The Effectiveness of Procedural Rhetoric

In middle school my classmates and I would spend our free time in between classes playing video games. However, the school IT department was relentless in blocking any sites that might distract us from academic work. Amidst this student vs. IT cold war, word started spreading about an unblocked game that allowed you to manage a McDonald’s. There was great rejoicing among the student population upon this discovery of a new unblocked game. I was particularly excited to try it out, since my health-nut mother forbid our family from patronizing the golden arches. Little did I know when I started up McDonald’s Videogame that I was about to get schooled on the dark side of fast food. I recall when I cut down my first swathe of rainforest thinking “it will be OK, more forest will just grow back,” only to realize too late that there was no way to replant the destroyed resource. The longer I played the game, the more ethically questionable choices I was forced to make. Eventually I decided on a strategy of intentionally sabotaging my operation. If I don’t have enough meat to make burgers or intentionally serve illness-inducing food, surely people will stop coming and I won’t need as much, right? Wrong. I asked a teacher if the game accurately depicted how McDonald’s works in the real world, and to my horror she confirmed the game’s accuracy. After that day, I never begged my parents to take me to McDonald’s again.

How does this tale of youthful ignorance relate to the dry academic title of this post? It’s because when my classmates and I played McDonald’s Videogame we unknowingly came into exposure with procedural rhetoric, or “the practice of using processes” (in this case videogames) to persuade. (125) In his article “The Rhetoric of Video Games” Ian Bogost gives a thorough explanation of what procedural rhetoric is and why it is useful. While Bogost does mention how not all games have intentional procedural rhetoric, he does not touch on what might happen if an audience is unaware of procedural rhetoric’s presence. Based on my own experience, I would argue that regardless of whether or not an audience is conscious of procedural rhetoric it will still work. In fact, the persuasive power of procedural rhetoric could be enhanced by the audience being unaware of it’s presence. This is because if they were aware, they might not be open to the process or hold bias. For example, if my classmates and I had been told McDonald’s Videogame would teach us about the ethical ills of the titular fast food giant, we likely would not have been keen on playing it. This is because the implied educational intention contradicted our reason for playing video games (i.e. as a way to take a break in between being educated). While Bogost does not highlight it in his article, I believe an audience’s awareness of the presence of procedural rhetoric can influence it’s persuasive power.

Sources

Bogost, Ian. “The Rhetoric of Video Games.” The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 117–140.

McDonald’s Videogame. Molleindustria, 2006.

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