing player. There are three important types of advertising that can participate in such persuasion games: demonstrative, illustrative, and associative advertising.
(153) Demonstrative advertising provides direct information.
(154) Illustrative advertising communicates indirect information.
(154) Associative advertising communicates indirect information, focusing specifically on the intangibles of a product.
(156-158) Associative advertising is related to a recent trend known as “lifestyle marketing.” Lifestyle marketing starts from the seemingly innocuous goal of running advertising to address niche rather than mass markets; however, lifestyle marketing and its associative tools depend largely on new techniques for data-gathering to help identify consumers as a member of this or that “segment.” . . . But once marketers identify segments that prove particularly lucrative or easy to reach, lifestyle marketing becomes a process of advertising the lifestyle itself, rather than using the lifestyle as a medium for making a case for specific products.
Current State of Advertising Games
(158) Of the three, associative games are most prevalent, but demonstrative games dovetail most closely with the procedural properties of the videogame medium.
(160) The use of Mountain Dew products as power-ups could be construed as an effective simulation of the caffeine jolt the soft drink provides, a gesture in the direction of demonstrative advertising. However, this technique does not principally seek to demonstrate the tangible benefits of the product. Instead, it elevates the product (or more precisely, the product's packaging) as a token of positive, but anonymous value. We might call this gesture a kind of in-game object fetishism; the player seeks the Mountain Dew because it and it alone has magical power in the game world.
(161) Advertising in videogames can be traced back at least twenty-five years, since the first film/game tie-ins Tron and E.T. and the early branded games Kool-Aid Man, all of which made their appearance in 1982. But examples like Mountain Dew Skateboarding and the Nike slam-dunk game suggest that contemporary interest in advertising games has been driven by a broader interest in videogames as a gateway to a particular consumer than by the unique properties of the medium as a new form of marketplace discourse.
(163-164) The contemporary approach to advertising games relies on the game experience as an end in itself rather than as a bridge to activities in the material world, making these advertisements simulations in Baudrillard's sense of the word—copies with no original, fantasies for a world that doesn't exist.
(165) The logic of the advertising industry—its own procedural structure—privileges the media buy. This logic helps explain advertisers' use of the abstract concept of “creative”: creative is advertising content that can be placed in bought media slots.
(165-166) Dynamic in-game advertising focuses on the liveness that Internet-connected devices afford: the ability to serve ads dynamically into those games. . . . The focus of all three companies [Massive, Double Fusion, IGA Partners] is to create an advertising network in commercial videogames equivalent to that of television. . . . In particular, in-game advertising seeks to extend the reach of existing advertising units—especially two-dimensional images and motion graphics—into videogames.
(166) The incongruence of placed ads doesn't seem to faze the in-game ad network providers. The very idea that a furtive spy would stop for a Diet Sprite, or that a cyborg assassin from 30,000 years in the future might enjoy a present-day matinee, does not strike these advertisers as absurd. In fact, the networks justify in-game ads with claims that they enhance the realism of videogames.
(167) In this [University of London] study, 14 percent of participants agreed that ads enhanced the gaming experience, compared to the 50 percent in the Double Fusion-Nielsen study. Although there is no direct evidence for collusion, in light of such conflicting evidence, sponsored studies could be understood to have rhetorical rather than scientific ends. They are ads for in-game ads.
Visual to Procedural Rhetoric in Advertising
(169) Currently, advertisers are applying existing rhetorics to the videogame medium, despite the latter's fundamental focus on procedurality. Advertising has always focused on the visual.
(170) More importantly, the entire practice of advertising has focused almost exclusively on the inscription of two-dimensional surfaces. . . . Advertisers have enjoyed enormous success adapting new surfaces for advertising.
(170) Clever though it may be, the tendency to find and inscribe every surface in our world with advertising moves advertising further and further into the illustrative and associative domains.
(171) All of these signals would suggest the rapid and inevitable colonization of videogames by advertisers, save one major problem: unlike television commercials, magazine ads, outdoor billboards, shopping bags, or even t-shirts, videogames are not fundamentally characterized by their ability to carry images, but by their capacity for operationalizing rules.
Licensing and Product Placement
(174) I want to suggest that videogames offer a mode of engagement with products and services that can activate critical perspectives on consumption. But to do so, advertising must reconnect with the fundamental property of videogames, procedurality.
(175) We can think of licenses not as intellectual property in the abstract, but as a network of products that interpret the license in some way. From this perspective, all licensed products always serve as advertisements for each additional node in the network of products. . . . This procedural rendering of a license has the potential to open the property to interrogation and critique on the part of the player.
(177) The procedural rhetoric of teamwork undermines this position, drawing attention to the system of affiliations, skills, and abilities that contribute to Harry's success. In so doing, the videogames built on the Harry Potter license might return the player to the material world with a reinforced understanding of the relationship between the characters shorthanded in the license's title.
(179) Electronic Arts' revision of the rules was necessary to make quidditch playable as a videogame, but the adaptation also draws attention to the incongruity of the rules of the fictional sport. . . . Quidditch World Cup exposes the rhetoric of individualism inherent to the sport, offering a perspective on the fictional world of Harry Potter that is unavailable in the books or the films.
(181) The game [SeaWorld Tycoon] proceduralizes the logic of running a theme park, and by virtue of their license Sea World admits the roles played by park layout, inflated prices, and other common factors of location-based entertainment design in their business model.
(181) Engaging players with these procedural rhetorics exposes the material realities of SeaWorld's operations.
(182) From John Deere's perspective, the advertising is directed not so much toward farmers, but toward nonfarmers, who might alter their conceptual (or even personal) relationship with farmers and farm equipment in response to simulated experiences with the equipment and the tasks that equipment facilitates.
(184) Food Force could be seen to serve the same function as licensed games like SeaWorld Adventure Park Tycoon and John Deere American Farmer: all these games mount procedural rhetorics of legitimacy. The games argue that the occupations they represent are valid ones, worthy of both respect and pursuit. Effectively, Food Force is really just United Nations Humanitarian Tycoon.
(184) While tycoon games are largely relegated to the less glamorous station of second-shelf retail placement in the United States, Japanese licensed advergames have gone mainstream.
(185) Rather than leveraging a brand name to legitimate the vocation for which it is metonymic, Yoshinoya mounts a procedural rhetoric about the values of the franchise, constraining player action toward conduct consistent with that service value. In so doing, the game makes demonstrative claims about the service the player might experience as a customer of Yoshinoya. These claims are triggered by a role inversion; rather than occupying the familiar role of customer, the player is thrust behind the counter, forced to tend to dozens of simultaneous versions of himself as patron.
(186) Yoshinoya presents the player with the fundamental logic of its store operations: quickly and correctly server a small permutation of dishes as rapidly as possible.
(187) The differences between Curry House CoCo Ichibanya and Yoshinoya's procedural rhetorics are numerous. Where Yoshinoya abstracts food preparation and service into a single button-press, CoCo Ichibanya models preparation in considerable detail.
(187-188) As videogames, these two are fun and unusual specimens whose novelty and absurdity make up much of their charm. . . . Either way, the games advance their invitations to the real-world versions of their represented restaurants through procedural rhetorics, rule-based embodiments of their respective licensors' service claims.
(189) The modern birth of product placement as a deliberate marketing strategy is usually traced to the 1982 Steven Spielberg film E.T., one of the original sources of film-to-videogame licensing.
(190) I want to suggest that product placement offers a perspective on a socially productive kind of advertising, one that begins to reintroduce a property long missing from advertising and necessary for its connection to procedurality, namely context.
Claim that videogame product placement invites critical perspective.
(191) In short, the fictional abstraction of entertainment properties
invites a critical perspective on placed products more so than does
(195) Publisher Ubisoft struck a deal with mobile handset manufacturer Sony Ericsson to include two of the latter's mobile phones in the game, the P900 PDA phone and the T637 camera phone. The two devices were integrated into the gameplay in such a way as to require the player to use them frequently and meaningfully during play.
(195) Ubisoft effectively created a simulation of the product in the videogame, one that acts more like a hands-on demo than a mere mimicry of its exterior chrome.
(196) This is a sure sign of a procedural rhetoric at work in an in-game product: it makes claims about what the product does, and it contextualizes that functional value in a transferable social situation.
(197) The need to explicitly and meaningfully operationalize products in games marks two decisive breaks with the traditional logics of advertising. First, it completely dismantles the media buy. Context and code-level integration are required for videogame product placements, efforts that require specificity at the design and technical levels.
(197) Second, videogame product placement undermines advertisers' obsession with the image. The visual inscription of surfaces is a nonstarter in videogames, whose expressive power comes from procedural representation.
(199) With The Sims off the ad market, few other popular, commercial games depict everyday household situations—the only sensible context for consumer-oriented packaged goods, which constitute a great deal of consumer advertising messages.
Advergames simulate products and services.
But I understand advergame
refer to any game created specifically to host a procedural rhetoric
about the claims of a product or service. More succinctly put,
advergames are simulations of products and services.
(200) The first film-to-game adaptation was 1976's Death Race, a controversial arcade game based on the 1975 film of the same name. But the earliest game I have found with authorized branding in support of a product is the 1976 arcade game Datsun 280 Zzzap, a pseudo-3D driving game of the same style as Atari's more popular Night Driver.
Logical rather than moralisitc system promoted by game procedural rhetoric like Tooth Protectors.
What Johnson & Johnson accomplishes with Tooth
to prompt the player—in this era probably a child—to consider
dental care as a logical system rather than a moralistic one. Like
toilet training and looking both ways before crossing the street,
dental hygiene is typically imposed on children as an issue of
righteousness: if you do it you are a good kid, and if you don't you
are a bad kid. Tooth
this opaque and doctrinal relationship and replaces it with a
rationalistic one, expressed via the game's procedural
(205) In mid-2005, knife, scissor, and gardening tool company Fiskars released an advergame and promotion called Fiskars Prune to Win. The premise is simple: the player must trim a continuously growing summer backyard to keep it from going wild.
(205) The game is a means of reconciliation between the brand's claim that all the tools are needed (a claim the game's scoring system strictly enforces), and the likelihood that a real customer will choose one or two of the most applicable tools given a set of options.
(207) In at least one circumstance, high production value alone can serve as demonstrative advertising.
(209) The game [Escape] not only musters a procedural rhetoric of burdensome coercion, but it actually turns that rhetoric inside out, encasing the game inside the very experience that reveals it.
(210) Volvo Drive for Life takes a different tack. By simulating the safety features and then removing them from the experience, players can approximate the actual correlation Volvo claims between its mechanical innovations and actual improved safety. . . . Volvo Drive for Life deploys a procedural rhetoric about mechanical consequence, arguing that features like roll stability and front-end collision dampening provide materially demonstrable safeguards.
(211) Judith Williamson has related this perception of needs to the production of a gap in ads: “we are invited to insert ourselves into this 'cut-out' space; and thus reenact our entry into the Symbolic.” By the Symbolic, Williamson refers to the entry into language that psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan claims to be an endemic part of the formation of the subject. Advertisements give the illusion of freedom, but then implicate their viewers in foregone conclusions. . . . Interestingly, Williamson's gap bears striking resemblance to the rhetorical figure of the enthymeme, the syllogism that omits one of its premises.
(212) Dodge Stow 'n Go Challenge was well conceived in principle: use a videogame to simulate the Stow 'n Go seating in a more meaningful way.
Simulation fever, ideally challenging experimentation with a product, with procedural enthymeme as space between the game rules and the player subjectivity.
(214) The procedural rhetoric of Xtreme Errands suggests that the Commander's affordances for flexible seating and storage couple usefully with certain family routines. . . . This time, the space between the game's rules and the player's subjectivity is a procedural enthymeme, or what I have called a simulation gap. Engagement with this gap creates a situation of crisis, a simulation fever. Advergames that acknowledge this condition represent significant social progress in advertising: playing the game challenges the potential consumer to experiment with the ways he might use a product if he owned it.
Drinks and Beer
(216) However, one demonstrative message does emerge from the game: the preparation method for Kool-Aid itself. . . . Like unpacking the strategic operation of theme parks with SeaWorld Adventure Parks Tycoon, Kool-Aid Man exposes the operation of preparing Kool-Aid, including an admission that it is near equal parts sugar and water. While this fact alone isn't going to change dietary habits, it does open the door to discussions about the role of sugar in contemporary packaged foods.
(217) Thus, we could think of generic advergames like Nordic Christmas as procedural manifestations of the enjoyment that the product produces, or more properly that it facilitates. Like alcohol, Coca-Cola presents itself as a social lubricant that produces enjoyment rather than uninhibitedness. . . . The advertising has become the product, providing the actual enjoyment suggested by the product's demonstrative claims.
(217) Missing from the Coke games is any representation of “refreshment,” the other value common in Coca-Cola advertising.
(219) The original version of the game [Tapper] featured prominent Budweiser branding on the wall of the bar, on the draught mugs, and on cans during an interlude bonus game. . . . The customers are parodies of the drunken barhopper—the folly of their inebriation is rendered procedurally as a thoughtless, almost zombie-like progression toward the tap.
(220) Budweiser, the bar proprietor that hosts the game, and Bally/Midway all cash in on the joke.
Analysis of Tapper procedural rhetoric defamiliarizes process of consumption.
the process of consumption, both through its procedural
representation and through the distortion of the bartender the player
controls. This defamiliarization opens a simulation gap that invites
interrogation of the player's alcohol-consumption practices
themselves. Budweiser's endorsement of this concern is a much less
visible social service than adding please
small print on their ads, but perhaps it is a much more meaningful
one. Some might object that drunken bar patrons are not capable of
such self-reflection, but failure to control Tapper's
virtual bartender due to player inebriation might very well alert the
player to his own diminishing faculties, a gross-motor signal no less
effective than stumbling on the way to the toilet or falling off a
(222) J2O is not just about tempering an evening's overindulgence; it is about tempering the very lifestyle of alcoholic overindulgence.
(222) By casting their product's tangible benefits in a procedural representation of a situation of great reservation, the advertisement challenges the player to interrogate the degree to which he really needs the mixers, the pints, and indeed the very J2O that the product advertises. . . . Unlike ideological apparatuses which, in Judith Williamson's words, “offer you a unity with the sign, a unity which can only be imaginary,” advergames like these muster an uncertain subjective space that do not necessarily violate individual identity.
(223) For one part, anti-advergames advertise against a company. . . . For another part, anti-advergames work against the practice of advertising in games itself.
(224) As an example of the latter type, critic Tony Walsh offered a set of adbusting strategies for vegetarians, eco-activists, and other disgruntled users of The Sims Online McDonald's kiosks.
(225-226) Other videogames have used the procedural affordances of the medium for the explicit purpose of rejoining specific corporations. . . . By forcing the player to interact with Coca-Cola, the game [Coke Is It!] produces an absurd perversion of the original works of interactive fiction, highlighting the inappropriateness of Coca-Cola's invasion of the media and the material world.
(226) My studio created Disaffected!, an anti-advergame about the FedEx Kinko's copy store. The game was conceived as a parody of the frustrating experience of patronizing such a store.
(228) While the complaint letter attempts to persuade the reader that the writer was wronged and deserves recompense, the anti-advergame attempts to persuade the player that the corporation is inoperative and must not be supported.
(229) Rather than deploying antitestimonial (e.g., publishing an account of a bad experience on a public website), anti-advergames deploy antidemonstratives. . . . Anti-advergames suggest an alternative to the precious form of procedural rhetoric I called the rhetoric of failure.
(229) Putting the player in the shoes of the employees rather than the customers changes the register of the discourse. While the verbal rhetoric necessarily focuses on self-interest and personal gain, the procedural rhetoric transfers the argument into one of corporate policy and, by extension, politics. The first-hand experience of the simulation of work enforces the rules of malcontent that produce individual customer service woes.
(230) Anti-advergames thus have much in common with political games: they expose the logic of corporate and governmental structures and invite players to question them. . . . By offering a space for discourse about the use or value of a product, these advertisements encourage critical consumption: the reasoned and conscious interrogation of individual wants and needs, rather than manipulated subservience to corporate ones.
(233) Reinforcement theory privileges stimulus-response learning arranged in steps to ratchet up a student's abilities.
(234) With Jean Piaget, the understanding of learning became more connected to theories of mind, correcting the immoderate scientism of behaviorism. . . . Social constructionism includes approaches like the Soviet activity theory that descended from Vygotsky's own contributions, as well as situated learning theory, which focuses on “learning by doing.”
(234-235) Seymour Papert's version of Piagetian constructivism, which he called constructionism, focuses on the active creation of things in the material world.
Theories of education fall within behaviorism and constructionism, and their worldviews are transferred into videogames.
At the risk of oversimplification, most contemporary understandings
of (formal) education fall largely in either the behaviorist or the
constructionist theory of education.
(235) Despite contemporary education's propensity toward behaviorist education, the commonest form of constructivist learning comes from the first classroom many of us experience: kindergarten.
(235) Similarly, Italian educator Maria Montessori encouraged a child-centered that focused first on the senses, then on the intellect.
(236) If behaviorism relies on an empirical, scientific worldview—that of a singular, knowable universe of concepts—then a behaviorist model of educational videogames transfers that universe onto the game world. . . . In short, videogames teach their content, and that content transfers to real-world experience.
(237) The behaviorist-influenced content perspective opens up a Pandora's Box of media effects arguments. If videogames teach their content, and if that content ought to be negatively reinforced, then exposure to such games positively reinforces negative content.
(238) The risk that a videogame could teach the right things to the wrong people is a grave concern in behaviorist circles.
(238-239) Behaviorist approaches to games foreclose what I have previously called the simulation gap, the breach between the game's procedural representation of a topic and the player's interpretation of it.
(239) [Lego] Mindstorms are primarily intended to teach computer programming and creative, expressive construction.
Performance before competence learning in Mindstorms and Microsoft Flight Simulator.
From this perspective, videogames teach abstract principles that
service general problem-solving skills and learning values. Returning
to our previous examples, a constructivist might understand Microsoft
a game that teaches professional knowledge through “performance
before competence,” a concept of pedagogical apprenticeship. Such
an attitude might very well catalyze interest in aeronautics, but
more generally it encourages the learner to experiment within
knowledge domains freely, without fear of incompetence due to
(240) Sim City could be understood as a game that teaches about complexity and other approaches to the general operation of dynamic processes, such as systems theory and autopoietics. Through engagement with the game, players learn to reflect on the natural or artificial design of systems in the material world.
Going meta technique offered by many videogames, whereas others foreclose the simulation gap.
called this abstract technique in videogames “going meta,” or
“taking a step back from the immediate situation, analyzing the
choices and the odds, and finding the right strategy.”
(241) Videogames do not just offer situated meaning and embodied experiences of real and imagined worlds and relationships; they offer meaning and experiences of particular worlds and particular relationships. . . . The underlying models of a videogame found a particular procedural rhetoric about its chosen subjects.
(243) Or, as [Ralph] Koster puts it, “the bare mechanics of the game do not determine its semantic freight.”
(243) The semiotic domain of all first-person shooters might be similar due to the genre's common procedural model (unit operations for movement, projectiles, stealth, etc.), but the meaning of individual first-person shooters vary based on the way those processes are used rhetorically.
Procedural literacy addresses suggestion by Gee to reconcile subject-specificity and abstraction.
(244) More importantly, Gee's suggestions imply the need for a new understanding of educational games that reconciles subject-specificity and abstraction. As a means of entry into such a project, I propose a new understanding of procedural literacy.
Programming to Culture
(244) By the early 1980s, programming began to gain recognition not only as a kind of professional training but also as a kind of literacy in its own right. This new trend has been called procedural learning.
Short history of procedural learning from Logo to RAPUNSEL rejected because programming emphasis excludes built in procedurality of videogames experienced by merely playing them: making procedural literacy initiated by Mateas specific and emphasizing situated cultural aspects of technical mastery, not just dynamic systems.
(244-245) RAPUNSEL follows on the heels of numerous reports suggesting that the United States is falling behind other nations in science and engineering. . . . More broadly, I want to suggest that procedural literacy entails the ability to reconfigure concepts and rules to understand and processes, not just on the computer, but in general. The high degree of procedural representation in videogames suggests them as a natural medium for procedural learning. . . . [quoting Mateas] By procedural literacy I mean the ability to read and write processes, to engage procedural representation and aesthetics, to understand the interplay between the culturally-embedded practice of human meaning-making and technically-mediated processes. Mateas's definition couples procedural reputation to culture and aesthetics, suggesting that procedural literacy is not just a practice of technical mastery, but one of technical-cultural mastery. I want to clarify a point left implicit in Mateas's position: procedural literacy should not be limited to the abstract ability to understand procedural representations of cultural values. Rather, it should use such an understanding to interrogate, critique, and use specific representations of specific real or imagined processes.
Worth revisiting studies on learning programming with wider scope in which play itself, and by extension ancillary behaviors to programming, have procedural learning functions.
But rather than suggesting that the exercise of Latin, or
mathematics, or history themselves strengthen the mind through
generic exercise, [Dorothy] Sayers'
proposes that the embedded logics of such subjects provide the tools
necessary to interrogate new, unfamiliar questions.
(247-248) Despite the clarity of Sayers' proposal, modern adaptations of it have decoupled the trivium from its subject-specific roots, following the errors of constructivism. . . . Understanding the way a traditional approach to literacy broke down the bond between abstraction and subject-specificity will help us understand how to avoid such a one in the domain of procedural literacy.
(249) Here, Latin is revered as a structured mental exercise, not from its value as a window into key components of Western culture, especially the culture of ancient Rome and the medieval church. More appropriately, Latin would be allowed to oscillate between its formal and cultural registers; on the one hand, the language itself possesses formal features of synthetic inflection, specific cultural output can be consumed or created.
Do with electronics and programming early computers what Sayers did with Latin despite Bogost calling for a break from procedural literacy as programming.
(249) Computers constrain expression even more, through both hardware and design of programming language. One could easily replace the world Latin in Wise and Bauer's claim with the name of a computer programming language like Java or Smalltalk or C, effectively parodying the value of any subject for abstract goals alone. In many ways, programming and Oulipian writing offer even stronger evidence for the benefits of systematic training than Latin; after all, natural language is subject to human failing and misinterpretation.
Break with conceptions of procedural literacy as programming knowledge to return focus on specific areas of expertise.
But I want to suggest an important break from previous conceptions of
procedural literacy as programming.
(250) It is precisely specific areas of experience that have been expunged from our understanding of constructivist learning and procedural literacy in particular; it is also the corrective for the practice of divorcing subject-specificity from learning.
Procedural affordances of languages and operating systems, software in general; try to understand why Tanaka-Ishii chose Haskell and Java in this perspective.
Like the cultural and formal specificity of Latin versus Inuit or the
formal properties of C versus LISP, the procedural affordances of a
computer operating system matter:
they constrain and enable the kinds of computational activities that
are possible atop that operating system.
(252) What does procedural literacy look like when it privileges the representation of culture as much as that of dynamic systems?
(254) In short, Diamond argues that the proximate causes of European conquest via horses, guns, germs, and steel resulted from the accidental ultimate causes of land fertility, geographic distributions, and variety of plants and animals that occupied such regions.
(254) Diamond describes a procedural system in which political and social outcomes result from configurations of constrained material conditions. This abstract system founds the specific outcomes of history. . . . Such an approach to history asks the learner to understand a sequence of events in relation to the material logics that produce them.
(255) Other games couple the procedural rhetoric of material accident to the actual progression of lived history. In Europe Universalis, the player controls a European nation during the colonial period, from 1492 to 1792.
Play itself develops procedural literacy, good for developing understanding history like Diamond on proximate causes of European conquest.
(255) All told, artifacts like Guns, Germs, and Steel, Civilization, and Europa Universalis suggest that procedural literacy means more than writing computer code; it also comes from interacting with procedural systems themselves, especially procedural systems that make strong ties between the processes in a model and a representational goal—those with strongly argued procedural rhetorics. Otherwise said, we can become procedurally literate through play itself.
Apply picking up specific cultural meanings to hacking older technologies and basic electronics.
(256) By providing a specific point of reference bound to human culture, the toys come equipped with specific cultural meaning as well as abstract processes for substitutions. . . . In so doing, they gain a richer understanding of the individual meanings of cultural markers through experimenting with their hypothetical recombination in circumstances outside their sphere of influence.
Procedural Rhetoric as Procedural
(257) The procedurally literate subject is one who recognizes both the specific nature of a material concept and the abstract rules that underwrite that concept.
Difference between videogames and narrative media is using models like orrery versus descriptions.
To distinguish videogames from narrative media, Heather Chaplin and
Aaron Ruby argue that the former use models, whereas the latter use
descriptions. . . . Models that depict behavior, like an orrery,
facilitate experimentation, a more formal kind of procedural play
where the rules of the mechanical system constrain manipulation of
(258) Procedural literacy entails the ability to read and write procedural rhetorics—to craft and understand arguments mounted through unit operations represented in code. The type of “reading” and “writing” that form procedural rhetorics asks the following questions: What are the rules of the system? What is the significance of these rules (over other rules)? What claims about the world do these rules make? How do I respond to those claims?
(259) [David Williamson] Shaffer gives the name epistemic game to “a process of simulation that preserves the connections between knowing and doing central to the epistemic frame.”
Beyond epistemic games to critical practice: developing procedural literacy and awareness of biased perspectives of how things work through direct engagement.
While Shaffer is principally (but not exclusively) interested in
epistemic games as a pedagogical praxis for specific professional
situations, I am equally—if not more—interested in procedural
rhetoric as a critical practice.
(260) videogame players develop procedural literacy through interacting with the abstract models of specific real or imagined processes presented in the games they play. Videogames teach biased perspectives about how things work. And the way they teach such perspectives is through procedural rhetorics, which players “read” through direct engagement and criticism.
Values and Aspirations
(261) Many further argue that private or public school choice will bring market pressures to bear on a system that suffers due to lack of competition.
NCLB procedural rhetoric generates social programs enacting conservative optimization for educational reform, being schooled versus educated; parents as complacent citizens manufactured by the bureaucratic market democracy.
NCLB assumes that the educational system is well conceived and
capable of functioning adequately; the problems emerge from rogue
schools and inadequate teachers. The legislation assumes that making
such groups “accountable” to the system will thus solve the
problem. NCLB identifies an important feature of educational
infrastructures. Classroom environments of all kinds . . . are not
disinterested, bias-free places. Each is part of a larger social,
political or corporate structure, or a combination of these.
(262) We might summarize the distinction as one of being schooled versus educated. Being schooled means becoming expert in the actual process of schooling. . . . By contrast, being educated means becoming expert in human improvement, so as to ratchet up in life itself.
(263) When schooling takes place in corporations or other enterprises, we usually call it training. . . . Conversely, education has been tethered unfortunately to the chain of schooling and training. “Education” derives from the Latin educere, to lead out. “True” educational systems draw their participants out of the very systems that support them by helping them see the undesirable features of those systems.
(264) These arguments [by Laurel] trace a broader trend made most famous by Louis Althusser, who cited the education system as the most important example of “ideological state apparatuses,” state institutions that function specifically to reproduce the process of production.
Educational games operate general purpose rhetorics, but also can reveal social aspect, as demonstrated by tutor text Mansion Impossible.
In her Education Arcade talk, Laurel effectively echoes the
sentiments of critics like Gatto and Jackson: schools encourage
students to conform and identify valid knowledge so that they can
continue to ratchet up through the system. It promotes schooling,
Laurel points out that schools teach hierarchy and consumerism;
schools are necessary in order to release parents into the working
world, where they contribute to the gross domestic product while
taking on greater and greater debt that perpetuates their need to
conform in the role of complacent citizen.
(264) educational games are procedural rhetorics to advance the function of conceptual or material systems in general. . . . I understand educational games not as videogames that end up being used in schools or workplaces, but as games that use procedural rhetorics to spur consideration about the aspects of the world they represent.
(264) Let's consider a simple example. Mansion Impossible is a web-based videogame about real-estate investment.
(265) The game also splits the town into neighborhoods of increasing value.
(266) This gameplay mechanic is a unit operation for a much more complex and conceptually abstract principle in real-estate investment: investors should buy in areas they already know, and should make acquisitions in neighborhoods that are convenient to them (near work, near home, on the way to work, etc.).
(266) Of course, Mansion Impossible is also a bit esoteric, a web game among a noisy abundance of online games. Commercial games also mount procedural rhetorics that explore everyday practice.
Animal Cross simulates condition of debt and consumtion affluenza; design consequence forces asynchronous real time play, although system clock could be fooled.
Although the GameCube supports simultaneous play with up to four
allows one player at a time. . . . Animal
the game world to the real world, synchronizing its date and time to
the console clock. . . . Since game time is linked to real time, a
player can conceptualize the game as a part of his daily life rather
than a split out of it.
(267) One of the most challenging projects in the game is paying off the mortgage on one's house. . . . Catching fish, hunting for fossils, finding insects, and doing jobs for other townsfolk all produce income that can be used to pay off mortgage debt—or to buy carpets, furniture, and objects to decorate one's house.
(268) Animal Crossing deploys a procedural rhetoric about the repetition of mundane work as a consequence of contemporary material property ideals.
(268) John de Graaf and others have recently expanded the concept to cover the feverish drive to acquire more and more debt and material property on the part of all social classes.
a procedural rhetoric of debt and consumption that successfully
simulates the condition of affluenza.
(269) Animal Crossing simulates the social dynamics of a small town but sidesteps the material obsession of keeping up with the Joneses. As such, the game servers as a sandbox for experimenting with the ways one can recombine personal wealth that is much more abstract than the economics of The Sims.
Does not preclude coming up with new ways to critically play The Sims.
Tom Nook [of the game] is a kind of condensation of the corporate
(271-272) Even as the HRA [Happy Room Academy] and the basement encourage acquisition, the simplicity of rearrangement in the videogame environment breeds increased deliberation about the player's need for his virtual possessions. . . . We can think of Animal Crossing's houses as simulations of Japanese gardens more than American homes—they are perfect when nothing more can be taken out.
Need for virtual possessions exercised in Cow Clicker.
(272) The simulation of seasonal cycles creates a persistent, living
world that is always in flux. . . . The living outdoor world opposes
the dead indoors, where purchased products sit idle and
(272) HRA provides immediate feedback, a new letter arriving each day. But the wishing well's opinion changes much more slowly, taking weeks to alter its overall opinion of the town.
Multilevel AI game control by HCA letters and wishing well part of AC's procedural rhetoric, consumer trends and spirituality.
If the HRA is a unit operation for consumer trends, the wishing well
is a unit operation for spirituality.
(273) Donating to the museum imposes a difficult decision on the player. . . . The museum forces the player to balance personal material gain against communal gain. . . . the animals might enjoy browsing the museum when the player logs out.
(274) Animal Crossing successfully creates identity crises for the player between consumption and introspection.
(274) The cross-platform tie-ins and licensed products create a kind of tendril that applies torsion to the game's rhetorics.
(275) Animal Crossing can be seen as a critique of contemporary consumer culture that attempts to persuade the player to understand both the intoxication of material acquisition and the subtle pleasures of abstention.
Values of Work
(275) As John Stuart Mill, John Gatto, Brenda Laurel, and others observed, schools are institutions that prepare young people to become workers.
(276) By and large, most businesses run in a similar fashion, with similar corporate hierarchies, policy practices, and administrative requirements. These practices can be represented in software. And videogames are becoming an increasingly popular way to deliver corporate training.
Bogost game for Cold Stone Creamery trains workers to benefit corporation but does expose corporate business model.
Recalling Michael and Chen's claims that videogames afford new
training opportunities for skills unsuited to classroom or book
improves the difficult process of training portioning in a
(281) Despite the relative novelty of a videogame with an ice cream viscosity model, the training outcomes described above return all benefits to the corporation, not to the worker.
(281) For the “team member,” the real learning benefits come in a different form: the level summaries. . . . The game's procedural rhetoric exposes the corporate business model itself—a model that does not directly benefit the worker, as is the case in most low-wage food service jobs.
(282) The Cold Stone Creamery team member and the Animal Crossing resident both interrogate procedural rhetorics about consumption. These players interact with procedural arguments about the situations that structure their daily lives, and engagement with those arguments allows them to orient their actions and attitudes in conscious support or opposition.
Morality and Faith
(283-284) If we concede that videogames in the abstract have not been shown convincingly to “turn an otherwise normal person into a killer,” how does such a concession affect claims about the impact of procedural rhetorics on “positive” real-world action like politics, health, consumption, and the other topics I have tried to address in this book? For procedural rhetorics to influence the world beyond the boundaries of the television screen and the computer monitor, clearly, we must admit that videogames facilitate actual persuasion, not just simulated persuasion.
(285-286) But as a simulation of morality, Shadow and its cousins enforce allegorical morality, one in which good and evil are embodied in a material form and overloaded for moralistic effect. Just as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas avoids specifying class relations between the player character and individual NPCs, so Shadow and Fable avoid specifying moral relations between the player character and individual gestures within the environment.
(287) One can embrace or reject America's Army based on political belief; one must play Deus Ex differently to accommodate multiple moral compasses.
(287) The two games offer an instructive lesson on procedural rhetoric and morality. On the one hand, videogames can represent ethical doubt through logics that disrupt movement along one moral register with orthogonal movement along another. On the other hand, videogames can represent ethical positions through logics that enforce player behavior along a particular moral register.
(287) It is surprising that the latter strategy has not found more use in games conceived to support stable moral systems, such as those of organized religion.
(289) Interestingly, fifteen years after Wisdom Tree's original foray into religious games, not much has changed.
(289) One of the more remarkable attempts at procedural religion in a game is Left Behind: Eternal Forces, a real-time strategy game that integrates religious ritual into gameplay.
Interesting to think of target markets for future games as the elderly, who do not need to learn how to live well but genuinely wish to be entertained.
(292) The absence of procedural rhetorics in religious games recalls the distinction between schooling and education. Just as schooling affirms the values of existing institutions rather than challenging old ideas with new ones, ethical and religious simulations affirm the existence of moral predicament and fiath as structures in the world. But they do little to disrupt existing moral and belief systems or to represent the function of desirable (or undesirable) systems rather than affirmations of the mere reality of morality and faith as concepts in the world. This subject remains an open territory for videogames of the future.
(294) To understand how games can change attitudes about physical fitness, we must interrogate the procedural rhetorics in exergames, not just the short-term outcomes of individual successes. To understand these recent games, it is useful to explore physical input games from the last several decades.
Prehistory of Exergaming
(295) This physical engagement with the arcade cabinet has its origin in pinball machines popular before and after World War II.
Pinball and upright videogames, as well as their location, involved more bodily movement than home consoles before explicitly designed exergames.
(295) Apart from less common cocktail-style arcade cabinets, gamers of the coinop era played in a fully upright position; playing a particularly successful round of even a standard space shooter like Galaxian might require a full half-hour of standing up and jostling the cabinet vigorously. . . . For kids and teens of the late 1970s and early '80s, playing videogames implied a brisk walk or ride to the local convenience store, mall, or arcade.
(296) Among the early exergames for Foot Craz and Power Pad, the vast majority adapted the core game mechanic of Track & Field, replacing fingers with feet.
(298) Games that use the sprinting rhetoric as their primary motivation for exercise simply borrow the model “button-mashing for sprinting” and adapt it to the player's feet.
(298) Although it is tempting to assume that such design is rudimentary and a function of experimentation with new input devices, even the most recent Olympic sports game, Athens 2004 for PS2 (played with the dance pad), uses an identical procedural rhetoric.
(300) The most unusual of physical-input games to deploy procedural agility is Street Cop, another NES Power Pad game. In Street Cop, the player takes the role of a police officer on the beat, looking for crooks and hoodlums.
(303) Nothing prevents a player from using a DDR-style dance pad as standard input for the PlayStation or Xbox. The pad provides four-direction control, and at least two button controls. Playing a game like Gran Turismo on the dance pad produces a sensation much like surfing.
(303) Games that require physical input based on time-sensitive responses operationalize the rapid response, engendering a procedural rhetoric of reflex.
(305) Unlike all the other games previously discussed, Dance Aerobics did not attempt to turn the input device into transparent window through which the player interacts with the game. Instead, the game makes it very clear that the Power Pad served as a measurement device for the player's progress.
(305-306) But the game enforces precise sensor presses as an extremely rudimentary unit operation for aerobic training. . . . This kind of “soft” feedback is impossible in Dance Aerobics, since the game can get only rudimentary feedback from the player—digital sensor touches on the Power Pad.
(306) The game could be construed to have a reflex rhetoric; the player is required to touch specific sensors given a particular time horizon. But unlike Video Jogger or Eggsplode, Dance Aerobics relies on an external cultural referent rather than an abstract system to structure its rules: the personal trainer.
(307) Despite the massive innovations in computer technology during the twenty years since Dance Aerobics, control inputs have remained largely the same: game consoles are capable of detecting digital button pushes and, on more recent consoles, levels of pressure on analog control sticks.
Now Wii controller and video tracking systems.
But games like Dance
rely on a traditional rhetoric of personal exercise: the subject of
the exercise must muster internal motivation to begin, pursue, and
continue the exercise regimen. Both games attempt to improve the
player's success in individual aerobic sessions, and the latter
strives to encourage players toward regular exercise. Yet both also
assume traditional, somewhat tired methods of promoting physical
the form of a personal trainer, rather than operationalizing what one
(309) A simple example of a generalized procedural trainer is Short Order, a game bundled with Eggsplode for the Power Pad. Short Order is a cross between the playground game hopscotch and the classic arcade game Burgertime.
(310) Dance Dance Revolution, the darling of exergaming with which I began this chapter, offers a sophisticated example of a training rhetoric. To use Yourself! Fitness effectively, the player must already be self-motivated to start and continue a fitness regimen. But DDR produces exercise as an emergent outcome of play itself.
(311) Unlike Yourself! Fitness, in which Maya knows nothing about the player's actions, DDR generates its verbal feedback procedurally based on the player's global energy level and individual combo patterns.
(311) By providing succinct, motivational feedback with each physical gesture, DDR grafts the personal trainer directly onto the player's perception. One might compare DDR to a lightweight heads-up display for joggers that would project proper footfalls onto the pavement and then provide immediate constructive feedback on th runner's pace and form.
(314) The strength of games like DDR lies precisely in their ability to engender physical activity through play without demanding the player to adopt a complex understanding of fitness.
of the Living Room
(314) An analysis would be incomplete without considering the environment in which these games are played in the first place. . . . Thus the living room is generally an inactive, static space with large, heavy furniture dividing a large, open space into many smaller, closed spaces.
(314) Each and every one of the exergames discussed here requires considerable physical space for successful, safe play.
(315) The infeasibility of such devices cannot be taken for granted in an analysis of exergaming.
(315) Logistical and technical limitations also stand in the way of exergame play.
(315) Playing these exergames on a personal computer is possible, but fraught with equal if not greater challenges.
(316) For better or worse, the large majority of suburban U.S. homes with the time and money to afford videogame consoles and exergaming software and hardware are simply not designed to support it; physical exertion is something relegated to the neighborhood sidewalk, the local gym, or, more commonly, nowhere at all.
(316) Exergames reveal the incongruence of work and exercise or leisure, and the prevalence of the ideological structures that push us to work more and move less.
Purposes of Persuasion
(317) But precisely how do we know if and when a procedural “statement” has persuaded someone?
(318-319) Videogames—especially serious games—have been implicated in a similar logic of accountablility. . . . Cult veneration is often characterized as daft or even dangerous, even if those in the mainstream pursue similar activities with equal zeal. Commercial games thus foreclose any judgment save that of the market. And market numbers are literally counted and compared, just like jury votes or ballots.
(319) Serious games impose a distinct but similar strategy to determine their success. In the case of the subject ares I have discussed in the previous chapters—politics, advertising, and learning—each has its own logic that stands in for the marketplace.
(320) If big business is measured by the amount of money it brings in, and if the logics of institutions like government and education take the place of capital in serious games, then the latter must measure success by the amount of reinforcement a game generates for a sponsoring institution.
Success measurement of serious games tied to market logic, too.
Citing Clark C. Abt's original 1970 notion of serious games, Michael
and Chen adopt the former's criteria for judging the “usefulness”
of such a game: active involvement and stimulation of all players;
sufficient realism to convey the essential truths of the simulation;
clarity of consequences and their causes both in rules and gameplay;
repeatability and reliability of the entire process. The first and
last criteria are the most telling. To be useful, a serious game must
stimulate and involve all
not merely a subset of players. . . . In other words, the gameplay
session must maintain a tight coupling with the institution's
existing processes, so that its support of those processes is
(322) Inevitably, serious games depend on accountability to authorities.
(323) It is worth noting that assessment has another, related meaning: that of valuation in general and taxation in particular.
(323) Assessment is thus fundamentally related to material exchange and economic return.
(323) In most cases, political, corporate, and educational institutions rely on one basic form of assessment, derived directly from the estimation of monetary value for taxation: numerical measurement. This goal motivates Michael and Chen's recommendation that developers store the details of players' every choice and action.
Numerical measurement at the heart of assessment.
(325) When applied to videogames, numerical assessment seeks to
account for player gestures, immediately and indelibly, in the
service of the sponsoring agency's known and predefined goals. . . .
When compared with other, known methods for achieving the same
result, one can determine the game's return on investment, the
relative cost benefit of achieving the desired results.
(325) Likewise, in-game ad network Massive has partnered with metrics firm Nielsen to create measurement tools for in-game ad placements.
(326) Other games attempt to account for their success through psychological or physiological metrics.
(326) But as I have argued, procedural rhetorics can also challenge the situations that contain them, exposing the logic of their operations and opening the possibility for new configurations. Accounting for such results is impossible from within the framework of the system a procedural rhetoric hopes to question; the currency of such a system is no longer valid. If we want to know how persuasive games persuade, we need to find another model.
(327-328) While many bloggers weighed in on their love, hate, or ambivalence for the game [The Howard Dean for Iowa Game], others interrogated its rules and attempted to relate those rules to the meaning of the campaign. . . . Such is the procedural rhetoric of politics: one amasses supporters in support of nothing more than support itself. Political justice becomes, in Alain Badiou's words, “the harmonization of the interplay of interests.”
(329) The real promise of Thomas's response to the game's argument would come from discursive, not numerical analysis.
Such as this book and the discourse network it empowers, rhetoric mustering deliberation, for example Christian homily.
(329-330) There are precedents for styles of rhetoric that muster
deliberation as evidence of persuasion. Modes of Judeo-Christian
rhetoric outside of missionary sermon are less easily compared to the
classical modes of evidence. . . . Hermeneutics helps the parishioner
specify the general homiletic rule to his particular situation.
(330) Unlike classical persuasion, homily enforces a set of constraints—one would not be wrong to call them rules—that are intended to structure thought and action for the object of the persuasion. Homily itself is verbal, not procedural, but nevertheless a procedural system founds its verbal rhetoric—in this case the system of belief delineated in scripture.
(331) Badiou's notion of fidelity is modeled after amorous relations, not religious faith. . . . The gesture that establishes a situation, what Badiou calls the count-as-one and which I have called a unit operation, sets the rules for a fidelity. . . . Fidelity helps us understand the uniqueness of Badiou's concept of the event; the event is not an isolated instance, but rather is something that always subsumes its participants.
Badiou set-theoretical ontology to the rescue: fidelity, event, situation, subject, and especially the evental site, relating to simulation fever.
(331) Badiou reserves the name subject
beings transformed by an event into a relationship of fidelity. . . .
Within Badiou's vocabulary, we might then argue that procedural
rhetorics make claims about the structure of a situation, in the
hopes of inspiring a disruptive event. . . . Badiou articulates a
trace of this potential event within the configuration of a
situation, which be names the evental site.
(332) The evental site takes on special status in relation to the situation. It is the place where “radical innovation” emerges. Actually changing the situation requires an event, but motivated recognition of the situation's structure can take place at the evental site. Procedural rhetorics couple particularly well with Badiou's set-theoretical ontology.
(332) Persuasive games expose the logic of situations in an attempt to draw players' attention to an evental site and encourage them to problematize the situation.
(332-333) Previously, I have argued that videogames represent in the gap between procedural representation and individual subjectivity. The disparity between the simulation and the player's understanding of the source system it models creates a crisis in the player; I named this crisis simulation fever, a madness through which an interrogation of the rules that drive both systems begins.
(333) Procedural rhetoric also produces simulation fever. . . . Persuasion is related to the player's ability to see and understand the simulation author's implicit or explicit claims about the logic of the situation represented.
(333-334) But criticism requires formal discourse, often limiting itself to the academic and cultural elite. More generally, persuasive games can produce discourse in the general sense, like the blog conversations that cropped up around the Dean game.
(335) The ability for a community to consider, refine, revise, and reinvent itself bears fruit for advertisers only if such opinions found a large enough collective to consume media-placed messages. Even a focus on niche markets rallies around the same logic; tools like blog advertising or search keyword networks simply replicate mass-market media advertising on a smaller scale.
Conversation systems built into or around games is where deliberation often takes place, since not yet built into game logic itself: imagine my Macy Conferences game.
Other researchers have attempted to build conversation systems
directly into their educational games.
(337) Social scientists may not that such conversations could be measured using qualitative analysis.
(337) But qualitative research too relies on an economy of return. . . . The common use of qualitative research in general and ethnography in particular among anthropologists helps justify their particular interest in characterizing the general operation of social and cultural systems. . . . Based on ethnography, researchers draw conclusions that neatly tie up their observations. A place for every social gesture, and every gesture in its place.
(338) Philosophy has offered numerous meditations on the vicious economic cycle. Jacques Derrida argued that the true gift confounds economics because it neither demands nor expects recompense. . . . Even if a procedural rhetoric products such intense simulation fever around an evental site that an event erupts, the event itself can never understand its consequences.
(338) Derrida drew a connection between the gift and what he called dissemination, a replacement for communication that admits that the source of a message has no certain knowledge about its successful delivery.
(339) But if procedural rhetorics challenge the logics of structures that contain them, then the only way to address their success is through transformation.
Humanities appeal of persuasive games tracing procedural construction of subjectivity.
(339-340) Humanistic approaches to cultural artifacts could be seen to trace the procedural construction of human subjectivity—the interlocking logics, histories, and cultural influences recent and past that drive our perspectives on new challenges. As the name suggests, the humanities help us understand what it means to be human, no matter the contingencies of profession, economics, or current affairs.
Historical scale of meaning suggests games may be played and studied in the distant future, just as other humanities artifacts: consider what may be done after all copyrights expire, so that black boxes can be opened to explore both internal workings and iterative development processes. Reverse fetishism, combine with sourcery, by focusing on humanities components of videogames.
(340) Most importantly, these observations take place over time. In
part, they take place over the time of an individual's life. . . .
The videogames we make and play today may have meaning for us now,
but they also defer that meaning for future players, who will
experience these artifacts in different contexts. Meaning takes place
on the historical scale.
(340) As players of videogames and other computational artifacts, we should recognize procedural rhetoric as a new way to interrogate our world, to comment on it, to disrupt and challenge it. As creators and players of videogames, we must be conscious of the procedural claims we make, why we make them, and what kind of social fabric we hope to cultivate through the processes we unleash on the world. Despite the computers that host them, despite the futuristic and mechanical fictional worlds they often render, videogames are not expressions of the machine. They are expressions of being human. And the logics that drive our games make claims about who we are, how our world functions, and what we want it to become.
Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007. Print.