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Procedural Rhetoric at practice: Echo and Application across a 2Dgame project

The findings of this paper provide a guiding direction for game producers to express claims in their products, and inform the authorities in communicating ideologies through video games.

Stan Zhang

May 7, 2024

20 Min Read


In video game research, scholar Ian Bogost has attracted much attention for his proposal of a procedural rhetoric theory, which advocates strong claims about how the world works through behavioural rules and dynamic models in video games. This study aims to respond to the theory of procedural or analogue rhetoric by verifying the theory's viability in 2D games through a practice-led original video game project. The author has now demonstrated practice-led original video game projects in the field and performed public experiments to inform the feasibility of the procedural rhetoric doctrine in 2D games. This study employed a practice survey, literature review and content analysis as the theoretical framework for the research. 

The main findings show that by implanting specific ideological claims in the conceptual construction of the game, the design of the game mechanism and the visual design of the game, the participants will be influenced by these implants during the interaction process. The main conclusion suggests that procedural rhetoric can be expressed through 2D-pixel games, as empirical research demonstrates. In a meaningful way, the study not only offers the possibility of diverse expressions of procedural rhetoric theory in video games but also achieves the goal of conveying a specific ideology to the player community through procedural rhetoric in practice. 


In the past, the tools for transmitting political information included songs, poems, novels, etc., and video games have started to make their presence felt in this field (Neys and Jansz, 2010). As video games have evolved, diverse hardware devices have provided technical support for disseminating ideology in video games. However, software is more important, as the producers' ideological implantation behaviour subjectively mirrors the functioning of the natural world in virtual space. In response to video games as a medium for transmitting ideology, Ian Bogost introduced the concept of procedural rhetoric in his book Persuasion Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games. Procedural rhetoric refers to the art of convincing in the context of rule-based forms of expression and interaction, as opposed to spoken language, written text, static images, or animation. In short, procedural rhetoric is the art of effective persuasion using programmatic processes. In terms of specific ideological communication, developers can implant their subjective concepts into the game-making process. As Strukov (2012) described, Russian And Silicon Valley game designers develop influences while each plays a role in expressing national perspectives in their games. However, the academic response to procedural rhetoric lacks a practice-based methodology and a validation-based approach. This paper validates the feasibility of implementing procedural rhetoric in a 2D-pixel game through experimentation with an original project. 

Therefore, the author has validated the feasibility of the doctrine in 2D-pixel games through a practice-led research and development project. The validation methodology includes the following aspects: First, in terms of constructing the project's philosophy, war games that recreate war conditions in a highly realistic manner are conducive to enhancing players' immersion and making them participants in the pain of war (Del-Moral and RodrÍguez-Gonz Ález, 2020). Secondly, in terms of game mechanic design, the atmosphere of war is conveyed to testers by simulating a real field hospital's operational and stressful environment. In game design, higher-level challenges, such as the strategic or even the storyline level, are crucial for immersion(Cox et, 2012). Further, in terms of game visualisation, by deliberately shaping 2D art environments, video games can evoke attention to the sensory specificity of the game environment, thus facilitating aesthetic reflection (Atkinson and Parsayi, 2021). After the public

beta testing of the project presentation, the author analysed the feedback from different types of testers. Obviously, the testers were influenced by the ideas the developers purposely implanted. The test results confirm that the implantation of specific ideologies in 2D-pixel games through the project design and production phase can physically and mentally affect test participants. The results of this study respond to the feasibility of the procedural rhetoric doctrine in 2D-pixel games. The contribution can be categorised into two aspects: firstly, the findings of this paper provide a guiding direction for game producers to express claims in their products; secondly, the findings inform the authorities in communicating ideologies through video games. 


Literature Review 

This study focused on procedural rhetoric in video games, a theory whose cornerstone is the scholar Ian Bogost. Accordingly, academic discussions and research have centred around this theory. Among these research extensions, scholar Demers (2014) was cautious about procedural rhetoric in video games. His study argues that procedural rhetoric in war-based games may provoke the rise of Neo-militarism. On the critical side, Matheson (2015) points out that procedural rhetoric is a pre-emptive, compulsively repetitive and ineffectively convincing procedure. On the cultural level, De Pablos (2016) provides an insight into the cultural role of Japanese video games through procedural rhetoric. 

Several video game productions with procedural-rhetorical properties have academic references regarding related practices. For example, Metal Gear transmits an anti-war signal to the player through an accusation of war's misuse of technologies and ambitions that lead scientists to serve the war effort. Thus, the work can be considered a persuasive game (Stamenković et al., 2017). In addition, God of War shapes a persuasive narrative of masculinity and fatherhood through procedural rhetoric, a rhetoric with patriarchal undertones that has been widely discussed(Snyder, 2015). Similar related practices are numerous and will not be detailed here. 

Theoretical Framework 

This paper will address the theoretical framework of this study in three aspects: game design, game art and ethics. Initially, in terms of game design, relevant research has presented the idea that procedural rhetoric acts as a spark for knowledge, while enjoyment provides the spark (Doucel and Srinivasan, 2010). The author based this view on empirical validation and further analyses. Secondly, for the game art aspect, the author creates an excellent news game through the rhetorical stance in images and sounds (Treanor and Mateas, 2009). The author applies the idea for practical expansion. Thirdly, in the procedural rhetoric doctrine, the discussion of ethics involves the anti-utopian game influencing the values and beliefs of the players in an open, reasonable and unconscious approach by allowing them to decide the right moral option for themselves (Jiang, 2021). The author adopts this view and develops a verification. Additionally, the author combines that, at the level of game psychology, badges, leaderboards, etc. positively influence the satisfaction of competence needs as well as the perception of task meaning (Sailer et al., 2017). Whilst specific manifestations of this theoretical concept are not covered exhaustively in this paper, these references will be documented during the specifics of the project build.



This study aims to validate the feasibility of procedural rhetoric theory in the context of an original 2D game. In order to validate the theory's utility, the authors adopted Design ScienceResearch (DSR) as the methodology for this exercise. The core of DSR is constructing and evaluating practical artefacts, i.e., designing artefacts to achieve a particular objective (Weber, 2018). In design science research, new and purposeful models need to be created for specific problem areas, and these models need to be evaluated to ensure their usability in solving the specified problem (Hevner et al., 2004). Therefore, the DSR methodology was integrated throughout the project, including project conceptualisation, the production process, and the testing and public feedback of the results. Through this methodology, the authors systematically responded to procedural rhetoric theory. Based on the response to the theory, the following research questions will be discussed in depth in this paper: 

1. How can procedural rhetoric be implanted in the conceptual, production and presentation stages of a 2D video game? 

2. What types of elemental models can be used to incorporate procedural rhetoric in 2D video games? Are these elements effective in delivering a particular ideology? 

3. What is the impact on the player of the outcomes presented by integrating procedural rhetoric into a 2D video game? Does this impact justify the ethical and moral requirements? 

For the presentation of the originality 2D game project used for validation purposes, the construction of the game program was developed through the Unity platform. The development tools for the project include management tools, art asset production tools, code development and programme generation tools. The development process of this validation model can be classified into the following steps: firstly, the generation of initial concepts and the iteration of the game mechanics; secondly, the construction of the procedural framework and there placement of the artistic assets; and finally, the stage of iteration and presentation. The analysis methodology adopted was evaluated through feedback from round-robin testing and iteration. 



The content described in this section covers the project's development process. In general, this development used design science research as a methodology to create a 2D-pixel simulation game using procedural rhetoric. This chapter will systematically illustrate the design and production process of the project in five modules: Project Design, Programmatic Simulation, Ideological Implantation, Ethical and Moral Considerations, and Public Testing and Feedback Collection. In the following contents, the audience will learn how Procedural Rhetoric is incorporated into the design and production of each module. 

Project Concept Design 

In the initial stages of the project concept, the game design revolved around specific ideological concepts. The game's background is based on the real-world geopolitical conflict of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Realistic elements are integrated into the project's setting and implanted in a procedural-rhetorical approach. Gregory (2004) states that video games present geopolitical

views and concepts effectively. In the game, the player manages a temporarily established field hospital. The core gameplay is a simulation of hospital operations, where the player has to confront the challenges of high-volume missions and shortages of medicinal supplies. Concerning the game concept, wounded civilians, soldiers, and POWs from the enemies' side are presented in the form of NPCs, and the player is faced with moral dilemmas. The setup of the moral dilemmas is directly related to the player's level of engagement with the game, and the positive or negative consequences of the choices will add to the player's gaming experience (Tancredet al., 2018). 

Programming Simulation 

The programmatic simulation was produced based on the game mechanics; the researcher selected to use the Unity platform to build the programmatic framework and iterate on the logic of the game mechanics. About the procedural rhetoric of level design, the authors set the number and frequency of the casualties. As gameplay time progressed, the player was required to deal with more frequent and significant casualties. In game design, players perceive the difficulty level to be higher than the subjective average, and when the player's skill is much higher than the challenge level, a deeper state of the game experience will result (Chen et al., 2006). The game mechanic difficulty setting is also seen as a procedural rhetorical metaphor, with the authors simulating the strenuous tasks of a field hospital to convey a specific ideology to the player. Numerically, the authors set up the medicine prop of scarcity to show the players the material difficulties medical facilities face in war. The authors use pharmaceutical scarcity as a medium for procedural rhetoric, and through the experience of the gameplay process, the tester can receive the particular ideology of anti-war and salvation communicated in this Artifact. Critical motivational factors in the game are prop-driven to increase the game's playability (Songand Zhang, 2008). 

Ideological Implants Expression 

In the artistic dimension, the expression of ideological implants takes on a sensorial appearance. In order to emphasise the project's specific ideology of anti-war expression through procedural rhetoric, the authors designed and produced art assets. In order to present the brutality of war trauma, the authors provided detailed depictions of the appearance of the wounded, their injured parts, and motion animations. The visual representation of the player's opponent is crucial as it will impact the player's character, personality, and potential actions (Pardantyo et al., 2021). On the auditory side, the authors combine a continuous background sound effect of gunfire with a melancholic soundtrack. Sound can also be seen as a form of procedural rhetorical expression. By using sound for psychological manipulation, it is possible to facilitate an emotional connection between the player and the world in the virtual space, thus influencing the player's emotional response (Drake, 2018). 

Ethical and Moral Considerations 

For ethical and moral considerations, the authors referenced realistic products of real-world conflict parties, such as elements of in-game characters' uniforms, logos, and badges. However, in order to avoid offending specific ethnic groups, the authors have modified these real-world referenced assets virtually. Blending real religions with video games may not always positively impact religious teachings and morals (Wibawa et al., 2019). Elements with symbolic representations convey specific ideologies, such as the ideological choices in Elysium Disco, that can result in a different gameplay experience for the player (Howard, 2022). 

Public Testing and Feedback Gathering 

Public testing is a crucial aspect of project development; also, regarding program rhetoric, public testing is critical to validating a platform. The negative emotions of the testers can be effectively utilised for beneficial persuasive purposes, while the intensity of the emotions elicited by the feedback technique has a necessary role in the attitude change processes (Chittaro and Zangrando, 2010). During the public testing session, the authors recorded and analysed the feedback from the testers by recording and analysing it. The analysis showed that the testers were stimulated with information about the anti-war ideology through the procedural rhetoric in the items. Persuasive intentions are communicated through positive feedback rewards that help shape the attitudes or behaviours of test participants (Chow et al., 2017). 


Methods of implantation of procedural rhetoric 

As a result of this practical study of artifacts, authors have classified the implantation approach of procedural rhetoric into three aspects: the theme of the game, the game mechanics and the game assets. First, regarding the game theme, to achieve the goals of procedural rhetoric, the game's theme should be relevant to the real world. Numerous historical episodes of social importance are presented in videogames (Belyaev and Belyaeva, 2022). 

Secondly, on the game mechanics level, the operational model and the system of rewards and punishments should be aligned with the effects envisioned by the procedural rhetoric. Challenge mechanisms are designed to help players access more profound game experiences in a form that enables more effective procedural rhetoric. Games with definite goals form a positive feedback loop between the player and the game, allowing the player to be actively involved and shape a unique procedural rhetoric(Ferrari, 2010). 

Finally, in terms of game assets, to enhance procedural rhetoric, the artistic elements of the assets need to incorporate real-world references. Character design, environment construction, prop composition, and sound synthesis can all be carriers of procedural rhetoric. Game art assets with procedural rhetoric properties balance real-world references' authenticity with artistic imagination's creativity. Real-world art can provide game designers with profound insights that enable them to organically integrate artistic elements into the game's structure (Szymanski, 2018). 

Programmatic Rhetoric Component Sectors 

Experience has shown that components in video games with procedural rhetoric can be categorized in three ways: game background, content, and mechanics. Firstly, real-world periods and locations can be utilized for cross-categorization in terms of game background. Taking the period context as an example, the game This is My War is set during the Yugoslavian Civil War between 1992-96. In terms of location backgrounds, for example, Ghost of Tsushima is set on the island of Tsushima, which is right in the middle of Japan and Korea. Meritorious video games place the gameina historical context, giving the player the experience of participating in actual events (Szymanski, 2018). 

Secondly, the character is an important starting point for game content. A character constitution with strong procedural-rhetorical properties should include aspects such as the character's appearance, body movements, facial expressions, lines and voice. To realize these necessary conditions of character composition, producers candistil typical elements from the real world and use them to portray the distinctive style of the characters. Rich and diverse characters can make the game world dynamic and enhance the player's immersion (Heikkinen, 2018).Moreover, environment play a role in staging for procedural rhetoric. Scenarios such as hospitals and temples are classic environments in horror games, and these familiar backgrounds can put players into an emotional state of fighting for survival (Camilleri). Furthermore, animate effects can bring an immersive experience to the player from multiple senses. The visual effects of animation have a significant perceptual impact on the audience, which includes the viewer's persuasion process (Morrison and Vogel, 1998). 

Thirdly, the game mechanics elements can be summarized as role assignment, behavioural qualification, and resource allocation rules. Role assignment is the setting of roles in that players can act as agents through rules; behavioural qualification regulates the actions that players can choose to take; and resource distribution rules refer to the presentation of the causal relationship between player behaviour and the distribution of rewards and punishments within the game. By addressing real-world culture, the persuasive power of game mechanics can be extended to a deep philosophical level (Flanagan and Howe, 2005). 

Presentation of outcome feedback 

Through the introduction of procedural rhetoric in a 2D video game, the outcome influenced the players. According to the analysis of the feedback from the public testing of the project, the impact can be categorized into positive and negative aspects. In positive aspects, through the implantation of procedural rhetoric, players felt the communication of a specific ideology. As a result of the high-intensity tasks and obstacles set in the game mechanics, players received the transmission of procedural rhetoric more deeply. On the negative side, for players who lack real-world experiences as padding, procedural rhetoric may become a burden that affects the game experience. As a result, Bogost argues that "video games can also disrupt and alter basic attitudes and beliefs about the world, leading to potentially significant long-term social change" (p. ix).

Answers to the question of whether the effects of procedural rhetoric are ethical or moral are wide open. Firstly, the producers' intentions are vaguely defined on a moral and ethical level. At the same time, the extent to which makers embed their ideology in the game process is challenging to control. The characterization of procedural rhetoric in video games is still in the research stage in academia. Procedural rhetoric is a powerful concept that explains video games and the logic of simulation and modelling more broadly (Matheson, 2015). 


Through this practice, the author responds to the doctrine of procedural rhetoric by producing artifacts for specific goals. Based on the existing literature on procedural rhetoric, the author references relevant practices and develops a theoretical framework. Employing the Design Science Research approach as the methodology of the practice, the author undertakes the production of artifacts. The author obtained an artifact that could be tested and verified by systematically implanting a specific ideology. A verification response to the feasibility of procedural rhetoric in 2D video games is presented through the analysis of public test results. 


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