Nicco Mele of Dean for America fame has been hosting a weekly study group on politics and the Internet; today he’s brought in Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech and Persuasive Games to talk about politics and video games. Ian has been ruminating on this topic a bit of late, most recently on Gamasutra, where he chronicles the “Birth and Death of the Election Game.”
Nicco’s relationship with Ian goes back to 2004, when Persuasive Games helped the Dean campaign design a video game to explain the Iowa Caucus.
Ian’s starting with his usual love for Animal Crossing. No need to repeat that here.
Relevant elements of games:
- Models capturing behaviors
- Roles simulating an experience, constrained by rules, leading to empathy
- Worlds that enable an immersion through imagined expertise
This allows games to give complex problems relevance in the context of our world. This is quite the opposite of usual politics and reductionist political rhetoric.
Politics as setting the rules for the roles that will play in a model of our future world that we’re in the process of constructing.
Nicco and Ian are now discussing “the SimCity problem” — that is, the model underlying SimCity takes a position on economic theory for which there is no competition.
Ian: people are obsessed about the lives of others. People call Ian, actually interested in playing the Coldstone Creamery training game. Why would anyone want to play a minimum-wage job? People have empathy and want to evoke it.
What about games and news consumption? Media consolidation makes this difficult; Ian’s relationship with, e.g., the Times, simply trailed off, probably because it didn’t fit anyone’s particular job there. Isn’t empathy the basic role of both games and news? News lacks synthetic information — understanding what decisions are important to them and why.
Video games as representing an opposite trend of many Internet technologies (simplification and faster cycles).
Initially, in the Times games, Ian saw these games as editorial commentary — topics with a complex system in them. (I think he is implying that he began to see an investigative purpose in time).
What about collaborative play, e.g. WoW raids? There are some problems that can only be solved through collective action. The idea of having a “proving ground” has some promise — experiences to play before real enactment.
Ian’s now discussing the point of his Gamasutra article, linked earlier, though his main focus is on what could have been possible if Obama spent 1/10 of his media budget on video games (and not in the ad buy sense, which he notes was mostly for “rhetorical purposes” — getting press on the ads, rather than the ads themselves).
In following up on that idea — is the problem with campaigning and its relationship to policy? What would happen if a campaign started with the premise of conveying complexity rather than simplicity?
There’s an attitude of the kinds of video game players that most people think are video game players have an attitude that games are a safe haven from real life. But this is changing. There’s huge self-censorship that goes in inside the industry, and these business practices perpetuate themselves. Contrast the 80s when the industry was more entrepreneurial. (Nicco mentions Bioshock). The industry’s attitude is hopeful inaction: as people grow up and demand new ones, they will magically appear… but the problem is that this isn’t true: you need to create supply, too.
Video games as a centrifying values issue, making it very cheap to decry video games. Ian mentions the ECA (Entertainment Consumers Association), and the idea of a union of video game players, or a common identity among gamers, “weirds” him out.
Gamer demographics — if there are political games, whom will they reach?: There’s a lot of bad data, but… see the Entertainment Software Association. The better question is to break them down by style/type. Ian’s own games — TSA game since 2006 has approached 50M plays. (< $10K to build).
An Obama game could really sell. Who wouldn’t buy an Obama game? Well…
WoW as a possible space to overcome polarization problems? (gk: ~ Bowling Alone argument)
So what about an abortion game that attempts to help each side understand the perspective of the other side of the debate? [gk: see the RedBlue project that publicconversations.org attempted to use to codify its procedure for difficult conversations — it was never finished]
Nicco mentions that the Dean campaign’s game did inspire people to donate, get involved. Ian wonders if this idea will “peak” (novelty factor).
The problem is that the vast majority of these games are meaningless tripe. See Ian’s discussion of Pork Invaders, in the Gamasutra article, and also the contrast with Tax Invaders as a rhetorical device.
Ian on Spore: it takes an absolute position on the nature of life in the universe (that it’s most likely evolved from somewhere else).
What about the politics / political economies within each virtual world?
What’s the most interesting thing to strike Ian recently in video games? The ability of gamers to discuss what they like / don’t like about the games they play. The ability to take these systems apart and understand what makes them interesting is untapped. How come we can’t get them to do the same for their ordinary lives?