Colby, “Writing and Assessing Procedural Rhetoric”

Colby, Richard. “Writing and Assessing Procedural rhetoric in Student-produced Video Games” Computers and Composition 31.1 (2014): 43-52.

Colby looks to video games as sites of procedural rhetoric; it has “the ability to capture experience as systems of interrelated actions.’ That is, computer technologies are based on operations programmed into the system, and manipulating those rules and procedures offers persuasive potential” (44). Arguments are not necessarily made through the construction of words or images; rather, persuasion emerges through “the authorship of rules of behavior, the construction of dynamic models” (Bogost 28-9; qtd in Colby 44). The rules and mechanics of the game “provide a context for embodied action and choices, in turn reacting to that action with immediate feedback loop—procedural rhetoric is the leveraging of the affordances of those rules and mechanics to communicate, express, and (re)present” (44). Colby argues that students should not just analyze the procedures of games; rather, students should be producing (or at least proposing) games, reflecting upon how to construct these contexts to allow for persuasion through procedurality.

In terms of learning, Colby again references Bogost who sees success as marked or evaluated on “a humanistic ideal of transformation” (Colby 46): “Once a procedural rhetoric advances a new logic that a subject interrogates, it no longer remains possible to feign ignorance about that logic. Like love and revolution, procedural rhetoric persuades though intervention, by setting the stage for a new understanding unthinkable in the present” (Bogost 339). In other words, the operations of choices within a game propels procedural rhetoric into “a mode affording particular habits of mind” (46)—transformation-through-interaction.

How, then, do we assess transformation-through-interaction? As Colby writes, it “can be assessed in both its potential and intention to transform through particular habits of mind” (46). But, much like other multimodal compositions, procedural representation (the choices one makes) can be assessed through a rationale or reflection where students articulate a connection to “rhetoric, research, and writing to these media and modes, and thus, enriches their understanding of all of these concepts” (47).


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