The Rhetoric of Video Games

Video games are media in which cultural values can be represented

  • We can learn to read video games as expressions of certain perspectives, and to create games that create expressions of the world



  • Video games are not thought of as learning tools because they can be considered as children’s activities, or as leisure activities that are not productive
  • Poets use constraints to write poems for the same reasons that video games use rules: it creates the power of their art
  • Playing video games is exploring the possibility space of the rules and the world and “manipulate the symbolic systems”
    • By exploring the possibility spaces of video games, we find their meaning



  • Procedures are sets of constraints that create the possibility space
  • Video games create procedural models of systems to depict these real and imaginary systems



  • Some games are purely for entertainment, and some serve to commentate on real world aspects of human life
  • Rhetoric is using reason to persuade someone of something
  • There are many different types of rhetoric that have spawned throughout history, but all of them involve persuasion through different mediums


Procedural rhetoric

  • Just like any other medium for rhetoric: using processes as a means of persuasion
  • Gives a way to to make claims on how things work
  • How the player interacts with the game can teach them about processes that apply to the real world


Ways of using procedural rhetoric: interrogating ideology

  • One use of procedural rhetoric: To expose or explain different ways of thinking that drive different behavior
  • Games modeling how professionals work, create constraints that model those of real life professionalism (Army example)


Ways of using procedural rhetoric: making and unpacking an argument

  • The game is designed to make an argument, and the player unpacks that argument through playing in the game
  • Game dynamics can help make an argument and show the player how things work (political game example where success in one subgame leads to success in another)
  • The argument that games are trying to make can be and often are different than what their surface level shows, and the player must play though it to experience the argument and the process that the game is trying to show


Learning from procedural rhetoric

  • Playing video games is a kind of literacy

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