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Notes on project AJI (part 2)

This is the second part of a post about AJI, a self-commissioned research project about public protests. Read the first post or continue reading below.

Looking back on the talks we gave in the past few years, they’re obviously (and naturally) precedents for what we’re doing with AJI now. I’m really happy we’re returning to the subject and are contributing to the conversation by making a thing.

To summarize those talks, it started with New Games for New Cities which I presented at FutureEverything back in 2011. This was mainly a critique of the prescriptive nature of the typical gamification approach—which back then was still being hotly debated. I focused on how open-ended play supports the development of self-regulation, a skill very much in demand in today’s urban societies.

Futureeverything 007 038

The Transformers, which I presented at dConstruct in the same year, picks up where New Games left off. Against the background of the London riots (which had just taken place) I reflected on social fragmentation in city neighborhoods. My gambit was that although technology seems to contribute to such escalations (and also to the fragmentation that leads up to them) the same technology can be put to positive uses. Games can act as testbeds for new ways of living together, and function as meeting places for disparate groups. I went on to describe some aspect that I think such games must have: light-weight, meme-like and networked.

Riots in Tottenham

Finally, in The Social Contract Put at Play, which I delivered at Lift12, I revisited the dConstruct material through a different lens. I tried to go into more depth about what the sources of civil discontent are—in short, a lack of agency. I also used an anthropological model of public events as a way to understand how games might function as a tool for regaining agency. In a nice full-circle way, I end up arguing that again, open-endedness and generativity are key aspects of such public-games-as-new-rituals.

The social contract put at play lift12 022

However, with all this talk of alleviating the stresses that lead to public outbursts—public games as pressure valves—I think I neglected to contrast riots to protests. They are different beasts, as Wouter Vanstiphout excellently shows in a recent Strelka interview. I think what we’re focusing more on with AJI now is to support ludic acts of resistance in public. To some extent this is a continuation of the kinds of playful protests that for example the Provos engaged in. And the standing man stuff that happened in Turkey is a great recent example.

Provos with white banners


What I’m interested in, is how we can provide citizens with playful tools for resistance. I enjoy the idea of re-appropriating some of the tropes so common in social apps today to further the interest of the public, instead of corporations. (This is in fact a big chunk of what I talk about in my contribution to The Gameful World, which is due to appear soon, I hope.)

Anyway, Alper, maybe you can wrap things up by summarizing some of the things we considered doing with this project but rejected, and what we’ve decided to focus on?

Concluded in part 3.

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