Dabord’s Spectacle, and a design idea

I was reading the Imbecile’s Guide when my phone buzzed. It was the game Tiny Tower telling me that it was my turn to play.

Tiny Tower is a really popular indi mobile game that falls under the category of business simulation aka tycoon style of gaming. Three people made the game less than a year ago, and as of Jan8, there were 1million DAU (daily active users, or, individuals playing each day). That’s analogous to landing in the top 5 of the billboard charts (I’m making that analogy, there isn’t a formal system for comparing the two).

In the game the single player build a skyscraper as high as they can, filling the floors with tiny adorable pixelated people, and places for them to work like a tattoo parlor, dentist office, or bbq joint. It even simulates a social network where the citizens talk about their jobs and what they’re watching on tv.

I started playing because it’s a top selling game, and as a producer I like to know what my designers and programmers are talking about, so I play what’s popular, and read the user forums etc, just to be aware of what people think. Now I’m hooked an I play the game because I want to see how tall I can build my tower.

Based on the Dabord text, what I’m experiencing is the spectacle’s unidirectional influence of my experience. I like the idea of maintaining a virtual world, of grinding my way through a resource management game mechanic to see what happens if I level up. What I don’t notice is how the narrative of the game is passively shaping my experience. I’m sure there’s a way to apply the Dabordian derive to virtual space as well as physical spaces, but I’m not familiar enough with his work to go further than that statement. So what can be done to situationally respond to this?

First, if  I make a game and publish it for public consumption, that’s still the creation of unidirectional spectacle.  Even if I’m solving environmental problems by managing natural resources, or combatting human trafficking in the game, if I make a game for other people to play, I’m setting the agenda for them, and therefore repeating the cycle of the spectacle.

So how can I respond situationally without recreating the spectacle? That sounds like a really interesting design problem: make a game that the players design as they go. That reminds me of DnD (I play every Sunday in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer), because that combines storytelling and mechanics of chance. It’s incredibly complicated which makes the game really boring sometimes, but I think it’s possible to design a simpler game that is equally participatory.

There are people in class that are interested in storytelling, and I’m interested in game design (Katie Salen at Parson’s is really celebrated for her game design work and writing), so I’m wondering if anyone else would be interested in trying to make a simple game that exists outside the spectacle.

Some students at the USC school of cinematic arts designed a really great game that succeeded at this, though I can’t say whether or not Dabord had anything to do with the idea.

This could be a group project or just a lab, but we could read some chapters in Salen’s book  and see if we could invent something in an afternoon.

Dabord’s awesome. I look forward to hearing how his work finds his way into tomorrow’s class.

Categories: Reflective Posts


I work as a digital media producer, am pursuing a masters in Media Studies at The New School, ride bicycles and mopeds, listen to lots of music, and maintain an unreasonably large book collection for the size of my Brooklyn apartment. Right now I'm developing research on teams of experts who come together to solve problems and create things. I'm interested in games, integrating multimedia in to unexpected aspects of life, and learning to do as many new things as possible.


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2 Comments on “Dabord’s Spectacle, and a design idea”

  1. January 31, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Hi Katie — I’m also interested in how games can be used for social commentary or activism. I did a lot of research on it last semester for Understanding Media Studies and was particularly inspired by the work of Jane McGonigal and Mary Flanagan, who both do a lot of research on gamification.

    Let me know what you have in mind for potential projects and maybe there will be some way I can lend a hand.

  2. January 31, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    I’m thinking that games area good topic for a tech lab, then maybe see where it goes.

    I’m familiar with McGonigal’s doctoral work at Berkeley, and at Institute for the Future. Flanagan is new to me, but after reading the wiki page on her, I’m excited to learn more.

    There are some topics here that are relevant to design and scholarship in general.

    Lexicon: the terms in this industry are shaping the way people think about it, but are still in development.

    Economy: There is funding coming from for and not for profit interests coming into the space, which makes it an interesting case study in the sense that it’s a bit more fair than other pursuits in the distribution of resources. (Knight Foundation, McCarthur Foundation are among the higher profile sources for funding in the not for profit space, and I imagine the NEA and NEH are too.)

    Design: Designing games and game experiences is an incredibly useful skill. The possibilities are really endless.

    Research: The scholarship alone is enough to spend a day on. Really top notch stuff.

    Maybe we could team up and put together an outline for a tech lab day? That would really get me to hit the game design books.

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