Procedural Rhetoric

One game that I have always admired – in each of its many versions – is The Sims. I remember playing this game when I was young and fantasizing a bit about how my life would look when I grew up. I was always jealous of my older sister and brother’s Sims towns. They were always a lot cooler than mine and they always knew more about how to get money and do things that I couldn’t do by myself. I only got the chance to play Sims when my sister was in a good mood, wouldn’t be home for a few hours, and was willing to let me poke around on her computer while she was gone.

Finally, I grew up and got my own Sims game, which was conveniently located on my phone. The game had been rethought just a bit since I was playing the original Sims games. The version I’ve recently played is called The Sims FreePlay and it allows you to explore an entire town. As you reach more levels and complete more quests, you can build more buildings in your town and do more activities and are challenged to new tasks. Essentially, leveling up means investing more in a city and being able to better provide for your characters.

In Ian Bogost’s preface to Persuasive Games, procedural rhetoric is defined as “the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures,” (ix). Bogost actually touches upon SimCity being based on urban planning in chapter one of this same book. The Sims game that I am most familiar with, The Sims FreePlay, works with many elements of previous Sims games such as dating and relationships, urban planning, architectural design, etc. For a straightforward representation of the procedural rhetoric at play with The Sims FreePlay, Bogost would argue for just these elements (relationships, urban planning, architectural design, and so on). Over the years, these games have had me thinking about how to better life for my Sims in each of these areas and – especially when I was younger – thinking about how I want my real future to look.

It’s even interesting noting that when a Sim practices one skill such as cooking, they gain something else. This gaining of something else can come in the form of money; becoming more skilled at other, unrelated things like fishing; mood boosts; or other life improvements. Metaphorically, then, The Sims FreePlay pokes at the notion that (in real life) learning new skills can enhance life in more ways than just being better at that one skill, which could arguably be procedural rhetoric at play. I think that most anyone would agree that changing one part of your life for the better can have a myriad of benefits. It’s interesting that this game will quantify these benefits in XP, money, etc. and show a person that engaging in positive activities and getting their feet wet in a bunch of different areas can have such a positive effect on not only their happiness and well-being, but also the town’s.

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