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Playful politics

A parliamentary election is almost upon is here in modest-sized Denmark. The current right-of-center government, supported by the nationalist Danish People’s Party, is being challenged by a left-of-center axis. With Christian Democrats unlikely to reach the (non-taxing) cut-off of 2% and our most left-wing party balancing on that same edge. Also, Helle Thorning-Schmidt – leader of the Social Democrats – could theoretically be the country’s first female prime minister.

Anyway, much has been said (not least in my course on Digital Rhetorics) about the esteemed candidates’ use of online media (for instance by knowledgeable colleague Lisbeth Klastrup). So let us instead focus on that less-dominant genre the political game.

We know how Howard Dean laid the foundations, and how former colleague Gonzalo Frasca helped the president of Uruguay (if we don’t know, we may want to read Ian Bogost’s recent book Persuasive Games).
In present day Denmark, however, political video games do not exactly overwhelm the politically curious citizen. But I have found a couple of specimens:

Overbudsbold: Made by a team of ITU students for DR. The player chooses a leader of a political party and an opponent to engage in a type of tennis in which the “ball” is a money bag growing bigger each time it is pushed over the net. The game comments on the tendency for candidates to attempt to top one another in promises. The idea, I believe, is that this practice is nothing but a silly game. Overbudsbold stands apart from the crowd in my opinion by being actually fun to play in its own right.

Så’ det ud: The youth branch of the Liberal party (in government) have published a game in which you (as current minister) place opposition leaders in a catapult and fling them as far as you can. No political statement is being made, to put it mildly. It’s slightly odd that the “heroes” are as caricatured as the opposition here, since no other attempts are being made at fairness.

Kampvalg is a game made by game developers Press Play. Here (as in Overbudsbold) two party leaders face of. But Press Play have exhanged Pong for Tekken in terms of inspiration. The player must attack the opponent using a small selection of aggressive moves.

Finally, ValgSpil ’07 is another developer showcase. Here you, as the player, must “survive a press meeting”, answering questions from reporters in an attempt to keep the general opinion on your side. The argument seems to be that party leaders face difficult a difficult challenge of presenting their policies without estranging voter groups.

In summary, only one game (“Så’ det ud”) with a political stance. The others hint/claim that politics is war – and, in the case of Overbudsbold, a rather silly exercise.
A somewhat underwhelming collection, perhaps. Did I leave out anything worthwhile?

Happy voting tomorrow, and may the best candidate obtain the highest score!

Sociology Master Thesis gets censored

In what seems to me a difficult PR challenge to both, DR (the Danish BBC equivalent) and Copenhagen University‘s Department of Sociology have collaborated in censoring a sociology master thesis. As reported in Information (upon which the following is based) Mille Buch-Andersen did a study of the organizational culture of DR’s symphonic orchestra.

While her supervisor apparently assured her repeatedly that the master thesis was ready for submission, an angry email from DR seems to have caused a change of heart at the department who urged/threatened Buch-Andersen to withdraw the thesis and revise it before resubmitting.
Having revised and received her degree, Buch-Andersen now says (in my translation):

Academically, I am very disappointed by the department. I am also surprised – no, I am speechless about this. It’s against everything which I thought sociology to be. And it is the direct opposite of what we are taught. We learn that it is the role of sociology to uncover power relations, abuse of power and conflicts in this regard. And that it is part of the discipline that our reports can sometimes be unpleasant reading to some.

That one has to hurt.
While both DR and the department claim “breaches of research ethics” – and while I’m sure there are still-unrevealed aspects of the case – two (in this context) powerful organizations threatening a single student who claims to be a victim of politics and academic cowardice is difficult to paint in pretty colors. One wonders if far less harm had come of letting the student simply submit the original thesis; the chosen strategy seems both exagerated and desperate, as in “what do they have to hide which is so light-sensitive?”.

Action game boosts spatial skills

Researchers at the University of Toronto report that action game play increased players’ spatial skills, also over time. Female players get the biggest boost. Professor Ian Spence notes that

Clearly, something dramatic is happening in the brain when we see marked improvements in spatial skills after only 10 hours of game playing and these improvements are maintained for many months

That does seem a very considerable effect…

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