Advergaming? Part IV.

Serious, persuasive, and advergames.

Serious Games

Another term used to differentiate types of games is the “serious game,” which commonly refers to a game that teaches a high-level skill. The sole purpose of serious games is to support “existing social and cultural positions” (Bogost, 2007, p. 57).[1] Today it is popular to use video games as devices that will aid in teaching people specialized skills, such as teaching soldiers how to shoot and not get killed, teaching pilots how to fly, or teaching surgeons how to do a successful medical procedure. However, according to Bogost (2007), the potential power of video games and especially serious video games lies in more than just getting to know about and execute a particular task. As Bogost (2007) argues, “[i]n addition to becoming instrumental tools for institutional goals, videogames can also disrupt and change fundamental attitudes and beliefs about the world, leading to potentially significant long-term social change” (p. ix). Also, according to Bogost (2007, p. 57), “…games can also make claims that speak for or against the fixed worldviews of institutions like governments or corporations.” And that is where the component of persuasion and education about a particular issue within the game plays out, leading toward a different type of video game—a persuasive video game.

Persuasive Games

A third type of game described is the “persuasive game.” According to Bogost (2007), persuasive games provide the “possibility of using procedural rhetoric to support or challenge our understanding of the way things in the world do or should work” (p. 59).

For Bogost (2007, p. ix), procedural rhetoric can be described as “the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures.” Bogost (2007) argues that with help of procedural rhetoric, it is possible to reveal the ideology behind the games because

[u]nlike verbal discourse, which relies on deeply ingrained metaphors that most people take for granted, videogames deploy more abstract representations about the way the world does or should function. I trace the function of these frames in political games, art games, and commercial games (Bogost, 2007, p.  x).

Also, Bogost argues, “videogames open a new domain for persuasion, thanks to their core representational mode, procedurality…procedural rhetoric…the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures” (2007, p.  ix).

When addressing different types of video games, Bogost (2007, p. 97) cautions us not to confuse the rhetorical use of video games “for politics,” (e.g., the promotion of the redistricting bill in The Redistricting Game), and the rhetorical use of video games “about politics,” (e.g., the spreading of awareness about the crisis in Darfur Is Dying). When thinking about video games and politics, it is useful to acknowledge that video games cannot be 100 percent objective and educational. A game that is sponsored by a political party or made for a particular cause will advocate a particular point of view and will not necessarily offer alternatives, which is the essential component of learning the “right” way. When considering a game that calls for social action, it is important to note that sometimes the boundaries between an educational and a serious game as well as the boundaries between a persuasive game and an educational game are blurred. In these cases, identifying them in a particular manner may be a matter of degree. For instance, Darfur Is Dying can not only be considered persuasive but also educational because it has some educational qualities embedded into it. Yet, the persuasive nature of the game is stronger than the educational component. It not only raises awareness about the crisis happening in Darfur but also calls for action. The call to action in Darfur Is Dying has a persuasive intent, which overlaps with the goals of a different type of video game—the advergame. But due to the fact that Darfur Is Dying does not really promote any particular entity (whether an organization or a brand), this game can be considered a persuasive game.


A fourth type of game is the “advergame.” If the game is intended to be a persuasive tool to promote a cause or a candidate, among other possible goals, then it is accurate to consider it a form of advertising. If it advertises a political issue using educational tools, it might also be considered an educational advergame, if all the elements of education and “good learning” fall in place. If it is a game that advertises a political issue, it is a persuasive advergame.

The first chapter provided a detailed look at the ways in which advergames have traditionally been conceptualized and how they have been used to promote products and services. With advergames, much emphasis has been on the promotional part with the final goal of selling a product. For example, when playing The Ritz Cracker Game online, the objective of the game for the player is to create a movie using video clips; however, the player constantly sees the Ritz brand. Questions arise as to whether this game possesses any educational qualities. If so, then we must note how to distinguish between an educational game, and advergame, and an educational advergame.

[1] Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: The expressive power of videogames. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

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