WRIT 3150: Rhetoric, Ethics, and Play (Figueiredo, S.C.)


Name: Sergio C. Figueiredo

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Date published: 2021

Course level: Upper-Level

Course title: WRIT 3150: Rhetoric, Ethics, and Play

Course description: This section of Topics in Digital Rhetoric introduces students to the ethics of play and rhetorical invention through the study and design of games. Students will read about how scholars and game designers consider play as an experiential ethic, play a variety of online/digital games, reflect on their practices and experiences of play, and develop a concept for a game-based story that examines the rhetorical systems that influence and structure a specific social, cultural, or institutional value.

The primary focus of the course will be to prepare students for a theory- and practice-based understanding of digital game design and development through the lenses of rhetorical invention, constraints, and ethics. Students in this section of the course can expect to read a number of texts by scholars and industry professionals on designing interactive gaming experiences and narratives for public and casual gaming audiences, play and analyze digital games, and write a series of projects that culminate in the creative design of a digital game intended to affirm, challenge, or deny a contemporary value – the idea for this project will become clearer as we work through the course material.

The work you do in this course can contribute to your preparedness for a number of positions in the gaming and entertainment industries, including as interactive narrative designers, script and quest writers for games, as writers for other interactive narrative projects (such as Netflix’s Carmen Sandiego), and game reviewers and journalists for popular publications.

This course is designed to prepare you to think of play and digital/video games as a professionals invested in growing the industry and developing an inclusive culture across gaming cultures and communities. Most importantly, however, this course is designed to prepare you to understand ethics as a rhetorician does – not as good/bad or true/false, but as an expression of particular worldviews and decision-making processes. While this sort of approach to ethics can be seen in any number of the popular arts, the significance of play is that a game developer must recognize that they put players into a world with a limited number of options and force those players to make ethical decisions if they are to participate in the act of playing.

Your first guiding question for this course is as follows: What responsibility does a professional writer working in gaming industries have to ensure that a social ethic (a set of shared values) is maintained, challenged, and/or wholly reconsidered?

Course philosophy/motivation: “The motivation for this course design was to address a rising interest among students in games and gaming, including a recent announcement by the university’s president about establishing an esports team at the institution. Moreover, the course was designed as an introduction to the roles of rhetoric and ethics in video game industries and development studios. The final project in the course, an original game design concept pitch document, could also be used as a game concept that could be further developed in an upper-level creative writing course on interactive narrative and games. Overall, the course aims to bridge professional and technical communication with creative writing while preparing students to be critical, creative, and ethically-minded professionals in a number of fields.

Cite as: Figueiredo, S.C., WRIT 3150: Rhetoric, Ethics, and Play, July, 2021,  Gayle Morris Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative.

About Author

Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes is a PhD candidate in the Joint Program in English & Education at the University of Michigan, where she also teaches in the English Department Writing Program. Her research interests include digital rhetoric, gender and discourse, and gaming studies. Her dissertation project explores how women use multimodal discourse—grammatically, narratively, and visually—to navigate online gaming ecologies.

Nupoor Ranade

Nupoor is a PhD Candidate in the Communication, Rhetoric and Digital Media at the North Carolina State University. Her research focuses on audience analysis, digital rhetoric, user experience and information design primarily in the field of technical communication and artificial intelligence. Her research experience and partnerships with the industry help her bridge gaps of knowledge that she then brings to her pedagogical practices.

Jianfen Chen

Jianfen Chen is a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition at Purdue. Her research interests include public rhetoric, digital rhetoric, risk communication, intercultural communication, and professional and technical communication.