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The Subversion Game: An Interview With Harvey Smith
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The Subversion Game: An Interview With Harvey Smith

October 5, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 8 Next

It feels like it's in some ways hard to educate people about that stuff, but in another way, how better than in a game where you introduce things incrementally, and piecemeal? People get a tiny new bit of information, and then discover what that does.

HS: I would like to feel like at some point that BlackSite is a turning of the tide in the mainstream. I've felt the way I feel for a long time about Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz and all those fucking evil bastards. I said in London recently that our government is full of monsters. I could go on and on, but the problem with the privatized future -- which I think is the future of America -- is that sure, commerce can do things more efficiently, but that is putting the value of efficiency above all other values.

There was this great story from a California town that privatized their traffic lights. They wanted somebody to come in and put cameras on all the traffic lights, and this company said, "We can do that, but we have to take control of the traffic lights." And this is a new thing, a corporation controlling the traffic lights -- wild, right? So they did it, and it worked beautifully. Every light in the city was new, and they all had a camera for accidents. It was great, except that the injury and death rates started to rise, and they couldn't figure out why. What happened is that the company figured out that if they tweaked the algorithm around yellow light duration, people couldn't coast through a yellow light as easily, and they'd get tickets, and the company would get more money, because they made money for every ticket. Of course, it also created more accidents, so it's a great example.

I want some things controlled by the free market. That's something I want controlled by a government entity, even if it's bureaucratic, because the number one value of it would be safety and not profit. So I agree, that incremental thing is a good point. I don't know if you know George Lakoff -- he wrote Don't Think of an Elephant, which is a brilliant 100-page book that I think everyone ought to read. It talks about how the world divides into either the strict father mental model, or the nurturing parent model, and they have different values. You can never make sense to the other person, because your values are fundamentally different.

I got to exchange mail with him during that eight-month period when I was unemployed. I was so furious about politics that I exchanged mail with him, and said, "Hey, I have this idea for this game." It's like SimCity, kind of. It lets you run a country for a while, and you're allowed to implement policies in either direction. You can be like, "Hey, you committed a crime. You've got to go to prison. While you're in prison, you're going to get a high school degree, then a college degree, and we're going to give you job skills and make you work out every day. It's very socialistic, but we're going to make it as pleasant a place as possible. It's not going to be gray, and you won't be raped in the shower. You're going to come out with a sense of confidence. You're educated. You're a craftsman. We're going to rehabilitate you."

On the other hand, you're free in your country to implement a policy that's like, "Throw the key away. Punish those bastards with stricter and longer sentencing, and then let's run it a few generations and see what happens. Let's take the data as objectively as we can." What happens to the recidivism rates in the countries that rehabilitate, versus what happens in the country where you go to prison for ten years if you smoke pot?

So like America versus Sweden, or something?

HS: Exactly! Let's see what happens. Let people win the game by doing the right thing, was kind of my thought. He was a really fun guy to talk to, and he turned me on to some companies like who said, "We're too busy trying to win the election right now!" I wish they had funded me instead of doing whatever they did during the election! But I agree with the comment about the incremental approach, and I don't think you can yell at people and say, "This is how you ought to be!" I think you just have to say, "Here's a story, and here's a moral tale," and they get that.

As long as you make people consider consequences. You can't turn a Republican into a Democrat by playing a video game, but you can make someone think about stuff. You can make them think about issues, and make them think, "Oh hey, I feel like I should've done something there." One thing that really gets me is V for Vendetta. Did you see it?

HS: Brilliant!

It was one of the most politically charged movies I've seen in so long. Power to the people... it was amazing, and nothing happened from that. No one cared! Rooms were packed with all the right kind of people, like the people who don't think about this stuff, and they continued not thinking about it.

HS: "That guy's pretty badass with those knives!" (laughs) Yeah, it's funny. Even pointing out to someone, like we did in Deus Ex -- and we talk about this a little in BlackSite, but it's not a role-playing game -- how our government funds somebody one year and then sends troops to fight them the next year, is very expensive. One year they call them freedom fighters. The next, they call them terrorists. It's the same fucking group of people. That can go totally unnoticed unless you point out to someone: In terms of cognitive linguistics, there's a frame going on here, where "freedom fighter" says all the right shit. I want to support freedom fighters. Who doesn't? I want to be a freedom fighter! "Terrorist" is [bad]. And they're the same guys. It's like people are controlling you. We're all these little machines that can be lit up in certain ways.


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