Procedural Rhetoric

Bogost, Ian.   Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2007. Print.

Summary:    The first chapter of Bogost’s work, the subject of this summary, begins with an explanation of Tenure, a simulation game for teachers that he uses as an example of how a school runs, how it is complicated by many things; showing what procedural rhetoric is.  Bogost then goes on to thoroughly define both procedure and rhetoric.  He then summarizes the order of rhetoric in Ancient Greece: introduction, description, proof, probability the evidence is sound, refutation (twice), and finally recapitulation.  After that is a discussion of visual rhetorics and digital rhetorics, and what it takes to form them into a new medium.  Bogost argues for procedural rhetorics as a new rhetorical domain.  He explains his concept of the “anti-advergame”, using The McDonald’s Videogame  as an example.  He also discusses G!rlpower Retouch and Freaky Flakes, using them as examples of potential places to insert procedural rhetorics.  Bogost points out questions that arise about the relationship between procedural representation and vividness, and about the relationship between procedural representation and dialectic.  Based on his answers to these questions, he argues that procedural representations should be inserted in the second slot from the top in the vividness information table (Charles Hill).  Bogost then posits a hypothetical debate between images (quoting Charles Hill) vs. text (quoting J. Anthony Blair).

     Then Bogost discusses interactivity, something he views as both procedural and participatory.  He tells us why videogames are among the most procedural of the computational artifacts.  Videogames are posited as good for the relevance of context in interaction with representational goals of the system.  They require user interaction to complete procedural representations.  In them, persuasion and expression are linked, producing rhetorical speech.  Bogost calls games “persuasive” when they use procedural rhetorics effectively.  He is interested in videogames that make arguments about how systems work in the material world.  He uses several examples to show how/when videogames don’t accomplish procedural rhetorics.  Then Bogost outlines techniques used in the industry; how visual rhetoric (graphical skin) is applied to existing gameplay and how verbal rhetoric applies a textual skin.  A good example of this he gives is the game Tax Avoiders.  Bogost then goes on to discuss the Serious Games Initiative and the multiple meanings we have for the concept ‘serious’.  He claims that persuasive games allow us the opportunity to use procedural rhetoric to support or challenge our understanding of the ways things should or do work.  Serious games are not equivalent to commercial videogames.  Bogost makes the distinction between persuasive games and persuasive technologies clear.  He also lists Fogg’s seven types of technology tools, which he goes on to point out are not rhetorical.  Bogost critiques Fogg’s work, saying that he emphasizes psychology, something that limits his worldview and that the result of these things is low process intensity in his representations.  Lastly, he delves into the function of computer code in the analysis of computer rhetoric.

Discussion:  Bogost uses Aristotle to expound on his meaning of rhetoric.  Aristotle outlines three final causes for rhetoric, distinguishing between forensic, deliberative, and epideictic.  Forensic or judicial rhetoric is concerned with achieving justice, such as in courts of law.  Deliberative or political rhetoric is concerned with benefiting the public via assembly.  Epideictic or ceremonial rhetoric uses private discourse to achieve either honor or shame, as the case requires.  I would like to see a more comprehensive list of differing types of rhetoric.  It would seem that there are many that are not covered by this tiny list of Aristotle’s.  For instance, where are the rhetorical communications between pairs or small groups?  Many times there is a single individual who is using rhetoric to convince one person of the rightness or wrongness of their actions in an attempt to benefit them, and possibly others.  Or is one of the requirements in order to be considered rhetoric, the public audience; to my understanding that is not the case.

If his function is how procedural representations are used for persuasion, it is interesting how deeply (defensively, almost) he contrasts Sutton-Smith’s ideas of the rhetorics of play with his interest in procedural rhetorics.  It seems as though play has the connotation of random, which would automatically place it out of the realm of anything procedural.  As that is not the case, it is still interesting how sharply he draws the line when he later goes on to show how the difference between persuasive games and commercial games (for entertainment only) is a shady gray area with gradual steps.  Games are for playing, so ignoring or rejecting the idea of play seems to ignore one of the persuasive aspects, be it a game with procedural rhetoric or no.


Bogost outlines all the ways procedural rhetorics can be inserted into “serious” videogames.  I am wondering how “serious” videogames can actually be considered, and who is drawing the lines between the serious and the un-serious and how this actually plays out in the world of those who are actually playing these games?

What effect does an increased user interactivity and complex procedural rhetoric have on the gaming crowd, or whomever the games are targeted at?  How is the moral effect of differing levels of procedural rhetoric measured?

Keywords or Phrases:

procedurality (2)

procedural rhetoric (3)

“However, turgidity and extravagance are relatively recent inflections to this term, which originally referred only to persuasive speech, or oratory.” (15)

enthymeme (18, 33)

aporia (19)

syllogism (18)

“Success means effective expression, not necessarily effective influence.” (20)

consubstantiality (20)

image event (24)

metonymy (26)

subornation (30)

apogee (33)

dialectic (35)

“Play is the free space of movement within a more rigid structure.” (42)

orthogonal (47)

sight gag (50)

interstitial (52)

white paper (55)

apotheosis (58)

captology (59)

acronymizes (61)

Related Reading:

Sutton-Smith, Brian. The Ambiguity of Play. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. Print.

Fogg, B.J. Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. Waltham: Morgan Kaufman, 2002. Print.


The Rhetorical Situation by Lloyd F. Bitzer

Bitzer, Lloyd F.  “The Rhetorical Situation.” Cornell University, New York. Nov. 1966. Lecture.

Summary:   Bitzer lectures on what a rhetorical situation is, in his mind.  He looks for answers to the questions of what contexts, speakers, and writers are involved in the formation of a rhetorical situation.  The main criteria that determine that a rhetorical situation has occurred or is occurring: the presence of rhetorical discourse.  Bitzer uses classical examples to highlight clear instances of rhetoric, such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Socrates’ Apology, or John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.  Bitzer emphasizes that it is not the rhetoric that makes the discourse, but the situation that causes the discourse.  He is answering the question; what is the nature of the rhetorical situation?  Bitzer goes on to describe what rhetoricians have done, and how what he is doing differs from what has come before.  First, he points out that rhetorical discourse gets its “character-as-rhetorical” from the situation in which the discourse arises.  So, something can be labeled as rhetorical when it is a response to a specific type of situation.  Bitzer also emphasizes the point that rhetoric comes about in order to perform a function, and not just for its own sake; it is performing a task in the world; it is a “mode of altering reality”.  Secondly, he provides a formal definition.  Bitzer lays out three necessary elements of the rhetorical situation: the exigence, the audience, and the constraints.  Thirdly, Bitzer expounds on the three elements of the rhetorical situation.  “Rhetorical discourse is called into existence by situation.  It invites a fitting response.  Situation must prescribe the response which fits.  The situation is objective, publicly observable, and historic.  Rhetorical situations exhibit structures which are simple or complex, and more or less organized.  Rhetorical situations come into existence; they they either mature, decay, or persist indefinitely.”  Lastly, Bitzer provides the justification for the the rhetorical situation; that the world is full of problems that need to be solved, objects that require examination, mysteries that need explanation, and general imperfections that benefit from rhetorical discourse.

Discussion:   Bitzer uses Malinowski’s example of the fishing expedition to show how the situation determines what sort of observations are made at the same time it constrains what is said and done. This example readily exemplifies how the situation is a determining factor.  A fisherman must use the lingo and make specific demands, to respond, in short: all of which is contingent on what is physically going on around the fisherman.  The rhetorical discourse is, so to speak, the last thing that happens.  The stage is already set, the situation is occurring.  The situation’s requirements cause the speeches to be significant.  Of course, if the situation exists, then the discourse can happen.  However, rhetorical situations can occur without there being any rhetorical discourse.  The situation, to be rhetorical, has to be capable of producing discourse that will assist with resolving issues, and thereby altering realities.  Discourse also must function as a fitting response if the situation demands it.  The situation is the controlling factor.  All the rhetoric comes from the situation itself; how to respond, who responds, what the response should be, why a response is required.  The situation also has an infinite number of elements.  Not only are there the constraints on the rhetor, there are constraints on the situation itself, and the audience as well.

      In response to the above concept, I find that this lecture is somewhat repetitive, and while I appreciate the examples given, a few more embedded within the work for each point would be welcome.  This strikes me as a concept that is begging for examples and some “hands-on” explanations.  The vocabulary is so repetitive, and the concepts so specific and overlapping, that more concrete examples (as opposed to just throwing Socrates’ Apology out there-no matter how well known), would be extremely helpful with the concepts.  I, for one, would like to see how a rhetorical situation might arise out of a not-so-rhetorical situation, or out of one that is definitely not rhetorical at all.  Some of this is covered by the lengthy explanations of the constituents, but the constraints bring up even more questions as to the changing nature of the rhetorical situation.  As mentioned above, and in Edbauer’s article, there are more elements to the rhetorical situation than are necessarily accounted for in Bitzer’s speech.  The language of discourse and how the rhetor disseminates the information are important points in relation to the particular audience.

Questions:  Are there constraints upon the rhetor that negate it being a rhetorical situation, as they so constrict the actions of the rhetor that he/she is unable to effect any change in reality and therefore cannot resolve the exigence at all?  Or are those constraints then just a portion of the exigence, another aspect requiring resolution?  I guess this relates to the criticism mentioned in Edbauer’s article, that Bitzer ignores the plurality of exigencies that can and do exist.

What, exactly, is Malinowski’s example of the fishing expedition?  What is the main point of Cicero’s orations? There are no references for these works, and I am unfamiliar with these two examples.  I get it enough that the concepts are conveyed, but being able to consult the originals would be helpful.  As detailed as the explanation is, I would like more specific and documented references.

The example of “a person spending his time writing eulogies of men and women who never existed” seems so fantastic as to prove unhelpful–this situation almost certainly doesn’t exist…wouldn’t it be more useful to talk about a person who writes obituaries for people they don’t know, as that is actually a situation that occurs?

Keywords or phrases:




“A rhetorical work is analogous to a moral action rather than to a tree.”

“It is a mode of action and not an instrument of reflection.”

Related reading:

Plato. “Socrates’ Apology.” http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html. Web.

Cicero. “The Catiline plot and the orations of Cicero.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catiline_Orations.  Web.


The Five Master Terms  by Kenneth Burke

Burke, Kenneth. “The Five Master Terms: Their Place in a “Dramatistic” Grammar of Motives”. View June 1943: 1-11. Reprinted with permission.

Summary:    In this essay, Burke begins with an overview of motives for behavior.  He notes that there are more undocumented than there are documented, and as such, the alternative to the synoptic approach is a “generating principle”.  He suggests the use of five master terms that allow for a method in which one can anticipate notions of motive.  In Burke’s view, rather than moving from the periphery to the center, a generating principle allows movement from the center to the periphery, a necessary function in predicting philosophies.  He describes his pentad: “They are like the fingers on a hand.”  The Five Master Terms are: Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, and Purpose.  In his description, philosophies are born when one of the pentad is featured in more prominence than the other.  He goes on to cite many examples, such as Idealism being based in Agent, and Pragmatism being based in Agency.   Burke discusses purpose in both its metaphysical sense and its everyday human sense, and thus how theories such as mechanism and mysticism come about.    Burke notes, simplistically: “that realism treats individuals as members of a group whereas nominalism treats a group as an aggregate of individuals.  He notes the dialectics of Agent and Scene, and of Agency and Purpose.  Ultimately, Burke is showing how use of these terms has led to the dissolution of drama within theology and how this has made science possible.


Burke expounds on the philosophies of realism and how they are based in the definition of Act, as humans are capable of not only motion, but action in the full sense of the word.  From Aristotle, we get God as Actus purus; Saint Thomas Aquinas claims a “form is an act”; existence is “the act of essence”; form realizes matter.  In other words, existence is action and essence is potential action. Therefore, things that exist are act-ualities.  From scholastic realism where form realizes matter, comes the dialectic opposite of nominalism that eventually translates into modernism.  Where scholastic realism stressed the foundations of feudalism and what was best for the group or tribe, nominalism stressed the uniqueness and value of the individual and saw the group as a collection of such.

Burke describes any given philosophy as a sunspot, a “configuration made of molten metals that have been cast forth from the boiling interior of the sun, projected far enough from the source to congeal into a fixed form”.  He states that any philosophy is thus subject at any time to a return to the blazing interior and subsequent obscurity, only to rise again in a slightly different form.  He uses an interesting term, panspermia, to describe this space where the five terms can overlap.  To me, it sounds like a shift in scientific paradigm, only more subtle.  From here he goes on to describe pairings or dialectics.  Of interest to me are the Scene-Agent relationship which gives rise to the “pathetic fallacy”, and the partner of Act which causes the pairing of dramatic action with the lyric pause. 


My general question is: why does Burke draw on so many ideologies in such a brief fashion, and in such a confusing way, instead of simplifying and expanding into a much larger text?

Specifically: why does he insert such a big concept like “mystical philosophies arise as a general social manifestation in times of great skepticism or confusion about the nature of human purpose” in the middle of a dialogue on terminology and philosophy?  Granted, it is appropriate to discuss, but as with much of the essay, more development seems to be in order.

Lastly, why does he end with and not begin with a summary of the piece, and then introduce the new concept of the “super-drama”?  Beginning with the statement: “This dramatistic consideration makes it readily clear why scholastic theology could prepare the way for the secular philosophies of science”, would have been welcome earlier in the essay as a clear discussion point.

Keywords and Phrases:

geopolitics (page 1)

-surrealism (page 1)

-synoptic approach to the subject of motives (page 1)

Ausgangspunkt (page 7)

-sun metaphor (page 9)

panspermia (page 10)

Related readings:

Richards, I. A. How To Read a Page: A Course in Effective Reading, With an Introduction to a Hundred Great Words. New York: W. W. Norton, 1942. Print.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. “The World as Will and Idea.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/648216/The-World-as-Will-and-Idea

Baldwin, James. “Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/162309/Dictionary-of-Philosophy-and-Psychology