Monday, November 26, 2007

Rhetoical Appeals: Ethos, Logos, Pathos and How These Appeals Work in Games

The article I asked you to read in the last post mentions how Aristotle divided how an author/speaker/writer can make appeals to their readers/audience/readers into three kinds of appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos?

Logos deals with appeals to the head through logic and ideas. Pathos deals with appeals to the heart or emotions. Here, think of how the media or a politician will simplify a difficult, complex problem by using a single person or family to represent it. Appeals through pathos have become so common, they've entered popular culture through such phrases as, "He's the poster boy for...."

Ethos deals with how authors get their audience to identify with them. In many ways, it's the most difficult but effective of the kinds of appeals. Ethos is the root word for ethics, the study of how individuals in groups behave in an acceptable manner, and ethnic group, literally a group of people who identify with one another. How people identify you as part of a group includes everything from word choice to clothing to body posture; so, ethos deals with how you use the various channels of information people will see of you to signal, I am one of you (or not).

Most of you are into gaming. I know next to nothing about the industry or individual games. Most of the games I play involve me in setting up a backgammon, go, or chess board, or they are traditional Cherokee or Navajo games. However, I have learned to look at the games I play in terms of rhetoric, and I try to figure out why they are so popular using the tools rhetoric give me. It's a good technique for understanding games and how they work in terms of doing cultural work (more on this last concept later). The classic games, like go, chess or Monopoly, reproduce in simplified form the social structures and conventions of their culture. The upshot is folks will identify with a game, play it, and make it popular, because they appeal to many in the culture through a kind of unconscious ethos.

For an example, think about musical chairs. Musical chairs keeps getting played, not just because it is fun, but because it reproduces much of the ethos of modern western culture. There is competition for resources. The resources are becoming more and more scarce. Those willing to compete have a better chance of securing access to the desired resources. Sometimes you are unlucky and cannot, no matter how competitive you are, secure access to the desired resources; so, most folks learn to be "good sports" about loosing. There is only one winner. In short, musical chairs is a perfect capitalist game. It reproduces in simplified form the basic "need" to compete to secure scare resources and gain status through securing them.

Monopoly is in essence the same game played through a real estate metaphor.

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