|The Eighth Annual Game Design Think Tank
Project Horseshoe 2013
|Group Report: Games & Government|
|Participants: A.K.A. "GG"|
|Daniel Cook, Spry Fox||Magy Seif El-Nasr, Northeastern University|
|Randy Greenback, Relevant Games||Jake Forbes, Linden Lab|
|Chris Keeling, Wargaming||Frank Lantz, NYU Game Center|
|Pat Kemp, Spry Fox||Isaac Knowles, Indiana University|
|Olivier Lejade, Mekensleep|
|Facilitator:Jeff Pobst, Hidden Path Entertainment|
|download the PDF|
During the Project Horseshoe weekend, we covered several big areas.
There is a broad understanding in political science that every government of whatever philosophical stripe has a corporate structure that consists of similar things. Every government has an executive function and some technology by which power is expressed physically. It has some consultative organs - voting systems, representation, public speaking, press. It has some kind of adjudication systems, whether that be judges, appeals to agencies, or priests throwing sticks (or bones) on an altar. In this section, we will discuss a broader view of government, but as we go deeper in the document, we start to outline governance structures in games, which are useful for game designers.
1.1 Commonly discussed forms of traditional government
Often we think of governments in shorthand, much like how we discuss game genres as being bundles of design patterns that cannot be separated. However, this method of discussion is naturally limited since in reality there is much overlap between the subsystems. Thinking in terms of categories rarely the same level of practical insight as thinking in terms of underlying processes.
This top down model of government lets us make broad assumptions. For example, you might say that governments that are off the line must increase in the factor which is keeping them from occupying their correct size or they will suffer inefficiencies (crime, chaos, corruption, etc.) in proportion to their distance from the line. Alternatively, they can decrease the factor they have in abundance (although historically that does not happen).
However, as with any form of systems design, the devil is in the details and each of these stereotypical systems can vary radically from similar governments in practice.
Also common through both real world governments and ludic ones is a tendency towards corruption. People attempt to subvert the intent of rules for their own benefit.
1.3 What is the end goal of a government in a game?
Governments exist for a purpose. The following are classic examples:
Games use other variations on these:
1.4 Limitations of games
Games have additional properties that make the reality of designing systems of governance quite different from that of real governments.
Games operate in a short lasting technology layer atop the real world. As such game governments last relatively short periods of time. Admittedly the same argument can be made about real world governments.
II. Government in Games
2.1 Why would you care about governmental systems?
Every multiplayer game past a certain size begins to organically accumulate the institutions of a government. This occurs because governance is ultimately a name for a systemic toolset for reducing the inevitable friction and enforcing social norms across large groups. Most multiplayer player games are rife with such friction. Left undisturbed by developers, communities will naturally begin accumulating organic guilds, mafias, blacklists, enforcers and other forms of governance as players attempt to manage the anarchy.
We’ve seen something similar with grassroots economic systems. When game developers first start adding trade to online games, they were shocked to find that complex economic and social institutions spread throughout their games like wildfire. These unofficial economies nearly wrecked each game’s carefully designed incentive structure and ended up forming a massive percentage of the long term gameplay. The collapse of Asheron’s Call’s economy and the rise of gold farming and real money trade as a billion dollar business sounded the alarm that this emergent aspect of game design that should be taken seriously. To build a modern game without also planning out the market places, currencies and other economic structures is now considered the epitome of foolishness.
Government in online games is in a similar place. We see the toxic communities, player protests. We realized that such toxic communities have a direct effect on retention or new player churn. The problem is poor unofficial governance and the solution is good official governance.
Benefits of good governance are numerous and include:
On the flip side, bad governance will result on many issues, including:
2.2 Government Systems in Games
There are many types of systems that can be embedded within games, including:
2.3 Process of government organically emerging
There are different types of governance that can emerge, officially and unofficially. The size of the group creates an important influence on the type of governmental system.
With small groups (2-40 participants), unofficial structure appears such as:
Past Dunbar’s number (80-150 participants) we start to see institutions emerge with more stabile governmental systems. Many rules are written down or supported in code. We also see indoctrination of new players into the behavioral codes of conduct, and specialization of roles. There are also interdependencies mediated through trade, status, official positions and other official mechanisms. The group also shows moderate relationships with one another, i.e. not everyone knows everyone.
A key trigger at this stage is the existence of collective goods. These are goods such as ‘air’ where if one person uses it, the rest of the population can still use it. Issues of ownership and maintaining quality become important and rules spring up around them. One of the most common collective goods is the ‘safety’ and you’ll often see conflict prone games evolving complex systems for guaranteeing and managing the safety of people in the world.
With the emergence of these institutions we witness the spectrum of Unofficial and Official governance. We start to see glimpses of the following:
As we get past Dunbar’s number (greater than 150 participants) we see the following occurs without much interference from the developers. As a designer, you will see the following:
At this level a government takes some of the pie and, ideally, enacts policies that can
2.4 Targeting the type of government you desire
We identified two main directions for implementing government in games:
2.5 Limits of player involvement in governance
Games are highly technical creations that require expert skills to produce and manage. Direct democracy with players both suggesting and approving via a popular vote feature changes run into several major issues:
2.6 Rights as a lens for building government
There’s a thread of governance philosophy that states that there are certain intrinsic rights held by players, designers and managers of an online game. Raph Koster has written of a Bill of Player Rights and concepts like natural rights are the foundation upon which most modern democracies are built.
Our group didn’t cover this much, because we’ve approached this problem from different perspective. The key question we were trying to answer is not “What is the ideal society for all participants” but instead “what are the pragmatic goals of making a more stable, high retention social structure that avoids the negative aspects of bad government?”
From a purely pragmatic perspective, you can interpret the postulation of ‘natural rights’ as an end run around the question of what gives a particular group the ‘right’ to hold power over another and what are the limits of those rights. By saying there are natural rights, a society can set hard constraints that are not to be questioned.
The technologist attempting to build a pragmatic government in a very different medium is thus advised to see ‘natural rights’ as a set of historical best practices that limit rebellion or exodus while releasing social friction between power groups. Since many of these systems have long term feedback loops that are not readily apparent (corruption that accumulates over generations for example), the management lessons contained within the category of natural rights often appear non-intuitive to those with a short term perspective. “Freedom of speech”, for example, seems like it adds social disorder when in fact longer term it reduces hidden corruption and highlights important social trends.
2.7 Long Term
There are several topics that we didn’t get to address in detail. Governance is a procedural concept, not a static artifact. As such, the systems involved will slowly change as their playerbase learns, adapts and cycles out over time. All governance is faded with the question of how to manage this change.
III. How games apply to real government
We briefly tackled was how the systemic thinking in games might be applied back to real world governments. There are many mechanics currently in play in real governments. Identifying and approaching these mechanics with a game system designer’s gaze could elicit new insights as the boundaries of possibilities through play are explored. Isolating key issues that affect stability & happiness of the governed in a real-world situation within a game gives policy makers more information to make the decisions they need to make. Game theory used as a tool to study the systems.
3.1 Ways games might help real governments
3.3 Example of educating the public on policy via games
An Informed Populace (Encouraging Civic Duty, or emphasizing how gerrymandering disenfranchises voters and leads to erratic policy-making). In the case of a democratic form of government, an educated populace is important in maintaining a properly function democracy.
Gerrymandering (or Redistricting) is a complex process that happens behind the scenes, out of view of the public. Politicians vote to cut up and reform districts to help ensure their parties get re-elected. Game theory has modeled this process and game designers have boiled down the issue in the form of a game that is both fun to play and easy to understand. Geometry game of gerrymandering. The redistricting game http://redistrictinggame.org
Sim City: City building and management
3.4 Looking forward
We think it is a good idea for policy makers to seek out game system designers to help make information easily accessed and consumed. See next section for more discussion on how.
3.5 Idea: Making the policy games public
Pursuing the creation of a single government web portal and app that catalogues all of the distilled/highly consumable games for the public, in addition to the analyzed data from the simulations and the methods used in their development. The goal for this portal is to make it simple for players to try games that improve their understanding of government, as part of a broader move for greater government transparency.
IV. Games as a Petri Dish for Understanding Governance
Understanding how people get organized, how governance emerges, dissipates, and gets replaced by other organized structures are important questions that have impact on many fields, including social science, policy making, political science, governance bodies and rules, etc. Current work in fields such as social science or social psychology, provide general theories of the individual, such as psychology of emotions, personality, or cognition, or more theoretical or philosophical work that explain societal structures, such as Mann’s 4 social power structures [Mann 1945-2011]. Or, in economics for example, there is very well-defined theory concerning the effect of investment in education on long-term outcomes (income, criminality, fertility), as well as substantial empirical evidence describing strength of the effect of that investment on those outcomes.
In contrast to the relatively settled theory on individual behavior, theories on societal actions are diverse, in flux, and is the source of important divisions in many social science fields. This is the result of a serious gap between our knowledge of the individual or small social groups and formation of governance and societal structures. This division is symbolic of society's difficulty with even defining the relevant "problem set". There's a recognition that solutions evolve from the perceptions and decisions of millions of individuals, but there is little agreement on the mechanics and results of that process. Simplification enables reasoning at the expense of explanation.
Games provide an environment where we can understand these theories and experiment with governance structures and their effect on individuals and societies -- games as experimental platforms for social science.
Using games as experimental platforms, we envision various approaches. One approach is to generate a wide set of possible governance structures through variations in mechanics associated with communication, rules for rewards and punishments, rules for formations, social norms, reputation systems, etc. Another approach is to start with a minimalistic governance design and see how governance structures evolves through observing large groups of people interact within an MMO. A third approach is to use a specific platform, such as Minecraft, and add specific models of government or governance structures, such as socialism, and observe and analyze players’ behaviors and social group and rule formations.
In order to measure and observe players’ behaviors, a system for analyzing player behavior is needed. With the rise of game telemetry and analytics approaches [Seif El-Nasr 2013], we can easily track player behaviors and analyze group and individual behaviors over time. This allows us to answer many open questions, such as how individuals get organized based on structures that we encode or mechanics we supply, what are the cause and effect of social policies, and how can we understand and contextualize social powers, such as military, economic, ideology, and political discussed by Mann.
However, one of the major drawbacks of this approach is the issue of validity or assessment of theories formulated using this approach. A game as a platform is a new methodology for experimenting with several issues around governance. However, the instrument (the game) or the resulting structures need to be validated based as compared to other methodological structures that currently exist.
A related issue is deciding what kinds of problems to ask. The answer must come from a dialogue between designers and social scientists that attempts to resolve the trade-offs between the grandness of a question, the validity of our test of that question, and the value of the answer to everyone involved - developers, players, scientists, and indeed all of society. Scientist-as-incrementalist, designers-as-visionary, and policy-maker-as-serious problem solver can mutually benefit from one another, and a well-designed experiment is the portal through which these benefits can be realized.
Despite the limitations games present, the extreme flexibility the platform also has benefits in allowing us to think differently about governance structures in games and outside, as it expands our palette to view other possibilities that we may not have thought of before. Thus, allowing us to innovate and break from the current norm. The cost of testing a new form of government in the real world is enormous, and so most political science theories remain entirely untested at scale. Player populations in a game world could provide the data to test those hypotheses, whether they are minute variations on election procedures or entirely novel systems designed from scratch.
Beyond the benefits for researchers, there is also a potential for this experimental approach to enrich the governmental literacy of the playerbase in general. One can imagine game environments that move the rules of the in-game government to the forefront, highlighting the ramifications of each variation, and challenging the players to internalize forces at work. First hand participation in a novel governmental system could serve as an engaging new mechanic in a commercial game or a thought-provoking message in a serious game.
Mann, M. (1945-2011). The Sources of Social Power. 4 Volumes, Cambridge University Press.
Appendix: Brainstorming Notes
Other interesting petri dishes that riff on government
Existing government types that emerge organically
Propaganda and media
Egypt: Media made a big role of channeling people to two opposing groups.
Who should participate
Randomly grab 20 people, brainwipe and drop people back into the government. Rawlsian, veil of Ignorance.
Emergence of government from base generative seeds. Minimum requirements of governments.
Government in games
select a section:
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