I’d like to invite you to an event I’m helping to organise along with a few friends, in which politicos and gamers will be expected to mingle and swap ideas. Get a ticket here (it’s next Thursday in central London)
Studying politics often involves a detailed immersion in the sociology of the various institutions – parties, the cabinet, pressure groups, Whitehall, the core executive, and so on. We look at the Machiavellian intrigues, the mechanisms, the workflows and the underlying structures that always emerge to confound those who don’t understand them.
To an innovation-minded politico, it’s fairly obvious that social media concepts such as collaborative filtering, collaborative authoring, social networking, conversational structures, distributed wisdom and crowdsourcing are of interest.
In the political blogosphere, we take ideological sides and engage in inconclusive online flame-wars with libertarians, nationalists, conservatives and the wrong sorts of socialists (99% of them give the rest of us a bad name, y’know?)
It’s a game of sorts. A joust. And you can’t understand why political parties all seem to be very similar until you know Anthony Downs’ adaption of Hotelling’s game theory either.
So these kinds of games are important. They’re a way of rationalising the comfort-zone that political animals sit in. They’re another way of exploring the philosophical, moral and practical dimensions that public debate occupies and the power-structures that create the boundaries in which it operates.
Politicos understand narratives. We’re a well-read bunch. A lot of us studied literature and have classier-than-thou DVD collection. We read long articles in The New Statesman in which competing narratives are weighed and measured. The Big Society, Red Tory, Blue Labour, The Third Way, and so on.
We need narratives to keep us sane. During elections, we have to make promises we know we won’t be able to keep, and we justify them with plans that we know (deep down) won’t survive the first engagement with reality. As Woody Allen said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”
But surely political innovation is about finding ways of game-changing politics? Aren’t all of these options listed above simply falling into the trap of using new media tools to do the job of old politics?
The interactive world of gaming offers a different way of dealing with situations. Where politicos traditionally have retreated to moral and philosophical abstrations, the designers of games know how to appeal to many of the reflexes that politicos have long forgotten.
They draw players into ambitious problem-solving situations. If we could bring comparable quantities of human ingenuity to bear on many real-life problems, perhaps we could sort out the voting system and work out what to do with the House of Lords, and be finished doing it all before teatime?
Increasingly, for younger voters, gaming is often a way of life. What does this mean for narrative-led politics?
I think that politicos need to develop their contacts in the gaming community. I suspect gamers would welcome hearing seasoned political operators describing the problems that need to be overcome.
For this reason, along with a few friends, the Political Innovation project is organising a few meetups. Sign up for the first one here – and join our Facebook or Google Group to get notified of subsequent events. If you’re coming, sign up to the Lanyard page to get the conversation going beforehand.
Postscript: A few links I didn’t work into this post, but worth reading anyway: