Bogost, Ian

Assigned: Bogost, Ian. “The Rhetoric of Video Games” (2653-72). Also read the editors’ introduction (2650-53).

“The Rhetoric of Video Games” (2007)

1. On 2653-54 (“Animal Crossing is an ‘animal…”), Ian Bogost explains how the video game Animal Crossing works. What are the main features of the game, and what lessons about real life does Bogost suggest that it offers? In particular, what vision of economic reality does it set forth?

2. On 2654-56 (“Animal Crossing simulates the social…”), according to Bogost, what is the role of the little animals that populate the game Animal Crossing, as opposed to the homeowners paying off their mortgages and so forth? (2655) What significance does Bogost attribute to the development of real-life communities surrounding popular video games? One such is the Animal Crossing Community, or ACC. With regard to the values that develop in this game-centered community, what distinction does Bogost make between “the social practices of playing the game” as opposed to “the social practices represented in the game” (2655 bottom), and why does he consider this distinction important?


3. On 2656-58 (“One of the reasons we tend…”), according to Bogost, what is the traditional view of “play” in American society? (2656) What is the most common view of video games in this regard? What value does Bogost see in the definition of play offered by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman; namely, that “play is the free space of movement within a more rigid structure” (2657; see these authors’ book Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004)? Why does he also adopt their concept of the “possibility space” (2657) opened up by rules and constraints of any sort? How do these borrowings open up a new way to understand the cognitive and social value of video games? How did the French artistic movement called “Oulipo” adapt a similar approach to play in connection with the composition of literature? (2657-58) Finally, what is the “possibility space” with respect to video games, and how does this space help us understand the meaning of video games themselves?


4. On 2658-60 (“We rely on the practice of…”), how does Bogost define the term “procedurality” (2658)? How do procedures make various kinds of behavior possible? In what way is procedurality at the heart of computing, and how does software depend upon procedures? (2659) In what sense, according to Bogost, do video games “emphasize procedurality more than other types of software programs” (2659)? What “two overlapping opportunities” (2660), in his view, do video games offer those who play them?


5. On 2660-62 (“Some games’ procedural representations…”), Bogost offers a brief historical sketch of the development of rhetoric from classical Greece through the Middle Ages and into the modern era. How did Aristotle define rhetoric, and in what sense was his theory of rhetoric written in part against Plato’s disdain for professional orators? (2660-61) How have modern rhetoricians such as Kenneth Burke expanded the concept of rhetoric to move beyond an emphasis on persuasion only? What does Burke think rhetoric is for, if it is not simply for persuading people? (2661) How, as well, does he expand the domain of rhetoric beyond language? Finally, what are “visual rhetoric” and “digital rhetoric,” respectively? (2662)

Procedural Rhetoric

6. On 2662-65 (“I suggest the name procedural…”), Bogost suggests the acceptance of a new kind of rhetoric: “procedural rhetoric” (2662). What is procedural rhetoric—what does it accomplish, and in what manner? What is The McDonald’s Videogame designed to do in terms of expression and persuasion, which Bogost has identified as the two main goals of modern rhetoric? (2664) What does a person supposedly learn while playing this video game?

Ways of Using Procedural Rhetoric: Interrogating Ideology

7. On 2665-67 (“I have argued for procedural…”), Bogost discusses the capacity of procedural rhetoric in video games to drive an ideological critique of certain forms of “social, political, or cultural behavior” (2665). From what definition of “ideology” is Bogost working, and how does his analysis of the U.S. Army’s 2002 video game America’s Army: Operations illustrate the kind of ideological messaging in which a video game can engage? (2565-66)? How does this game, unlike a common “shooter” game, enforce the necessity of strict rules of engagement in war? (2666) In what sense does the game’s insistence on honor and lawfulness in the carrying-out of military missions resemble the real-life military system of decoration whereby medals are awarded for specific actions? (2667)

Ways of Using Procedural Rhetoric: Making and Unpacking an Argument

8. On 2667-70 (“Video games that expose ideology…”), Bogost offers an example of his own making of how video games can explore and advocate in the realm of politics and social policy. What was his 2004 Republican-commissioned game Take Back Illinois designed to do in this regard? What policies did it advocate, and how did it carry out that advocacy? How did it connect various subgames in order to show the complexity of the policy issues being explored? (2668-69) To what extent, according to Bogost, do commercial games such as Bully and Spore engage in the same kind of ideological exploration? (2669-70)

Learning from Procedural Rhetoric

9. On 2670-72 (“Video games are models of real…”), Bogost asserts that “playing video games is a kind of literacy” (2671). What kind of literacy does he apparently mean? What hope does he invest in “procedural rhetorics” (2671) to encourage those who play video games to think critically about the models they encounter in those games? According to Bogost, how can educators begin to use video games along with more traditional methods of instruction? How, too, can procedural rhetoric prove beneficial in the teaching of “programming and video game development” (2672) itself? How does Bogost sum up his hopes for the pedagogical, social, and political value of video games?

10. General question: In “The Rhetoric of Video Games,” Ian Bogost argues that video games, thanks to their often sophisticated ways of using “procedural rhetoric,” can teach people how complex social, political and other systems work and that they can also educate players about the ethics and potential of computing and software authorship itself. Do you agree with Bogost that video games have this potential? Why or why not? If education is to be worthwhile to students, it is vital that they recognize the need to apply the lessons they have learned in school to life situations beyond school. (The Renaissance courtier and humanist Sir Philip Sidney proclaimed eloquently in The Defence of Poesy that the aim of learning is not simply “well-knowing” but “well-doing”—the goal, he wrote, is “virtuous action”; see Leitch 268.) Do video games, in your view, do a better or worse job of encouraging such application than more traditional modes of education? Explain.

11. General question: In “The Rhetoric of Video Games,” Ian Bogost sees great pedagogical and social value in video games, provided that they are developed in the right way and for the right reasons. The article was written more than a decade ago, which, as everyone familiar with computing knows, is a long time in “computing” years. If you are familiar with the current state of video games as we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, do you find that Bogost’s vision for video games has become a reality, or do most games still adhere to the concept of play as frivolity that Bogost himself suggests is the most common view? Which currently popular video games do you think he would praise, and which might he criticize, based on the view he sets forth in the present reading? Explain.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake