Procedural Rhetoric Project

This project asks you to consider how systems function as persuasive and expressive modes of composition. Designing a system involves attention to procedural rhetoric, to the way that processes, rules, and logics make available and constrain possibilities for actions within a system. Following Ian Bogost and James Paul Gee, our thinking on systems here is broad and inclusive. These authors focus primarily on video games, but they help us think about different types of systems: conceptual, educational, political, religious, economic, mechanical, computer, etc.

Using procedural rhetoric to design a system can be a way of making an argument about how the world works (or how it could, should, or doesn’t work). It is also a way to facilitate different types of actions, activities, social practices, and social relations. For example, when I design a course about Writing in Digital Environments, I’m making an argument of sorts about how the field works and what sort of practices are important. The assignments make available particular experiences, modes of writing, and possibilities for interacting with others. Any given system works in this way: systems encourage us to adopt certain types of values, perspectives, behaviors and actions, and relationships.

To take up this notion of procedural rhetoric and the challenge of designing systems, this project asks you to complete two separate parts: a game modification (on your own or with partners) and an individual assignment where you design a system. Your work should be organized on a post or page on your class site.

Project Proposal

The proposal gives you an opportunity to brainstorm and to begin planning for the development of your project. You should post the proposal as a post or page on your class site, and it should address the following prompts:

  • Outline three ideas for possible game modifications. Identify the games you are interested in playing with and how you might modify them. Will you change the rules in some way? Some other aspect of the game? What is the motivation behind the changes? Do you want to make an argument? Do you want to offer a different sort of playing experience?
  • For the second part, what sort of system would you like to design (see below for more specifics)? What are your thoughts at this point in terms of how the system will work? What is the thinking behind the system in terms of what you want to express or what sort of experience you want people to have by participating in the system?

Game Modification

For this aspect of the project, you (or your group) should choose an existing game (a card game, board game, video game, etc.) and modify it in some way. This modification can occur with any aspect of the game (rules, content, characters, narrative, etc.), but it should substantially change the experience of playing the game. For example, this Monopoly mod changes how the game is played in order to represent structural inequality; “Cards Against Humanity” plays with the same rules as “Apples to Apples,” but the different content on the cards makes for a more risqué and adult-themed playing experience.

Depending on the nature of the game you are modifying and the modifications themselves, your submission for this component could take on a few different forms. Most likely, you will capture the modification in writing. For example, if you are changing the rules of a game, your submission should include a formal overview of the new rules. If you want to modify a video game, your write-up should describe in detail how the modification would work if we had the resources to actually change the game. But there are also possibilities for going beyond simply writing up and describing the modification. If your modification involves making something (new cards, new game pieces, a different game board etc.), you are encouraged to actually make this so that we can play with it in class.

The written component of the game mod should also explain the rationale behind the modification. Why did you modify the game in this way? What do you hope to achieve through this modification? How does this change the meaning or experience of the game?

System Design

For this aspect of the project, you should design a new system. Following our readings, this system can represent or make an argument about how some aspect of the world works (procedural rhetoric), create a new semiotic domain with its unique set of social practices and codes, or make available a particular sort of experience. While you need not be limited by these suggestions, here are some of the main possibilities that come to mind for me:

  • Create a game. For this approach, you could create the game itself or describe your vision for it in specific detail. You could also do this for any other sort of computer program: an app, a social media platform, a piece of software. Your design should consider the following sorts of questions: What is the game about? What are the rules of the game? What sort of decisions or actions do players have to take? Is there a narrative or characters? What does the game consist of materially? Cards, game pieces, game board, etc.? If it’s a video game, what does it look like? Again, you are welcome to actually make the game so that we can play it or to describe the game. Making the game would involve creating or finding the necessary material components. If you want to make a computer game, you might use programs such as Twine or Scratch. Regardless of what approach you take, your submission should include a written component that explains the rationale behind the game. Why did you design it the way you did? What did you hope to express, communicate, or achieve?
  • Design an institution or organization. This approach involves thinking about how institutions (educational, political, economic, religious) and organizations (student organizations, community organizations, volunteer organizations, charity organizations) function as systems. Your design should consider the following sorts of questions: What do you want to achieve through this institution or organization? How does this institution or organization embody a departure and improvement upon existing institutions and organizations? What values, priorities, and assumptions motivate the thinking behind this institution or organization? What does participation in this institution or organization entail? What practices and activities do people engage in? What rules, logics, and processes guide these practices? Your thinking on the institution or organization should also have a visual design component. What would this institution or organization look like? Think about possible points of comparison here – existing universities, capitols and palaces, churches and temples, etc. How does the visual and material manifestation of the institution or organization complement it conceptually?
  • Design a major, a class, or an assignment. This approach asks you to think about how educational systems are designed, how they make available a possibility space that students get to “play” in. If you want to design a major or a class, you can take up any subject matter or goal. Explain how the major or class works, what work is involved, and what the purpose is. Another approach would be to design an assignment that addresses our class concerns in some way and then to complete the assignment.