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.


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