The section on learning includes chapter 8, Procedural Literacy, Chapter 9, Values and Aspirations, chapter 10, Exercise, and chapter 11, Purposes of Persuasion. Bogost’s concluding section explains how games teach players by empowering those players to critically engage with their world via the processes laid bare within the game logic.
Chapter 8: Procedural Literacy
Games teach, and what Bogost is exploring in this chapter is exactly how games teach, not what they teach. He explores two common educational models for teaching and learning: behaviorist and constructivist approaches. Both, Bogost acknowledges, can be applied as a framework to understand games; however, both behaviorism and constructivism do not account for the dynamic learning processes that occur during gameplay. He offers procedural literacy, instead, as a new means to understand how games teach. Procedural literacy has historically meant learning to program, but Bogost synthesizes a number of theorists to create a more expansive understanding of procedural literacy. Procedural literacy is the ability to read and write processes within specific cultures and material conditions. “[P]rocedural literacy,” Bogost strongly states, “should not be limited to the abstract ability to understand procedural representations of cultural values. Rather, it should use such an understanding to interrogate, critique, and use specific representations of specific real or imagined processes” (246). People who are procedurally literate understand both the abstract rules underwriting a concept and the specific material context (257). He uses procedural history as an example of how this might look, appealing to Europa Universalis and Civilization as examples. In his concluding statement of the chapter, Bogost clearly articulates his view of procedural literacy with his overall project with procedural rhetoric thusly: “Videogames teach biased perspectives about how things work. And the way they teach such perspectives is through procedural rhetorics, which players ‘read’ through direct engagement and criticism” (260).
Chapter 9: Values and Aspirations
In this chapter, Bogost explores the ways in which education is value-laden. When people invoke education, they tend to mean an opening of a mind. Training, on the other hand, refers to closed systems of specific tasks. Games, Bogost argues in this chapter, can be educational. He writes, “I understand educational games not as videogames that end up being used in schools or workplaces, but as games that use procedural rhetorics to spur consideration about the aspects of the world they represent” (264). Animal Crossing, for example, can teach the player to question capitalist consumptive practices by constantly pushing the player to spend more and accumulate more stuff regardless of player desire. More directly, Cold Stone Creamery: Stone City teaches employees about the franchise and the value of hard work. In this way, the Stone City game stops being training and starts being educational because it switches focus from mastery of arbitrary rules to a representation of a complex business model (282). Even such vague concepts as morality and faith can be procedurally taught in the videogame format. Such games as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Black and White represent moral and ethical positions that use the underlying logic of the game to enforce a moral trajectory with very specific consequences for the player. Christian games such as Left Behind: Eternal Forces and The Bible Game, on the other hand, take limited positions about what the player should do, opting for a more didactic approach to the intended messages instead of employing procedural rhetoric as a means to convincing the player to buy into the underlying logic.
Chapter 10: Exercise
In his chapter on exercise, Ian Bogost examines how games compel people to think about their physical activity and to ideally change their attitudes toward physical fitness. He looks to the rhetorics of exergaming—the combination of exercising and gaming. After providing a brief history of exergames, Bogost identifies four dominant categories that these games emphasize: running, agility, reflex, and training. Games that emphasize exercise most effectively employ procedural rhetoric when they represent the core properties needed to succeed rather than a physical representation of a trainer or coach. Games can act as agents “impelling a chain of continuous, high-quality physical movements” (314). Dance Dance Revolution and Yourself! Fitness, for example, are excellent examples of continuous, positive feedback concerning a level of activity. Bogost concludes the chapter with an acknowledgement of the physical and social constraints placed on exergames. Livingrooms do not often have the space for large dance pad for Dance Dance Revolution, for example. Further, the social climate that many middleclass Americans find themselves in seems to promote inactivity as a consequence of long work hours and time spent commuting.
Chapter 11: Purposes of Persuasion
In the final chapter of his book, Bogost discusses the often controversial topic of assessment. If the purpose of a game is to persuade, then logically, a person should be able to measure how successful the game was in achieving persuasion. Bogost then offers a number of observations that muddy the water of assessment, critiquing qualitative assessment, quantitative assessment, and even the limiting influence of specific stakeholders. However, he argues, the persuasive potential of games can be assessed through demonstrating a proficiency of processes that work in specific systems with defined consequences. Games, then, could help educators move away from assessing materials on the bases of rote memorization and standard tests. Institutions that employ games demand assessment of a game’s efficacy; however, as Bogost explains, “procedural rhetorics can also challenge the situations that contain them, exposing the logic of their operations and opening the possibility for new configurations. Accounting for such results is impossible from within the framework of the system a procedural rhetoric hopes to question” (326). We need a new model. That new model is an assessment of transformation—the player’s ability to engage with new logics and subsequently question the very foundation of those logics, of those procedures. “Processes influence us,” Bogost concludes, and it would behoove anyone to recognize both the persuasive and expressive power of games.