Red vs. Blue
The game dynamics of the 2020 U.S. Election
I worked in video games for over twenty years, on some of the world’s first multiplayer networked games (Descent, Jedi Knight), and some of the most massively multiplayer as well (World of Warcraft, Diablo III). The easiest way to efficiently generate gameplay and engagement (addiction) is to create a conflict. Multiplayer games are far less resource intensive because creating the illusion of opponents through AI, scripting and level design for a single player campaign is much more labor intensive than creating multiplayer content.
One of the most popular games in the world, League of Legends, has generated billions of dollars, with players primarily playing (Red Team vs. Blue Team) on the Summoner’s Rift, a single map that is a derivative successor to the Defender of the Ancients (DOTA) Warcraft III mod.
The two team system is a fundamental design common throughout almost all games. In World of Warcraft, there are two factions, Horde (red) and Alliance (blue) and players in the game have the ability to play PVP (player vs. player) and PVE (player vs. enemy).
In PVP, players team up and can fight in small team Arenas or group Battlegrounds against each other. In PVE, players team up and cooperate to level up their characters and accumulate armor and weapons (loot) so that they can advance and defeat bigger and more powerful boss monsters.
Applying this metaphor to the real world, the U.S. political game is mostly a game of Red vs. Blue, and the dynamics are creating an escalation and dehumanizing of the other, by applying labels to the other team. Human beings cognitively function through symbolism, metaphor, and fiction, and given the capabilities of the modern Internet, we are in the age of narrative warfare.
There are two parallel revolutionary narratives which are driving the emotional fever that is visible in both sides. This plays into the victim control dynamic, which I’ve written about before. If we apply this to U.S. politics, or most social systems, it’s pretty easy to see. Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee it.
The narrative of the Left: “Trump is a misogynistic, rapist, racist who must be stopped at all costs, or he will turn America into a Neo-Nazi dictatorship with his legions of white supremacist Deplorables and will destroy the planet through his anti-environmental and foreign affairs policies.”
The frame of the Left:
Rescuer: Not-Trump and the woke Left
Victim: Blacks, minorities, kids in cages, the Planet
Perpetrator: Trump and his Deplorables
The narrative of the Right: “The Deep State and Radical Left is pushing a socialist agenda with full control of the Fake News mainstream media and Big Tech. They will create an authoritarian surveillance state that destroys free speech, dismantles law and order and will allow Antifa terrorists to destroy America and they must be stopped.”
The frame of the Right:
Victim: America, patriotism, working class Americans
Perpetrator: The Deep State, the Radical Left (Biden is just a weak puppet)
The reality is far more complex than either of these reductionist, caricatured narratives, but our society has been trained to be emotionally hijacked by a team versus team tribalistic fanaticism. Perhaps, the reality is more like this:
Our current civilization model is a game design full of perverse incentives. Facebook, Google, and Twitter are conspicuously missing from this image, but it’s obvious that they need to be part of the conversation. What we have here are “us versus them” memetic and narrative warfare dynamics that have resulted in escalating breakdowns in trust.
What happens when there is no trust?
Most of politics today can be framed as an Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma with escalating tit for tat. Nicky Case’s Evolution of Trust game is essential education for anyone interested in political games. Basically, two players/sides can choose to “cooperate” or “cheat” and, to me, it looks like both sides are willing to win “at all costs.” Cheating becomes semantic when the game is about bending the rules.
We should be focusing our energy on creating a meta-game civilization system that help identify and prioritize catastrophic PVE boss problems to collectively work on. We need more thinkers, scientists, builders, artists, and engineers. We need better education, more healing, more wholeness.
The New Game has begun. One that transcends Red vs. Blue.