The Flaws of Procedural Rhetoric

While Braid’s procedural rhetoric may be successful in being persuasive and expressive in its themes, it can be argued that it only manages to do so to a certain extent. In his article, “Against Procedurality”, Miguel Sicart points out the flaws in the procedural rhetoric: that procedures are not enough to convey the specific intentions and meanings of the game designer, and that in order to understand the rhetoric of a videogame, it must acknowledge the values and opinions of the player. The centrality of this interaction in the realization of expressive, persuasive rhetoric is disregarded in the proceduralist theory, the “mechanics of the procedural discourses”(Sicart 2011).

 Braid’s rhetoric is not wholly constructed through procedurality, particularly because the levels of the game are equipped with books and texts that form the – albeit ambiguous – narrative of Braid. This is most clearly seen through the thematic references to destruction, centring around the game’s parallels with the atomic bomb and the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project is occasionally linked throughout the on-screen text and visuals within Braid. However, it is rarely present in the procedural rhetoric – the only references to the Manhattan Project and the atom bomb would not have been picked up without the textual and visual allusions within Braid.

Textually, the parallels being drawn by Jonathan Blow between Braid and the Manhattan project are found in explicit form in the epilogue of the game, in which one of the books mentions the infamous quote by Kenneth Bainbridge after the test detonation of the first atomic bomb, “Now we are all sons of bitches.” Visually, this connection is reinforced through the beginning of Braid, in the scene with the bridge and the backdrop of a city engulfed in flames.

This scene is also the first screen the player sees after completing the game, shortly after the parallels with the Manhattan Project have been made explicit to the player, giving them a new depth of understanding of the rhetoric. Yet this insight is entirely devoid of contribution from any procedures within the game – the text and visual allusions presented are the only way in which the player is able to identify how Braid may be an allegory to the creation and the aftermath of the atomic bomb (Reynolds 2010). The parallel between Braid and the Manhattan Project would not have been identifiable without the use of textual and visual rhetoric.

Secondly, it can be argued that procedurality cannot fully communicate rhetoric in an expressive, persuasive manner due to the lack of interactivity with the player that is symptomatic of procedural design. Sicart states that the intentions of the author or designer cannot be transferred directly to the user purely through procedural rhetoric. Proceduralist games offer very few operations to the players and limits the space of possibility and creativity in which players can create. This aptly applies to Braid, as the puzzles and levels can only be completed in one way – the way they were designed to be completed. Braid can be seen as a dictated story rather than an interactive one that allows player input. Therefore, the designer of the game is essentially playing the player, hindering them in exploring their own ethical and political views (Sicart 2011). Hence, it can be argued that the lack of interactivity in the procedural rhetoric limit how expressive Braid truly is.

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