Technology has been used all throughout the ages to enhance political structures and the functioning of governments. There is an ever-flowing line of inventions, from writing to print, the telegraph to the telephone, the television and the internet, which all had immeasurable effects on the functioning of governments around the world. In today’s world I believe that the new media platform of gaming is becoming more and more relevant to society and could provide an enhanced platform for global political participation.
If you adhere to, as most humans tend to do, some form of Hobbesian social contract; you would probably agree that subjecting yourself absolutely to certain sovereign powers can be quite frustrating. This is just a roundabout way of saying that politics tends to suck. Now, I would like to believe that the level of discomfort within civil society today is caused by the rigidity of the political system as a whole.
This rigidity, I believe, comes from a system that is based on outdated command and control hierarchies. These hierarchies worked relatively well in the past, but needs to be updated to fit with today’s rapidly changing world. A potential update to civil governance can be found in the phenomena of serious games and/or gamification of society (discussed in Gaming for a better tomorrow).
Serious games refer to all games that aim to solve bigger problems than merely entertainment. How I see it, is that there are three main archetypes of serious games, namely:
- Educational/informative games – teaches you something or informs you about a specific issue (Evoke, Obama STEM challenge, Freedom HIV/Aids)
- Simulations and scenarios – using games to simulate reality and prepare for potential futures (Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator, Government Simulation Games, Cyber Nation)
- Practical application and/or Crowdsourcing – using the “fun” aspects of gaming to engage people more fully into a certain task (British MP’s, ETERNA)
Most research on the link between gaming and political science has been based on improving learning through gaming, or creating government simulation games (Archetype 1&2). I believe however, that the biggest potential for improving political management lies within the third category of practical application games.
The key strength of this category lies with its potential to include the assets of gamification into normal life. Gamification believes in the notion of homo ludens, man the player, and that we can improve life by including fun elements from games into life.
One area of politics that serious games and gamification would be able to improve is the realm of political participation. In today’s world we as citizens are quite far removed from the governmental decision making processes. This, in the recent past, has been a matter of necessity as it would have been impossible to conduct a Greek forum-like assembly with millions or even billions of people participating. Not anymore!
With the rise of games and it’s increased capability to bring more and more people together (think of World of Warcraft or Second Life) it becomes possible to create a type of forum where a deeper (more inclusive) form of political participation can take place. If millions of players can, as Jane McGonigal proposes in Reality is Broken, be harnessed to participate in real world political decision making, it would vastly increase the legitimacy of the decisions that are taken.
In political science we have a radical model of democracy that is a bit idyllic, but could become possible with this new level of participation. This model is called discursive democracy and calls for an extremely high level of citizen participation. According to this model, it is unfair that billions of people are indirectly represented by a small number of leaders that might even have gained their position via illicit means.
Discursive democrats believe in a process of collective reasoning. In this process citizens address public problems collaboratively by collectively reasoning to find the best solution to solve specific problems. This necessitates a type of forum where discussion can take place and I believe online games could offer such a forum. Discursive democrats believe inclusive discussions would lead to more rational and fair decisions and would therefore increase the legitimacy of the decision and ultimately the functioning of the world.
How to achieve this
This is just one idea where games might aid governance structures and work towards a social contract that is more friendly to us, the humble subjects. Research into this field is still in its infancy, but I believe that it has great potential. There are leaders such as Jane McGonigal that allow us to imagine what great possibilities lie in our future. What is needed now however, is the good old scientific method and novel research examining and developing the potential of homo ludens, man the player.