Mediating Theory in
By Ian Bogost
a Project by Greg Pace
Writing Across Media 303 – George Boone – Fall 2013
About the book
Bogost is an award winning author and game designer
whose work focuses on video games and computational
He owns his own game studio and heavily writes about
video games being an expressive medium.
In the book he argues:
Video games represent how real and imagined systems work. They
invite players to interact with those systems and form judgments
Video games represent how real and imagined systems work.
They invite players to interact with those systems and form
judgments about them.
2 Problems Arise:
1) Why is it that video games are not taken seriously as a
form of literature and art.
2) How can we define video games as a form of literature
The goal of persuasive games is to do exactly that through
a new type of rhetoric coined as “Procedural Rhetoric.”
What does it mean?
Before we can explore the true meaning of procedural rhetoric and how it
applies to video games we must understand:
What “Rhetoric” is,
Where it comes from
Learn about the different types of rhetoric we encounter in our lives.
Each type of rhetoric has its advantages and disadvantages in accomplishing
its main goal
Video games provide new and exciting ways to do so.
What is Rhetoric?
The Origins of Rhetoric
When people think of rhetoric there is usually a negative connotation
associated with it.
An example would be on the news when they talk about political rhetoric
being a negative which is not always true.
Rhetoric first appears in Plato’s Gorgias (aprox. 2500 years ago)
(Rhetor) means “orator” and “his practice”
Oral and public
(as if in the public forum with the goal of persuasion/present an argument)
What is Rhetoric?
The Origins of Rhetoric (continued)
Continue with a description or narration of events
Proof and evidence and the probabilities that such evidence is found
Speakers should begin with an introduction of the argument
Finally end with conclusion restating the argument.
States rhetoric can also be written
In writing, speech, or art that accomplishes the goals of the author and absorbs the reader
and viewer. Writers and artist need this because they have expressive goals not just to
persuade an argument.
What is Rhetoric?
Defined by Plato and Socrates as a means of verbal persuasion
(as if they were in the public fourm representing themselves)
Aristotle describes it also as written persuasion as well as
What does this mean for things like photographs, movies, and
anything visual? Aren’t that also trying to satisfy persuasion and
Visual communication cannot simply adopt the figures and forms of oral and
written expression because of this a new form of rhetoric must be created to
accommodate these media forms such as photographs, drawings, graphs and
tables, and motion pictures.
Verbal and written text is understood relatively slower overtime where as
something like images are comprehended almost instantaneously sometimes
unknowingly to the viewer.
This kind of instantaneous response is popular in advertising where rather
than persuading someone to buy something they just end up doing it without
even thinking about why they are buying it.
Times Have Changed
In order to account for things like message boards, emails, blogs, and wikis
we use a type of rhetoric called digital rhetoric.
Lots of digital rhetoric is similar to rhetoric, written letters have become
emails, and conversations can be come instant messages.
While this might be true for certain examples of things on the internet but
what has changed are the following variables the internet provides:
Speed (How fast things be done on the internet)
Reach (How many people can see it on the internet)
Anonymity (can be anyone no name required)
Interactivity (changes based off the user)
a webpage with an intention of rhetoric can be written by anyone
viewed instantly by anyone anywhere
inside that site multiple hyperlinks
bring you to relevant information pertaining to the subject or claim the site is making.
This can be applied to message boards, wikis, blogs and more. This kind of
rhetoric can involve human interaction similar to rhetoric in video games but
it does not account for the procedurality that exist in video games.
Like rhetoric, procedurality is a difficult term to understand.
Procedures are often thought of established, entrenched ways of
Only when they go wrong do we really notice them, “after several
complains, we decided to review our procedures for creating new
Computers bring a new level of procedurally because they are not like
humans in the sense that they are programmed with specific
“procedures” that effect its outcome.
Retail store example of returning something after its
Humans might allow it to be returned vs a computer would reject
Not to say computers cant have procedures to give frequent
customers an option to return pass the return window.
This kind of thing happens all the time and because
procedurality is fundamental to computers they are
particularly suited to procedural expression.
Procedurality in computers represent a process within a process.
Video games are all bound to these processes that exist within
processes. Graphic logics such as movement, gravity, and collision
detection are all processes that make up the process of the game.
All of these processes in a virtual video game space can author
arguments, which is the original goal of rhetoric.
So when we put all this together we can begin to understand the
rhetoric in video games, procedural rhetoric.
The goal of Persuasive Games is to define procedural rhetoric in video
games and give examples of such rhetoric and how it is relevant in
today’s world where video games are an industry larger than
Procedural rhetoric is 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
Procedural rhetoric’s arguments are made not through construction of
words or images but through the authorship of rules of behavior, the
construction of dynamic models. Procedural rhetoric’s afford new and
promising ways to make claims about how things work.
Because video games and other forms of procedural rhetoric are so
interactive and rely on humans involvement as a mediator, you can
really see how video games processes allow for more effective
expression and the ability to persuade as an art.
Examples of Procedural Rhetoric
Throughout the book Bogost showcases procedural rhetoric in three domains
Using some examples from the book as well as my own examples below you
will find links to my commentary of the procedural rhetoric over footage of
the game play.