“There were also meta-design games like coalescing doctors’ reports into scores for game designers to determine effectiveness. The meta-design field was the largest gaming industry in the city, and countless workers designed and played games to gather data from the population and translate it into forms that could be easily analyzed and manipulated by other social management games. They then devised methods for implementing the outcomes of those games to affect the population as a whole. According to the history blogs, the concept and expansion of meta-gaming as social management is largely credited to the postdoctoral research of Dr. Sommer so many years ago and is considered among the core founding tenets of Meld society.” – Garden Enclave, Bk. II, ch. 3
I am ambivalent about and fascinated by the book Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal, who writes on the nascent work of game designers to create games that could be forces for social and technological impact and change. According to her theory, many social and scientific tasks can be analyzed using the theory that they are games to be won or lost. The most fleshed out examples that she cites are games that allow players to design new antibiotics and find solutions for questions about the human genome, but there are many more currently being designed.
The theory behind social management gaming is that in addition to technological or scientific problems, any social problem can be considered in terms of a game. If this seems too out-on-a-limb for you, I’d refer you to the work and writings of the late Aaron Swartz, one of the tech pioneers behind much of the roiling Internet sea of commercial and social intent as we know it today.
His later work focused on social activism, but he approached it as a techie with a game – how do I stop this bill from being passed? How do I get this law repealed? His ideas (scroll down for a taste) for grassroots organizing are the gold standard used today by internet activists. The conspiracy theorist in me believes that’s why the U.S. government went after him so hard, leading to his suicide.
Of course, I’m a science fiction writer, and I’m interested in the flip side – the next iterations of burgeoning technology. What happens when the techie kids aren’t the ones agitating to fight the power but are the ones who are actually in power, trying to manage the world? My theory is that technologies to game the system will shift seamlessly into technologies to game the populace – technologies of game meta-design. In order to get anything done in a democracy, you need to mobilize the people, and meta-design consists of figuring out how to lay the framework for games to do so. Then population management (mind control) is just prolonged, conservative mobilization.
The conspiracy theory with a grain of truth is that mind control through media is just another game going on from the ad agencies, music producers, news organizations, and political consultants. My books extend that theory into a dystopian future. The point of mind control is to give everyone what they think they need with the least expenditure possible.
The growing trend toward massively-data-driven everything – scientific research, marketing, entertainment, politics, urban planning, business production, investment, etc. – is just another way of saying that we’re treating more and more aspects of life as games to play and win.
This is one of the main themes of Garden Enclave, which casts a wary critique on the consequences of such a mindset. This critique is key to understanding the twist at the end – namely that if your ultimate goal is to fix the planet’s ecology and myriad social problems, “winning” may not be everything.