Sunday, August 17, 2008

Oli asks wrt Superstruct :

Have I missed something?

It looks like this 'massively multiplayer' game is basically a themed blog where people 'play' by playfully imagining the future.

Which is clearly my cue to say a bit more.

No, you pretty much got it. It's "role-playing" in the good old fashioned "use your imagination" sense rather than the video-game-inna-dungeon sense.

The assistant game-master role is a kind of moderator / collator. Somewhere between stimulating discussion by starting forum threads, finding the best posts on the subject, highlighting them, and bringing them together into a wiki to create a more intelligible permanent record. There's also some giving of feedback to players in the form of rewards for "good ideas" or "good play". Which is obviously going to be subjective (although based on more than one moderator's assessment.)

Oli's also right that this is coming from the science-fictional wing of futurology; the super-threats are deliberately played-large. Think "scenario planning" not "forecasting"; we're not aiming for the most accurate prediction of the near future but to stimulate the most creative thinking about it. The fascination is in the new institutions that the players (representing humanity) have to invent to help cope with these threats. The aim is quite serious, to use a game-like format to gather a wide-range of opinions and suggestions, which the Institute of the Future will then "reduce" into more accessible form.

For me there are two reasons I'm excited to participate :

1) the scenarios are obviously interesting in themselves. My personal expectations are not as apocalyptic as the game's, but I do think that peak-oil and the end of cheap-energy, climate change and the disruption of our food-production patterns, the break-down of the nation-state, and pervasive, non-state-controlled surveillance technologies and weapons, are almost inevitably coming in the next 20-40 years. I believe that new diseases and large scale migrations are quite possible.

So what are we going to do about them? Are we just going to carry on as normal until we crash into circumstances? Or can we start doing some planning at least?

2) The other interest is the method itself. How good are the internet and the social software tools we have at enabling constructive discussion and problem solving? Does this kind of "game" help? As you know I vary between enthusiastic boosterism and occasional crises of doubt.

I believe that the overall trend is good, but there's a need for new tools and styles of discussion. There's a danger of ignoring and talking past those you disagree with; you can destroy intelligent public discussion in a hail of FUD.

Here's a chance to work with people trying to apply the tools and the "game" milieu to this problem. Let's see how it works or how it can be made to do so.

As I see it, the game occupies an interesting position (assuming that we get the expected numbers of players). To gather information from larger groups of people you usually use something like a market (eg. a prediction market) or maybe large scale opinion polls or "market research". All of which reduce the information contribution of the individual dramatically. On the smaller scale you have journals that bring together papers by multiple researchers or reports with for or five authors.

Superstruct sits somewhere between : there's an attempt to systematically gather ideas from an order of magnitude of 1000s using a mixture of human selection (organized in a fairly flat hierarchy) with some automation (the social software tools) and some game-mechanics to structure the contributions. I don't know how it will work out, and I suspect the organizers don't either. But it will be fun finding out.

All readers of this blog are invited (and positively encouraged) to join in, of course.

Disclosure, this is actually a (modestly) paid gig (ie. being a game-master). Although clearly I wouldn't have applied if I hadn't believed it was interesting.


Matt Arnold said...

You mentioned social software tools. Which ones?

Composing said...

matt : don't know the exact details. I don't think anything very exotic : blogs / discussion fora / wikis I definitely know.

Some of it's going to be on a specific site which I haven't seen yet so not sure what features the discussion forum has, for example.

For the stuff that's off that, out in the open I'd expect some kind of microblogging too ... but I'm just speculating at this point.