Procedural Rhetoric: Mathieu Lamontagne-Cumiford

Videogames, while not uniquely so, are one of the mediums through which non-storytelling rhetoric can shine through. Beyond the story of a game, if such a discernible narrative can be found in a particular work, there is a procedural world. Sets of rules govern the functioning of a game in a deep web of layers, each of which is a useful tool for the game’s developer to impart meaning to the player. Bogost lays out the fundamental nature of what he labels as “Procedural Rhetoric” for games, as the notion that the means by which a game functions helps to impose its meaning (2007). From relatively simple games, such as Pope’s The Republia Times (2013), to complex story driven triple A games such as Halo: Combat Evolved, the meanings bestowed by a game are imparted through means more complex and systematic then their narratives.

The Republia Times, is a relatively simple game which manages to impart important rhetoric on the role of media, state censorship, and personal agency with only tiny fragments of narrative storytelling. Lucas Pope, the game’s developer, imparts his rhetoric through arguments presented in the rules governing the playing and functioning of the game. Agency, an individual’s potential for the self-determination of the actions is central to the rhetoric presented in The Republia Times, and the game structures this into its procedure through several elements. These elements, namely the presenting of article choices, the time constraint for choosing articles, and the space available in the paper all act together to remove the agency of the player (2013). Through the careful selection of process, Pope manages to argue to the player that they are in a situation of very limited control, that in the position presented to them, they lack agency. While this rhetoric is presented through narrative hints, such as the warning at the beginning of the game that the player character’s family is being held hostage, it is through the enforcement of procedure upon the player that the rhetoric is best felt. While a simple game like The Republia Times is highly limited in its storytelling weight, it maintains a procedural rhetoric as powerful as any game due to its ability to govern player interaction and action.

Samantha Allen addresses the important rhetoric power of game procedure in her article The Other Difficulty Mode: What Halo Can Tell us About Identity and Oppression (2013). Allen introduces the argument that a games processes can imbue rhetoric beyond the original intention of the producers. Allen uses the Halo series system of difficulty Skulls to build a meaningful metaphor conceptualising intersectional theory. Comparing the Skull system to intersection discourse allows Allen to build meaning through the process inherit in a popular game, and not only popularise, but strengthen the rhetoric of intersectional theory.

Procedural Rhetoric: Mathieu Lamontagne-Cumiford

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