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Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames Paperback – August 13, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Do not wait: start reading this stimulating book.

(Jan H.G. Klabbers Game Studies)

Videogames lack the cultural stature of 'legitimate' art forms because they are widely perceived to be trivial and meaningless. But Ian Bogost makes a powerful argument that they are capable of informing and persuading as well as entertaining; in short, that they possess the power of rhetoric. Backed by numerous examples from the fields of politics, advertising, and education, Persuasive Games is an important addition to the debate over what games are, do, and can be.

(Ernest W. Adams, game design consultant and educator)

Bogost's book provides a new lens -- procedural rhetoric -- to use in the analysis of games and an excellent survey of the history of games of this ilk.

(Steve Jacobs American Journal of Play)

Bogost creates and writes about serious games, seemingly simple diversions that deliver educational political and advertising content alongside entertainment. In Persuasive Games, he offers an academic but accessible introduction to their potential, and it is very meaty reading for anybody interested in where the interactive arts meet real-world topics.

(Scott Colbourne The Globe and The Mail)

Analyzing the power of video games to mount arguments and influence players, Ian Bogost does again what he always does so very well: thoroughly rethink and shake up a traditional academic field -- rhetoric -- while lucidly building the foundations of a new one -- game studies.

(James Paul Gee, Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, Arizona State University)

Whether we call them 'serious games', 'persuasive games', or simply 'video games', it is clear that there is much of rhetorical significance to mine from the electronic representations and interactions that have captivated such a large portion of the world's population. Ian Bogost's book is an excellent step towards understanding and appreciating these materials from an intellectual, critical, and humanistic perspective.

(Rudy McDaniel Literary and Linguistic Computing)

About the Author

Ian Bogost is Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair in Media Studies and Professor of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a Founding Partner at Persuasive Games LLC, and the coauthor of Newsgames: Journalism at Play (MIT Press, 2010).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (August 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780262514880
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262514880
  • ASIN: 0262514885
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Ian Bogost is an award-winning designer and media philosopher whose work focuses on videogames and computational media. He is Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair of Media Studies and Professor of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Founding Partner at Persuasive Games LLC. His research and writing considers videogames as an expressive medium, and his creative practice focuses on political games and artgames.

Bogost is author or co-author of Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System, Newsgames: Journalism at Play, How To Do Things with Videogames, Alien Phenomenology, or What it's Like to Be a Thing, and 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. He is a popular academic and industry speaker and considered an influential thinker and doer in both the game industry and research community.

Bogost's videogames about social and political issues cover topics as varied as airport security, consumer debt, disaffected workers, the petroleum industry, suburban errands, pandemic flu, and tort reform. His games have been played by millions of people and exhibited internationally at venues including the Telfair Museum of Art (Savannah), the Laboral Centro de Arte (Madrid), Fournos Centre for Digital Culture (Athens), Eyebeam Center (New York), Slamdance Guerilla Game Festival (Park City), the Israeli Center for Digital Art (Holon) and The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Melbourne).

His recent independent games include Cow Clicker, a Facebook game send-up of Facebook games, and A Slow Year, a collection of videogame poems for Atari VCS, Windows, and Mac, and winner of the Vanguard and Virtuoso awards at the 2010 Indiecade Festival.

Bogost holds a Bachelors degree in Philosophy and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a Masters and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from UCLA. He lives in Atlanta.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By M. Nelson on May 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Bogost's central insight is that games can encode playable representations of situations and even ideas, which supports a unique form of rhetoric, "procedural rhetoric". He argues that this can be (and has been, on occasion) used to make games into a expressive medium that goes far beyond entertainment, and in some ways even beyond other forms of expressive media.

Like other forms of rhetoric, procedural rhetoric is based on representations, but while visual or textual rhetoric merely shows the viewer or reader the representation, procedural rhetoric lets *you* engage with the representation, poking at it and interrogating it, and works its power through that interaction. Bogost covers a number of historical examples of games that make good use of procedural rhetoric to engage with issues ranging from tax avoidance to cold-war brinksmanship, as well as discussing where he thinks fruitful further development lies. On the latter point, he puts his money where his mouth is, so to speak, since he also owns a company that makes persuasive games, on issues ranging from presidential elections to food poisoning.

There are two basic audiences for this book. For those interested in how videogames can move beyond entertainment to other areas, Bogost presents a compelling vision of games as an expressive medium, and points to a wide range of things that can be done by thinking of games as playable representations. For media-studies scholars and rhetoricians, Bogost presents a strong case that procedural rhetoric is indeed rhetoric, but a new kind of rhetoric that existing discussion of film or written rhetoric doesn't quite account for.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ian J. Bellomy on January 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
At the heart this book is how phenomena can be expressed, with a bias, though the simulation of said phenomena. Designed processes contain an idea about how their real life counterparts work. These assumptions (conscious or not) carry an implicit point of view analogous to traditional rhetoric. Bogost successfully situates this procedural rhetoric in a historical context that elucidates the nuances of how games and other media make arguments about the way the world works. The content is invaluable if you're interested in critically assessing or deconstructing games and other designed interactions.

Most of his examples were enlightening, particularly the ones concerning his game Dean for Iowa, which unintentionally painted political action as a process of human-wealth accumulation removed from any form of actual ideology. Less helpful was his characterization of the infamous escape game as a game that "operationalizes the sensations its services seek to countermand" and how it proceduralizes the "anxiety of office work". I'm far from convinced that any procedural argument here has anything more to do with mountain biking than it does with Klondike bars. This argument struck me as so odd that I'm convinced I misunderstood something.

Personally I found Bogost most interesting when providing details that contextualize his arguments; historical perspectives on rhetoric, educational philosophy, advertising, and even references to old school non-traditional physical input devices that I had never heard of (Joyboard anyone?). On the other hand, I feel like I'm still struggling to get a complete grasp on his concept of a "unit operation", based on the "count as one" concept of Alain Badiou (who I'm less than acquainted with).
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By E. Raskob on October 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As a University lecturer, I found this book very useful in showing the applications of Bogost's theories (from "Unit Operations" onwards). Some of the examples are better than others, but reading Bogost's work you have the sense that he really "gets it," as in he understands the game-changing (forgive the pun) new ideas behind the culture, audience, and especially the software that makes video games tick, and exactly why they are different from established media like cinema. This book is directly applicable to all sorts of modern media, and although the title has "Games" in it I would recommend this to any person with an interest in modern media theory.

I do agree with the other review that this book can be very thick at times, but my impression is that you are expected to re-read sentences more than once. The words seem to be carefully chosen and parsed for meaning, something I appreciate, even if it doesn't make the book a speedy reader.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael A. Treanor on July 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book rules. If you've ever thought to yourself (or screamed on the internet) about how videogames are as important or should be respected as much as other forms of art (painting, literature, film, etc.), then you should read this book. By describing and analyzing many examples of what he calls "persuasive games", Bogost clearly describes how games have already been used for expressive purposes by a variety of people.

To me, one of the most interesting parts of this book is its implicit call for, or at least emphasis on, a cognitive or rational approach toward expressive game design (and possibly art making in general). Bogost describes games as procedural representations of how the world, or some part of it, works (which, of course, are in themselves processes). Because videogames run on computers and the very nature of computation requires explicit and exact specification, when representing with systems it can be said that one is creating a complete "theory" of what is being represented. The canonical example of a game representing an ideological position through its processes is SimCity. SimCity presents a world that takes for granted that various forms of governmental planning produce very specific results (which are literally hardcoded into the system). Players are placed in a role where zoning, etc. is unavoidable and naturalized. To be successful at the game, players must understand and then enact the rules of the system. Depending on the player's criticality, or how successful the game's procedural rhetoric is (a very important term explored in depth in this book), he or she may accept the solutions to the problems into his or her worldview.
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