Indiana Daily Student

Lecture explores ‘World Without Oil', democracy simulations

Nassim JafariNaimi presented a lecture about digital simulations of democracy Monday as part of the School of Informatics and Computing’s Colloquium Series.
JafariNaimi is a visiting professor in the digital media program at Georgia Institute of Technology.

“She is a candidate for a position in the School of Informatics and Computing’s HCI/Design program,” said Jeffrey Bardzell, IU professor and member of the Human Computer Interaction/Design hiring committee.

According to the flyer put out by IU’s School of Informatics and Computing, JafariNaimi grew up in Iran, where she received a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from the University of Tehran.

“My interest comes from growing up in Iran and my experiences,” JafariNaimi said.

During the lecture, JafariNaimi discussed some of the pitfalls of creating and studying democratic environments through simulations similar to computer games.

One of the cases she has studied is the alternate reality game “World Without Oil.”
“World Without Oil is an online simulation of, well, a world without oil,” JafariNaimi said. “In order to study this simulation I looked at three things: the voice of designers, the voice of the products and the voice of the participants.”

In JafariNaimi’s lecture, there were many issues with the simulation. The game was advertised on hardcore gaming forums, due to the fact that the developers were video game designers. This created a skewed population with above average levels of literacy and overwhelmingly liberal reactions.

“There is a strong rhetoric of democracy in the game, but it has a flat hierarchy,” JafariNaimi said. “Everyone has a voice. There was no way to show opinions from authorities or experts.”

According to the lecture, it also didn’t help that some of the designers participated in the game and only positive or “cool” responses were rewarded.

 “The question is, how do you define democracy, and what are you going for? You cannot generalize,” JafariNaimi said.

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