Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games – Ian Bogost

In Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of video Games, Ian Bogost proposes a new style of rhetorical analysis and productive called procedural rhetoric. He defines procedural rhetoric as “the practice of using processes persuasively,” or more precisely as “the practice of persuading through processes in general and computational processes in particular” (3). Procedural rhetoric, then, can be used as a tool for the creation of computation processes (and most specifically of video games) that contain some form of persuasive argument. Procedural rhetoric, as with other forms of rhetorical practice, can also be used to analyze artifacts that already exist, as well, and Bogost suggests that procedural rhetoric will help “unpack” the “computational arguments others have created” (3). Bogost also argues that other forms of rhetoric are not as well-suited or equipped to aid in the creation of analysis of computational media, especially those through which the user can only understanding the argument by way of engaging in the process of the system. As with other forms of rhetoric, procedural rhetoric “crafts discourse around known or desired conclusions” (17).  However, in other mediums such as writing, speech, art, etc., Bogost argues that rhetoric “accomplishes the goals of the author and absorbs the reader or viewer,” while with procedural rhetoric the medium must do more than absorb the reader, but instead guide or engage him through the systems processes in order that he may understand the argument in a systemic way; it is a rhetoric that is both procedural and participatory (19). With procedural rhetoric, “arguments are made not through the construction of words of images, but through the authorship of rules of behavior, the construction of dynamic models” (29). While most forms of rhetoric could be understand as passive in terms of audience, procedural rhetoric necessitates user action in order to complete the procedural representation (45). After establishing the parameters and philosophy of procedural rhetoric, Bogost moves on the use procedural rhetoric to analyze persuasive games. Persuasive games, via his own definition, are those games which “mount procedural rhetorics effectively” (46). More specifically Bogost uses procedural rhetoric to analyze videogames that make arguments about the way systems make in the real world. He then creates three categories for real world systems in which procedural rhetoric and persuasive games can and have been applied: politics, advertising, and learning.


While Bogost may, at times, oversimplify the rhetorical analyses conducted in other mediums, he does so in order to provide useful rhetorical tools that apply specifically to computational and digital mediums. This is useful, especially as game studies attempts to establish its own footing and separate itself from other forms of media. By establishing a rhetorical form that is unique to computation processes and to arguments dependent on procedural compliance,  Bogost attempts to give game studies and games analysis a stable footing of its own. Interestingly, though Bogost never directly discusses narrative, most of the complex systems he describes are immersed or enmeshed within equally complex narratives. The understanding of the systems in the games are generally dependent upon the users understanding of the context/narrative in which the game is situated. Even more importantly, against the users understanding of the complex narrative, the system allows for user engagement or agency. Bogost’s definition of persuasive games seems dependent on player agency and on the player’s ability to understand both the system and narrative in the game, but also to use that understanding to think critically about the system and the narratives outside the game too.

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