The Rhetoric of Video Games: How Game Design Makes Meaning

(This article was written as part of my graduate thesis and is part of my on-going research in education, rhetoric, and games.)

A few weeks ago I took part in a panel at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco that explored the relevance of video games—of what scholar James Paul Gee calls a “problem of content,” in which we only value an artifact as educational if it provides tangible content (22). At the conference major developers and game designers gathered together to talk about what the medium of games was to become with the incessant invectives of games being “a waste of time” or “a phase to grow out of.” If that’s all games are, then what’s the point of working in them? As a field, we need to find a way to elucidate these claims. We need to shine light on video games as a medium that has the potential to serve alongside traditional artifacts accepted in an artistic and academic setting, while also realizing that some games are simply meant to be used as entertainment or escapism. Regardless, the level of interactivity games allow have proven to provide profound effects on cognitive enhancement, but we can only use them progressively if they are taken serious both by their audience and their creators.  Ian Bogost argues that games should be discussed alongside “traditional media subjects,” and that “teaching games alongside reading, writing, and debating them as argumentative and expressive practices” can help evolve the way we look at rhetoric in new media (136). Thus the aim of this project, inspired largely by this conversation, is to explore how video games create meaning through their design—ultimately looking at how games apply and use multi-modal rhetorical devices to influence players in a manner that other mediums may not be able to.

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The Conventions of Ghosts: The Influences of Nineteenth-Century Nature Writers in a Modern World

(This piece was part of my graduate research in environmental rhetoric and counter-culture… looking at how literature and media has shaped our modern view of the environment leading into the National Parks movement.)

The nineteenth-century in America was, undeniably, a time of growth. Between the years of 1820 and 1870, the industrial revolution birthed an economy that was threatened by the British.[1]  Railroads expanded across the country and cities began to attract agriculturally-based communities with the promise of fruitful employment.  During this substantial industrial shift, America’s arts culture ultimately shifted as well, introducing the Transcendentalist movement into its literary culture. [2]  In short, the Transcendentalist movement was one based around the idea of existentialism and the philosophical concept that humanity is inherently good, but has corrupted by society.  The cleansing of this corruption, thus, is to venture away from society in order to find the “self”; to look at itself on the inside rather than focus externally on materialism.  Prolific writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Muir fathered this rather historically Romanticized movement. Continue reading