Monday, February 6, 2012

Visual Rhetoric and Skyrim: Who Could Ask for Anything More?

As I have continued to read Lingua Fracta, I have found myself particularly drawn to Brooke’s chapter on perspective. Throughout Lingua Fracta Brooke’s primary project is to re-envision the cannons of rhetoric in light of our new media world. In his chapter on perspective he takes up the third canon of rhetoric, style, to reimagine. He argues that style, in the age of new media, cannot be limited to verbal stylistic choices, but must address visual ones as well (and indeed, Brooke argues that this was true prior to the age of new media as well but has become pronounced in this age). He also argues that
“one of the things that new media interfaces do stylistically is to help us move from the abstracted, single perspective of the reader of a static text or the viewer of a painting to the multiple and partial perspectives necessary for many forms of new media” (114).
I am drawn to his treatment of perspective because of its emphasis on visual rhetoric and, in particular, how he aims to rescue it from the tendency to consider it as a “visual grammar”. When I wrote my capstone for my Master’s degree, I wrote about integrating the visual into the composition classroom. I argued that the visual could be used to meet with WPA Outcomes Statement just as much as the verbal could. In one section, I wrote about “Knowledge of Conventions” and discussed visual grammar as being a form of conventions in the same way that verbal grammar might be. Many of those authors I cite in that texts come up in Brooke’s discussion (Lemke, Kress, Wysocki, etc.)

Describing the use of the visual as a rule-governed system, or grammar, somehow always set really oddly with me. I think it has something to do with the argument that Brooke makes next, which is that style has long been misinterpreted as “sentence-level syntax, catalogs of tropes and figures, and commonplace injunctions, […] reducing it to a series of localized, conscious choices” (116). Making the visual into a system of grammar seemed to also cheapen it. It becomes surface level, which seems to trivialize its importance.

I often joke when I am working on a document that I’m working on making it “pretty.” I say this in part because I fear that most people believe that this is exactly what visual rhetoric is—making documents pretty, accessorizing them. I, of course, think I am doing something else. I see the visual choices as being important to the message of text (yes, that’s right—McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” is screaming from this statement).

I think what I am attempting to do is shape the perception of the texts I create, which is something that has a greater depth than saying I’m trying to shape the look of them. I suppose it’s the distinction between looking at something and seeing it. This connects nicely with Brooke’s discussion of how Lanham work with how we connect to electronic text. Brooke explains that Lanham argues that “we often toggle between looking through text and looking at it” (132). However, Brooke expands this discussing indicating that we might more appropriately be considered with where we look from, instead of through or at.

I do think where we look from shapes our experiences with media, both old and new. While Brooke continues his discussion of this into the WoW interface, I have thought more of how this operates in the context of the Skyrim interface, since that’s been my primary means of mental release this semester (Read: procrastination anyone?)

Because I am taking a New Media Theory and Practice class while spending a lot of time playing this game, I find that while I am playing I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the interface of the game and, now, the way that perspective shapes game play.

Brooke describes Wow’s three perspectives; two of which relate well to the perspectives you can select in Skyrim. When you’re playing Skyrim you can chose between first-person (like the eyes of the player) and third person views of the game If you’re not familiar with the game, the video below shows a player moving through the game and switching between the first-person and third-person perspectives at times.

 In all honestly, this is the first role-playing game of this nature that I’ve found myself really hooked by. This fact drives my poor brother crazy, as he’s been trying to get me into fantasy RPGs most of his life. For me, this ability to control the perspective in the game is of great importance to me (and makes me realize WoW might be my next time-suck to explore). Obviously other games have these options, but Skyrim is the first I’ve played seriously that has it. What I find interesting is that Brooke says “the default perspective of most players [is that which] bears a great deal of similarity to our experience in the world” (135).

In Skyrim that perspective would be the first-person approach. I, however, find myself operating in this perspective very rarely. I prefer to operate in the third person mode so I can see what’s around me (like wolves trying to eat me). I swap to first person only when I’m struggling to pick things up or when I accidently push down on the button that causes you to swap and don’t realize it (I’m really uncoordinated).

Much to my relief, I found that I’m not alone in my approach. Jared Hillier writes on Capsule Computers that he approaches his perspective choice in much the same way, but also indicates that others (probably those who have played Elder Scrolls games longer) likely do the opposite in terms of time in each perspective.

I think he may be right. When I watch my husband play this game, he seems to always be in first-person mode. He says he prefers first person for almost everything, but switches to “ 3rd when absorbing a dragon soul or learning a word of power just because the animation looks cool.”

Likewise, my to-go gaming expert, Mathieu Reynolds (also in my New Media class; Hi, Mat!) prefers first-person. He says he likes the immersion and that “melee combat is a joke, and it looks really poor in third person (compared to Kingdoms or God of War or any other game with melee). Also, the character model is muddy and ugly.”

I am not certain what this tells me about perspective yet, but I think it might be something interesting if I can let myself think about it longer. It seems to me that individuals who are more comfortable with this style of gaming platform identify themselves with the interface more seamlessly. I feel as thought I might say they look through the game interface. However, I feel like as a RPG novice, I look at the game interface.

I wonder if my preference for interaction with this interface will evolve as I allow myself to immerse myself into the game. Brooke’s says “an implicit part of the gameplay is the gradual immersion that one experiences with the entirety of the interface” (138). He states that it’s not about getting familiar with the interface or beginning to take it for granted, but rather about letting the level of immersion to grow. Certainly, Mathieu states that he look for immersion in how he selects to perceive his character, while I don’t see myself caring about that yet. Is this because I’m a gaming newb or is it because of something else—more related to personality—that might be an additional component we might need to consider in how individuals chose the perspective from which they engage with an interface?


Brooke, Collin Gifford. Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media. Cresskill: Hampton Press, 2009. Print.

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading this blurb saying that the ability to switch perspective helps the game be accessible to Japanese players who prefer being able to see their character in 3rd person.