This article is published in Vigour Times. Here is an excerpt:
“Are you happy with the amount of power that you have in your life?” the curator asks us. Oh God, I think, chugging my coffee, isn’t it a bit early for these kinds of questions? I’m meant to indicate my answer by walking either to an area marked “yes” or another marked “no” on the terrace of Somerset House, overlooking the Thames, shimmering in the spring sunlight. The question makes me feel strangely exposed. I need clarification, follow-up questions. But the small group that I’m part of is already shuffling around to answer, and I end up, somewhat pathetically, equivocating in the middle. The next question is even tougher: “Do you think democracy should be more playful?”
You might be forgiven for asking what games and democracy have in common. Yet Now Play This, an exhibition of experimental game design that took place last weekend as part of London Games Week, offered a surprisingly robust exploration of the rich overlap between the two. “Games are basically the only cultural form that allow you to actively engage in a system of power,” says Now Play This director Sebastian Quack, “to explore having power over others and having power over yourself.” Like a democracy, a game is a system of rules created by a minority for a larger group. Games allow us to play different roles and so see the world and its problems from fresh perspectives, even empowering us to solve them ourselves.
The majority of mainstream games you might play on a home console do not ask sophisticated political questions. But this event was populated by experimental games from the artistic fringes of the gaming community. It opened with Ling Tan’s Playing Democracy, a giant game of Pong which allows the players to modify its rules, unbalancing the game’s fairness by adjusting the size of the goals and paddles on one side. I watched a child trounce his mother repeatedly because her paddle had shrunk so small that she couldn’t possibly win. He certainly seemed to be enjoying his lesson on systemic inequality in society.
Read the full article here.