Ian Bogost introduced the concept of procedural rhetoric: The rhetoric of the process or the procedure. The name comes from the procedure, a set of actions bound by rules, tradition or law. While a procedure can also be an entirely functional process, as in the procedure for building a house, where each step needs to be finished before the next starts, Bogost focuses on the conventional procedure, where the process is based on decisions rather than function, and as such can be manipulated.
Bogost takes the idea of procedurality from Janet Murray’s book Hamlet on the Holodeck, and cites her essential properties of digital artifacts: procedurality, participation, spatiality and encyclopedic scope (see p 6). He specifies that for his purposes, procedural expression must entail symbolic manipulation. Bogost does not specifically mention semiotics, but this understanding of expression can be understood semiotically, which is concerned with the production of meaning. For Bogost, the main issue is with the computer’s ability to perform procedures, and hence create representations of processes.
This unique property of the computer as medium is not only part of the affordances, but also the restrictions. In order to understand the potential of the computer, we need to understand what processes it can represent, and how it can be done. It also means that we can use the procedures in two major ways: as simulation, descriptively to demonstrate how something is done, but also critically, to question and explore how something is done, and even suggest alternative roads of action.
Reading tip: In the attempt of describing procedures, Bogost mentions several examples of software and games. If the different types of procedurality are hard to grasp, make the effort to visit these.
The book also mentions different genres of procedural rhetoric, and the main inspiration for this is Noah Wardrip-Fruin with his term operational logic (see p 13). He distinguishes between graphical and textual logic. Graphical logics are typical of video games, and include movement and collisions, while textual logics are for instance demonstrated in Eliza – “the online therapist".
Bogost spends pages 15 – 24 on rhetoric. This is a good repetition of other literature on the topic for this course. On page 24 he reaches digital rhetoric, where he cites Lev Manovich, who claims that the digital media means the end of rhetoric, Laura Gurak and Elisabeth Losh, who work on creating a new understanding of rhetoric based on digital media.
On this background he suggests procedural rhetoric as a new rhetorical domain, a domain that may open up to understanding how things work, how the process creates meaning. Again, he brings several examples of different processes, and makes suggestions to how a different process may convey a different meaning. From page 46 he discusses persuasive games, with an emphasis on the potential of videogames to communicate understanding of complex processes often ignored and badly understood. He puts the idea of persuasive games against the idea of serious games, a term he finds covers mainly authoritative games – games that convey actions and processes which have been sanctioned: the corrct procedures by a given political regime. Here Bogost’s understanding and argument becomes both political and functional.
The next step in his discussion is persuasive technology, where he leans heavily on B. J. Fogg’s understanding and his concept of captology.
The overall purpose of this chapter is to frame and explain the idea of procedural rhetoric. In Bogost’s words: “In particular, a procedural rhetorician should strive to understand the affordances of the materials from which a procedural argument is formed.”
Summary, Christopher Paul (2010): “World of Rhetcraft: Rhetorical Production and Raiding in World of Warcraft.” In Heather Urbanski: Writing and the Digital Generation, McFarland & Company inc., North Carolina and London. Pp 152 – 161.
Chris Paul’s short article on the rhetoric of raiding describes how learning to play and maintaining that knowledge is a process in itself. Paul underlines the necessity of literacy to participate in the raiding process, and claims that the emergent nature of rhetorical production in and around games is part of the defining the digital generations. As examples he mentions the work to understand one single bossfight, coordinating 25 people in the fight, and research the different fights and the potential for success and failure evident in the game through different websites.
Summary, Lisbeth Klastrup (2010): “Når handlingsrommet bliver en modalitet: om spilæstetisk analyse af websites.” I Martin Engebretsen (red): Skrift/bilde/lyd – Analyse av sammensatte tekster, Høyskoleforlaget.
Klastrup discusses the use of games for advertising, and hence for persuation. Her main analytical perspective is to view the room of action as a modality. She points out that games both are multimodal, and relate and interact with other online modalities.
Klastrup points to the user and the expectations to the user to act. This action within a system-controlled world is then the main source of the creation of meaning. The main focus of the game is not world as told or shown, but world as experienced. In this understanding of the production of meaning, meaning arises from the process, from the actions and the participation.
Agency becomes a vital part of this process, and in conjunction with affordances, training and mastery, a way to explore different modalities. This allows the user to move between different states or modalities in a playful and challenging manner unique to digital games. Klastrup describes this opportunity for participation as a semiotic resource. This semiotic resource is a new form of expression dependent on navigation and agency.
Her discussion of the different modalities rests on the representation of the user in the game, the user’s agency, and the connection between the game system, universe and message. She uses these in an analysis, to demonstrate how these can help understand and critically question a persuasive game.
Summary, Consalvo, Mia & Dutton, Nathan (2006): ”Game analysis: Developing a Methodological Toolkit for the Qualitative Study of Games”. In Gamestudies, vol.1. http://gamestudies.org/0601/articles/consalvo_dutton.
Consalvo and Dutton start out by showing how game analysis up until 2006 has been looking for a structure for textual game analysis, but so far not been able to find one that can be fully activated at all levels. They proceed to suggest and expand on four areas of a game which can be analysed, either together or independently: Object Inventory, Interface Study, Interaction Map and Gameplay Log.
The object inventory can tell players about the play style of the game: Are objects important, or random? In some games all objects need to be saved, and they can be vital to being able to finish the game. In other games objects have very little meaning, or they are interchangeable and their importance depend on player style or goal. Objects also give certain affordances, or offer limitations.
Interfaces are the site of players’ interaction with the game, and as such are rife sites to understand the goal of the game, it’s affordances, usability, genres and the philosophy of the designers. The interface is also the carrier of traditional textual meaning, where players learn about the game universe through text and images, as well as potential for actions or restrictions.
Interaction mapping is about understanding the potential for actions in the game. This is active rather than static, a description of the processes on play. In later studies, this may perhaps be described as the procedural rhetoric.
The final area of game analysis is what Consalvo and Dutton call gameplay logging. This action requires play, and it is a process of experience as much as of analysis. It is also where it is possible to explore the emergent aspects of games, when games cease being understood only as structures, and become more sensual and explorative.