Wave! the life and death of an american protest
Thomas Lodato, Thomas Barnwell, and I are working on a microworld prototype for Janet Murray’s class. We decided to flesh out a game concept I had last semester, modeling the experience of a grassroots sign-waving effort. I found out while reading Persuasive Games that Ian had already modeled this in part with his Howard Dean for Iowa game. The message there is that grassroots politics border on the mundane, and that such efforts steadily grow as more people become interested/involved. I wanted to understand a different phenomenon:
Driving down Peachtree Street, I passed an anti-war protest. This was the same event I’d passed hundreds of times in the past six years: a bunch of crunchy hippies, people dressed as Buddhist monks, elderly women dressed in black, et cetera, all demanding an end to war without any consideration of how exactly to pull off a safe and effective exit strategy from Iraq or Afghanistan. I understand the desire – I’m quite a super liberal myself – but I can’t advocate this kind of unstudied, ineffectual rant. I didn’t beep. Everybody else did.
Traveling with the same caravan on cars, we came upon a labor strike a half-mile down the road. A bunch of African American laborers, dressed in the construction clothes, were picketing a work site. These people had legitimate grievances, and legitimate demands for how their grievances should be addressed (this is the nature of labor disputes). Yet, nobody was beeping. These people were the same liberals who supported an end to war in Iraq. Why weren’t they supporting another liberal stance, labor rights? I laid on my horn, a long-sustained honk in a corridor of silence.
What this example showed me was that the assumption that grassroots outreach was always going to gain ground was false. The success of a demonstration relies on the political climate of the area where it takes place, the politics, race, and socio-economics of the passersby, and other organizational constraints such as time, weather, density of protestors, and frequency/spatial distance of recurring demonstrations. Our game models this, based on a series of algorithms and census/Gallup/Pew/voting record data.
EDIT: Here’s a link to v1.03a of Wave! That means it’s an alpha, so the cars are driving backward. So it goes. It ain’t nearly finished, but I think we’ve shown that an info-vizualization game is possible. For some reason Firefox isn’t reading some of the external files, so try it in Safari if the signs don’t show up above the hands.