The Judgement of Procedural Rhetoric by Simon Ferrari
Committee: Ian Bogost (chair), Fox Harrell, Michael Nitsche, and Celia Pearce (in absentiae)
Thursday, 18 March 2010, 1:30-3:30p
This thesis establishes a theoretical framework for understanding virtual spaces and roleplaying in relation to Ian Bogost’s theory of “procedural rhetoric,” the art of persuading through rule systems alone. Bogost characterizes the persuasive power of games as setting up an Aristotelian enthymeme—an incomplete argument—that one completes through play; however, I argue that the dominant rhetoric intended by a team of game designers is subject to manipulation through player choice. Discrete structures within the play experience cause the meaning-making possibilities of a game object to pullulate in a number of directions. Procedural rhetoric is not comprehended or created when reflected back upon after play: we interrogate it, piece it together, and change it through play.
If rules are how the designers express themselves through videogames, then the player expresses herself by forming a personal ruleset—a modus operandi or ethical system—in response to the dominant rhetoric. Furthermore, game space is not merely the place where this dialectic occurs; it also embodies a ruleset in the way it organizes objects and directs the flow of play. The thesis proposes a model by which games, which are “half-real” according to theorist Jesper Juul, can be judged intersubjectively—that is, in a way that accounts for the objectivity of their rulesets and the subjectivity of player experience. By fully understanding the dynamic between the three procedural influences of rules, space, and identity, we can learn more about designing persuasive game systems and enhance the possibilities of subversive play.
Required reading: Persuasive Games, Half-Real, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, Video Game Spaces, and The Ethics of Computer Games
Core Ludography: Far Cry 2, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and Left 4 Dead