Persuasive Games: Procedural rhetoric and using processes for persuasion

Persuasive Games can be defined as an interactive experience that intends to make arguments and expressive statements about one or more topics. Persuasive games are unique compared to books or movies in that they use interactive experiences and processes to convey their key arguments.

Ian Bogost, Professor of Literature, Media, and Communication and Interactive Computing in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, popularized the idea of Persuasive Games along with the term procedural rhetoric.

Procedural rhetoric can be defined as using processes persuasively (compared to using oratory or images persuasively). Digital games are useful in allowing players to experience processes in a firsthand manner.

These kinds of games can often explore social or political issues, for educational purposes, or be used as an advertisement (or dis-advertisement) for a business or organization.

Note that these games may depict an opinion that you may not necessarily agree with or may even find distasteful or offensive. The design of these games are especially interesting to study in terms of how they attempt to persuade the player of their viewpoint.

Examples of Persuasive Games

  • Voter Suppression Trail – Released November 2016. Created by The New York Times and Everyday Arcade for their Op-doc platform. A simple game inspired by the Oregon Trail — this game explores the differences in how easy or difficult the process of voting is as a white programmer from California, a Latina nurse from Texas, or a black salesman from Wisconsin. Nominated for an Emmy Award in Outstanding New Approaches: Arts, Lifestyle and Culture.
Voter Suppression Trail (image credit: New York Times)
  • Phone Story (Molleindustria) – Released September 2011. An educational game about the “hidden social costs of smartphone manufacturing,” including human lives lost to conflict, eWaste, planned obsolescence.
Phone Story game. (Image credit: Molleindustria)
  • Darfur is Dying (Released January 2006 by interFUEL, LLC) – A simple online game that raises awareness of a refugee crisis in Sudan.
  • Gone Home. – (Fullbright Company). Released January 2016, Gone Home is an exploration based game (“walking simulator”) in which players piece together the story of a lesbian family member.
Gone Home game. Image credit: Fullbright company.
  • September 12 – (Released 2010). By Newsgaming – Gonzalo Frasca. A game-like sandbox that delivers a simple statement on the war on terror described by the maxim: violence begets more violence.

References

  • Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. The MIT Press.

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I teach game design and educational technology courses at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. You can reach me at GAMES at tc dot columbia dot edu.