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All the World’s a Game

I’m reading Henry Jenkins’ _Convergence Culture_, which addresses a number of points of convergence in how people engage with media — technological convergence (when everything’s digital, everything is easily manipulable, hackable, editable, mixable); producer and consumer convergence (people taking media developed by “established professionals” and making it their own; fans developing new stories for worlds created by estaliblished professionals, etc.)

My main frustration with the book is how puerile the objects of such convergence are. Jenkins’ exemplars of this convergence culture are: The Matrix movies and associated media; American Idol; Survivor; and the Star Wars franchise. He spends an inordinate amount of time on The Matrix, which frustrates me, because I thought that even the first movie was kind of crappy. (Reading this book reminded me of Bruce Sterling’s rant at SXSW, in which he called for us to be more critical of these new things, and not just appreciate them for their newness. Mr. Jenkins lets a lot of crap slide in favor of praising that which is new.)

Anyway, reading the book has made me think about how gaming continues to evolve as a cultural paradigm. What I’m not talking about are things like the increasing presence of video games (though I suspect that is related). What I’m talking about is the propensity of our society to turn things into games. In the book, Jenkins discusses the Survivor spoiler community, a group of folks who try to figure out things about the television show before they are aired. These people have constructed a whole new game separate from the game that is played on the show — they’ve decided to make a game out of figuring out locations of upcoming seasons, the order that people get voted off, etc., with the television production crew being their foil.

Also, the book discusses Alternate Reality Games, wherein games pervade real life, typically through communication tools such as computers and cell phones. ARGs are a growing phenomenon, and again demonstrate the desire that people have to game-ize their lives.

And this is all about the internet, and how it enables people to more easily connect with one another, join forces, form teams, and, well, play. Pre-internet, such coordination was hard, and limited to those you could get a hold of in your immediate area. With the internet, coordination becomes relatively trivial.

Anyway, I don’t know what all to make of this (though I wonder how much of this game-izing of our lives is due to the abundance of capital and time that the developed world has), but I’m curious to see how this phenomenon evolves… Particularly in “work” situations, where games and play are slowly becoming increasingly accepted.

  1. Reading this and the summaries of the book also made me realize how quickly dated its material is. I mean, Survivor’s community involvement must be just a pale shadow of Lost’s fan universe…and who even watches Lost anymore? And you’re right, The Matrix was clever for about a year, but quickly got subsumed in Burger King tie-ins and other garbage.

  2. I guess this this game-izing phenomenon isn’t something new, in fact it is intrinsic to human life. Games are one of the most effective ways of learning, they have been around since human kind and they are not exclusive to children.
    What worries me, on the other hand, is the constant infantilization (does this word exist in English?) of our societys, mainly in wealthy contexts – look at Vegas.

  3. I think if we separate our cultural predisposition of ‘game’ as luxury or entertainment activity, and look at what games really are (essentially human behavior within an intentional rules system that measures improvement toward a goal) then it broadens it considerably, and I think makes the concept of ‘game’ more useful. Now that almost everything we do in life has data associated and networked, it’s easier to “game-ize” it as well. BTW, I agree, Jenkins’ concrete examples fall way short of the ideas he seems to be getting at.

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