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Nov 18, 2008



I dunno bout all that, but I can say my reaction is that I now want to buy such a car much less.

Most closely matching thought: That damn annoying beep that clicks on when you don't buckle your seatbelt.

If you don't choose to play, it's not a game.


In a post-bureaucratic world, are we liable to mistake our agency within an array of game-like systems for all the agency we'll ever need?

Unlikely. The issues of creation and maintenance (who set up and who keeps up the post-bureaucratic system) and enforcement (who makes sure people follow the rules) will always be a resort to the controlling agency. By way of analogy, consider: in an MMORPG, most people have few dealings with the GMs unless 1) they're causing trouble and need to be dealt with (enforcement) 2) they've found a flaw in the design or a bug in the system (creation/maintenance). These things inherently require people to deal with them: 1) because not all rules can be encoded in the engine 2) because it takes someone with extraordinary powers to fix a broken rule (or code) in the system.


Agreed, PJ, but I was considering such encounters with those institutions part and parcel of participating in them. That is to say, I'm not sure that such appeals get at the root of the issue I'm concerned about, which is their legitimacy as governing social institutions at all. For conventional governments, we have at least a rough idea of via which avenues political legitimacy may be questioned, and the likelihood of that. I don't feel the same way about Google, for example.


Nice post, Thomas. Interesting stuff.

I've partly developed a partial theory that in our new flat, connected, wired/wireless, info-rich, mobile, fast-change world, we're moving from "gatherer" modes to "hunter" modes. And many games give us "hunter" style clues, so they are going to be more easily incorporated into appropriate activities. Also, there are many more opportunities for games that help make us better hunters as opposed to gatherers. So, again, a nice overlap.

My basic theory is that agriculture (and agricultural society) came from gathering behaviors that reward repeated activities, predictable outcomes, good definitions and adherence to strict systems. If your job is to go and pick (or plant) Plant A, you will make more work for yourself and others if you veer off and fill your basket with Plants B, C and D. Doing one thing, very well, is the hallmark of many agricultural activities, and (of course) many industrial ones. Square peg goes in square hole. Study Subject A and get an entry level job as a Junior A and eventually move up to VP of A.

Hunting, though, is different. It's (more often) a group activity and requires environmental awareness, a set of related skills (wide as opposed to deep), the need to be flexible and respond, and goals that can change from moment to moment. You never plant corn with a curious, excited wonderment of, "I wonder what plant will come up this year!" On the other hand, it's not unusual to go out hunting for one animal and come back with another; if they show up and you can eat it, rock on.

I don't want to get too detailed on the metaphor. But I do think it helps describe why some of the things we do now (continuous partial attention comes to mind) are seen as a negative by some and a positive by others. Hunters require continuous partial attention to any given detail; you can't ignore what you're hearing while you look at the path. You can't stop walking in order to orient yourself (at least not for long).

Game-y clues like your MPH are fun from a hunter perspective; I drive not just to do Thing A (get to work), but I invest the *activity* with meaning.


No comments on the larger theme, but I do know that the ludic nature of commercial objects in general and cars in particular has been present in Japan for some time. Games like the Tamagotchi present a bridge of sorts between games and these game like devices (To put a picture in your mind of the kind of devices we are talking about).

Toyota made a concept car in the early 2000s (do we have a non-cringeworthy term for this decade, now that it is over?) which looked like a cross between a smart car and the EVA pod from 2001--the car had lots of features (which never made it to production) like drive-by-wire, swivel seats, etc, but the main changes from more traditional cars were the game like qualities. Principally, the biggest change was that control of the car was through a controller. Toyota billed the concept car as a paean to generational change. New drivers would immediately recognize a game controller as the 'natural' means to control a car. Much like fans of the Madden games grow up to watch football in a different way then their parents do, Toyota expected that children raised on the Super Famicom would feel comfortable with a controller rather than a steering wheel. I know that this part of the gaming experience isn't what you are getting at, but it is one facet of convergence.


Public policy under the hood. I think that's a problem inherent to monopolies in other media as well. But how would you really break away from it - even if you realized its problems? While there are some good historical imperatives and works covering civil disobedience aimed toward government - one of the keys to maintaining even that is public information. Good journalism. The kind of stuff that's getting edited (sometimes pre-publication, sometimes just drowned out in other messages) to an unknown degree as the medium of power shifts from political power and money - to ideas and money.

It almost seems that right now the real sovereign, the real power holder in our country and world, is the media. It's interesting because here is an industry whose bread and butter is ideas, who ostensibly represent the communities they serve. At what point do people forcibly democratize their local television and radio stations, or their games? There are imperatives for forcing the will of the people into government. But revolting against the media? That gets troublesome.

But in games, accounts can be blocked, classes can be nerfed, player advocacy guilds might be disbanded. On Amazon, thousands of posts against DRM technology can be wiped clean. There are lines that a sovereign might cross, lines that might well be ironically similar to those crossed by revolted governments through history.

@ Andy - our brains are always changing to reflect the activities we perform, modifying themselves to maximize feeling states. In 'games' (here I'm not talking about all virtual worlds as well - some of those don't have any more imbedded gameplay than RL), on some levels motivation becomes a 'minimization of unexcitement' rather than a hunter's 'minimization of starvation.' A lot of players look to keep the rush going during game time, minimizing downtime. We adapt, and in so doing can change how our brain reacts to situations.

One thing that's interesting are the differences even between the skillsets, muscle memory so forth that you build and grow accustomed to as a rogue, versus those of a druid, or priest, let alone a resident of SL or of RL.

And so, again at Thomas, I think that the answer is yes, for now. If only because the minimization of unexcitement is a stark contrast to the side of our existence that deals with the more survival-oriented feeling states. The media has both a political and a psychological power. Protest will happen, especially under abuses, but in a sense we're protesting against media, art, expression, that we identify with. Identify as a part of our lives, part of ourselves.

Run by really rich dudes.


Thanks for the great comments, folks. I'm out of town at a conference at the moment, and can't give proper responses, but I did want to drop a link in to the car that I *think* Adam referred to, the Toyota Pod. There are great images, including one of the integrated controller, here.



That's the one. I couldn't remember the name and kept running into search results for the Toyota "Personal Mobility" concept car--not the same thing.


An update: wow, read that press release... "Using various sensors that detect and store information on the drivers' preferences at home and at work, driving conditions the car can gauge the driver's level of skill & hurriedness.", "The car acts upon this information and offers feedback, thereby contributing to driver growth." That is what I remember from the auto-show. Feedback from the car vis driver performance was a big part of their presentation.


Nice essay!

"In a post-bureaucratic world, are we liable to mistake our agency within an array of game-like systems for all the agency we'll ever need?"

Aren't we already there? The odd thing about ludocapitalism is that post-industrial capitalism has always been deeply ludic -- about manufacturing the desire for symbols of wealth and status as much as manufacturing the things that meet those manufactured needs.

The more specific question, though, is whether putting the game inside the machine and the software (literally under the hood) presents some new problems. McKenzie Wark's book on "gamer theory" has some interesting riffs on this -- I'm sure you've seen it.

This seems to echo the themes of the Command Lines conference, btw.


I had a somewhat related post here about the Prius "game" linking more closely to the insights of "Nudge" and how feedback systems, by their design, can encourage or discourage certain behaviors by their mere presence. Is this what you mean by "post-bureaucratic world"?

On that tip I have more thoughts on what I've casually called "Codelaw", the embodiment of our laws into code that actually executes with real-world consequences. I suppose there is a range between the explicit laws that I identify (e.g. food stamp distributions, voting machines) and what might be better considered "design" and was, maybe, once "policy" (e.g. the interface of the food stamp software can radically change how a food stamp worker allocates benefits, even if all of the code properly implements the law).

In my most optimistic view, we can learn from games' most immersive properties to more consciously imbue our systems with the values we want and avoid the ones we don't.


Again, thanks for the comments, everyone. Greg, yes in some Frankfurt School sense late capitalism has those game-like qualities (I think the market always has, but that's another discussion). But the crucial difference is that that manufacturing of desire (conspiracy theories aside) was the outgrowth of a complex set of unbounded factors.

What I think is different about what we're seeing now (and this relates to your reference to Wark's work) is that institutions are beginning to imagine the human differently and incorporate game design into how they govern. They intentionally and explicitly contrive complex systems within which that gaming human (of a particular sort) performs.

This is a vast difference from how modern institutions operated for most of the history of capitalism, when they worked from a rational bureaucratic approach to governance of themselves and their subjects (as the OP gestured toward, this was based on a different picture of the human). The ways in which those institutions, in their bureaucratic logic, differed from both the market and certain political forms (such as democracy) is connected, I would surmise, with all sorts of interesting clashes throughout that period. So the point is that, while game-like aspects of our experience have always been around, we're seeing institutions beginning to see the human differently and becoming increasingly interested in finding ways to bring game design techniques into how they go about their business.

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