Probing Interfaces: New Games, Spacewar!, and the Gamification of Complexity

Renyi Hong


“Theory of Game Change,” written by Stewart Brand in 1976 for the New Games movement, provides one of the earliest examples of digital game logics being brought into real-world use. This article focuses on this event to reconsider gamification’s play on complexity. Applying Spacewar! to New Games, Brand sneaked in an epistemology of the computer interface, breaking real-world games down into parameters to modulate and probe complex systems. The result carried a utopian cybernetic imaginary: Changes in rules were meant to motivate spontaneous and harmonious adaptions to new situations. The black-boxing of complexity required of this process, however, carries the solutionist impulse that would later form the main critique of gamification. Yet, focusing on the critique neglects the relations that gamification has with complexity and limits the critical potential that the term presents as a demand for ethical accountability.


gamification, complexity, AI ethics, New Games, Spacewar, Stewart Brand, interface

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