Ian Bogost

Procedural Rhetoric and America's Army

Currently my work has taken me to a study of America's Army, the US Department of Defence's military recruitment game which was originally released in 2002. My interest in the game was that it was a great example of a videogame that was created by the state for the purpose of “things public”. That means instead of only addressing citizens as consumers (buy this game and have fun!), the game addressed consumers as citizens i.e. “have fun and learn about a way to serve your country”. For me this is a relatively rare occasion where the state has used a videogame to provide information and an ideology that serves its interests. I believe that while this might be one of the first and most effective uses of the form and I don't think it will be the last.

In my work I often use the writings of Ian Bogost as a way to think about why games are so effective as a means of communication. He argues that what makes videogames unique is that they run on computers – and as such they run through procedure. Computers use parameters and then proceed to operate inside of them, meaning that videogames also must stick to these general rules of the form. What makes videogames unique to 'real world' games is that they are hard-coded with arbitrary limits and assumptions that we as players have to learn to play inside of if we want to successfully navigate them. Bogost says that it is these assumptions that become a form of argumentation that he calls procedural rhetoric.

Not all videogames argue very well, and like any argument, they can fall completely flat. Those games that do make an effective argument, Bogost calls persuasive games. These are videogames that make arguments about the way the world works, and in so doing cause us to consider their point of view.