Bogost, I. (2010). Persuasive games: The expressive power of videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bogost’s research question is to “suggest that videogames have a unique persuasive power” that is made possible through procedural rhetoric as this type of rhetoric is “tied to the core affordances of the computer,” but that “videogames are computational artifacts that have cultural meaning as computational artifacts,” unlike “‘ordinary software like word processors and photo editing applications [which] are often used to create expressive artifacts” since “those completed artifacts do not rely on the computer in order to bear meaning” (ix). Unlike some other game scholars and the gaming community, Bogost (2010) games can “disrupt and change fundamental attitudes and beliefs about the world, leading to potentially significant long-term change,” but that “this power is not equivalent to the content of videogames…Rather, this power lies in the very way videogames mount claims through procedural rhetorics” (ix). Bogost (2010) frames the foundation of his discourse within the evolution of rhetoric, but he applies and expands rhetoric to fill in the gaps left by traditional and visual and digital rhetoric through the technological difference of video games. His belief is while visual and textual rhetoric are still relevant, video game rhetoricians need to understand how procedural rhetoric functions in games. He defines procedural rhetoric as “the practice of using processes persuasively, just as verbal rhetoric 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…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,” with the rules of computational arguments written in code (p. 28-29).
Bogost (2010) concludes that “we must recognize the persuasive and expressive power of procedurality. Processes influence us. They seed changes in our attitudes, which in turn, and over time, change our culture…we should recognize procedural rhetoric as a new way to interrogate our world, to comment on it, to disrupt and challenge it. As creators and players of videogames, we must be conscious of the procedural claims we make, why we make them, and what kind of social fabric we hope to cultivate through the processes we unleash on the world” (p. 340). While his “social fabric we hope to cultivate” comment is a bit grand, his exploration of the ways in which processes underlying both society, business, education, and digital games, among other activities is a fascinating one but it takes into account that for every procedure that was included, another one had to be excluded, and the choices that were made reflect cultural and societal influences and norms. An example of this would be when Bogost (2010) talks about procedural rhetoric and political structures: “Procedural rhetorics articulate the way political structures organize their daily practice; they describe the way a system ‘thinks’ before it thinks about anything in particular. To be sure, this process of crafting opinion toward resignation has its own logic, and that logic can be operationalized in code” (p. 90).
Bogost’s (2010) text is useful when approaching my topic because he has a chapter devoted to “Advertising Logic,” applying visual and procedural logic when looking at how advertisers, like “marketing guru Seth Godin,” had to reevaluate the way they delivered advertisements to consumers with the rise of DVR and selling television shows on DVD allowing viewers to skip over commercials (p. 150 and 151). Bogost (2010) points out that, by targeting a demographic of males between the age of 18 to 34, “Marketing has shifted away from a focus on the procedural rhetoric of media technologies — integrating ads into rules of network programming formats. Instead, advertisers focus on the procedural rhetoric of the frames themselves — integrating ads into rules of consumers’ perceived cultural station” (p. 151-152), with even video games becoming a space in which advertisers can reach audiences through what has been coined “advergames” by J. Chen and M. Ringel (2001). While I do find it fascinating that digital games can be used to deliver advertising messages, the section of Bogost’s chapter that is going to be the most useful to me is when he describes three types of advertising — demonstrative, illustrative, and associative — and ties each of the strategies into how they are used within the video game industry. Before reading this section, I had no idea that there were different types of advertising and had no idea about how each of these types of advertising affects the ways in which consumers are approached and the types of rhetoric that are employed. For my particular project, it looks like I will be delving further into associative advertising as it is what Sony is using for their PlayStation 4 campaigns in the US and Japan by attempting to parallel players’ lives with the actions and achievements that are a part of in the games. By looking at his discourse on the associative advertising and then at the advertising rhetorics with “its own internal logic that informs and structures the attitudes” he describes with the three advertising types: “Advertising agencies develop strategic ‘campaigns’ based on a sophisticated understanding of a company’s products or services, their target audience, and their incremental goals for the near future” (p. 164).
As for the overall questions being asked in the class, Bogost (2010) has a conversation that looks at the move from visual to procedural rhetoric in advertising, and how “advertisers are applying existing rhetorics to the videogame medium, despite the latter’s fundamental focus on procedurality. Advertising has always focused on the visual. Advertisers synecdochically refer to consumers as ‘eyeballs,’ whose attention they strive to capture” (169). Bogost’s desire to alter/expand how and which rhetorics are applied to advertising within video games fills in the gaps for me that I have been feeling when looking at the theories we have read so far in class. Video games do not operate the way commercials or print ads, so there need to be different ways of looking at how the rhetorics for advergames operate in a way that is beyond just the visual.
As the winter storms keep coming