Chungking Espresso

Wave! the life and death of an american protest

Posted in Projects, Schoolwork by Simon Ferrari on April 5, 2009

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.


3 Responses

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  1. Nick LaLone said, on April 5, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    I recently watched Michael Moore’s Slacker Uprising:

    He really picked up on what exactly is going on with the younger generations today. I believe that the specialization and continuing fine tuning of the specialization of college degrees create more of a disconnect between all encompassing social ideas and specific ones.

    People seem to only be latching on to specific ideas these days. I don’t know that it’s so much that people aren’t seeing a bigger picture or are simply unable to see past their own training.

    In my school we see, as with almost all schools, professors interested in a particular subject. I always find it fun to talk about other topics with them. They’re interested and they’ve heard about it in passing but they know just as much as anyone else on it. If you talk about their subject matter, you get a whole other slew of things.

    It’s such an interesting world we live in.

  2. Simon Ferrari said, on April 5, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I don’t know if I’d blame college for specialization. For me, it’s that I don’t want to write or make something until I’m sure that I won’t be re-inventing the wheel. But so much has been written about videogames, and so many games have been made, that I need to do quite a lot of reading and playing to make sure I’m not just copying someone else on accident. I don’t even have the time to read all the directly relevant things, let alone articles on other subjects that I’m not as interested in professionally.

    On the other topic: all encompassing social ideas don’t make sense to me, so I don’t know if I mind their passing much. You’re into ANT, right? Is it sort of like complex network theory, decentralized and based on unit- instead of systems-operations? That’s the way to go: to stop trying to shout at people that they’re forgetting Rousseau’s social contract or Locke’s civil society, and realize that they’re making their own social systems just by doin’ what they do.

  3. Nick LaLone said, on April 5, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Well, to me it’s not so much want of street cred as it is forcing myself to write about a particular topic ad nauseum. As you can see from my previous entries, i’ve simply kept on writing.

    I decided to go the route with the an actual domain for 2 big reasons. 1). I need to understand DNS and that for my normal job and 2). (And this might be contradictory), I want to find other people writing about the same thing and for them to find me.

    As for specialization. I don’t know that I blame college specifically. I used it as an example but perhaps this was rash of me. I still believe that specialization has a lot to do with the issue you noticed, but it is more complex than that.

    The problem with all encompassing social ideas is the same as with a generalization. Generalizations are possible to make with enough data. Drives, Fads, Popular Opinions, all of these things can be gotten at rather easily. However, the problem here is that the way these things are gotten at is through talking to enough people to get an idea of a trend, a general trend.

    The first thing anyone says to this is that they aren’t like that…or their uncle isn’t. The fact that these are usually the response to generalizations show that they really don’t work as well as we’d like them to.

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