Benjamin R. Barber interview


In my lecture “Design Reboot”, I urged designers to think not just about the good feelings that people get from playing our games, but what the consequences are of those feelings (and of the time spent playing the games). This is a difficult concern to express to people who don’t already understand, and I am trying to come up with more effective ways of explaining.

This month, Bill Moyers interviewed Benjamin R. Barber about modern capitalism and its undesirable effects. I encourage everyone to watch this interview (it’s 23 minutes long, broken into 3 parts). Barber’s points are ideologically in the same neighborhood as mine, but his scenario is much bigger in scale (applying to everyone in the world, not just game players).

Here are links to the interview:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

One thing I find interesting: to consider the picture he paints regarding the infantilization of the modern adult, and think about how that dovetails with modern game design (especially reward-schedule design like MMOs or Diablo-style games or even Peggle).


9 thoughts on “Benjamin R. Barber interview”

  1. The infantilization is usually a consequence of disempowerment strategies rather than a coherent message in itself. Systems of control operate by convincing people they don’t have options. Disempowered people behave irresponsibly and without foresight. A lot of modern marketing is about convincing people they have no choice but to spend a bunch of money on useless crap. In other words, if a consumer/voter/gamer doesn’t even have the vocabulary or experience to think about a problem, they certainly can’t take action against it.

    Fortunately game design seems less terminally broken than the world at large. There are plenty of positive counter-examples to the drug dealer MMO model. It’s our duty to keep making more. The broader the canvas of game design is seen to be by the public, the greater opportunity we give them to behave responsibly and choose things that enrich them rather than sap away their lives.

    The interesting link I’ve always seen between games, social change and free will is that games, more than other media, can make people aware of their own power to change the world by giving them meaningful choices and consequences. A generation raised on a diet of rich interactivity may not necessarily be more politically active, but they wouldn’t grow up thinking it was impossible to be so. Past generations haven’t had that advantage.

  2. I suspect that the entire game industry would fall into the “Manufactured Need” category. Whether you’re thinking of games as entertainment or art, they certainly don’t rank up there with alternative energy and clean water in the big sorted list of human needs.

    That said, he makes a lot of good points. I could certainly get by with less Thing.

  3. Well remember that he had two basic categories, manufactured needs/wants and real needs/wants. And I think thats where the BIG comparison exists.

    Games with scheduled rewards are analogous to a manufactured want. Ding you leveled, now you are having more fun than before. Whereas the novel game, where accomplishment is rewarded, is a “real” want, you have fun by accomplishing and during the accomplishing, and rewards may or may not be awarded (but are still nice).

    One thing I find interesting is the video advocates group social interaction (and decision) to aid in solving this problem as consumers. The irony is that the largest communities of gamers are in MMO games, most of which will fight tooth-and-nail that the games they are playing are worthwhile.

    Does this mean that as gamers we have to actually go out and MEET each other?

  4. Art isn’t necessarily a manufactured need if you agree with the intent of the phrase “man does not live by bread alone”. It doesn’t help us stay alive but it makes our lives more worth living.

  5. “if a consumer/voter/gamer doesnÒ€ℒt even have the vocabulary or experience to think about a problem…”
    They certainly won’t realize/aknowledge there is a problem in the first place. πŸ™‚

    Jonathan, after listening and watching your Design Reboot session, I must say I’ve been totally seduced and “relieved” by your vision. A game lover, I’ve been a composer and sound designer for 10 years in this industry (6 of them spent as an audio director for a big mobile gamling company). A hobbyist designer/basic programmer myself, I’ve met tons of game designers in all the studios I’ve worked for, some talented ones, some other not so much, and shared thoughts with all of them.

    I was really disappointed at how even the most gifted ones genreally have a very narrow vision of their art (or should I say craft?). Incapable of seeing themselves and their work as a part of the bigger picture that our society is. To me, this is irresponsible, but I’ve been labelled as a conservative grandma for using this term. πŸ™‚

    As depressing as it is, I can alsmot understand why the common gamer doesn’t relly care about becoming more than what they are today and deliver a message or exploring questions in making you experience various possible answers to that question. But I find it rather devastating that so few designers seem to care more than the average gamer, if not less (because I firmly believe that gamers or potential gamers just don’t know what they’re missing yet but will love it the day it exists).

    To me, video games can’t reach maturity as long as most of them are made just thinking of “what’ts fun to do?” (and that’s the better example). Instead, I think we need to reach of phase where more games are made by people who asked themselves first: “What do I want to say ?”. And therefore, the people making the games must have something to “say” in the first place.

  6. Ofcourse the biggest problem of a democracy is that it makes life easier for people the closer they are to the middle. That takes care of the bad apples but it also skims off the flying stars.

    So if we would be counting gamer votes for best game, WoW would win hands down, or maybe a game like solitaire or something.

    Fortunately it allows some individuals to make sacrifices and do something different and less generic and derivative but it’s pretty rare to see that something spike out and move the middleground. Philosophy I think would be the basis for that and games most definitely can inspire and provoke.

    But, saying that it makes things better is like manufacturing a need. Of course we don’t need games to exist! We don’t need art or religion, we just need some food and water, warmth and shelter. But it sure helps making existence more comfortable πŸ™‚

    Don’t kick the WoW players anymore, they are just being comfortable. Let them be, spike out on your own, move the middle ground if you will but don’t claim things will be better.
    Maybe the industry will fall and die if WoW is the only thing left, so what, at least they enjoyed life. Our wish to see things change, to evolve and survive does not mean we are better. We are just enjoying ourselves doing it right?

    Live and let live πŸ™‚

    Or die and let die?

    Has the survival (of the human race) really been a good thing?

    Hah, kind of getting off the point here. I say thanks for spiking out!

  7. On the Social Values of Gaming …

    This thread is very dear to my heart, and gives me great hope about the future of gaming. I am NOT an experienced gamer, really, and a total cyber-dunce, so what you will hear now is coming from the perspective of a (!GULP!) middle-aged gamer who has only recently come into the player side of the industry.

    Need I say … I really enjoy my games and often play for hours past the time I have something better to do. Yes, all the WOW and “Ding” (accomplishment/reward) aspects of gaming keep it fun and give a sense of linear motion. (This is something I find many gamers cannot live without … they want to get through the game, rather than be IN it …

    As far as gaming as it relates to “real human needs.” … While I TOTALLY agree with that statement on a certain level … (biological need), on another level, it is clear that all animal beings (read:creatures) prone to … or rather, have an instinctual need for, “playing” as an act of development. Many social and physical skills are learned in this way. In the cyber age it seems to me that video gaming is a natural extension of our human need for that. That is why games which challenge the mind or, for heavens sake, give one a sense of choosing “values” according to their social perspective. Games which combine these ideas with a quickening/honing of mental reaction skills are my faves … and this can range from say, a Tomb Raider type to something completely non-goal oriented (sort of) like SKATE.

    One example I can think of is “Olbivion.” Not my type of game, for sure, but i can appreciate it’s value to others. My roomie loves it, but he’s one of those gamers who goes around weilding his deathly powers against any number of innocent characters, just for the fun of it. Then he get dozenses (?) of levels up only to find out that he can’t access many of the as-yet-unattained status because his character has such a nefarious history. I thought that was kinda cool. He was really bummed. The funny thing is, shearly out of my personal perspective on life, I kept asking him, “Are you sure you ought to be running around killing all those “innocentS” like that. We both laughed pretty good over that one. And the funny thing is, at that point it wasn’t worth it to him to go through the numerous gaming hours required to undue his bad rep. I guess bad is a perspective here, cause some may want to become an “evil lord” or something as such, and I suppose that’s their right, and not necessarily a detriment.

    So the point comes home again to the fact that I often wonder about guys (read: guys/gals) who create these games and I wonder how much thought goes into these issues. It’s easier to be a naive gamer like me an think “this game would be so much better if only … ” but the problem is that to conceptualize what a game could do and to understand the tech/programming side of the challenge to bring it to the screen are totally different.

    So again, I encourage the discussion and evolutions generated from the perspectives I see here. Most of the time I have no idea what you guys are talking about when say bitmap or renderer or several other basic programmer terms. I leave that to y’all, and will eagerly follow the discussions as I hope the tone and “nut” of your views here make it all the way to the highest levels of corporate, large scale gaming.

    But on a final note, the fellow above who said “let the WOW lovers have their fun” (paraphrased) has a good point. You all are the exceptional mind, and people, on average, are just kinda average … and that general populace mentality is something you can influence, though probably not control …

    the dankster

  8. Hey Jon,
    Based on liking Consumed, I’m thinking you might also find value in Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman. It talks a bit about how television (and by extension, other forms of entertainment these days) changes the dynamics of our thought and communication. Very interesting reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *