Rhetorical Analysis of a Game: Assumptions and Biases

There was once an idealized understanding of games where things like gender, race, class, etc. were thought to be ?erased? by game space (this is true of much of digital media; it?s called the ?Utopian Narrative?). This, of course, is ludicrous, a dream brought about by people who thought the best but, even in the face of Gamergate, don?t see the worst. Often this sense that difference is erased leads instead to toxic behavior.

The reality of rhetoric is that issues of gender, race, class, nationality, political stance, religion, etc. are always already present for creators and consumers. Sometimes these things are clear to see (in a game like Custer?s Revenge, for example, the bias is clear), but more often the assumptions and biases are at the center of what ends up looking like a diagram of an onion. If there WAS a moment of clear bias, it was so far in the past that we have to look for it. Sort of like this, from a presentation I?ve given several times on racist mascots like the Cleveland Indians:

To understand the biases (and to be fair, most biases aren?t a racist act?my example of Custer?s Revenge is from an extreme case), we have to drill down through the layers.

That?s what this assignment is. You?re the drill. Pick a game?you should check with Dr. Phill to make sure it will work, but it can be almost any game that has any sort of narrative or complex character work ? and take it through this five-step process:

Step 1: Determine on the most base level what the game shows us of gender, race, class, religion, nationality. This isn?t a trick question; just look at what is there and describe/analyze it.

Step 2: Explore what other messages are there, just below the surface (for example are their trolls?actual fantasy trolls?in the game that speak like Jamaicans?). Trace to the biases that might exist at the core of the game?s design/development. In this case remember you are tracing biases, but you are doing theoretical work. You don?t need to prove the bias at this point.

Step 3: Determine what the game?s presumed audience is, what its actual audience is, and what impact it has on its audience based on any differences in those two groups.

Step 4: Think about the game from the perspective a group that is not part of the game?s narrative (a race, a gender, a social group). How does it look from the outside?

Step 5: Determine whether or not the differences explored in the first four steps lead to a toxic community or whether the game has a ?healthy? community. Give examples.

This analysis needs to be as long as it needs to be in order to do the work, but at a minimum, you should expect a page per step (so 5 pages). If it is significantly shorter than 5 pages, you will lose points for that.

And for my achievement hunters, to get your 100% and ?kill the boss,? you need to do an excellent, innovative analysis that excels at each step and helps to create new knowledge.

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