Is procedural rhetoric a myth of induction? An argument from effects to cause?

I had a revelation today about Bogost’s book, and about myself:

I really like the concept of procedural rhetoric. I find its potentialities to be *incredibly* powerful.


The frustrating thing about the book, though, is that the argument he makes for procedural rhetoric is solely through illustrating its *effects*. We never see the cause. The code. We never see how its built in, or where exactly, or what that syntax might look like. All we get are, to use McLuhan’s phrase, “an inventory of effects.” So, what we have is a very intriguing black box.

The procedure of procedural rhetoric is inside that box. And maybe it comes down to audience analysis: maybe since Bogost knew this book was not going to be read by hardcore programmers–more likely by people like us with an eye to narrative, to a sympathetic understanding of rhetoric–that he shyed away from discussing the causal particulars and instead made a strategic choice to focus only on product (i.e. examples of games themselves and explanations thereof).

And maybe it also comes down to a lack of techne on my part. I have never created a game. I am ignorant of that composition/construction process. Perhaps if I had that experiential learning under my belt, I’d be able to reverse engineer some of the games I see and play to say, “Ah! This is the script that person used to achieve these particular effects.”

And perhaps it has to do with the fact that I see procedural rhetoric being inherently more powerful than Bogost acknowledges with many of the examples he uses. In my opinion, the reason it was difficult for many of us to answer the question regarding the procedural rhetorics at work in World of Warcraft is because the PRs there were so *well instantiated* that

1) few of us had played the game long enough to have the rhetorics really work on us deeply, and
2) those who *had* played for a significant span of time were able, though only with effort, to conjure the ideologies that WoW endorsed (such as those that crop up at auction houses, inns, and on group quests).

This suggests to me that when procedural rhetoric is *really* at play, it becomes a form of tacit knowledge within the player. I didn’t realize, for exmaple, that an essentially “conservative” set of values was at work in Grand Theft Auto. I’ve played the game, and I’ve wanted to be competetive at it. But I was not consciously aware that, in *being* competetive in the game, I was internalizing that set of values in myself. And others! Untold others. Therein lies the power.


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