Games of truth and imagination
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Using the structure of the game as a guiding metaphor and area of inquiry, the dissertation proposes a model for understanding rhetoric as an oscillating pattern of interpretation called “rhetorical play.” Rhetorical play represents the movement of power in an oscillating wave between the subject and the textual object. Readers cede power to texts as they become more involved and immersed, and readers reclaim power when they recognize texts as rhetorical objects. The dissertation studies games as disciplinary objects with great power to immerse and discipline their players and asserts that, although the act of rhetorical play is endemic to game-play, many video games try to suppress the player’s ability to reclaim power over the text. In spite of these disciplinary inclinations, video games can also be used to resist discipline, and the dissertation examines a set of independently-produced video games that foster resistance in their players. These forms of critical play hold great promise both for advancing feminist causes and for teaching students to engage with problematic sociocultural issues. Using game design as a model, the dissertation proposes that rhetorical play can be productively incorporated into the composition classroom as a form of social epistemic rhetoric, and it offers a set of pedagogical documents as models for using game design and rhetorical play in the writing course. Overall, the dissertation maps theories of rhetoric and aesthetic response onto the oscillation model, outlines the power relations inherent in the rule constraints driving the oscillation, examines critical play as a means of subverting overreaching disciplinary power, and applies those theories to the writing classroom.