Politics is Game Design

It’s all a matter of scale, really.

I’ve always had an interest in game design. I didn’t know that’s what it was called at first, I just found it fun to draw fictional maps on paper, imagining boss-battles play out in my head and – more often than not – imagine what game X would be like if I got to make a game like it. After playing World of Warcraft… no, that’s wrong.. after nudging Interface Elements within an Interface for more time than actually playing the game, just to throw the Interface away for a new one as soon as I finished… I realized what I was doing.

Meanwhile, in a completely different part of the head between my shoulders, some brain cells started having opinions. And a lot of them. And discussing the topic of politics back and forth.

And, suddenly, I was knee-deep into student union politics while studying games design. And felt like both parts benefited for the other. I believe I now know why.

Ask yourself, what is politics, really? Some likely say “a bunch of people who know and do nothing but talk”. Others may say “Game of Thrones, but less action (and sex scenes)”. I guess they’d both be right. But, really, isn’t politics about acting on a core belief and, together with like-minded people, draw or adapt the rules that governs society? I would say it is, and I’ll build the rest of this reasoning upon this premise.

Now ask yourself what game design is. This usually has as many answers as there are self-proclaimed designers. Some focus on the artistic and the creative, comparing the task to that of how a film director uses all channels of stimuli movies bring to send a message. Others focus on the technical side, saying it’s to mathematically construct the a logical rule-set that creates a system. I’m going for a premise somewhere in between these, saying game design is to mathematically construct a rule-set and use all channels of stimuli to create a system that send a message.

Do you see a similarity here? Maybe all I’ve done is imply it, so let’s make it more explicit.

Politics is about connecting with people – like-minded or of a completely different opinion – and either have one side convince the other or, more commonly, find an agreement both parties can accept. This to create rules, incentives and punishments to encourage a desired behaviour. Game Design is about connecting with people – engineers and artists, producers, business, marketing and other designers (one or more of these can be the same person) – and either have one side convince the other or find an agreement all parts can accept. This to create rules, incentives and punishments to encourage a desired behaviour.

In other words, politics is game design. And, very often, the game designer plays a game of politics (see? The “Politics is like Game of Thrones” had a point – although I’d say the latter was about the former than the other way around), navigating between the interests of artists, engineers, designers, producers, business and marketing.

Basically, they’re both about communication – convincing, debating, defining, change.

It’s just a matter of scale, really.


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