Role For A Thought Leadership Check | 2008


Seeing Like A State, Video Games, Neoliberalism, and how DnD influenced Computational Late Capitalism.


1933: Organisational Memory

Permanently moved is a personal podcast 301 seconds in length, written and recorded in one hour by @thejaymo


Role For A Thought Leadership Check

Yesterday a thought came to me as I was deep in building a spreadsheet for someone and I tweeted the following: β€œAbsolutely struck by an argument that extends seeing like a state and explains why DnD fucked up modernity. But I’m too busy to do anything except scribble some notes”

So with no podcast topic in mind for today, lets try and make a run at this half baked idea with nothing more than 4 bullet points and the 2 replies to the folks who asked me to elaborate further. What follows is basically a splurge with very little research or evidence. If there’s something too it, or if i’m completely wrong remember you can always contact me directly.

I woke up this morning to the hashtag critical role in my feed. Last night the team played DnD onstage in a theatre in front of loads of people. I think it’s safe to say that RPGs are having a moment. The Geek and Sundry D&Diesel episode with Vin Diesel from back in 2015 has over 4 million views, Vin Diesel of course is one of the most well known advocates for DnD, alongside Dame Judi Dench of course who played d&d with him on the set of Chronicles of Riddick. We’ve also reached the point somewhat unbelievably, where former allies, video game nerds punch down on RPG players on youtube and, RPG players on Youtube punch down on tabletop war gamers. Despite all three being intrinsically linked at birth. 

I’ve been interested in RPG commentary recently, with reference to the concept of story dwelling i brought up a few weeks ago. In particular how Role playing in the late 70’s followed drama’s deletion of the performer spectator divide to create something that was in fact premodern. Whilst the links between theater and RPGs are interesting. What is fascinating to me the most right now is the role of the systems, or simulation within an RPG.

There’s three books that i’d like to recommend to you if you are interested in where todays half baked ideas arises from:

If you are unfamiliar with the book Seeing like a State. I gave a brief overview of the thesis back in Episode 1933 on Organisational Memory it is about the emergence of modern states and their bureaucratic assumptions. It charts the multi-century long process in which states reorganised the societies they governed, to make them more legible to the apparatus of governance. The word β€œLegibility” is not a metaphor here. It refers to the actual visual/textual sense of the word as in what is described. This means Trees in rows, square fields, marriage certificates etc. Legibility quells the state’s anxiety that arose from the apparent chaos of the world by making it rational. The abstraction of legibility into governance systems etc happens at the order once the world has been rationalised. 

DnD was invented in 1974, and very quickly changed the world. If you don’t believe me, that’s what the book recommendations were for. Anyways, It’s important to remember that during the late 70’s and early 80’s video games sat alongside role playing games. As part of the same scene. In the old early 80’s editions of White Dwarf magazine you’ll find reviews and discussion of video game mechanics sat side by side with RPG articles. Dnd gave videogames the statline. And without that we wouldn’t have hearts, extra lives, inventories, strength etc. All the UX grammars that we understand as fundamental to the videogame experience.

This world changing creativity of course was occurring alongside the rise of neoliberalism and the beginning of planetary scale computation..Stat Lines in RPGs and video games however aren’t literal, in a legibility sense. Stat lines are metaphors or abstractions used to simulate action and agency within the created world of the game. In 1983 Ian livingston wrote β€œWith RPGs ever growing in the general public’s eye, who knows what will be generated next?”

Well, 40 years later we end up in 2020 with a situation where companies like Experian take lots of information about you, simulate their version of reality given that information and give you a credit score as if it were literal. An entry into your statline in the computationally mediated world of late capitalism.

Neoliberalism is about markets. Computation and simulation allowed capitalism fool itself into reducing metaphors to statistical certainly. And as my friend Alex Andrews pointed out to me this morning when I asked him what he thought of today’s idea β€œquantification is a condition of possibility for neoliberal markets” .

We now act in a world that is suffused with overlapping and competing simulations. How different institutions and companies see you and the world around them (again see the Organisation Memory Episode). 

What this half baked idea is trying to convey is that I have a suspicion that without dnd, the world where Facebook builds up complex consumer profiles and stat lines about us, are entirely based on the logic of DND mechanics via video games in the context of world simulation and computational legibility.

This whole podcast is so speculative that i probably need to role for a Thought Leadership Check I think.

I’m probably 7up on a 2D6.

*Rolls Dice*

Damn it.

The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.

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6 responses to “Role For A Thought Leadership Check | 2008”

  1. […] up with one another and their shared origins. Some of this came through in the pre-pandemic days of Episode 20-08. Where I was thinking aloud on how DnD, Stats and Simulation fucked up modernity. Some other bits […]

  2. […] share is that their IP’s / story worlds are open to audience agency. I’ve written elsewhere on the deletion of the performer spectator divide in RPGs. This trend will only continue at bigger […]

  3. […] It’s revealing that early D&D games played at CalTech and MIT were notoriously punishing. Lee Gold, a collaborative player, wrote in her fanzine in 1975 that at CalTech: β€œthe dungeon master is playing against the players”. Which given the venue, elegantly sums up computer system design ever since. See episode 20-08. […]

  4. […] have however, made a proto version of this argument: How β€˜DnD, Stats and Simulation may have fucked up neoliberal modernityβ€˜ on my podcast in […]

  5. […] each other and the world. One of the benefits of making an essay podcast weekly is that I can go back and pinpoint the exact seed of this idea.Given that my book is about the Metaverse, computing and D&D – the One D&D […]

  6. […] Role For A Thought Leadership Check […]

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