"Constructs of the Real and the Rhetoric of Games" by Sherry Jones (August 14, 2014)


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I am the Game Studies Facilitator for the #Metagame Book Club (http://bit.ly/metagamebookclub). This is my Week 4 Lecture on the "Constructs of the Real and the Rhetoric of Games," with study emphasis on Ian Bogost's Procedural Rhetoric theory, and Ryan Lizardi's examination of the counterfactual and alternate histories presented in the Bioshock series.

Live Video Lecture - The live recorded youtube video of this lecture is included toward the end of this presentation.

Join the Metagame Book Club - We welcome all educators interested in gaming in education, game-based learning, gamification, and game studies to join the #Metagame Book Club.

#Metagame Book Club (July 15 - August 16, 2014)

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"Constructs of the Real and the Rhetoric of Games" by Sherry Jones (August 14, 2014)

  1. 1. #Metagame Book Club Track 1: Game Studies Week 4: “Constructs Of The Real And The Rhetoric Of Games” Sherry Jones Game Studies Facilitator @autnes http://bit.ly/metagamebookclub
  2. 2. Guiding Questions 1 1. According to Ian Bogost, how do video games express procedural rhetoric? What game examples did Bogost offer for analysis? 2. Ian Bogost calls on educators to employ video games in the classroom. How should educators do so in light of the recognition of procedural rhetoric expressed by video games? 3. Can you offer a procedural rhetorical analysis of your favorite (or least favorite) video game? What claims does the video game make? What rules and game mechanics are enforced by the game to support those claims?
  3. 3. Guiding Questions 2 4. According to Ryan Lizardi, what are the purposes for incorporating counterfactual/alternate histories into literature, such as video games? How do readers experience alternate histories? 5. Can you offer some examples of video games that offer counterfactual/alternate histories? How do alternate histories influence your understanding of actual history referenced by the video game? 6. Mark L. Sample points out various ethical problems with the representation of torture in video games. What are some of the problems? How does “the human distance between the interrogator and the interrogated” via video games influence our experience of torture?
  4. 4. Game Studies Texts for Analysis Constructs of the Real and the Rhetoric of Games ● [ARTICLE] "The Rhetoric of Video Games" by Ian Bogost ● [ARTICLE] "On Technical Agency and Procedural Rhetoric: A Quick Response to Joshua McVeigh-Schulz" by Ian Bogost ● [ARTICLE] "Comparative Video Game Criticism" by Ian Bogost ● [ARTICLE] "Bioshock: Complex and Alternate Histories" by Ryan Lizardi ● [ARTICLE] "Virtual Torture: Videogames and the War on Terror" by Mark L. Sample
  5. 5. “The Rhetoric of Video Games” (2008) by Ian Bogost
  6. 6. Analysis of Animal Crossing Ian Bogost explores “the rhetoric of video games” by offering several video game examples for analysis. He begins the article by analyzing the Nintendo Gamecube and DS game, Animal Crossing, which re-presents cultural values, particularly capitalism and materialism, that influence the player’s role in production and consumption. We will explore the article in-depth to understand how video games, like Animal Crossing, can be analyzed as literature with rhetorical functions.
  7. 7. Animal Crossing: An Animal Village Simulator What is Animal Crossing trying to “say” to us?
  8. 8. Commerce of Animal Crossing Bogost explains that Animal Crossing provides a model of commerce that relies on an obligatory mortgage loan system (i.e. death pledges) to fuel productivity: “One of the more challenging projects in the game is paying off the mortgage on one’s house. Animal Crossing allows players to upgrade their homes, but doing so requires paying off a large note the player must take out to start the game in the first place. The player must then pay down renovation mortgages for even larger sums. While the game omits some of the more punitive intricacies of long-term debt, such as compounding interest, improving one’s home does require consistent work in the gameworld.” (Bogost 117)
  9. 9. Materialism and Debt Player is positioned in the game as a perpetual debt-bearer as the player is prompted to continually incur debt to renovate the home and obtain goods: “My son began to realize the dilemma facing him: the more material possessions he took on, the more space he needed, and the more debt he had to assume to provide that space. And the additional space just fueled more material acquisitions, continuing the loop. This link between debt and acquisition gives form to a routine that many mortgage holders fail to recognize: buying more living space not only creates more debt, it also drives the impulse to acquire more goods. More goods demand even more space, creating a vicious cycle.” (Bogost 117)
  10. 10. The Dealer: Tom Nook (Tanukichi) Tom Nook (たぬきち, aka Japanese Raccoon Dog), is Animal Crossing’s in- game Real Estate Tycoon & Shopkeeper. He’s the player’s loan holder and goods dealer.
  11. 11. Corporate Bourgeoisie The game provides a model of wealth distribution with Tom Nook as the “Corporate Bourgeoisie” that forever locks the player in Consumer Proletariat debt hell, with the lure of inexhaustible material goods: “In contrast [to the game’s non-materialistic NPCs], the player participates in a full consumer regimen: he pays off debt, buys and sells goods. Tom Nook buys the player’s goods, which he converts to wealth. As the player pays off debt and upgrades his home to store more goods, he sees Tom Nook convert that wealth into increased commercial leverage—one’s own debt makes the bank rich. Tom Nook then leverages that wealth to draw more capital out of the player, whose resources remain effectively constant. While the player spends more, Nook makes more.” (Bogost 118)
  12. 12. Reality in Animal Crossing Simulation Games, like Animal Crossing, re-presents the real world in a simple form with emphasis on certain moral attitudes and ideologies of the real world: “Animal Crossing is also a game about long-term debt. It is a game about the repetition of mundane work necessary to support contemporary material property ideals. It is a game about the bittersweet consequences of acquiring goods and keeping up with the Joneses. Animal Crossing accomplishes this feat not through moralistic regulation, but by creating a model of commerce and debt in which the player can experience and discover such consequences. In its model, the game simplifies the real world in order to draw attention to relevant aspects of that world.” (Bogost 118)
  13. 13. Possibility Spaces of Video Games Reminiscent of Huizinga’s definition of the magic circle where play occurs within the “conditions of play,” Bogost defines video games as possibility spaces where play occurs within the “constraints of computer rules and representations.” Meaning is generated by combination of game rules: “In a video game, the possibility space refers to the myriad configurations the player might construct to see the ways the processes inscribed in the system work. This is really what we do when we play video games: we explore the possibility space its rules afford by manipulating the symbolic systems the game provides. The rules do not merely create the experience of play— they also construct the meaning of the game. That is to say, the gestures, experiences, and interactions a game’s rules allow (and disallow) make up the game’s significance.” (Bogost 121)
  14. 14. On Procedurality of Computers and Procedural Rhetoric of Video Games
  15. 15. Procedurality and Representation “Procedurality gets its name from the function of the processor— procedurality is the principal value of the computer, which creates meaning through the interaction of algorithms.” (Bogost 122) “When video games represent things—anything from space demons to long- term debt—they do so through procedurality, by constructing rule-based models of their chosen topics. In Doom’s model of the world, emphasis is placed on the trajectory and power of weaponry. In Animal Crossing’s model of the world, emphasis is placed on work, trade, and arrangement of the environment.” (Bogost 123)
  16. 16. Classic Rhetoric ● In Gorgias, Plato defines rhetoric as the art of persuasion, or making persuasive civic speeches. ● For Aristotle, the art of persuasion is more complex; it involves judging reasons, context & audience so to employ a set of oratory means for achieving persuasion.
  17. 17. Procedural Rhetoric “I suggest the name procedural rhetoric for the practice of using processes persuasively, just as verbal rhetoric is the practice of using oratory persuasively and visual rhetoric is the practice of using images persuasively. Procedural rhetoric is a general name for the practice of authoring arguments through processes. Following the classical model, procedural rhetoric entails persuasion—to change opinion or action. Following the contemporary model, procedural rhetoric entails expression—to convey ideas effectively. Procedural rhetoric is a subdomain of procedural authorship; its arguments are made not through the construction of words or images, but through the authorship of rules of behavior, the construction of dynamic models. In computation, those rules are authored in code, through the practice of programming.” (Bogost 125)
  18. 18. Procedural Rhetoric of Video Games? “Video games do not simply distract or entertain with empty, meaningless content. Rather, video games can make claims about the world. But when they do so, they do it not with oral speech, nor in writing, nor even with images. Rather, video games make argument with processes. Procedural rhetoric is the practice of effective persuasion and expression using processes. Since assembling rules together to describe the function of systems produces procedural representation, assembling particular rules that suggest a particular function of a particular system characterizes procedural rhetoric.” (Bogost 125)
  19. 19. Video Games as Models “Models of all kinds can be thought of as examples of procedural rhetoric; they are devices that attempt to persuade their creators or users that a machine works in a certain way. Video games too can adopt this type of goal; for example, a flight simulator program attempts to model how the mechanical and professional rules of aviation work. But since procedurality is a symbolic medium rather than a material one, procedural rhetorics can also make arguments about conceptual systems, like the model of consumer capitalism in Animal Crossing.” (Bogost 125)
  20. 20. Example Analysis of Bully
  21. 21. Game Rules/Social Rules in Bully “In Bully [by Rockstar Games], the player takes the role of Jimmy Hopkins, an adolescent just dropped off at Bullworth Academy by his disinterested mother and stepfather, who are on the way to their lavish honeymoon. . . . The game has been reviled for supposedly glorifying bullying, but the experience it creates is anything but celebratory. Even if the player struggles to steer Jimmy away from trouble, it catches up to him thanks to the petty malevolence of his peers. Students mill in the quad and buildings, either verbally and physically abusing each other or receding from verbal and physical attacks. Staying out of the way of the bullies (bullies in the game conveniently have their own clique, and all wear the same clothes) allows a player to avoid tussles. If a player stands in front of the wrong locker, he or she should expect to get shoved out of the way.” (Bogost 133)
  22. 22. Procedural Rhetoric of Bully The game model in Bully contains certain rules, such as requiring the player to form alliances and confront bullies (via verbal and fist fights) in order to survive high school. By imposing such rules on the player, the game is making the claim that high school is a volatile environment where hierarchy and power structures exist: “Bully models the social environment of high school through an expressive system of rules, and makes a procedural argument for the necessity of confrontation. Confronting bullies is not a desirable or noble action in the game, but it is necessary if one wants to restore justice. The game privileges the underdogs—nerds and girls—and the player spends most of his time undermining the bullies and the jocks in order to even the social pecking order.” (Bogost 134)
  23. 23. “Bioshock: Complex and Alternate Histories” (2014) by Ryan Lizardi
  24. 24. (h)istories in Bioshock Series (2007-) Although Clint Hocking, the former creative director of Lucas Arts and Ubisoft, argues that Bioshock 1 presents ludonarrative dissonance (def. narrative and gameplay are in conflict when the gameplay goes against the narrative themes, disrupting the player’s states of flow and immersion), Lizardi finds that the Bioshock series as a whole is advanced in enforcing counterfactual historical narratives with ludic elements. For Lizardi, the game is ideal for game studies in alternate histories. “Specifically, this article argues that the Bioshock series encourages complex historical interpretations as opposed to simplistic accepted histories, and that it does so despite the games' fantastical literal content.” (Lizardi)
  25. 25. Method for Analysis - Counterfactualism in Bioshock Series Lizardi argues that we need to examine whether a game’s counterfactual historical narrative alludes to actual events and ideologies in the time period referenced, in order to evaluate how well the game promotes critical thinking about history. “This analysis of the Bioshock series can look to elements of the counterfactual historical narrative that retain direct connections to ideologies and events during the time periods covered. Determining that the alternative histories present in the Bioshock series live up to this ideal is important if these games are to be posited as encouraging a contemplative historical mindset.” (Lizardi)
  26. 26. Art of Bioshock 1 “Inside Rapture” “Evolve Today!”
  27. 27. Narrative of Bioshock 1 (2007) ● Setting - 1960s, in an underwater city named Rapture (populated by American elites who came from the above ground, mainstream society). ● Themes - Objectivism; Capitalism; Evolution; Transhumanism. ● Characters ○ Andrew Ryan - A businessman and co-founder of Rapture as a safe haven for American elites to thrive without government control. ○ Frank Fontaine - Co-founder of Rapture who later created his own faction and warred against Ryan over ADAM. ○ Jack - Survivor of a plane crash (the player’s character). ○ Atlas - Mysterious person who helps Jack travel through Rapture. ● Conflicts - Obtaining ADAM (serum/sea slug that gives users superhuman powers); Little Sisters; Big Daddies; Control of Rapture; Escape from Rapture.
  28. 28. Art of Bioshock 2 “Tea Garden in Rapture” “Ocean view from Rapture”
  29. 29. Narrative of Bioshock 2 (2010) ● Setting - 8 years after the events that transpired in Bioshock 1, the setting is still in the underwater city named Rapture. ● Themes - Self vs. the Collective; Altruism vs. Domination; Humanness. ● Characters ○ Sophia Lamb - A collectivist and co-leader of The Rapture Family, attempting to dominate the world (both above and below ground). ○ Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum - A geneticist who discovered ADAM, the mother to all Little Sisters, and the co-leader of The Rapture Family; ○ Subject Delta - Earlier version of Big Daddy (the player’s character), attempting to reunite with Little Sister Eleanor (Lamb’s daughter). ● Conflicts - Obtaining ADAM (serum/sea slug that gives users superhuman powers); World Domination vs. Saving Little Sisters.
  30. 30. Art of Bioshock 3 “Elizabeth” “The First Lady”
  31. 31. Narrative of Bioshock 3 (2013) ● Setting - 1912, in the sky city of Columbia, populated by Americans. ● Themes - “American exceptionalism, religious zealotry, fervent racism, labor movements/revolutions and a healthy dose of quantum physics.” ● Characters ○ Zachary Comstock - Creator and Leader of Columbia; creates Columbia as a pseudo-Christian utopia. ○ Elizabeth - Captive of Comstock; possesses super power over space- time continuum. ○ Booker Dewitt - Former Pinkerton Government Agent who seeks to rescue Elizabeth from Comstock’s control (the player’s character). ● Conflicts - Nativist vs. Elite founders fighting to maintaining privilege for White Americans in Columbia.
  32. 32. Historical Meaning of Alternate Histories Lizardi references Schmeink’s argument that alternate histories, such as ones presented in the Bioshock series, calls on players to “revisit” history, one that is heightened by its fantasy setting and logic, so that the player would critically reflect on the distinctions between fantasy and actual histories. Helleckson further argues that alternate history “forces those who consume these texts to ‘rethink their world and how it has become what it is’ (2000, p. 254).” (Lizardi)
  33. 33. Morality of Choice in Bioshock 1 “In Bioshock, similar to series like Mass Effect (2007 - present), players are given choices but not told immediately whether they were the “right” ones to make, which limits the amount of reversal at a player’s disposal. Bioshock presents itself as validating counterfactual, anti-historical determinism with these ludic choices because when players are exercising their “free will” they are not privy to the “infinite chain of causation” (Ferguson 1999, p. 37).” “When players choose to hurt the Little Sisters they are given an ending that highlights dominance and "brutality" that is often levied against those of lower stature in society. By saving the Little Sisters players are given an ending where those who have been dominated now have a "chance to learn, to find love" and ‘to live.’” (Lizardi)
  34. 34. Plausibility of (h)istory in Bioshock 2 “Connections can be drawn between the politics of Bioshock 2’s alternate historical timeline and issues of community versus the individual that were so prevalent in the McCarthy era and the subsequent hippie/youth movements that followed. This is certainly a generalization of the era in question . . . but this game deals with questions of collectivism versus the will of the individual with direct connections to ideologies and events during this time period.” “Playing as a Big Daddy and searching for your long lost pair-bonded Little Sister, Eleanor, gamers must grapple with whether or not there is any humanity left in your controlled protagonist - named Delta Four - manifested, again, in the choice of whether or not to help or hurt the Little Sisters.” (Lizardi)
  35. 35. Religion & Nationalism in Bioshock 3 “Bioshock series creator Ken Levine discusses how United States history is a ‘much broader story than what’s shown in Columbia’ and, channeling Rosenstone, feels [it is] not a game’s responsibility to present the universal accuracy but to present prevalent issues of the day such as ‘charismatic religious movements’ and ‘growing nationalism’ (Lahti, 2013).” “Even accepted and beloved icons of US history are called into question because of their complex backgrounds, such as the game’s transformation of the images of Washington and Lincoln into violent religious icons. Engaging with such beloved American figures presents a ‘radical reframing of familiar events . . . capable of calling into question’ much of what is historically held dear (Uricchio 2005, p.335).” (Lizardi)
  36. 36. Religion & Nationalism in Bioshock 3 (Con’t) “Our protagonist, Booker, must begin to help the leader of the revolting Vox Populi, Daisy Fitzroy, to secure his and Elizabeth’s escape transportation from the city of Columbia. Not only do players begin to contribute to the symbolic fight between the hyper-capitalist, Comstock, and the collective-minded revolutionaries, but they also begin to receive hints about the ludological structure of jumping between alternate dimensions/realities. Players must begin to pick up items in one reality to bring them into another, and are introduced to the concept of individuals who are dead in one reality but alive in another, which creates a ‘superposition’ where characters are rendered incapacitated by recalling being both dead and alive simultaneously.” (Lizardi)
  37. 37. Watch Live Webinar To This Lecture
  38. 38. Lecture By: Sherry Jones Game Studies Facilitator Philosophy, Rhetoric, Game Studies @autnes Writings & Webinars Access Slides: http://bit.ly/gamestudies4