The Rhetoric of Video Games

Animal Crossing and Consumer Capitalism

  • Animal Crossing creates a debt loop, linking mortgage payments to the urge to buy and expand homes.
  • Tom Nook symbolizes the corporate bourgeoisie, simplifying wealth redistribution concepts.
  • The game contrasts player’s consumer impulses with the disinterest of animal villagers, hinting at alternative lifestyles.
  • This inactivity of animals subtly critiques the player’s consumer behavior.
  • Players, especially younger ones, can become more aware of consumer capitalism through the game’s simplified model.

Culture and Community

  • Players develop opinions, strategies, and values, creating a culture around the game.
  • This culture focuses more on gameplay rather than the social practices depicted.
  • The game offers a meta-critique, prompting players to reflect on their participation in consumerism.

Play and Possibility Space

  • Play is often dismissed as a children’s activity and not a legitimate learning avenue.
  • Play is redefined as exploring the “possibility space” created by constraints, similar to other creative activities.
  • Through play, we encounter and uncover meaning in games.

Procedurality and Procedural Rhetoric

  • Procedurality structures behavior and creates possibility spaces for exploration.
  • Video games, being procedural, have a strong potential for rhetoric, making claims about the real world.
  • Procedural rhetoric uses game rules to convey persuasive ideas.

Utilizing Procedural Rhetoric

  • Interrogating Ideology: Games can expose hidden ideologies, intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Making and Unpacking Arguments: Games can support political or social arguments through their mechanics.
  • Learning from Procedural Rhetoric: Games promote literacy in understanding real-world systems.

Implementing Procedural Rhetoric in Game Design

  • Intentional use of procedural rhetoric can enhance critical thinking about play and leisure.
  • Game creators should incorporate sophisticated procedural rhetoric to challenge and educate players.


Application to my game

I really liked how it explored Animal Crossing’s ability to teach players about consumer capitalism through reducing the phenomenom down to core concepts and then rebuilding it up but with a more fun, kid-friendly approach. It made me realize that I may have been going too far with hitting the nail on the head about my underlying concept for my IF, which if anything made the game feel unapproachable. I will also be making a more conscious effort to ensure that not only the game and built in system, but also the actions that the players make – and thereby the thinking required before and after – also reinforce the learning lessons / evoke the type of care I’m looking for.

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