Listening, Passivity, and/as Ethics

This morning a tweet caught my attention:

I haven’t read Albers and Harste before, so I’ll have to track down their work. This caught my attention because I have been thinking about the institutional purpose of composition lately: why do we teach writing? It’s a simple question, and I do not presume that it has a straightforward answer. The other day on twitter, I forced a binary in an attempt to tease something out, asking:

I got a few responses on twitter and facebook, and we discussed the topic briefly in my New Media Production seminar. Two different people saw through my sophomoric ruse and offered: “To shape writers who can impact audiences?” Touche. It is a smart response to a simple prompt. But I would say that it has as its ultimate telos an audience, an other. Which, given my interest in civics, ethics, Levinas, responsibility, hospitality, etc. is good. No complaints. Another FB friend offered an insightful comment here, too, asking/suggesting: “Is composition confined to the human? If not, then composition’s primary purpose may be to impact the world.” And I don’t mean to say composition (or rhetoric)’s effects are aimed at only other humans. Certainly there is room for a materialist composition that traces impacts across networks to all manner of actants, whether animal, vegetable, mineral, or ethereal.

But I’ve been working on a piece that deals with what I call listening, the ability to attend to the needs, presence, demands, intrusions of other(s) (and, again, those others need not be human or even animal). I’m drawing on a pretty wide range of theorists here, both those within R/C (Jim Corder’s work on narrativity and argument, Thomas Rickert’s work on ambiance, Diane Davis’ work on pre-original rhetoricity and “foreigner relations,” Jenny Rice’s recent work on forcing students to engage publics foreign to their own “passions”/investments, my own work on rhetorical support and recognition) and those outside it (Levinas’s work on the face and ethical interruption, Cavarero’s philosophy of vocal expression, Lingis’s work on pre-ontological community). But the common thread is how we can cultivate responsibility, recognizing that it is not an innate ability, but a muscle that must be trained, sustained. In short, my thesis for quite awhile–my original movement toward Levinas–is that knowledge alone is insufficient to address our (non)human problems. We need something Other than knowledge/Being. Other than the ability to communicate to the Other. We need to know how to listen to her, how to cultivate a very active inactivity, what Levinas might term a “fundamental passivity that mirrors the fundamental passivity through which the Other animates Being,” or, at least, something along those lines.

And I think this something has led me back to the question of the primary purpose / first principle of Composition (and Rhetoric) as disciplines. In my New Media Production class this semester, we worked through Ulmer’s MEmorial project from Electronic Monuments. One student, who had formerly worked with Ulmer and his Mystory project, noticed the difference between the two: how the former aims for an audience, while the latter exists for the student, the student as her own audience.

And, in conjunction with Ulmer, the mystory, and the idea of a student as audience for her own Facing, I was re-reading Cixous’s Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. I was thinking of another MA student, whose thesis looks to re-examine the impact of poststructuralist style on Composition Theory. I led the student to Vitanza’s “Abandoned to Writing” and its enigmatic question of “what Writing wants.” Cixous:

I said that the first dead are our first masters, those who unlock the door for us that opens onto the other side, if only we are willing to bear it. Writing, in its noblest function, is the attempt to unerase, to unearth, to find the primitive picture again, ours, the one that frightens us. Strangely, it concerns a scene. The picture is not there without a reason. Those who have been in contact with this opening door perceived it in the theatrical form of a scene. Why a scene? Why is it a scene? Why will it become the scene of a crime? Because we are the audience of this scene: we are not in the scene; when we go to the theater we are not on stage. We are witnesses to an extraordinary scene whose secret is on the other side. We are not the ones who have the secret.

So, no illusion here. I am in fact interested in shaping writers in order to impact the world. And I think, as I work more on ethics, and continue to define ethics as a passivity (and a dedication to justice, to strife, to the barnyard–but that is another article–coming out in Philosophy and Rhetoric next year), I’m thinking more about a Composition that takes the self as its audience, that gets to know its ghosts, its death, its horizons, its secrets.

As I said in the beginning, I haven’t read Albers and Harste, and so I don’t know what kind of writing they are reclaiming, or who they are reclaiming it from. But I do know that I am not interested in making the writer feel stronger, traditional commonplaces of empowerment. I think I am interesting in a very particular kind of weakness. Or perhaps being a bit playful, I am interested in what Latour identifies as a might mightier than might. And that is the might willing to acknowledge its weakness.

New Media Week 13

Today we have several things on the docket.

Digital Projects

Today is a good time to check in on the final digital projects. I know many of you are interested in revising your MEmorial for inclusion in the article. Let’s talk about a timeline. I think something like this:

  • Final video due on Thursday Dec 4th
  • Postmortem Questions due on Saturday Dec 15th
  • Jam Session, Monday, Dec 17th: working through postmortem responses, dividing up responses for synthesis
  • Revision meeting: Monday, January 5th: get together to read through the manuscript, webify everything; submit

Potential Postmortem Questions

  • What do you see as the purpose of Ulmer’s MEmorial genre? What passages from Electronic Monuments would you point at as a productive starting point for explicating the genre?
  • What is the purpose/who is the audience for your MEmorial? What led you to this project?
  • What is your favorite part/element of your MEmorial?
  • What was your previous experience working with either web languages or digital video before this class? What have you found the most challenging aspect of working with digital video for this kind of project?
  • How did you approach transforming your website into a video? What were the challenges? How did you resolve them?
  • Ultimately, do you think a website or a video is a better medium for the goals of a MEmorial?

Web Presence

I want to spend a bit of time tonight looking around the web at academic websites. What do they look like? What kinds of materials do people include? What kinds of materials will you want to on a job search?

Let’s start there, looking at the sites of

Working With WordPress

The basics:

Rhetoric & Gaming 13.2 / Planning Your Board Game

Previously I shared a few resources for Project 4 (Creating a Board Game). Today I want to clarify my expectations for the project and make sure that you all have a group to work with (though you are more than welcome to work alone).

Grading Criteria:

  • The game is actually playable
  • The game has instructions. Instructions should include:
    • Objective
    • Component Description/Glossary (if necessary)
    • Set-up
    • A round of play (player turn, etc)
  • The game speaks to 3 of McGonigal’s 4 criteria for a game:
    • Goal
    • Rules
    • Feedback (what I reframed as strategy or meaningful choice)
    • Voluntary Participation

Chet raised a question as to the quality of the materials. I’m looking for something that shows investment and development. But I recognize not everyone is a craftsman or an artist. Still, given the availability of digital tools, you should have something that looks nice. Cards should be printed on card stock. There’s plenty of online software to help print card backs. If materials are hand-drawn, and not digitally printed, then they should be clean and polished.

The rules are important. On Tuesday, December 2nd we will play test games in class. This will be a usability test. We will give a group your game and instructions and they will report on playability. SO YOU NEED TO HAVE A FUNCTIONING VERSION OF YOUR GAME BY THE 2nd. That will give you two days to make revisions before I grade them on Dec 4th.

Here’s what I need from you in class today: each group (or person, if you are working alone) needs to create and share a Google Doc that:

  1. States the names of all members working on the project
  2. Gives a short (100 word max) description of the game. Think: marketing, what you might put on the back of the box
  3. Gives a “pitch” for the game. I want a single sentence, followed by a short (150 max) description. Think: genre, how you would describe the game to a potential investor.

When we look at these pitches, what we see is that they all in some way address making a comparative–they place the project in the context of a genre (it’s like Alien’s underwater…). This is what you want to do: to either fix an existing game, or talk about how your game reskins/conceptualizes an existing game.

Take my favorite game, Dominion. Dominion is in some ways a hard pitch, because there wasn’t any other “deck building” game in existence at the time. Now there’s many. But the pitch might have been: “People enjoy deck-building. Dominion turns deck-building into a game.” It is simple, to the point.

Or, think of the Fantasy Flight’s recent revision of the Descent board game: “People love miniature games, but often they are too complicated or too long. We transform a 4 hour game into a 45 minute experience.”

Rhetoric and Gaming 11.2 / Gamification, Procedurality, and ARGs

The majority of today will center around my presentation on Gamification, Procedurality, and ARGs (Alternate Reality Games).

First, however, I wanted to share some language and resources for making a game. I’m freestyling this, so hopefully you can help me make it better.

Like any endeavor, making a game benefits from developing a more technical language. Technical language gives you “heuristics,” or ways of thinking about any activity, that you might not otherwise have.

I want to start by expanding and explicating McGonigal’s four criteria for a game:

  • Goals
  • Rules
  • Feedback
  • Voluntary Participation

For heuristic purposes, I am going to skip over her 4th criteria (though, in terms of ARGs, that’s where I will start). Instead, I’ll start with rules. Here I want to introduce two interrelated terms that I use to think about rules: are they elegant and are they accessible. The latter term speaks to how difficult it is for a new player to begin playing a game. For instance, Kings of Tokyo is a pretty accessible game. It is in part accessible because it builds off of the Yahtzee genre–throw dice, build three-of-a-kinds, score, pass turn. I use the term “elegance” to denote the simplicity of a game’s rules and base design. Most games that are accessible are also elegant. But not always. Take, for instance, the card game Dominion or the dice game Quarriors!. Both of these games have very elegant rules. In Dominion, a players turn consists of only three stages: Act, Buy, and Clean up (it’s easy as A-B-C…). But Dominion isn’t necessarily accessible, since the game play requires you familiarize yourself with all of the various action cards (or, in Quarriors!). For new players, this can be a bit overwhelming.

Also, just because a game is elegant in its rules, doesn’t mean it is shallow in its strategy. Strategy is my way of explicating McGonigal’s notion of feedback. That is, I look for games that allow me to make meaningful decisions. Dominion excels at this, because every game I attempt to build an engine by buying cards that synergize. The game itself provides feedback, by demonstrating whether my card selection worked or whether it was flawed.

The most sophisticated games (and the games that I gravitate toward) allow you to theorycraft, or to strategize approaches to the game. To keep with my example, in Dominion the most simple strategy is called Big Money. So, here is another question to ask of a game: to what extent does theorycrafting, or advanced strategy, impact winning? To what extent is winning determined by luck? Finding a balance between theorycraft and luck is an important part of building a successful game. To clarify: sophistication speaks to the choices I make during gameplay. How many different choices can I make?

Depth of mechanics is important, but game designers have to make choices about how deep they want a game to go. How many rules are there/ How complicated are the rules? Depth, I would argue, is directly opposed to accessibility. Put crudely, the larger the rule book, the less acceptable a game probably is. Although, games can have different “approaches” to rules. Take, for instance, Dungeons and Dragons (which technically isn’t a game, but work with me here). There are very different approaches to playing a pen and paper RPG. For some, DnD is a story-telling and role-playing game, in which the rules are mere suggestions in place to help develop a meaningful world for characters to inhabit. At it’s most pure realization, DnD in this format doesn’t really need dice–the dice rolls aren’t the final arbitrator of what happens as much as a “heuristic” tool providing the story tellers with some random constraints to invent their stories (think of the way that improv comedians use props in the middle of a skit). At the other end of the spectrum, players can approach DnD as a realistic strategy game. This version is far more rules driven, in which gameplay is usually oriented around generating dice. In a rule driven DnD campaign, the dice are God. They determine everything that happens, and every choice a player makes ultimately serves to influence various die rolls (combat rolls, saving throws, treasure checks, range modifiers, skill checks, etc).

Let me present one more example game with this language in mind: Magic the Gathering.

  • Accessibility: Magic is an increasingly unaccessible game. This is because the game has been in existence for almost 20 years, and each iteration of Magic introduces not only more cards, but more mechanics. Also, Magic’s central mechanic–the stack–basically requires a PhD in nerd gaming to understand. It is nearly impossible for two people who have never played Magic to sit down and play without either a) someone else who thoroughly knows the rules and/or b) the Internet and several hours to query rules questions (and parse out the virtually impenetrable Magic discourse).
  • Elegance: While extremely confusing in terms of accessibility, Magic’s core game play is fairly elegant. For instance, a turn of Magic has clear phases.
  • Sophistication: Magic is probably one of the most sophisticated games in existence. There’s so many different approaches to play the game that theorycraft is endless. You can literally spend a dozen hours building a single-deck, and, during gameplay, I am presented with critically important choices every turn. In order to be a competitive Magic player, I need to have a very deep understanding of the current meta (metagaming) in order to win. But this depth of knowledge isn’t enough–I also have to become very adept at reading board strength and making smart decisions during game play. Magic allows for very smart, nuanced, responsive decision-making.
  • Depth: I have already suggested that Magic has considerable depth. In fact, I would argue that Magic is, without equal, the deepest game ever created. At this point there is almost 12,000 unique cards in existence. Period. Even though these cards can be broken down into various functions (ramp, scry, tutor, wipe, etc)., there’s an unmatched amount of variety in the card pool. Of course–this is one of the reasons that the game can seem so inaccessible,
  • My hope is that this language: accessibility, elegance, sophistication, and depth, provides you with lenses both for thinking about the games you play and for the game(s) you want to design. Ultimately, of course, a successful game has to be “fun,” and, as I hope the DnD example indicates, different people can find different things to be fun (some of you probably enjoy playing Monopoly, and I don’t want to think that there’s something cognitively wrong with your brain because of that). My hope is that contemplating these ideas while making your game will help you understand what you find fun (luck? strategy? deceit? cooperation?) and design accordingly.

    Resources for Making Games

    As we begin project 4, I want to point your attention to a few resources.

  • The Game Crafter. This is a great site for ordering and designing game materials. The drawback: I could not find a timeline for how long it takes them to process custom orders (of say, playing cards or game boards). But they offer a very straightforward process for designing a game. They also have a walkthrough for getting started.
  • Litko is another online store that sells tokens and materials. Note that they take up to two weeks to process and order, and then between 3 and 10 days to ship an order. This means that you would have to order game tokens very soon (or plan on purchasing the 3 day shipping).
  • Decromancy offers a great tool for those interested in creating a card game. While the game costs 19.99, they offer a one-month free trial.
  • nanDeck is another very popular software for making card games. It has a community that includes templates for making MTG and other existing card games.
  • MakePlayingCards.com looks like it has a very stream-lined system for creating playing cards. Pricing seems reasonable. And they can produce your cards in 2-3 business days.
  • Gamification, Procedurality, and ARGs

    With the time remaining in class today, I want to address SuperBetter and McGonigal’s arguments regarding the potential for gaming. Here’s a link to a presentation I delivered last year at the 2013 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC’s) entitled Postpedagogy, Gamification, and sf0.

    Homework

    Work on those research papers!

    Read Mark Rosewater’s “Ten Things Every Game Needs”

    New Media Production Week 10

    WEEK 10. How is it already week ten? This requires that I reassess all the hopes and dreams I packed into the syllabus in order to identify what we can actually accomplish in the time we have remaining. I have distributed a handout that maps out our remaining classes.

    Project 4

    Tonight we have two goals. First, we’ll talk about your Shipka assignments. Second I will lay out the possibilities for our 4th Project. The 4th project will be due in class on December 4th.

    There’s myriad possibilities for what you might do for this project. Here are a few ideas.

    First, you can do your Shipka assignment. I don’t like to give an assignment that I have not done myself. It is hard to imagine the pitfalls unless you have actually tried it out first. Alternatively, you could find a partner and do each other’s Shipka assignments, giving the creator some valuable feedback.

    Second, you can choose to transform an existing conference presentation into a more dynamic, multimedia presentation. Of course, this doesn’t have to be something as developed as Michael Wesch’s “The Web is Us/ing Us,” but it could be! You could either narrate the paper set to images, of find a way to remediate the argument of the paper into a different media/form.

    Third, you could turn a syllabus into an infographic (using Photoshop, InDesign, or even template software). Or, you could convert a syllabus into a (cool) website. Here is a list of resources on infographics.

    Fourth, you could produce a new media manifesto. This was an original assignment for this course that I had to cut. The inspiration for this piece is not only Wesch’s work, but also something like Prince EA’s Why I Think This World Should End. Really, the manifesto could be any kind of definitional or argumentative performance.

    Fifth, you could dedicate a month to building content in your blog. Warren Ellis, Morning Computer. Write a blog post, however long, every day on anything you want.

    Sixth, you can remediate your MEmorial into a video.

    Project 5

    There is one additional project I would like you to complete this semester–and that is further developing your WordPress sites. We’ll work on this a bit in class in the coming weeks. In the end I would like your sites to have:

    • A teaching portfolio
      • A teaching philosophy (250 words or less)
      • A sample course syllabi
      • A unique project
      • A multimedia resource (a powerpoint? handout? what do you have to share?)
    • A research portfolio
      • An about page or research narrative/trajectory
      • A digital CV
      • A PDF CV
      • A sample conference paper or abstract (academia.edu?)
      • What else?
    • A coursework page: this was something that a few universities requested when I was on the job market–a detailed list of relevant coursework with brief course descriptions.

    And we’ll read Collin Brooke’s post on “The Strength of Weak Media.”

    Homework

    For next class, please read Bogost 1-98 and McGonigal 1-77. While I realize this is quite a bit of reading, neither should be too impenetrable (though the Bogost can be dense in a few places) and this is the last reading assignment I will give this semester.

    Rhetoric and Gaming 10.1 / Research Resources

    Today’s class has two primary objectives. First we will discuss the McGonigal reading. I think McGonigal opens interesting pathways into (re)thinking the value of games. Then we will move into the research project that I introduced in our last class.

    There is a short quiz on McGonigal on Canvas. Then we will spend 30 minutes or so addressing the reading. I will ask each of you to point us toward two sentences worthy of discussion and consideration. We will finish this discussion with a write-up* (these write-ups will be part of the research project).

    Research Resources

    First, a list of academic game journals you should consult:

    While not peer-reviewed, one article from the following sources can count for 15 pages toward your research total. You can ask me to approve additional pages.

    Once you have discovered a useful article, do two things.

    • First, look at the works cited or references list. Identify a few sources worthy of checking.
    • Second, put the title of the article into Google Scholar.
    • You can collect sources from outside of this list, however I will be insistent that your 180 pages* of research come from peer-reviewed* sources. Your research project can (and probably should) involve non-peer reviewed sources, but those won’t count toward your 180 page requirement.

      Note that not all of these resources will provide full text access for free. But, chances are, you can get full text access if you go to the journal via the USF library. Ask me how to do this if you don’t know how to access a journal via the library website.

      Homework

      There’s two things I would like you to do for homework. First, I would ask you to produce a 200-250 word proposal that outlines your research project. This proposal needs to address: 1) what you want to study and why and 2) what you have already looked at–what sources you have already read and which other sources you would begin reading. You don’t need to have a complete sense of the 180 pages you will read for your project, but you should at least have a sense of what the first 60 or so will be (so, say, the nest three sources you will consult).

      As you are looking at sources and preparing to write your proposal, please start a google doc for keeping track of your research. Share this document with me (insignificantwrangler at gmail dot com). This should be a place where you keep track of what you have read.

      Obviously, I hope the links and cursory examinations we conducted in class today help you achieve the second objective. But you should spend some more time following up.

    New Media Production Wk 9

    Tonight we have 2-3 primary objectives. First, I would like to discuss Shipka, and what “A Composition Made Whole” means to you. I am especially interested in hearing from our folks outside of the R/C community.

    In doing so, I imagine that we will talk about your potential assignment sheets, due next week.

    Also, I am tempted to share some of my most recently completed article, “Toward a Technical Communication Made Whole,” co-authored with Megan M. McIntyre.

    After we finish discussing Shipka, I want to spend some time tonight having fun with Photoshop. We haven’t played with technology in quite awhile, and I wanted to return to photo-editing before we begin focusing more exclusively back on web design and content management. Just in time for Halloween!

    We might also consult:

    Rhetoric and Gaming 9.2 / The Research Project

    Project 2 Reflection

    So far this semester, I have asked you to think about video games in terms of two common concerns of the humanities: art/aesthetics and gender/race. In the first project, we explored whether/how games facilitate higher-level aesthetic experience: can they generate powerful emotions? Can they question how to best live a life? Can they deliver a unique perspective on our world? Can they lead us to critique existing poltical, economic, or social relations?

    In our second project, I initially asked you to compose a project that extended (or responded) to the work of Anita Sarkeesian, who’s Feminist Frequency series examines the overwhelming misogyny and sexism that appears in many AAA (big budget, mass marketed) video games. The last time I taught the course, I was far more authoritarian on this topic, forcing students to examine the representations of race and gender in different genres. This time, I gave you far more freedom in developing your own topics. I will say I am pleased with the variety of the projects you have developed–while the quality of the videos might have been a bit underwhelming–each project provided us with a different lens for thinking about games.

    • Dylan, Antonio, Matt, and Nick’s project articulated 3 popular tropes for male characters in games. The three they focus on are the warrior, the chief, and the lost soul. I think I would have liked for the presentation to do a bit more work to tease out what distinguishes these tropes from each other–but, even without it, we see that male characters are often framed as independent, myopically driven, courageous, authoritative figures. They are strong, both physically and mentally. The chief is the hero in the style of John Wayne (see below)–the lost soul more of an anti-hero in the style of Robin Hood, Batman (The Dark Knight), Wolverine, or Victor Frankenstein. Overall, male characters are motivated by either a sense of justice or a sense of revenge. Our heroes are less Sherlock Holmes and more Batman. So, as I play future games, I can think about what kind of hero I am asked to play. I can also, of course, ask how (many?) female protagonists compare to these male tropes.
    • Ryan, Miranda, and Michael’s project focused our attention on the role of death in video games. I will admit that I found this project the most interesting, if only because it asked a question I had not previously considered: to what extent to videogames reflect upon the violence they contain? How many prioritize uncomplicated enjoyment or valorization of war? How many call that enjoyment into question and ask us to consider the horror of war? One might call this the difference between John Wayne and Jon Rambo (or, more generally, “modern” war movies of the 1950′s and 1960′s that champion heroes of WWII and the “postmodern” war movies of the 1970′s and 1980′s that brutally critique the atrocities of Vietnam).
    • Alan, Justin, and Chet’s group addressed the third term in the liberal humanist trifecta: class (along with race and gender). I thought the project could have been a bit clearer in its purpose, but what I got out of it is a question about representations of class in games. Are the rich always the villains? Why are poor people poor? Of course, these are questions that also dominant our discussions of politics and exacerbate the contemporary divide between left and right, blue and red, democrat and republican (i.e., are poor people poor because socio-economic structure denies them adequate opportunity to succeed or because they lack the work ethic and/or ability to rise out of poverty?). At the very least, this line of questioning led me to consider how games reflect these basic political orientations and their resulting narrative tropes.
    • Jordan, Kiele, Drea, Chris, and Elizabeth’s presentation was, thus far, the most reflective of my origin intentions. They pick up where Sarkeesian left off, examining whether indie games are more sophisticated in their treatment of gender than AAA games. They also had the most rigorous methodology, articulating four clear criteria for their study: abuse, playability, role, and appearance. They advance (and confirm?) a hypothesis that indie games would be more progressive in their representations. Like Dylan, Antonio, and Matt, I believe they leave us with a useful framework for approaching other games.

    A final word on what to do with this information. Those who follow me on facebook or have taken me before are likely aware of my mantra: “every dollar you spend is a vote for the world in which you want to live.” Don’t want to live in a world in which civic entities stop producing viable drinking water? Then don’t drink bottled water. Don’t want to live in a world in that perpetuates corporate welfare? Then don’t shop at Walmart. Don’t want to support the ALCU? Don’t buy your car insurance from Progressive. Want to support the ALCU? Buy your car insurance from Progressive.

    My point is that, whether you are on the left or the right, with a little research you can look into both what political organizations businesses choose to support and what underlying socio-economic/political factors a business contributes to. Understand that in the era of late/global capitalism, your dollar is probably more effectual than your vote (but you should DEFINITELY vote).

    Thanks to new media, and especially social media, you have another avenue for agency. Writing complaints on social media has definite impact on what projects developers pursue. Do not think, for a second, that the controversy surrounding GamerGate hasn’t reached executives at gaming companies. The Bechdel test didn’t cure all movies of sexism, but it did have a clear impact on movies and got things moving in a positive direction. It attracted attention. You have, via twitter and the #hashtag, the same power to contribute to social change. DON’T WASTE IT.

    The Research Project

    At this point in the semester, I want to amend the syllabus a bit to reflect reality (we have 7 weeks left!). I am going to cut back on the Rhetoric and the Real World unit and move into the research project.

    Over the next 4 weeks, I will ask you conduct research on video games and “X.” “X” can be just about any other academic, social, or cultural domain. Research needs to be academic in general. I expect a number of the projects will advance from Bogost, so Videogames and Politics, Videogames and Advertisement, or Videogames and Education. Some of these might continue the work of Project One or Two–Such as Videogames and Art or Videogames and Gender/Race/Class. This research can extend from McGonigal and SuperBetter, such as Videogames and Physical Health. This research work can be more narrowly defined, such as MMORPGs and Race, or First-Person Shooters and the Nietzschean Ubermensch, or Survival Horror Video Games and Psychoanalytic Theory (that one has been done). This research can really be about anything you want; next Thursday I will ask you to prepare a 200 word proposal that speaks to your intended topic. I will provide each student with a list of readings germane to that topic. You will be required to find additional readings.

    As you are aware, I am not a big fan of providing specific requirements for topics. But I will provide a few:

    • I am looking for a paper in the neighborhood of 3000 words (8-12 pages typed, double-spaced)
    • I am looking for you to read between 350 and 400 pages of material for your research. Note: this is not a “source count,” but a page count. I will ask you to develop a reading journal, similar to the gaming journal for project one

    For homework this weekend, I want you to read the first 76 pages of McGonigal’s Reality is Broken. We will discuss this in class on Tuesday (and I will provide a bit more materials for the research project).

    Walter Ong: Writing is a Way of Being

    Lecture notes on Ong:

    Below are my lecture notes on Ong. Here’s the quick version: Ong, along with Eric Havelock, were among the first scholars to argue that literacy was more than a tool that simply communicates what human think. Rather, literacy is a transformative agent that shapes how/what I think. And, in turn, what I value (and even, at worst, who I value).

    Below Ong details 14 different ways writing changes our brains, and the corresponding shifts to reason, ethics, subjectivity. Basically, writing affords us far more nuanced vocabularies–whereas the oral Greek culture might have 2 words for death, a literate culture might have 50 (I do an exercise with students where I ask them for all the words they know for anger. Then remind them that ancient Greece had just one word).

    Writing also individualizes us: speaking brings us in proximity. Writing distances.

    Writing also leads to a different, more exacting, sense of Truth.

    Similarly, writing transforms knowledge into an object distinct from a person. It objectifies.

    Finally, by increasing memory, writing allows for a kind of syllogistic reasoning that would be almost impossible in a purely oral world. While dialectical argumentation might have its roots in orality, it is only in literacy that we can dissect premises (clauses) and generate conclusions.

    • Writing separates the knower from the known (24). In articulating this, Ong means that writing not only serves to generate objectivity (in the scientific sense), but also leads us to conceptualize knowledge itself as an object, a thing, a materiality.
    • Writing separates interpretation from data (25). Oral cultures do not have the sense of precision and exactitude literates expect (transcription).
    • Writing distances word and sound (25).
    • Writing distances the source of the communication (the writer) from the recipient (the reader), both in time and in space. (25-26)
    • Writing distances the word from the plenum of existence. (26) In other words, writing decontextualizes.
    • Writing enforces verbal precision of a sort unavailable in oral cultures. (26)
    • Writing separates past from present. (26)
    • Writing establishes “administration” (26). See below for an explication.
    • Writing separates logic from rhetoric (27).
    • Writing separates academic learning from wisdom, making possible the conveyance of highly organized abstract thought structures independently of their actual use or of their integration into the human lifeworld (27).
    • Writing creates high and low languages (27).
    • Writing creates expansive vocabularies in the high dialects (28).
    • Writing intensifies abstraction as it becomes more abstract (28).
    • Writing separates being from time. (28)

    Basically, “administration” refers to hierarchy. Literally, Ong means that administration produces officials in charge of overseeing (top-down) different elements of society. There’s not one homogenous collective, or one total ruler. “Rule” begins to be organized, ontologized, broken up into categories. This gets complicated pretty quick–but if you think about Aristotle’s metaphysics, then you see what Ong is talking about. Aristotle began to think ontology/reality by creating categories, hierarchies, thought trees, for things (the whole genus/species thing). That is, according to Ong, a product of the way that literacy helps organize[administer] thought. So for thought, so for social-political organization.

    Decontextualization is also in play here. Put simply, oral thinkers think associatively. If you say “tree,” they will begin seeing the tree in connection to all the other things that inform tree (bird, grass, sun, wind, leaves, etc). Literate thinkers don’t do this. They pull the tree out of its environment to focus on it as an individual entity. They “divide” (one of Ong’s favorite words) the tree from its lived environment. And–here is the connection to hierarchy, metaphysics, ontology, Aristotle–they start to break the isolated tree into its various parts.

    Literate thinkers are very good at this kind of critical analysis: breaking things into parts. Determining what parts are essential to the object, and which are accidental (determining essential and accidental qualities is the foundation of Aristotle’s metaphysics and all modern science/thought; my own research argues that purely “literate” or “essentialist” thinking is bad and that, hopefully, technology can lead us to retain literacy’s benefits while also rediscovering the ethical compassion/associative thinking of orality).

    One thing to mark here, too. Ong is often attacked by multicultural scholars as dismissing the intellectual capacity of oral cultures. This is probably true. I read Ong as a theorist rather than an anthropologist. He isn’t articulating how people actually thought as much as detailing two different ways of thinking about thinking. And he is trying to make us realize that the way we think isn’t “natural,” but rather a learned, evolutionary, technological, cybernetic process.

    Which means, of course, that we can learn to learn otherwise.

    A good example of “administration” would be law. In ancient Hebrew culture, law was administered by a judge in the moment. He would hear both sides of a case and make a reasonable judgement.

    But, once you have literacy, you start writing laws down. Now the judge has a much different function s/he applies a previously determined set of codes and procedures (abstract principles) to a specific situation.

    In oral law, there is no pre-existing procedures. Sure, there’s codes and commandments, but compare the ten commandments to the legal libraries of today. Boom. Ong in a nutshell.

    Lifeworld isn’t fancy. It just means the world in which you live. If there’s anything tricky to it, it would be that as literate westerners, it is impossible for us to appreciate how much the process of abstraction impacts the way we negotiate the world.

    For instance, when a literate person encounters a tree, they don’t simply encounter the tree. They begin to think through the tree, to dissect it, to administer/organize it. ALL. THE. TIME.

    High dialects means something like “academic discourse.” He is acknowledging that English isn’t one homogenous language. There’s a big difference between someone like me and a student in your class. Sure, we are both literate, but could you really say we speak/write the same language?
    Or, in Aristotelian terms, we are of the same genus, but are very different species.

    Which gets into how this kind of thinking can quickly become genocidal. Because, at some dark unconscious level, we can come to understand that those who don’t “write” the “right” way are a different species. A sub-species. Less than Human (with a capital H). But that’s another lecture for another time.

    Rhetoric and Gaming 8.2 Bogost, Rhetoric, and Procedurality

    We’ll talk more about Bogost next week, after you have completed Project 2. In today’s class, you’ll take a quiz that will highlight some key terms. But I wanted to take a minute to explicate what I see as a problem with Bogost’s treatment of rhetoric, and, consequently, his framing of procedural rhetoric. This isn’t a “problem” in the sense of “Bogost’s theory doesn’t work.” In fact, I think he provides us with a valuable way of seeing (as Burke would call it) procedural arguments. Rather, because he defines rhetoric according to a logocentric Aristotelian tradition, and pays too little attention to Burke’s concept of identification, he misses an opportunity to address a wider scope of rhetorical effects than simply “to change opinion or action” (29).

    Briefly, I would reduce the debates Bogost traces regarding rhetoric (and especially visual rhetoric) to a discussion as to whether rhetoric has to advance arguments. Bogost reads classical rhetoric as built on the back of dialectic and argument (via Aristotle’s response to Socrates’ and Plato’s condemnation). Contemporary rhetoric, he argues, is more invested in style. He writes:

    In contemporary rhetoric, the goal of persuasion is largely underplayed or even omitted as a defining feature of the field, replaced by the more general notion of elegance, clarity, and creativity in communication. (20)

    Let me go on record as saying he is half right. Contemporary rhetoric isn’t always concerned with persuasion (though much of it still is). But the second half of that sentence makes me want to pull my hair out. To be fair, Bogost isn’t a rhetorician by trade–his work lies at the intersections of philosophy and technology, and I would excuse him a bit if he is not completely familiar with the nuances of another field. But I get the sense, especially from his cursory review of Burke, that reviewers likely suggested that there is more depth to contemporary rhetorical studies than he acknowledges.

    So, if contemporary rhetoric isn’t concerned about persuasion or style, then what is it’s concern? I would argue that rhetoric, inspired by Burke and 20th century philosophy/theory (a number of kinds here: phenomenology, continental, postmodern, poststructuralist, feminist, postcolonial, critical, etc.), has taken the process of identification as its central concern. Full disclosure: my work takes identification as its central concern (though I refer to it as “ethics”) and I consider myself a contemporary rhetorician. But I do not think I am alone in this endeavor by any stretch of the imagination.

    Let’s look at Bogost’s discussion of Burke:

    The influential twentieth-century rhetorician Kenneth Burke marks an important change in the understanding of rhetoric. Because people are inherently separate from one another, we seek ways to join our interests. Burke identifies this need as the ancestor of the practice of rhetoric. He extends rhetoric beyond persuasion, instead suggesting “identification” as a key term for the practice. We use symbol systems, such as language, as a way to achieve this identification. Burke defines rhetoric as a part of the practice of identification, as “the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or induce actions in other human agents.” While rhetoric still entails persuasion for Burke, he greatly expands its purview, arguing that it facilitates human action in general. Persuasion is subordinated to identification [...] and using rhetoric to achieve an end is only one possible use of the craft for Burke. Rhetoric becomes a means to facilitate identification and to “bridge the conditions of estrangement that are natural and inevitable.” (20-21)

    This is an admirable summary of Burke’s work–though I will argue it underplays some of the more radical dimensions of Burke’s rhetoric. First, though, I would suggest that the “other ends of rhetoric” suggested by Burke disappear from Bogost’s book after this paragraph. A few pages later, (procedural) rhetoric is summarized thusly:

    Following the classical model, procedural rhetoric entails persuasion–to change the opinion or action. Following the contemporary model, procedural rhetoric entails expression–to convey ideas effectively. (29).

    Notice how identification has disappeared.

    What I would emphasize is that Burke’s concept of identification isn’t necessarily a conscious product of authorial intent or agency. Burke, influenced by psychoanalysis, Marxism, and phenomenology was interested in the unconscious (his work anticipates Zizek’s sociological reading of Lacan). Rhetoric becomes the study of how a collective group of individuals becomes a “we.” Without a prior sense of a “we” (such that persuasion isn’t subordinated to identification as much as identification is prior to persuasion), there can be no exchange dialectical or otherwise. And, in the wake of the holocaust, Burke’s work was particularly attuned to the ways in which any creation of an “us” by necessity operates by engendering a “them.” Identification is impossible without its counterpart, division. Burke’s rhetoric is an attempt to attend to this process It is not necessarily an attempt to stop the process (for Burke it is indispensable), but an effort to create increasingly inclusive senses of “us” and to minimize the violence identification wrecks upon “them.” This for me is “ethics” in its most basic sense.

    Again, my point here isn’t to bash Bogost or his concept of procedural rhetoric. As we will see in the coming weeks, I find both to be interesting, innovative, and useful. But I do want to highlight his rather impoverished sense of contemporary rhetoric, and to suggest that we can better understand procedural rhetoric once we attend to how videogames always operate by placing us within particular identities (particular senses of “us”). This, I believe, compliments Bogost’s discussion of videogames and ideology (3, 71-79).

    Reading Notes/Quotes

    Traditional take on classical rhetoric (17-19).

    Problems with Visual / Digital rhetoric (21-28; 34-35).

    Procedural rhetoric isn’t about “content” but “processes”; distinction between procedural rhetoric and serious games (48, 54-59)

    Example of an enthymeme as a truncated syllogism (36). Bogost makes a direct connection between the enthymeme, interactivity, and procedural rhetoric (43).

    “This is really what we do when we play videogames: we explore the possibility space its rules afford by manipulating the game’s controls” (42-43). Games like SuperBetter or sf0 attempt to refashion the real world with the expanded “possibility space” we afford game worlds: making it easier to experiment with new ways of operating or interacting with reality.

    For videogames as artistic expression meets interesting choices, see 45.

    Key to understanding Bogost’s definition of rhetoric is how he differentiates himself from Fogg: 60-61. Compare to his discussion of the processes that interest him (5).