Governance through games?

At Terra Nova Thomas Malaby, an anthropologist by training, asks an interesting question: To what extent can good governance - which involves authority ceded willingly - flow from games?

The suggestion I would like to make is that, for institutions, gamesare in fact quite difficult to domesticate, precisely because they can generate outcomes that challenge or outright contradict any existing, more coherent, narratives. And I would add to this another issue, just as important, and that is how the legitimacy of a game's outcomes is directly related to the community of its players or the institution which controls it (as in the case of organized sports). When games are mobilized for purposes other than the playing in and of themselves, who gets to interpret the outcomes, and say what they mean? The sponsoring institution, or the participating players? To me, these are central questions as we see more and more institutions attempting to govern through games.

As more and more companies seek to integrate gaming with corporate and business communication, it will be interesting to what extent those "existing, more coherent, narratives" take pride of place. Authority is always up for negotiation.

I'd also point out that this tension between open-ended story that games bring to the discussion and pre-existing narrative is something that special effects filmmaker John Gaeta addressed at some length during a session at the 2006 IdeaFestival, saying that the first person who figured out how to incorporate both would achieve a breakthrough, financially and artistically, in filmmaking.

Lastly, if the discussion about how humans bend technology to our own purposes interests you, LIFT, a terrific conference about technology and society, is featuring a couple of anthropologists at its conference this week. I'd encourage you to look at the LIFT blog for directions to live write-ups of the sessions.

Wayne