Re: The Ludic Century Manifesto
In excerpts from an upcoming book that were published at Kotaku, Eric Zimmerman and Heather Chaplin explore a manifesto for the “Ludic Century,” the idea that the 21st century will see “games” come to dominate, well, everything.
I have a bone to pick with a lot of it, not least of all because, understandably or not, so much of what is said is unexplained and unsubstantiated. When the manifesto is not riddled in obscure and vague futurist proclamations, it dances around some potentially interesting claims. To be even distantly interpretable though, any one of the sentences would need to be expanded upon at length. Here are just a few of the questions I have (you’ll have to turn back to the original article to see the specific text that I’m referring to for any given heading).
Games are ancient.
Are they? Perhaps? Based on what?
Digital technology has given games a new relevance.
Isn’t this parallel due to middle-class incomes which made the more frivolous use of extra time possible?
The 20th Century was the century of information.
Isn’t language the first abstraction of information? What makes these later systems especially distinct?
In our Ludic Century, information has been put at play.
The majority of people who use Wikipedia never take part in generating content for it. Is it not thus primarily for accessing information?
In the 20th Century, the moving image was the dominant cultural form.
This completely neglects the histories of these technologies, and the fact that moving images, i.e. visual information, has always taken priority over other forms. It was simply the case that the technologies to transmit visual information to people over vast distances, quickly and cheaply, was not available until the 19th century.
The West’s first “epic cultural narrative” were the Homeric poems—poems recited and acted out in front of people, i.e. through moving images.
The Ludic Century is an era of games.
Games can loop, repeat, spontaneously branch off—but are they ever not linear? Are things ever not sequential?
We live in a world of systems.
Why are games a unique way of navigating and negotiating between different systems at the meta level, rather than just another set of systems—or a another way of systematizing?
There is a need to be playful.
A definition of game is required. Even a vague, working one.
We should think like designers.
In what ways is digital technology continually changing? Also, constructions like “We should think like designers” can’t be followed by “hardware and software systems may never stabilize.” Why “should” I do something that’s predicated on something that may or may not be the case?
Games are a literacy.
There’s a continued yet unsubstantiated insistence on “the rise of games.” Is this measured in terms of an “industry” that can now be isolated and accounted for financially? Or is it based on the fact that people are playing more games than they ever did before?
How do we know that People are playing more games, rather than just playing different games?
Gaming literacy can address our problems.
Haven’t governments and non-governmental organizations been employing games to try and arrive at solutions to these problems forever? Chess was a game to help people think more holistically about war; about strategy and tactics. The U.S. military has war games, and mock U.N.s attempt to simulate real world systems in order to play at and explore potential solutions to real problems.
As these problems persist, why should it be obvious that simply being more playful about civil war, resource exploitation, and global finance will help us do a better job of solving the issues that arise from them?
In the Ludic Century, everyone will be a game designer.
Does this mean there is no “lazy” way to play a game? Or any “active” or “participatory” way to listen to music, or watch a play, or read a book? How many children played baseball, or Monopoly, or Poker, and never even thought to change or modify these games beyond loose reforms resulting in “house rules?”
If games necessarily engender a more critical perspective, why are so many of them played so uncritically, and so often consist of only small iterations on a similar basic idea?
Games are beautiful. They do not need to be justified.
When have things ever “mattered” purely because they are beautiful? And mattered for whom? What do the aesthetics of certain dynamic systems matter to the labor organizer who’s busy building coalitions in order to prevent mandatory furloughs, or pay freezes, or pay cuts?
Re: Exploring the Manifesto
“Why did games speak to people so strongly at this particular moment, and how was this shift going change us?”
But how strongly do they speak to “us?” Games are no where near as prevelant as flilm, TV, and writing (books, essays, articles). What makes anyone think they will take over, rather than simply add to the diverse number of entertainment media currently avaialble to people?
“A complex system is a set of interconnected parts that together form a whole larger than the sum of the parts. Remove any one part and the whole thing changes. Your body is a complex system; global weather is a complex system; the Internet is a complex system. A videogame is a complex system, too.”
Why wouldn’t the same thing go for any sophisticated media text? Change one part of a novel, a movie, a play, and that would indeed change the entire thing? The more profound the change (e.g. removing the fifth chapter of a book vs. changing every instance of “did” to “didn’t”) the more profoundly altered the system. What about video games makes them unique in this way?
“To survive in a time of increasing complexity, becoming a systems thinker would be key. Could it be that an especially maligned group – gamers – might be preparing themselves uniquely well for the challenges of the future?”
All “gamers?” Only certain types? How do we measure complexity, and what makes one moment more or less complex than another? Is systems thinking always better? Only in certain contexts? Why should we believe it will take over rather than simply be another form of thinking side by side with the others?
Should this be called the “Ludic Century” or the “Century of Systems Hegemony?”
“We’ve ‘transitioned into a time of transitions,’ Seeley Brown argues – and the only way we can adjust ourselves to the present-day speed of change is to become as adept at play as a baby, dropped into a world about which she knows nothing.”
Isn’t time always transitioning? Aren’t systems always changing? How do we measure the rate of “transitioning” to 1.) know that transitions are occurring faster and more frequently, and 2.) that play is the best way for adults (rather than just babies, children, etc.) to learn, adapt, transition?
“And play constitutes pushback against the boundaries of a system established by rules. Man-made systems – the tax system, the school system, society as a whole – can be oppressive. In a world increasingly dominated by such systems, play could become a crucial even subversive act.”
How do the working poor “play” their way to a livable wage? In what ways is play preferable as a way for reacting to oppression than protest? Are there any examples, recent or otherwise, of people enacting large scale social, political, or economic change through play? What makes the present any more amenable to this mode of activism than past periods?
“The neurologist Simon Baron-Cohen argues that there are two kinds of brains: one hardwired for empathy and one hardwired for building and understanding systems.”
Really? Only two?
“Are we moving into a future in which plenty of people are logical, good at recognizing patterns, and analyzing the way things work, but in which fewer and fewer of us are able to empathize?”
If our brains are hardwired to be one or the other, shouldn’t we expect relative parity between the two populations? And if the “Ludic Century” is coming, how can the outcome be avoided or altered anyway?
“Another risk is that we might fail to see the commercial videogame industry for what it really is.Call of Duty and Medal of Honor may promote systems thinking – but these games also promote a militarized worldview, and could serve as advertisement for a particular kind of American foreign policy.”
Do they promote a militarized view? Is there research demonstrating that? If that is the case, and these games happen to be some of the best selling and most popular, how can these views be confronted?
- What are games?
- What is play?
- Are these two things different than they were in the past?
- Do people play more games now than before? Which people? And why?
- What are systems? What are their essential parts? Their boundaries?
- Are systems today different from the systems of the past?
- Are people better at dealing with systems now than before? How do we know?
- Is the future, whether it’s ludic or not, inevitable? Should we seek to control it or only adapt to it?
- What makes now different from before?
- How important are cultural forces when compared with political economic ones?
- Will the U.S. go to war next time because of a new generation of young men raise don Call of Duty, or for the reasons it has often gone to war in the past?
- How does playing a game allow you to change the game? The systems from which the game resulted? The world in which the systems exist?