Chungking Espresso

save the date: my thesis defense

Posted in Papers, Schoolwork by Simon Ferrari on March 12, 2010

The Judgement of Procedural Rhetoric by Simon Ferrari

Committee: Ian Bogost (chair), Fox Harrell, Michael Nitsche, and Celia Pearce (in absentiae)

Thursday, 18 March 2010, 1:30-3:30p

This thesis establishes a theoretical framework for understanding virtual spaces and roleplaying in relation to Ian Bogost’s theory of “procedural rhetoric,” the art of persuading through rule systems alone. Bogost characterizes the persuasive power of games as setting up an Aristotelian enthymeme—an incomplete argument—that one completes through play; however, I argue that the dominant rhetoric intended by a team of game designers is subject to manipulation through player choice. Discrete structures within the play experience cause the meaning-making possibilities of a game object to pullulate in a number of directions. Procedural rhetoric is not comprehended or created when reflected back upon after play: we interrogate it, piece it together, and change it through play.

If rules are how the designers express themselves through videogames, then the player expresses herself by forming a personal ruleset—a modus operandi or ethical system—in response to the dominant rhetoric. Furthermore, game space is not merely the place where this dialectic occurs; it also embodies a ruleset in the way it organizes objects and directs the flow of play. The thesis proposes a model by which games, which are “half-real” according to theorist Jesper Juul, can be judged intersubjectively—that is, in a way that accounts for the objectivity of their rulesets and the subjectivity of player experience. By fully understanding the dynamic between the three procedural influences of rules, space, and identity, we can learn more about designing persuasive game systems and enhance the possibilities of subversive play.

Required reading: Persuasive Games, Half-Real, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, Video Game Spaces, and The Ethics of Computer Games

Core Ludography: Far Cry 2, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and Left 4 Dead


14 Responses

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  1. Brendan Keogh said, on March 13, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Uh, so pretty sure I wrote a comment that just said “Good luck! :)” here 6 hours ago, but it seems to have not posted. So, good luck!

  2. L.B. Jeffries said, on March 15, 2010 at 7:45 am

    You’re posting this thing eventually, right? I’m gonna guess you figured out a better solution to this problem than me or the other folks wrangling with it.

    • Simon Ferrari said, on March 15, 2010 at 7:49 am

      i’m just putting everybody who asks on a list and emailing it to them. if i post it here, then i can’t cut it up into pieces and publish it in journals, etc. but i’ll send you a copy!

  3. Dan Golding said, on March 15, 2010 at 7:51 am

    May I formally put in a request for a copy, Simon? I require it thermally bound at least.

    … or email will do nicely. :p

    • Simon Ferrari said, on March 15, 2010 at 7:54 am

      will do!

      actually i read your honor’s thesis this morning, or maybe yesterday (time goes away when you pull too many all-nighters). i wish i’d read it back before i started working on this, would have given me some cool ideas on how to address space.

  4. simon williams said, on March 15, 2010 at 8:05 am

    Hi, I’d really like to read this too!

    • Simon Ferrari said, on March 15, 2010 at 8:09 am

      will do! thank you for the interest/nice to meet you 🙂

      final draft will be ready by april 5th!

  5. Andre Brock said, on March 15, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    I don’t know you, Simon, but i’d be honored if i could also get a copy of your thesis. I’ve linked my page as a reference, but in short my current research track is an examination of how electronic environments (including videogames) and player-users work to define racial and gendered identities in- and out-game.

    Hit me up if my explanation wasn’t clear…i like the direction your work takes and look forward to reading about it in detail.

    • Simon Ferrari said, on March 15, 2010 at 7:58 pm

      Hello Andre! You’re the one who’s honoring me with the request. I am actually also interested in race and gender construction via games, as I come from a background in feminist cinema studies. Although the thesis abstract doesn’t say so, there’s discussion of a few different related issues in my paper:

      -white guilt in the development and play experience of Far Cry 2
      -queer game design via the work of Anna Anthropy
      -race- and gender-essentialist mathematical values in Morrowind

      None of this stuff is explored to a depth that an expert would find that helpful, but I hope to pursue all of it further in the future. Once I recover from this research spell, I’ll try to find some of your work as well (or you could just email it to me in a reply when I send out my paper)!

      Thanks again for your interest!

  6. Chris Lepine said, on March 18, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Congratulations on the successful defense. Since I’m writing a dissertation on experiential space and video games, I’d love to see a copy of your final work. The relation between the player/subject and space is difficult to unravel, and it sounds like your thesis is on the right track!

  7. Anthoney Calis said, on March 28, 2010 at 6:11 am

    Hi, I’m interested in your thesis can you please email it to me at: . I’m working on a thesis of my own “Queer theory and Custer’s Revenge” as well as co-authoring a project to make an animal rights friendly version of Mario Brothers. Would appreciate some feedback!

    • Simon Ferrari said, on March 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

      This visitor from Insomnia is banned for not placing a period in between “thesis” and “can” in his first sentence, for not knowing how to place a period after a hyperlink, for not knowing that “as well” takes a comma before it, and for not specifying which Mario Brothers game he plans on remaking to be animal friendly.

  8. Matthew Millsap said, on April 4, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    I, also, am very interested in receiving a copy of your thesis, as I think it would be helpful for me in the research for my dissertation concerning the role between player agency and religious truth in games containing explicit religious structures.

  9. THERON JACOBS said, on September 23, 2010 at 3:07 pm


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