Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Book review: Persuasive Games - Ian Bogost

A book discussing the persuasive abilities of the video game.

Starts out by defining a new phrase of 'procedural rhetoric' - suggesting that video games are inherently good for modelling the underlying procedures of a situation, which exposes these procedures for examination. The first chapter of the book grounds the understanding of both procedural and rhetoric. The rest of the book then goes on to examine the way different games can be said to use their procedural rhetoric to meet given aims. It is split into three sections: political, advertising and educational.

Lots of games are discussed, not only those that do have a complex/successful procedural rhetoric but also those that don't, particularly things that attempt to reskin previous games with new emphasis. Lots of interesting conclusions. Occasionally I felt that players would probably miss the things he spotted, because he was really looking hard for things to discuss.

The final chapter is about the effectiveness of the persuasion. I found it to be a little theoretical, with lots of discussion about how measuring various things offers an incomplete measure but not a lot about how it could be done. Still, that probably wasn't the point of this book!

Lots of references at the back which may be interesting to look into further.

- p135 "Playing such games can have a political impact because they allow players to embody political positions and engage in political actions that many will never have previously experienced"
- p241 "Videogames do not just offer situated meaning and embodied experiences of real and imagined worlds and relationships; they offer meaning and experiences of particular worlds and particular relationships."
- Books demand thought experiments of the reader, whereas games can allow the player to perform various experiments (p254)
- p260 "Videogames teach biased perspectives about how things work."
- p264 "I understand educational games not as videogames that end up being used in schools or workplaces, but as games that use procedural rhetorics to spur consideration about the aspects of the world they represent."

Particular things I noted:
- In the political games, he discusses 'Darfur is Dying' - crops up a lot in discussions of 'serious' games. p95-97 for discussion. Concludes that actually the game does not offer any insight into the history of the conflict, and is more of a 'call to empathy' than the political statement it is apparently trying to make.
- Good discussion of the design and effectiveness of 'Howard Dean for Iowa'. Seems to have unintentionally exposed the wrong procedural rhetoric!
- There's a game called 'John Deere American Farmer' - might be worth looking up for mechanism stuff. (p182 in advertising).
- Animal crossing uses the server ticking along in real time as part of its procedural rhetoric (p267).

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