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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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