Too much of our impres­sion of the world comes from a mis­lead­ing for­mu­la of jour­nal­is­tic nar­ra­tion. Reporters give lav­ish cov­er­age to gun bursts, explo­sions, and viral videos, obliv­i­ous to how rep­re­sen­ta­tive they are and appar­ent­ly inno­cent of the fact that many were con­trived as jour­nal­ist bait. Then come sound bites from “experts” with vest­ed inter­ests in max­i­miz­ing the impres­sion of may­hem: gen­er­als, politi­cians, secu­ri­ty offi­cials, moral activists. The talk­ing heads on cable news fil­i­buster about the event, des­per­ate­ly hop­ing to avoid dead air. News­pa­per colum­nists instruct their read­ers on what emo­tions to feel.

— The world is not falling apart: The trend lines reveal an increas­ing­ly peace­ful peri­od in history.

Head­ing back from Big Broth­er Awards. Hans and his team at Bits of Free­dom put on a good show. A few things of note: The lady from the pri­ma­ry edu­ca­tion coun­cil using “game” as a metaphor to explain adap­tive dig­i­tal learn­ing mate­ri­als. The ridicu­lous faux cable response from the min­istry of safe­ty and jus­tice to Opstel­ten win­ning an award, which I wish but don’t expect will back­fire on them hor­rif­i­cal­ly. Hans using the con­cept of “leg­i­bil­i­ty” to shift the focus of the dig­i­tal rights move­ment on to increased diver­si­ty. A high per­cent­age of female speak­ers on stage. Snow­den get­ting a stand­ing ova­tion. It was a good night, if only to ral­ly the troops.

Sources for my Creative Mornings Utrecht talk on education, games, and play

I was stand­ing on the shoul­ders of giants for this one. Here’s a (prob­a­bly incom­plete) list of sources I ref­er­enced through­out the talk.

All of these are high­ly recommended.

Update: the slides are now up on Speak­er Deck.

Come­di­ans kill them­selves. Talk to 100 come­di­ans this week, every­body knows some­body who killed them­selves. I mean, we always say igno­rance is bliss. Well, if so, what’s the oppo­site? Some form of mis­ery. Being a come­di­an, 80 per­cent of the job is just you notice shit, which is a trait of schiz­o­phren­ics too. You notice things peo­ple don’t notice.

"Anonymous Scientology 1 by David Shankbone" by David Shankbone - David Shankbone. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Polit­i­cal play is a mode of think­ing crit­i­cal­ly about pol­i­tics, and of devel­op­ing an ago­nis­tic approach to those pol­i­tics. This ago­nism is framed through car­ni­va­lesque chaos and humour, through the appro­pri­a­tion of the world for play­ing. By play­ing, by care­ful­ly nego­ti­at­ing the pur­pose of play­ing between plea­sure and the polit­i­cal, we engage in a trans­for­ma­tive act.

Quote tak­en from PARTICIPATORY REPUBLICS: PLAY AND THE POLITICAL by Miguel Sicart on the Play Mat­ters book blog.

I love where Miguel is going with his think­ing on the rela­tion­ship between play, pol­i­tics, appro­pri­a­tion and resistance.

I am inter­est­ed in this because at Hub­bub we have been explor­ing sim­i­lar themes through the mak­ing of games and things-you-can-play-with.

The big chal­lenges with this remain in the area of instru­men­tal­i­sa­tion – if you set out to design a thing that encour­ages this kind of play you often end up with some­thing that is far from playful.

But the oppor­tu­ni­ties are huge because so much of today’s strug­gles of indi­vid­u­als against the state relate to leg­i­bil­i­ty and con­trol in some way, and play is the per­fect antidote.

For exam­ple short­ly after read­ing Miguel’s piece I came across this McKen­zie Wark piece on extrastate­craft via Hon­or Harg­er. Extrastate­craft shifts the focus from archi­tec­ture and pol­i­tics to infrastructure.

Infra­struc­ture is how pow­er deploys itself, and it does so much faster than law or democracy.

You should read the whole thing. What’s fas­ci­nat­ing is that Wark briefly dis­cuss­es strate­gies and tac­tics for resist­ing such statecraft.

So the world might be run not by state­craft but at least in part by extrastate­craft. East­er­ling: “Avoid­ing bina­ry dis­po­si­tions, this field of activ­i­ty calls for exper­i­ments with ongo­ing forms of lever­age, reci­procity, and vig­i­lance to counter the vio­lence imma­nent in the space of extrastate­craft.” (149) She has some inter­est­ing obser­va­tions on the tac­tics for this. Some exploit the infor­ma­tion­al char­ac­ter of third nature, such as gos­sip, rumor and hoax. She also dis­cuss­es the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the gift or of exag­ger­at­ed com­pli­ance (relat­ed per­haps to Zizek’s over-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion), and of mim­ic­ry and comedy.

Gos­sip, rumor and hoax” sound a lot like the car­ni­va­lesque reflec­tive-in-action polit­i­cal play Miguel is talk­ing about.

To fin­ish off, here’s a video of the great James C. Scott on the art of not being gov­erned. He talks at length about how peo­ples have his­tor­i­cal­ly fled from state­craft into geo­graph­i­cal zones unreach­able by power’s infra­struc­ture. And how they deploy their own, state-resis­tant infra­struc­ture (such as par­tic­u­lar kinds of crops) to remain illeg­i­ble and uncapturable.

I think the great­est prob­lem is the men­tal­i­ty that accom­pa­nies drone strikes,” Philip Alston, an N.Y.U. law pro­fes­sor who inves­ti­gat­ed drone attacks for the U.N. between 2004 and 2010, told me. “The iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a list of tar­gets, and if we can suc­ceed in elim­i­nat­ing that list we will have achieved good things—that men­tal­i­ty is what dri­ves it all: if only we can get enough of these bas­tards, we’ll win the war.” (via Obama’s Drone War)

A great and dis­turb­ing piece on the CIA’s drone war in Pak­istan. Time­ly, also, because Hub­bub is mak­ing a game about drone war­fare at the moment, called Bycatch. The quote above describes the men­tal­i­ty we are explor­ing in the game quite well.

I think hard times are com­ing when we will be want­i­ng the voic­es of writ­ers who can see alter­na­tives to how we live now and can see through our fear-strick­en soci­ety and its obses­sive tech­nolo­gies to oth­er ways of being, and even imag­ine some real grounds for hope. We will need writ­ers who can remem­ber free­dom. Poets, visionaries—the real­ists of a larg­er reality.

I haven’t read much of Le Guin’s work, but what I have impressed me by its great human­ism. “Real­ists of a larg­er real­i­ty” is a great way to describe what attracts me in spec­u­la­tive fiction.

(via “We will need writ­ers who can remem­ber free­dom”: Ursu­la K Le Guin at the Nation­al Book Awards — park­er hig­gins dot net)

If you pro­vide novice prob­lem-solvers with a prob­lem, they’ll attempt to solve it using super­fi­cial strate­gies, com­par­ing it to rou­tine prob­lems that they already under­stand. This much I have cov­ered already. But if you pro­vide novice prob­lem-solvers with — instead of a prob­lem — a set of con­straints, and then ask them to form and solve their own com­plex prob­lems, some­thing amaz­ing hap­pens — they solve these prob­lems with expert-lev­el strategies.

It’s the dif­fer­ence between teach­ing some­one to fish, and hav­ing them invent things to do around a pond with a hook line and stick.

The strat­e­gy Gage described here for help­ing play­ers learn games is as genius as it seems obvi­ous in hind sight.

The big thing for me is that if you want to add this to your game it needs to be suf­fi­cient­ly com­plex to begin with for sand­box to be inter­est­ing. Which is a great lit­mus test for if your game is good in the first place.

(via Design­ing For Prob­lem Solvers — Zach Gage, Nov 2014)

Asked if it was a play­ful moment of inven­tion, Rubin responds stern­ly, almost Cosel­lian­ly, “It wasn’t play­ful. I hate play. It was just a process. You have scores and scores of those moments when you try these things out. I remem­ber in ’96, the first time I tast­ed it, I thought”—his voice goes high and giddy—“Yeeaahh! And the next day we made a bunch more, and I remem­ber every­body say­ing, ‘Wow, that’s real­ly good.’ And I said ‘O.K., fine, try it out.’ ”

How is that not play?

(via Pan­ic in the Pas­try Shop)

These two styles also estab­lish togeth­er some­thing like lim­its of what I feel is an impor­tant polar­i­ty, as regards videogames – from ‘mechan­ics’ to ‘organ­ics’. Free improv is non-machinic, wob­bly, ani­mal, plant-like, fleshy, etc – rid­ing on pure real-time which is not spa­tialised in the least. Where­as com­put­er dance music is total­ly machinic, total­ly com­putable, total­ly spa­tialised, and has bod­i­ly attrac­tions of a dif­fer­ent sort, which feel essen­tial­ly dis­ci­plin­ing, though not nec­es­sar­i­ly in a bad way. So, I think explor­ing the space between these styles feels excit­ing. There’s a need in videogames, at the very least, to dis­cov­er their organ­ic pole, where dance music’s pat­terns, loops or grooves etc might func­tion as the raw mate­r­i­al from which a new organ­ism can be built. Though the raw mate­r­i­al will need to be cooked first – and its pieces won’t sur­vive the melt. (via Lev­el up: an insider’s guide to mak­ing video game sound­tracks in 2014 – FACT Mag­a­zine: Music News, New Music.)