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May 04, 2008



I wonder if the growing sense of seeing the world as a game can be more richly expressed via seeing it as a simulation, in the way that Baudrillard means. There are some overlaps and parallels. A game always implies winners/losers doesn't it? Whereas the simulation (of life and living) implies the absence of the real, the truth, the absence of something that perhaps a game becomes a simulation of.

American malls, entertainment parks, and the lived experienced of the Faux in most things material ask us far more elaborate questions about who we are than the instances of the hyperreal we experience as games.

I'm also not sure about the degree to which the term "identity" can still articulate one's sense of selfhood or belonging when we increasingly inhabit multiple positionalities AND we identify with and through these various positions as a matter of course.

I think the mainstreaming of MMOGs in particular will evidence this and yes, norm the fact that we're all always inhabiting more than one "mes."


Well, as a long time gamer, I for one welcome the mainstreaming of gaming. I have no wish to be stereotyped as this. or this.

The mainstreaming Ren mentions stems from, I believe, increased ease of access, improved technology (i.e., rewards of playing), and demographic shifts (vinyl records were my parents medium; the CD was mine). Microsoft deserves some blame/credit for putting solitaire, hearts and freecell on ever computer, so even computer n00bs are drawn in. Game consoles like the PS2 and DS, as well as improved graphics, story line and immersiveness all have contributed to this mainstreaming effect. These technologies/trends make it easier to be a gamer, and I don’t think that one can really see the world as a game until one has become gamer (even if he does not realize or accept that he is a gamer).

In considering Ren's question, I think he's right that it's a bit of both. But I tend to think the being gamer precedes seeing the world as game.


I think a particularly good example of what you're talking about is the US military. They are starting to train soldiers more and more virtually. The equipment and soldiers are more and more networked. User interfaces on equipment is designed more like game interfaces every day. The Stryker divisions are an extreme example of how a soldier can be trained using video games and commanders, even in the field can "play" the engagements much like a RTS game. With the use of unmanned drone technology, fire-and-forget weapons, camera guided weapons, GPS, satalite and all-weather technology that can make commanders more and more omnicient about what is going on around him/her, the real world battlefield will become more dehumanized and people with gaming experience will tend to game it. War is also an exceptional example because there actually is a win/loss factor.

Another example of real life taking on gaming qualities might be six sigma, or the Toyota lean manufacturing processes, where real world business is quantified to the extent that it becomes possible to place numerical goals on some of the smallest activities, which then allows a person to 'game' those activities. I've seen plenty of examples of game-like competition between departments or facilities.

I think this "gametization" (did i just coin a term?) of business and warfare is more the result of technology enabling it rather than the result of people seeing themselves as gamers. The crossover between game interface and real life interface is natural because the platforms are similar and people attempting complicated tasks will want to use the best tools, regardless of wether it's in real life or in a game.


I buy SVgr's argument as far as it goes, but would like to take it a step farther.

Interaction with the world helps form the human cognative process. Technology has allowed us to build sophisticated games (WoW, Civ) that are accessable to hundreds of millions.

At one time this type of cognative training was limited to military officers participating in hugely expensive wargames. Or to very small number of business people or high ranking political leaders.

Now there are countless individuals who have been taught to think a certain way, completely by accident. Not taught to hold certain opinions, but taught to use certain methods when thinking, especially when problem solving.

I'll go as far as speculating that this is having effects on the current American presidential race, though I have not done a serious search for evidence. Maybe we should? It would be a hell of a finding.


Yeah, Tom, the effect of gameplay on young people is certainly profound. The increase in proficiency at game-related activities such as reading, math, reading charts and graphs, percentages and odds, word problems, performing complicated tasks, following instructions, critical thinking, multitasking, etc.. are yet to be seen as that generation matures.

As the OP suggests, I think it's a given that people raised on gaming will be more likely to 'game' some daily activities, sometimes without even realizing they are doing it. Personally, I recall my days playing Gran Tourismo on PS1 and having moments of conceptual shift when driving my real car afterwards.


P.S. Can you imagine a possible (no matter how unlikely) future where job applications outside the video game industry may ask applicants about their gameplay habbits?


I think it happens now, and that it has been happening ever since Waterloo was "won on the playing fields at Eaton."

But no one asks the question as a formal checkoff box question. Instead it comes as part of an assessment of the type of person you are. Golfers ask about golf, sailors about sailing, mmo players about mmos. Note that all of these are games.

To Richard's point, in some places this has become so much a part of the culture that no one even notices.

The one example I have that could be game related is Obama's changing position on capital gains taxes. He was asked if he would raise them and said yes. The questioner then said "but increasing capital gains taxes is proven to reduce tax revenue." Next time around he was in favor of a much smaller increase.

That analytical approach, and the idea of non-linear consiquences strikes me as game driven thinking. But it is also true that there is a lot more good analysis done in 2008 than there was years ago. One thing is true, in 1988, no one would have come back and said raising taxes reduces revenue. Some people knew that was true, but the audience would not have believed it. Now it is accepted at face value. That is a huge change in the sophistication of the analysis.

I wonder if the same thing is happening in regards to other hard problems, like what the hell is the right thing to do in Iraq. No one running is arguing for a simple solution.


Whether or not people in their twenties and thirties consider themselves part of a gaming society seems to depend on whether they had any exposure as children. I am still coming across plenty of people who say (sometimes rather proudly) 'I've never actually played a computer game' which I think will die out completely in the next ten years.
Thanks Ren for coming to the event last week at the Dana Centre which launched my book. I've written about the evening here:


Hi all, two quick points before the Sandman pounds my eyes.

1. I am quite drawn to the analogy of virtual worlds as theater rather than games. I have many reasons for liking the theater (or "theatre" if you like) analogy and I hope to sketch them out in a short piece this summer. But, chief among them: (1) theater is not win/lose; (2) theater involves role play---the division of actors and their characters---and all virtual worlds involve a far more obvious sense of role-play than does life in general. Or, as the Bard might have said "All the world's a stage, but all the virtual worlds especially so"; (3) theater involves a more pronounced suspension of disbelief than games generally do not, either as a spectator or participant; (4) theater involves props and thus can account for "virtual property" in ways that game equipment cannot; and more as I think on the subject.

2. I really like the idea of gaming as training. Orwell, Huxley, and Foucoult would be all over this. This is the way we condition the population to adjust to government control; this is the way we condition the population to see/understand/relate to the world. This is how the powers that be instill discipline. Truly, and in many senses, engaement in virtual worlds is an "acting" lesson.

I hope to expand on some of this in Berlin later this month and, as I said, I hope a short paper later this summer. In the U.S. legal analysis often turns into a battle of the metaphor. I really like the theater metaphor and think it is very useful analytically.

Cheers, -bryan


Bryan -

A few quick comments in response:

1) Games need not have win/loss conditions (D&D springs to mind as an obvious example). Any definition of games that holds to that is not going to be of much use.

2) I guess I think of role-play as pervading our everyday experience, actually. But then, I'm a big fan of Erving Goffman's seminal work on everyday life as (you guessed it) theatre.

3) While games may not always involve suspension of disbelief, I think that they always involve something just as interesting, which is the assumption of legitimate indeterminacy, and virtual worlds have this too (even the ones that aren't games are very game-like, in this and other important ways). In our largely routinized lives, it is a rare thing to be in a space with others where it is not just expected but okay that the outcomes are indeterminate.

4) Games involve props or equipment -- we jsut aren't in the habit of naming them as such. Of course, this doesn't keep the theater/prop analogy from maybe having some pragmatic value in the law.

But, in general, it shouldn't be that we feel so restricted in what would stand as a useful metaphor for most virtual worlds. Ritual, Theater, and Games (among others) should all be available to us as lens through which to view the social action in virtual worlds. The usefulness of one versus the other is a product of the particular questions we may be asking at the time.

Re "2.": Gaming and learning are very closely linked, as Jim Gee's and others' work has shown. I think you're on to a very central point here, and its one that Julian has explored from the ludo-capitalism angle and which I have tried to muddle through here and there as well.




perhaps it's just the way you imagine you see the world, since it's a little bit larger than one can comfortably hold, the world is just an idea in one's own mind. just like the virtual world, we have to conceptualise something that large in order to evaluate it.

as for myself, i imagine that people tend to view the real world vs virtual world arguments in sterile and static terms, because the real world doesn't bend and break, unless you have the resources to do so, or that the virtual world can be controlled because it is born from mathematical rules of logic.

that idea too, is born from the idea that the real world can be manipulated as if it were a simulation. that, by economic manipulation or by science, technology and also through people via propaganda.

it bears considering that we view the world as if it were simulacra. so, rather than the virtual world being somewhat real, we virtualise real things, because in the virtual, we can change, measure and control them.

the idea of the simulacra is more than just a referent to simulation, it is a mental evaluation of the world as simulation, and treatment of the simulation as one's personal view of reality, i.e. that i can fly to any location, stand on that stone, do anything,and return home, can be done in the real and the virtual world with an application of effort, resources and technology.

i.e. perhaps in one's own mind, the world can also be expressed as though it were a mathematical simulation (god's simulation, if you wish), or in shakespeare's day, a stage upon which the world rests, and each man stands ready in his own capacity to engage in the play of his own life.

and to some degree, the rest of the world contributes to that delinquency, i.e. we view our lives in terms of not just places and people, but as resources, vendors, opportunities and paths, conditions, exploits, values and variations, etc.

to some extent, fashion is also a case of virtualities and adoptive personas, an elitism of conventions and sub-cultures, etc. virtualities pervade our current sense and notion of reality to a large extent already, regardless of wether or not we engage in video games, people already virtualise and personify their own sense of the world, i.e. that corporations have personas and agendas, that the entire world can have a soul or body in which it can be injured or damaged, etc.

in some ways, video games and virtual worlds, much like the internet and broadcast media just connects all those crazy people together into a collective consensus, it doesn't try to educate or teach those people, it just tends them and keeps them happy.

As far as moral judgements go on virtualities and virtual worlds, well, sheep will do what sheep do, people will do what people do, the horde will do what the horde does, etc.

as far as virtual worlds and game environments structuring the current generation and the next generation, all players will still be indoctrinated no matter what community they live in, wether that environment is real, imaginary, or virtual.

though this indoctrination can be interpreted in video games in small ways, ie. collecting stars as achievements is a fiscal and economic end-run to children learning to hoard and distribute resources intelligently, etc. following and finding linear paths, gathering and use of resources gained from performing tasks, the penalties of theft and selfish behaviours, safe and unsafe areas, interacting with others and peers, etc.

all of these things are evident in current games, even those which seem unsanitary or violent, there's still a notion of achievement or success, elements and resources are traded in value, health is shown as a statistical value and can be "topped up", etc. kids know that virtual worlds aren't going to replace real life because there's just no way that people can do the same things in the real world, the disparity remains.

i tend to believe that the nature of the next generation of games will likely have to expand the role of teacher and guardians, as the simulation expands to engender reality, it will reinforce reality and then ultimately overtake our current convenient concept of reality, to our ultimate boon or detriment.


Toliman said: the idea of the simulacra is more than just a referent to simulation, it is a mental evaluation of the world as simulation, and treatment of the simulation as one's personal view of reality

I think that's true; there are aspects of the real world that are quite "game-y." The use of language itself involves an overlay of virtuality (words). Since humans have moved well beyond noun-verb constructs into realms of deep metaphor, cultural references, multi-language issues, historic case use, etc., the overlay is even more about how we choose to use language, and the fact that the word "sandwich" can be used to convey meaning about my lunch.

I would assume that similar brain-things go on when we play games (how can I do XYZ within the bounds of the rules?) as when we process language (how can I communicate my desier for XYZ within the bounds of sense, propriety, etc.).

The difference being, I think, that the bounds of what we can do/say in a game, and what the effects can be, are going to be more restrictive than in RL, and are often going to be self-restricted based on the game. That's the whole point, eh? If I really wanted a huge wad of Monopoly money, I'd go buy 20 sets of the game. The value of the money (and the thrill of getting it) is only really important within the game.

Before you jump on me, Thomas, I will, of course, stipulate that many of the behaviors/outcomes aren't bounded by the physical, written rules. I may feel good all week that I finally beat my older brother at Monopoly. I may taunt him. I may win an actual cash prize at a Monopoly tournament. Girls may date me based on my prowess, etc. But, again, the *process* by which I establish these outcomes is bounded by game rules. I can't go to the Monopoly tournament and say, "Look! I have a million Monopoly dollars that I just bought in the store! I win!"

And that is, I think, the main line between games and non-games; that the conditions of both behavior and results are (at some reducible level) contingent (see, Thomas, I've been paying attention) on something other than (or in addition to) standard, non-game reality.

So, for example, I don't think that theater quite works as a full-on reflection of games. There may be rules (curtain goes down, you stop acting) and an imposed set of virtual assumptions (that man you saw last week as King Lear is now HR Puffinstuff), but the contingencies on which both performance and evaluation are based are *entirely* real. That is, you can try to define "this makes for good theater," but you cannot convince a bored audience member that they are enjoying a play if they are not. You can convince someone who doesn't want to lose a game that, well, rock beats scissors.

Which is also one of my reasons for thinking, more and more, that virtual worlds like SL aren't, in and of themselves, games. You can use them to play games, same as you use a ball or a field or a dice. But the platform itself is too contingent on reality -- my RL ability to type, to prim, to assemble an attractive wardrobe, to not be an asshat -- to qualify as a game.


Agreed on all counts, Andy. The word I use to mark the constructed-ness that you identify is "contrived". Our everyday experience is also a mixture of constraints and possibilities, but in a game it is a semi-bounded contrivance (though not a perfect one).

I agree with you that SL is, at the end of the day, probably not useful to think of as a game. But the more interesting question to me is what we learn when we ask how game-like it is -- what it owes to games and game design.

It would be nice if we could talk about the gameness of things that we're interested in, rather than hung up on some kind of litmus test, but it's a hard habit to break.


Thomas: Interesting. But we need a better word than "gameness," or "game-iness" or "gamitude."

If "ludology" is the study of games, would "ludic" be an adjective that describes the game-ness of things?

For example: I think SL is less ludic than, say, the Sims Online, as there are fewer specific rules and roles. But the way in which avatars self-identify with groups and locations is a ludic element that has much in common with teams and guilds.


It's a word I often reach for myself, especially in conversation. I worry at times that it is too freighted with the exceptionalist take on games to be recuperated, but that's only on my most cynical days.

The related general danger is that we may take such a word as pointing quite strongly toward individual (rather than social) experience, but I think this is less of a concern -- your example is a perfect one of how it could usefully be invoked, imho. Putting it that way points to "ludic" as a (varying) characteristic of a social domain (SL, SimsOnline), rather than as something which should get us thinking first and foremost about the (heroic) experiencing individual. :)


My father made a strong argument to me as early as perhaps 6 or 7 years old that life is, in fact, a game. That the business of politics is a game -- roleplaying, negotiation, playing the media. Economics is a game played by elites and played upon people who don't understand it. Likewise war.

To me it's a sort of argument that is hard to answer. Either you are playing the game, or you are vulnerable to being played. Playing the game in real life leads to professional success, wealth, success for your company.

Understanding trade offs in relationships in real life is also a game -- is this the right time to bring this criticism of my spouse up? This problem may involve an elaborate speculative simulation of consequences, an anticipation of negotiations, and evaluation of personal vulnerability to counter-attack, and an assessment of the softness of the couch.

What we have, I think, is a *taboo* around considering affairs such as war (or work ethic) a game. Part of this is programmed in -- fewer young men would go to get shot at if they thought they were potential stats for survival, damage, or full casualty -- rather than romantic (in the old sense) heroes.

Old systems of technology and government encouraged the serfs to remain out of the game, and we are still dealing with the taboos and harmful artifacts of that era.

When Jefferson called for the idea of the Jeffersonian citizen, he was calling each of us to take up the mantle of responsibility for the game, in my own opinion. We are supposed to learn more depth, responsibility, sophistication in our models, in our media consumption and production, in our economics (including adding that triple-bottom-line -- understanding the deficits of old models) and consumption of real goods.

The poor aspect of young gamers is that gaming seems to be the death of the protestant work ethic. Work why? To satisfy requirements. To protect the Permanent Record(tm). Young people, it's been shown, are neurologically impaired in anticipating long term consequences. Romantic ideals are good for them -- it keeps them from crashing out before they gain clue. But we're making no adjustments in our work with adolescents along these lines.

The hopeful aspect, to me, is that they are looking, searching, yearning to understand the underlying models -- and whatever mistakes they may make, they are hacking out these models among themselves in a way that their boomer-and-onward elders seem to not have bothered with, in most cases.

So, is gaming a potential channel for *deeper* engagement in the real world? For some, no doubt.


Great article! A little while ago I wrote about just this topic.

The association of being a "gamer" has undoubtedly become a mainstream thing, but I think that most of it is due -- as accusatory as it sounds -- to the gamer as a "clique" and NOT to the gamer as a person who admittedly enjoys playing video games.

If you know anyone who calls him or herself a "sexy nerd" and cites Halo, you should recognize this immediately. I don't like to use such a superficial example, and usually I wouldn't, except that I come across this frequently.

A friend recently commented to me that people must be kidding themselves if they still think, in this age, that playing video games is a "geeky" thing to do. Could it have been said any better?

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