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Nov 27, 2006



Thomas > Curse you, Ren! I haven't slept since August!

sorry :)


I think it's adorably naive that you use "Linden Lab" and "anti-bureaucratic" in the same sentence.


You may call it naivete, but the fact remains that Linden Lab is interesting precisely because they took a less-traveled path, as organizations go, by staking their future on a product that they intentionally do not control. Do not mistake my meaning, however. As I have written elsewhere, this peculiar feature of Linden Lab's initial stance toward its product does not insulate them from the many internal and external pressures to regulate and commodify. I'm not so sanguine on whether Second Life or Linden Lab will avoid rationalized transformations as a result of the pressures of money and power (Habermas' "steering mechanisms").


"Unexpected meaning." Indeed. In my world, we call that poetry. An incredibly layered, rich and deep medium.

Games as interactive poems? Works for me.


Poetry and poems, however, are not always the same thing:)
There are also variations and distinctions in value and meaning between surprise, shock, contingency, intrigue, and wonder. I think Scorates, Aristotle, Kierkegaard and Whitehead put it best when they suggested the beginning of philosophy was wonder.Perhaps a virtual world to be experienced as a world, has to also have thresholds of wonder.


Agreed, ErikC, and that's the game designer's art, isn't it? To tread along that threshold, arraying a set of contingent processes and regularities (including received meanings) in just the right way to engage participants and ultimately evoke such reactions. (NB: contingency, as I'm framing it, isn't a reaction, it's a feature of the world.)


I find it interesting that inside games people tend to avoid contingency when possible, and systems sometimes develop to create consistency inside the game (i.e. DKP and guilds in WoW).


Great thought, Verilazic. I'm not sure I'd agree that there's a general tendency to avoid contingency (else why play the game at all), but certainly at the individual level, if rationalized techniques can allow one to perform where competence fails, we shouldn't be surprised. At the institutional level, I *do* think there's a tendency, over time, to avoid (minimize) contingency in order for the institution and its resources to persist.


I've only ever heard of and seen it in MMOs, where time is much more valuable, probably because of the need to subscribe to play. It seems centered around maximizing ROI, and avoiding risk.


I personally think the want for consistency has as great of an effect as the presence of contingency on the realism of virtual worlds.


Interesting thoughts at the link, Verilazic. I think the ROI issue is important, but I don't agree that players want to minimize risk, even though it may slow them down. So, in WoW, even if the most time-efficient way to get to 60 is to grind, grind, grind mobs 3-4 levels below you, there are a lot of players who don't do that, because there is not enough risk in those encounters for them to be challenging.


I've read this article several times, read up on Webster this afternoon and theories of beauracracy.

It still doesn't appear to make any sense to me.

Could someone deconstruct it?


Lol, as I said, it's still a rough response to Ren, so I'm not surprised it's a bit opaque, Gareth. Unfortunately, the wikipedia entries on Weber and his ideas are not great at all on the meaning issue, so that's little help. One could read Clifford Geertz, of course, since he basically explored this aspect of Weber's thought throughout much of his career, but here's an attempt in this limited venue:

In short, Weber believed that as our lives come to be governed by rationalization, meaning ebbs away. The classic illustration is in the forms of authority: charismatic, traditional, and bureaucratic. The charismatic leader is a meaningful leader, because he can articulate a moving vision of the world that makes a break from previous, rationalized ones ("It is written, but I say unto you..."). The charismatic leader carries this legitimacy around with him/her, in an inalienable way -- Gandhi could not transfer his charismatic authority to someone else.

But given the fact of mortality, there is a problem. Where does authority go after the charismatic leader's death? The answer is the first step of rationalization: a rule (of succession). Traditional authority then appears, where the authority still resides in the person (rather than the office, see below), but where the weight of precedent begins to shape that authority. The traditional leader, lacking the charismatic authority, has increasing difficulty ruling by whim (that is, inconsistently across cases). Precedent piles up, and a staff begins to appear that keeps track of these records.

Eventually, the authority leaves the person and transfers to the office itself, bound by rules and obligations. Bureaucratic authority is rule-bound, then, and governed by a drive to enforce consistency across otherwise singular cases. In the end, the rules should be followed because, well, they're the rules. This, Weber argues, is meaningless, and in general this characterizes the trend of our experience under rationalization (not just in politics, but also in economics and other "spheres"), when we increasingly do things without an ultimate (as opposed to proximate) end in mind.

Now, Weber didn't believe that this process culminates in people just living meaningless lives willingly. He argued that the loss of deep meaning wears upon us, and we do things like return to religion in hopes of rediscovering that meaning, or crave charismatic leaders to show us a new, meaningful vision of the future. As he put it (paraphrasing) "for those who cannot bear the fate of their times like a man [yes, he really said this!] the doors of churches are wide open for you." Scarily, he seemed to prefer charismatic leaders (or, tantalizingly, the camraderie at the local pub -- which I think relates to things I wrote about here). I hope that helps gives a sense of the ideas in the background here.

In any case, what I'm suggesting here is that perhaps charisma (and religion, but of course Weber thought this was a sham) is not the only source of meaning under these conditions. Games, as arenas which are anti-bureaucratic in the way they seek to cultivate the uncalled-for, are fertile ground for meaning. Unexpected windfalls (and tragedies) in games, as in life, prompt us to make meaningful connections between parts of our experience.


I'm not ignoring this thread.
I'm taking a run up,,,,


Thomas, I read your article, and some issues intrigued me, so if you are still reading this, can I pose a few?
Firstly, is there a danger that in your study of the Greek you are looking at a historically framed meaning to "game"? After all, their world was tough, hostile, and resource barren, so to build a temple or spend time playing a game may be more of a sacrifice to an Ancient Greek person. Should one base a definition of game so quickly in reference to a specific historic period, where fates themselves were forms or subforms of godly power that even the Gods were scared of? And when you have said that games change over time?
Secondly, how can one say contingency is part of the world and not a perceived affordance? A bit like "if a tree falls in a forest.."
Thirdly,as social artefacts, well what does that mean? A game has to be made? It has to be a thing? It can only exist when shared amongst people? I would have thought a game has to replayable but I don't know if it has to be shared (perhaps capable of being shared). I also don't know if a game has to be played by more than one person over time, to be a game. If a social artefact, (and I personally find such a phrase rather confusing), then surely a game must be a process, and not because it is a game, but because it is social?
I do see and agree with your point about the magic circle..

PS SSRN seems an excellent service, I hope they start a Southern Hemisphere mirror.


Hi ErikC: I'm still here. A few quick responses:

-My work on Greece was on *contemporary* Greece, not ancient Greece. :-)

-Even so, your point (and comment in general) target the tension (and there always is a tension) between what we call, in a shorthand-fashion, the "emic" and the "etic"; that is, a point of view from inside a context, and one from outside it. Yes, there is a local set of meanings about any given game, and these cultural representations are incredibly important to studying them. But we should not feel that the scope of our study is, in the last analysis, determined by them. We should look for a productive fit between local cultural representations of "gameness" and the games we study. This is why my definition of games includes the word "legitimate". This is key. It anchors the things that we include in our purview of game study in how people in particular times and places construct legitimate arenas for contingency to play out. So local meanings are essential, though the word "game" is not the litmus test for whether that legitimate arena is in place. For example, the immigration lottery for the United States fits my definition of a game: it is a socially legitimate and semi-bounded arena for the contrivance of unpredictable and interpretable outcomes. This means it might be of interest to us, even if folks would deny that it is a "game". In fact, this definition allows us to recognize that kind of tension and boundary maintenance and explore how it is maintained, and why (what I've called elsewhere the "politics of contingency").

-If you are supposing that even my "universal" definition of games is colored in ways I don't realize by the (modern) Greek case, that is certainly possible, but you'd have to convince me. I've read widely and long (and included a lot of other, non-Greek examples in my work) in order to make sure this take on games is robust. In my opinion it owes more to a particular strand of philosophy and social theory than to a specific historical case.

-You seem to have a fine handle on what "social artifact" means here. Yes, it means that it is always a product of human effort in a particular time and place. Even if a given game has common features (processes) with all games, the point of saying this is to remind us not to think that the characteristics of games "spring forth" simply from their status as Games with a capital g. That would be like saying a newborn organism of a particular species has the features it does because it belongs to that species. We must not mistake a heuristic category for the reality, which is that a complex set of describable processes led that organism to be extremely likely to share a lot of characteristics with a rough group of similar entities. Species is just the label we use to group them together.

You do raise another point, which is the individual/group one. If an individual makes and plays a game, all alone, it is still a social artifact, because we are social beings, and the influence of society on the scope of our imaginations is inextricable from what we create. It, of course, does not determine what we do, but everything we do is social.


Oh, I missed one of your questions.

-Regarding contingency as a feature of the world: the answer is I'm basically asserting this,but I'm not alone :-). While its possible to claim that we cannot assert anything useful about features of the world because we are prisoners of our own construction of it, and that may be true, I (along with Machiavelli, Vico, the pragmatist philosophers, and many, many others) am asserting that the world is not ultimately deterministic in a total, positivist sense (i.e., that the world operates according to finite and discoverable laws). At root, it is, indeed, a flat assertion, but if we disallow it, then I would venture to say that it would be the end of inquiry, as we would be trapped in a relativist conundrum.

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