Who plays whom? A videoludified reality

Daniel Muriel, PhD in Sociology and lecturer at the University of the Basque Country

On November 29th, ArsGames organised a talk at the Espai Societat Oberta entitled Patterns of Dark Design and Ludified Lives: Who Plays Whom? with Daniel Muriel. In a social context in which games and games in general, and video games and video games specifically, are presented as the models that govern our everyday reality, Muriel’s talk revolved around the question “who plays whom?

(Video)ludified society

At the beginning of the talk, the foundations were laid for understanding the social, cultural and political coordinates in which we live. The strong hypothesis that we live in a videoludified society was put forward. Several authors have worked the idea that, in the 21st century, we live in a large-scale gamified culture. A process that is increasingly advanced and in clear upward progression. However, Muriel argued that it is specifically the digitally mediated ludic artifacts that are postulated as one of the most effective ways of questioning ourselves and the reality that surrounds us. In a society so marked by the processes of digitalization, it is precisely digital play that can exert the greatest influence.

This provokes a paradigm shift. If, historically, video games have striven to imitate reality, it is now reality that begins to imitate the video game. We are entering fully into what the author calls the videoludification of social reality:

The videoludification of social reality would be the process by which different aspects of our daily lives are mediated by the logic of video games; when very different social contexts, such as the economy, personal relationships, work, leisure, education, war, politics, health, or consumption, are traversed by the aesthetics, mechanics, languages and practices of video games.

Consequences of the videoludified social reality

This has a series of consequences that it is important to address critically. In this way, reality is constructed as a (video)game scenario and, therefore, it will require a specific type of player: the gamer or video gamer as the prototypical subjectivity or identity of the present. Muriel invites us to think about our relationship with the medium in which we live.

After all, when we play a video game, it is clear that it plays with us as much as it plays with us. We have our capacity to act on what happens in it, but what we can do, how we do it and how far we are able to go within that work will always be limited by its system. Such is the reality in which we live, especially if it is a videoludified reality.

This has a number of implications at the ontological (how we understand what reality is), epistemological (how we approach that reality) and political (how we want that reality to be) levels:

  • Articulation of bodies, codes, technologies and systems. Video games and videoludified realities clearly show us that the social is constructed in the articulation of bodies, technologies, senses, algorithms, interfaces and systems (technical and social)
  • Neoliberalism, enthusiasm and fantasies of control vs. logics communal and participatory collaboration. Hegemonic political rationalities such as those of neoliberalism, which lead us to certain fantasies of control and freedom (“you can be whoever you want to be”) and which make individuals responsible for their situation independently of structural conditions, intersect with those, still minorised but thinkable, in where the common and collective collaboration emerge. The processes of videoludification, such as video games, can enable and promote both, but the tendency is to reproduce the dominant logics.
  • To what extent are the patterns dark? Beyond thefact that we are unaware of many of the dark patterns designs that govern many videogames and videoludified realities, in this case the tendency is increasing to make us see that we are in a large game scenario and that we are therefore players of a very real videogame. The language of the video ludic articulates many aspects of our everyday life and does not hide the fact that it wants to be a videogame that we have to play more or less obligatorily.

This approach was illustrated with a series of examples in areas as diverse as personal relationships, consumption, work, violence, education, bodies and health.

In all of them it was possible to observe how the logics, mechanics and languages of video games are used in the field of:

  • sex-affective relationships (Tinder and other dating apps)
  • the immediate consumption of goods and services (Amazon, Glovo, Uber, Cabify)
  • armed conflicts (the use of drones as gaming rooms)
  • the gamification of work activity (programs that turn work into a video game with rankings, scores and prizes), sport (running apps that work as mobile video games)
  • vaccination (using a virtual reality video game)
  • citizen participation and control (collaborative ways of managing a neighborhood through a Sim City type game or absolute control of the movements of its citizens as in some Chinese cities through AI cameras) among other examples.

In conclusion, we live in a society in which we have to learn to play and be played. Where we want to direct this play at the political, social and cultural level is what we must begin to define, always seeking fairer and more egalitarian societies.

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