The Future of Rhetorical Peaks

Having received a ~FAST Tex grant from the DIIA, we anticipate having a working version of the redesigned RP by the end of the 2008-09 academic year.  Given the combination of the DIIA’s interest in developing video games as pedagogical tools and the relevance of our project for this interest, Coco Kishi and the DIIA offered to begin building four different versions of RP during the summer of 2008.  These versions will utilize four different technologies:  Second Life, the game engine Unity, Flash, and PowerPoint.  In the fall, we will test these different versions in first-year rhetoric and writing classes to determine which version is most pedagogically effective.  The most effective version will then be developed further until completed.

The four different technologies themselves could potentially have a dramatic impact on RP.  The new direction the game took over the last academic year specifically lends itself to less sophisticated technology like Flash or PowerPoint.  A game engine like Unity would likely produce something much closer to the NWN prototype in terms of animation and game play.  Second Life opens the possibility of yet another shift in direction for the game.  While the possibilities remain theoretical at this point, they appear to be quite promising.  Second Life specifically offers the possibility of making RP more open-ended and interactive.  In this format, the player would not be limited to interactions with NPCs; rather, players would be able to interact with each other within the context of the game itself.  This feature would allow students to compare evidence, thoughts on NPCs, etc.—in other words, to begin analyzing, developing arguments, and writing within the game.  This aspect of Second Life would also allow players to create richer identities.  Rather than having each player take on the role of detective, players could embody different characters from the world of Rhetorical Peaks.  Interactions between players within the game could thus serve the same function as interactions with NPCs; players could accumulate evidence from each other.  One of Matteo’s hopes for RP was that players would form a sort of “town council” in the classroom in order to evaluate arguments about the killer’s identity.  Matteo specifically imagined a situation in which players “might have to base their reactions and judgments on the values, knowledge, and attitudes of the community” of RP.  Second Life would allow this town council to exist within the game and would further ask players to mutually create these values, knowledge, and attitudes.

Again, the viability of Second Life and the other technologies as pedagogical tools will be tested in the fall once the different versions of RP are playable.   These versions will be tested according to the following criteria:  pedagogical effectiveness and helpfulness in practicing rhetorical skills, player enjoyment, and relevance to other aspects of the rhetoric and writing course.  We are particularly looking forward to testing the pedagogical effectiveness, as each version will likely raise different pedagogical possibilities unique to its design.  At the end of the 2008-09 academic year, we hope to have a richer understanding of these pedagogical possibilities as we continue to welcome students to Rhetorical Peaks.