System Design

This project asks you to design or modify systems and 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 Bogost, our thinking on systems here is broad and inclusive. He focuses primarily on video games but helps 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, choose one of the following options for the project. If you have an idea for the project that does not match one of the options below, let me know so we can discuss whether it will work. Your work should be organized on a post or page on your class site. The project includes a reflection and thus involves at least some writing. Aspects of the project itself might also be written (describing the system and how it works), but it should include some sort of multimodal element as well.

System Design
For this approach to the project, you would 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 system with its unique set of social practices and codes, or create 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:

  • Produce a Twine text, which will consist of a series of screens with text and hyperlinks. You are welcome to think of your work on Twine as a game, a model or representation of a real world system, interactive fiction or other creative work, or anything else along these lines. See the Twine Cookbook for further instructions on how to use the platform. You can submit your Twine work by publishing it on and sharing the link or by sharing the html file (“Publish to file”).
  • Create a game. You can produce an actual game using software like Buildbox, Gamefroot, Flowlab, Flickgame, Bitsy, RPG Maker, Scratch, Game Maker, or Construct. Alternately, instead of actually making a game, you can sketch out the plans for one. Describe your vision for a game 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? In addition to describing the game, you should also produce some sort of multimodal element. This could include images or visuals, game pieces or cards, or anything else along these lines.
  • 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 or assignment, you can take up any subject matter or goal. Explain how the major or class or assignment works, what work is involved, and what the purpose is.

System Modification
For this approach to the project, you would propose modifications to an existing system. This modification can occur with any aspect of the system, but it should substantially change how the system works. 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. If we think about religious systems, Protestantism works as a modification of Catholicism.

Depending on the nature of the system you are modifying and the modifications themselves, your submission for this approach 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. If you are proposing changes to Bonaventure’s general education curriculum, you should describe the changes in detail and explain how they will work. But there are also possibilities for going beyond simply writing up and describing the modification, such as designing game pieces, making art or maps, or producing any other relevant materials.

Regardless of which approach you take to the project, you should complete a project reflection (minimum 400 words) that addresses the project overall and also Parrish’s hacker questions, which help us consider the ethical aspects of our system design work. Here are the prompts:

  • Explain the rationale behind your project. Why did you design or modify the system in this particular way? What was the purpose of your design? What did you hope to argue, model, represent, or create?
  • Who would get to use and benefit from this system? Who gets left out? How does your design facilitate or hinder access?
  • What information or ideas shaped your approach to the system? What values, assumptions, and biases underlie these ideas and thus shape your system?
  • What types of authority does your system enact or reinforce? Who has authority, and where does this authority come from? How does your system enable or restrict people?
  • What kind of community does your system assume? What sort of community does your system invite or enable? How are your own personal values reflected in the system?