Author: Malaby, Thomas M
Date published: April 1, 2010
In Michael Herzfeld's Poetics of Manhood (Herzfeld 1986), the openended and fraught quality to everyday social action in the Cretan village of Glendi serves as an important reminder for anthropology of the game-like quality of everyday life. In the book's discussion of card-playing in the coffeehouses of Glendi, we find a key example of how we might go about situating the study of games properly in social theory-a social theory that has in places (Bourdieu 1977, de Certeau 1984, Giddens 1984, Ortner 1999) relied heavily on games as a metaphor in its discussion of the importance of practice and process. What makes Herzfeld's treatment powerful is how it becomes connected with broader questions of identity and belonging. In chapter eight, he draws a convincing connection between the elaboration and competition over morality at the local level (between Crete's regions, between villages, between patrilines, and between individuals) and their role in producing nationalist ideology. Thus was the national project brought into real, practical contact with local stakes, and the true jolt comes from seeing how card-playing in the coffeehouse, the most marginalized of practices from the state's point of view, was nonetheless essential for the reproduction of national identity. Further elaborated, this became Herzfeld's concept of cultural intimacy (and its related concept of social poetics), one which has made a lasting impact not only on theories of nationalism, but increasingly on how we conceive of projects of collective identity formation as undertaken by institutions beyond the nation-state.
When I first encountered the book as a graduate student, it was those local games-broadly defined-where the stakes of national identity were won and lost that stayed with me and kindled an interest in pursuing an understanding of games as an arena with much to teach us about social process. And in considering Herzfeld's work now, in a moment in which digitally- mediated games have risen to greater and greater prominence in social life, I believe it might be helpful for us to revisit the games and gamelike activities which run through many of his books and articles. Consider the contrast between two of his most common ethnographic settings: that of the rationally-institutionalized space, where bureaucracy reigns, and that of the similarly contrived but open-ended game space, where order is at the service of the generation of the contingent, the indeterminate, the meaningful. Order, Herzfeld wrote, is "one of the most tenacious of 'absolutes' posited by the exponents of Western rationality" (1986:69), and the strategic essentialism of the bureaucratic claim to order is what is exposed by the messy practicalities of the everyday. Games and game-like activities, in contrast to the bureaucratic, evince in their playing out an acknowledgement of the limits of order. Social poetics in the nation-state, Herzfeld suggests, depends upon these contingent spaces; they generate the meanings upon which bureaucracy relies in its practical reproduction, if not its idealized representation. This is because the very open-endedness of such spaces allows for social poetics, for the creative (de)formation of existing social forms. What Herzfeld has been telling us about cultural intimacy and institutions is, in this view, inextricably linked to his reliance in his writings on games and game-like spaces-spaces which constitute (along with arenas of verbal contest and other conventionalized disorder) what we might call the "anti-bureaucratic" in his work.
All of this leads to a set of questions that may seem to lie at a great remove from Crete, Rome, or Bangkok. For while I at first followed almost literally in Herzfeld's footsteps by choosing to do research on Crete, I subsequently came to be interested in the rise of online virtual worlds-persistent, three-dimensional, and avatar-mediated spaces that are used by approximately 20 million people around the world today. Specifically, I became interested in the makers of these environments, and one in particular: Linden Lab of San Francisco. One question raised by such novel institutions is as follows: What happens when a new kind of digital " state" seeks to establish its legitimacy for governing its world and itself, as all such governing institutions must, and does its relationship to games and other sites of culturally intimate disorder resemble that of the nationstate, or does it represent something new for the digital age? Over the course of my research at Linden Lab (the bulk of it in 2005), I discovered that a tension between vertical control and horizontal, "emergent" governance- mirroring in many ways that between state bureaucracy and the disorderly local of Herzfeld's work-was not only a key to understanding Linden Lab's struggles to make the online virtual world called Second Life, but also of its struggle to make itself as an organization; and it is on this dimension of institution-making that I focus here.
I seek to draw our attention to how this tension is configured in new ways with the advent of digital technologies and their associated institutions. While the broad range of affordances that virtual worlds offer to their users makes them particularly enlightening for this inquiry, we can see the same tension in even more widely encountered digital institutions. The most pertinent of these is Google. Through its attempts to maintain control over its technology while also inviting game-like uses of it, Google must also balance vertical control with the seductive allure of what has come to be called "crowdsourcing." In its Image Labeler Game, for example, users are invited to play a game with others around the world. They attempt to label images by common terms, and are rewarded for matches, but the overall effect of the game is that it generates labels for Google's images (images are notoriously difficult to search via text). This technique of incenting participation in an online game in order to extend the reach and legitimacy of a digital institution represents, I suggest, a different kind of project of legitimization, one made possible by both digital technologies and the use of game design. Just as ritual has served the interests of institutional legitimacy in ways that anthropology has been at the forefront of describing, so games, too, are becoming resources in the neverending quest for legitimacy by bureaucratic institutions.
This is by no means an easy accommodation, however. Bureaucracies, defined as they are at least by the ideal of constantly ironing out contingency, would in theory find it impossible to incorporate games into their logic in a lasting way. But the issue is not one of theory; it is one of practice. Whatever opposition games present to bureaucratic logic, that does not keep the people engaged in the work of forging the institutions shaping digital experience from finding practical accommodations between the ultimate institutional aim (the reproduction of the institution itself) and the need to engage human imaginings of possibility by carving out some room for the unexpected. In this, they are in some ways perhaps not so different from those who have always worked in bureaucracies. What appears to be different now, however, is the explicit institutional acknowledgment of the need to accommodate the indeterminate coupled with a turn to techniques from games to bring this about.
A Digital Institution and its Virtual State
Located in downtown San Francisco, California, Linden Lab is the maker of Second Life, an avatar-mediated, persistent online virtual world launched in 2003 and with hundreds of thousands of active users today. It stands in contrast to many of the most well-known virtual worlds (World of Warcraft, Everquest II, Lineage II) in that it has no established and universal game objectives. Its distinctive feature is that all users have access to 3-D modeling, scripting (programming), and texture-mapping "tools"- ones that allow them to make interactive objects in the virtual world. In Second Life users make houses, planes, clothes, " skins" (replacements for the default skin covering the avatar), games, and many other kinds of objects. A pair of sunglasses may be programmed to change color with a simple text command. A motorcycle may be able not only to move on the virtual ground but also to fly. Just as important, users own the intellectual property rights to their creations (which cost next to nothing to reproduce) and can control how their creations are distributed to other users, including the possibility of market transactions in the in-world currency, Linden dollars.
Land is also a purchasable commodity in Second Life, and this combination (alienable goods and currency plus "land" ownership) seems to have contributed to the emergence of a remarkable economy-one which also supports the buying and selling of Linden dollars for US dollars. In short, Second Life supports the production of various forms of capital (market, social, and cultural; Malaby 2006a) among its users, and this in turn has supported continuing innovations in its use by individual and institutional participants, many of whom have begun not only to pursue market interests in the virtual world but also to explore the potential of Second Life for learning and therapy. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, purchased an island in Second Life that was then designed to educate visitors about atmospheric phenomena- complete with interactive and large scale exhibits about volcanoes, erosion, and tsunamis. Most major presidential candidates in the 2008 election had offices in Second Life, and it is used by hundreds of universities as part of their efforts in online education.
As I have discussed elsewhere (Malaby 2006b, 2006c, 2007, 2009a, 2009b), its position as creator and ongoing architect of this environment makes Linden Lab's role as a "government" for Second Life complex and, in fact, partial. While at first glance Linden Lab would seem to have ultimate control, it nonetheless in practice is beholden to the effects of the actions of users, including those that generate unintended consequences. Users create the content that fills Second Life, not Linden Lab, so the hundreds of thousands of users transform its landscape by necessity. They invent games that become widely popular (or not), and they find innovative uses of the technology in ways that surprise Linden Lab, such as the combination of streamed music from users' personal computers and programmed avatar animations that spawned enormously popular dance clubs that cover Second Life's landscape to this day. This agency on the part of users is a core component of how Linden Lab markets it as well. Users are told that they are limited only by their imagination. But users can also find loopholes in the Second Life software that allow them to duplicate valuable items, attack other users, or even crash the world itself. Linden Lab, in a day-to-day fashion, is confronted by this never-ending cascade of possibilities that its open-ended creation promotes.
This tension, between vertical authority and the contingent potential of new technology, lies at the heart of many of the ongoing challenges Linden Lab employees faced in going about their work. But their position is not itself sensible without at least a brief reference to the ideological component here: Second Life is a good example of a project-and Linden Lab is a good example of a company-that is deeply informed by what is sometimes called a "left-libertarian" attitude toward technology and its promise which has shaped everything from the structure of the early internet to the proliferation of personal computers (see Turner 2006, Malaby 2009a).
While there is a modernist tendency to characterize new (and not-sonew) technologies as isolated from politics-as value-neutral-scholarship (including a number of excellent contributions from journalists) has made clear that some of the most important developments in computing and networking technology in the United States were inextricably linked to political and more broadly ideological interests. Works by journalists (Kidder 1981, Hiltzik 2000, M. Mitchell Waldrop 2001, Markoff 2005) and, more recently, academics (Thomas 2003, Turner 2006) are helpful in filling out the historico-cultural landscape from which computers emerged, particularly in the San Francisco Bay area. Specifically, these works reveal how the development of these technologies and their makers' aspirations for them were inextricably linked to general attitudes about authority that characterized the post-war period in the United States. Important work on the current open source software movement has revealed how its members are the contemporary inheritors of these ideas (Coleman 2004, Kelty 2005). Their strong assertion of software as a form of free speech "underscores ideas of individual autonomy, self-development, and a value-free marketplace for the expression of ideas" (Coleman 2004:510), all the while stridently denying any specific political claims in what Coleman calls a "political agnosticism" (2004:509).
A common theme of all of these works is a remarkable and mutuallyconfirming combination of a deeply-held skepticism toward "top-down" decision-making-with a corresponding resistance to (and even resentment of) the institutional control of technology-and a deep faith in the ability of technology to provide solutions when made widely available. The contrast here is with computing as it existed in institutions through the 60s: mainframe computing demanded specialized and controlled access to the most powerful tool in an institution, and its enduring image is that of the mainframe in the glass room, accessible only by a priesthood of those empowered to tend it.
The attitude that arose in reaction against this image, these books suggest, reflects the anti-establishment politics of the period and found purchase in the distinctive disposition of engineers toward new technologies and corporate organizations and is expressed in their ideas of personal freedom and their liberal faith in the aggregate effects of individual actions. This technoliberal disposition, as I have described it (Malaby 2009a), was strongly situated in the actual practice of programming (as compared to discursive argumentation; Kelty 2005). One can find in these works multiple versions of what seems the same story of how this disposition was born for individuals-it is the recurring theme of young programmer after programmer, given access to off-hours mainframe usage in universities and other institutionalized settings, coming away with a passionate commitment to the wide-ranging potential of computing and networking technology, but a potential for them better realized when placed into the hands of creative individuals not beholden to institutional demands (see, for example, Kidder 1981:95). As Coleman writes (2004:511-512):
Programmers over decades of intense interaction come to viscerally experience the computer as a general purpose machine that can be infinitely programmed to achieve any task through the medium of software written by humans with a computer language. The technological potential for unlimited programmable capabilities melds with what is seen as the expansive ability for programmers to create. For programmers, computing in a dual sense, as a technology and as an activity, becomes a total realm for the freedom of creation and expression.
The issue of creation and engineering is central to Linden Lab's project in particular, as the making of the world of Second Life stands in a strange and mutually constructive relationship to the making in the world on the part of its users.
In a political sense, then, Linden Lab is characterized by an almost overpowering faith in technology, matched only by a similarly monumental suspicion of vertical authority-especially bureaucratic authority, although the charismatic authority of professional managers is suspect as well. The paradox for Linden Lab is how to realize the ongoing creation of Second Life in a way that is consistent with their technoliberal vision of individual creativity and liberty, while remaining indisputably and unavoidably the single most powerful institutional player on the scene.
As Second Life grew in size and complexity, so did Linden Lab, and this tension came to be the preoccupying focus of their own organizational lives as well. This preoccupation was the result of the same politicallycharged disposition-one which tended to treat top-down or vertical decision- making as the antithesis of empowered and creative collaboration. As people at Linden Lab witnessed their creation and their company growing, this fear of a loss of liberty reached, at times, a fervent pitch, and in this ongoing predicament, they are not alone in high-tech circles. Google is similarly shaped by a disposition that combines a deep faith in technology with a rejection of vertical authority (Turner, in press). We should therefore be eager to understand how the entities that have their hands deep into the recesses of our digital lives are going about trying to solve their version of the paradox that Herzfeld identified for the nation-state: how to establish legitimate institutional power in the face of practical and undeniable fallibilities.
For Linden Lab, as for a number of these institutions, games themselves have become the focus of attempts to generate legitimacy directly. The bureaucratic institutions Herzfeld describes exclude games and similar disorderings from institutional life, only to have their significance as a locus for meaningful fallibility reenter the project of collective identity in the playing out of everyday practice. By contrast, the new institutions increasingly governing our digital lives are attempting to domesticate and incorporate games into their worklives and to contrive them as sites for social poetics that are explicit and legitimate parts of how they operate.
To be sure, institutions have sought to accommodate games in their projects of collective identity in the past, most notably in the Olympic Games, with their complex relationship between modern individualism and national identity. But such efforts have always been risky-the Berlin Olympics of 1936 is just one such example, although a vitally important one. In Berlin, the Olympics were not simply a stage upon which politically-charged actions were played out, irrespective of the games at hand (such as in Munich in 1972). These were games hosted by Nazi Germany, and it sought to legitimize its ideals on the international stage through a flawless administration of the games as well as through systematic domination in the competitions themselves. Jesse Owens, an African-American athlete on the United States' track and field team, achieved international fame by winning four gold medals. His performance on the field, amid the contrived contingency of the Games, exploded the Nazi project of legitimization.
The familiar attempts by nation-states to shore up their legitimacy through ritual can be fraught with unintended consequences, as Gal showed in her examination of Hungary's ill-fated efforts to bring back Bartok's remains to the country, accompanied by great ceremony (Gal 1991). Games, such as the Olympics, are only more dangerous as a resource for the meanings and practices that generate the foundations for cultural intimacy upon which national and other institutional claims of collective identity rest. This is precisely because they are contrived to be openended- to generate outcomes not determined before the event begins. What is different for the institutions coming to govern experience online is the array of affordances that code, which is a kind of manipulable software, provides. By providing an unprecedented depth of control over the architecture of digitally-mediated social interaction among users in the virtual world, code makes the institutional contrivance of games a technique worth trying. In this way, games have become a target of institutional colonization and a source of legitimate decision-making, one that complicates our understanding of such previously bureaucratic spaces.
Linden Lab made several attempts to incorporate games into its workings as part of its effort to contrive culturally intimate experiences for both its users and its employees, and I focus on the latter here. Rather than depend, as bureaucracies came to depend, on a dialectical and productive tension between the explicit project of order and the implicit and meaningful disorders that gave it legitimacy, Linden Lab sought to make such disordered arenas an explicit part of how the company worked. Thus would the problem of legitimacy be solved in a different way-the collective participation of the employees in a game would, through the outcome at the conclusion, reveal the collective will. The turn to a game system in concert with programming technique, specifically the use of code, reveals a great deal about how Linden Lab's paradox of non-vertical control was confronted in practice.
As an anti-institutional space, Second Life was designed to be openended for its users in order to allow for creativity, but not so wide open as to leave them with an overwhelming (perhaps even paralyzing) sense of possibility. Similarly, the people of Linden Lab itself sought to make their company run on the same principles. Game design was an attractive solution for Linden Lab because games generate outcomes not through vertical directives, nor solely through individual agency, but as the result of a complex and open-ended set of processes which include constraints along with willful actions and various other sources of indeterminacy. The crucial, further step that Linden Lab sought to take under the prompting of its CEO was to see the outcomes generated by this game as legitimate for the governance of the company. In this way, bureaucratic and charismatic authority, problematic for a company that promoted governance through the collaboration of all employees, would be sidestepped in favor of a contrived system-one which no longer aspired to perfect order. Instead, the common practice of playing a game together would generate the meaningful, and therefore legitimate, decisions upon which the company would proceed.
Does this mean that institutions are finding a way to contrive the meaningfully messy aspects of social experience within their ambit? Such embarrassingly disordered domains, as Herzfeld has shown, nonetheless generated the shared meaning and practice that made national solidarity sensible. The contrivance of games within institutions that previously held themselves to be impervious to disorder suggests that the relationship of the illicit to the programmatic may be changing. Herzfeld's contributions leave us ready to play this new game. Here I elaborate on one of several such attempts at Linden Lab to use games to govern. It is one that occurred in mid-2005, and it led me to become familiar with the work of Arpad Elo. Who is Arpad Elo? None other than the most important figure in the history of chess-ranking.
Code + Games = Authority?
When I first arrived at Linden Lab in December of 2004, I quickly learned of the preeminent tool for distributing information about the projects going on within the company: "Achievements & Objectives" ("As & Os" for short). Every employee, every week, was required to write up an As & Os document which would then be sent to everyone else in the company, and everyone was correspondingly required to read all of the other As & Os. Via this system, all employees were imagined not only to have the same information about what was happening across the company as all other employees, but also, and more importantly, to then choose which projects to support. Employees were told that they could "choose their own work" at Linden Lab, and this was perfectly consistent with their ideological and practical commitment against top-down authority. Linden Lab had approximately 35 employees at the end of 2004, and all of them listed their achievements over the past week, and outlined their objectives; i.e., the projects they continued to work on.
Over the course of 2005, however, Linden Lab more than doubled in size, reaching approximately 70 employees by the end of the year. Even when I first arrived, I heard "Lindens" (employees of Linden Lab) frequently voice the complaint that there were just too many As & Os to keep up without neglecting their other work. Straining at the seams in this regard, the company began using Jira, a web-based, bug-tracking and project management application. Jira is designed to help a group of people keep track of the development of a software product, and it is also quite customizable by its consumers, who can program it to fit their needs. People involved in a project can see what bugs, issues, and features are being tracked by the program, who is working on those items, subscribe for notifications about changes in them, and add comments, including links to similar or overlapping items. This is how Linden Lab began using Jira initially.
Philip Rosedale, Linden Lab's founder and then-CEO, quickly came to see Jira also as a solution to the increasingly-cumbersome use of As & Os for information dissemination and collective prioritization. Whereas the As & Os were organized by individuals, Jira was organized by " tasks," and this term was flexible enough to accommodate a range of company tasks, including those not directly related to changes in the Second Life software. For example, the office manager could create a task in Jira concerning the installation of additional Ethernet infrastructure for the office, or someone involved with marketing could create a task for Linden Lab's efforts at an industry convention. Jira, then, was ideally a better (more manageable, more scalable) representation of what people in Linden Lab were doing than As & Os, especially to the extent that Lindens created tasks within Jira, something Rosedale encouraged them heavily to do.1
For the challenge of generating legitimate judgments for Linden Lab's priorities in the wake of the breakdown of As & Os, Jira presented an attractive practical solution. In particular, the fact that it was a piece of customizable software suggested a range of inchoate and powerful possibilities for a number of Lindens. It was trivial, first, to add a voting system to Jira, which allowed Lindens to vote on those projects they felt were most important, and this was done almost immediately. Further attempts sought to use game mechanics to avoid the creeping in of "vote-lobbying" and other, to many Lindens, illegitimate side effects of this system. As one Linden put the complaint: "Talking up your project to people, to get them to vote on it? That's just wrong." One attempt to avoid these effects was the adoption of a chess ranking system to generate out of Jira a list of the most important tasks for the company.
Elo rating systems are a group of statistical methods for calculating the relative skill levels of large numbers of players for two player games. Based on a system developed originally by Arpad Elo for generating a ranking of chess players (Elo 1978), they have since been both modified and improved within chess and adapted for other two-player games. A ranking system generates a rating for each player and is seen as legitimate in the degree to which these ratings seem to accord with the matches that do manage to get played. Thus, a key aim of these systems is also to predict the outcomes of matches between rated players, and its accuracy is thereby judged (and thus the system may also come to be modified). In this way, Elo rating systems generate an emergent ordered ranking, and this emergent quality made this technique an attractive solution for the challenge that faced Linden Lab: how to generate a ranked order of prioritization from a heterogeneous collection of company tasks.2
In mid-2005, one developer at Linden Lab, quite familiar with chess ranking systems, set about to code onto Jira a system built on Elo's algorithm. He created a webpage that pitted two (and only two) tasks against each other for Lindens to choose. These "matches" would over time generate a list of highest-ranked to lowest-ranked Jira tasks. Rosedale enthusiastically supported this effort, and in two days the programmer had created the system and sent an email over the company-wide email list containing a link to the site. Upon arriving at the site, one saw a simple presentation of two Jira tasks, including each one's title, unique Jira number, and a brief description. Employees were simply to pick one of the two as more important (or pick a "draw"), and the system would record that match result and generate another match of two more tasks (soon after they were each asked to pick winners of ten such "matches" a day).
Many Lindens tried out the system with some enthusiasm, as it seemed relatively impervious to the "vote lobbying" effects they had previously found so troubling. Hundreds of matches were "played" (that is, Lindens picked "winners") in a short span of time (a matter of days), and a ranked list was generated. For Rosedale, this was a step on the road toward realizing an ideal of company decision-making from the ground up. For others, the system was suspect at the point of participation; presented with two entirely heterogeneous tasks (for example, add a urinal to the men's bathroom vs. add a web browser to the Second Life client), they felt that picking between them was nonsensical. The list that was generated left Lindens with a similar feeling of absurdity-the enormous variety (in type, scope, area, etc.) of the tasks created a lack of any sense of a larger whole. It was eventually abandoned in practice and other game-based (and non-game-based) initiatives to tap into the wisdom of Linden Lab's crowd were tried.3
For example, an attempt to make real and measurable social capital was instituted with the "Love Machine" in 2005, which allowed any Linden to send " love" to another in the form of an online points-based system (each expression of love was effectively one point, and such points were used by company executives in determining compensation). More conventional voting systems are still used through Jira, with the opportunity to vote opened to Second Life users themselves. But neither of these efforts is as ambitious as the chess-ranking attempt. The Love Machine does not aim to tell the entire company what to do next, but rather to rationalize moral relationships (specifically so that high-scoring moral actors can be compensated for that). The Jira voting system seems to have become simply a convenient tool for gauging Second Life user opinion. The failure of the chess-ranking system suggests something important about the limits of incorporating even contrived disorder into the operations and decision-making of an institution. Why were the results not legitimate? To answer this requires that we take a moment to think a bit more deeply about the kinds of disordered game arenas that inform Herzfeld's work, and see how Linden Lab's effort to domesticate such spaces led to crucial differences.
For Herzfeld, moments of competition in games and verbal performance are, quite importantly, moments for public failure. It is just as much the possibility of being a flop as that of being a virtuoso that makes successful performance meaningful. What is more, this success evinces in itself a claim to personal competence, to an embodied mastery that is not restricted to the game (or game-like) domain precisely because the skills held to lie behind the success are isomorphous with the competencies for social action elsewhere. The shrewd gambler, by being able to face the vicissitudes of the game with equanimity, suggests an ability to face the fickle swings of fate in business or politics. More to the point, such virtuosity in circumstances of contrived disorder demonstrates that one can navigate the similarly contrived and disordered (in practice) contexts of bureaucracy, even (perhaps especially) because the disordered margins of such domains are denied in their official or public representation.
For Linden Lab, no such connection could obtain. The game they created narrowed social action down to an imagined form of rational choice- picking the "winner" of a "match" between tasks. The desire to eliminate the "problematic" social effects (vote-lobbying paramount among them) reveals that the picture of the human as game player that underwrites the effort here is skewed away from the very cultural competencies that would make the results of the game meaningful and therefore legitimate. The user stands, in this view, as simply a decision-making mechanism, playing the role of an imagined chess game that the two tasks play against each other. The chess ranking system was a replacement for a voting system that generated undesirable social performances between employees, but the attempt to incorporate the potentially meaningful dimension of gameplay into the workings of a bureaucratic organization ultimately foundered on the denial of this undesirable sociability. Where cultural intimacy could find no traction, even anti-bureaucratic disorder could create meaningless results.
This system (and other Jira "voting" systems) were seen around Linden Lab as value-neutral tools: they were held to be value-neutral means of tapping into individual judgment and aggregating it to arrive at legitimate decisions through the mechanisms of games. Fond of saying that under an ideal company structure he would cease to exist, Rosedale in discourse represented the post-bureaucratic aspiration that underwrote the dual projects of Second Life and Linden Lab as sites for individual, autonomous creativity for whom technology was a handmaiden. Games stand here as the linchpin in a complex set of relations between technology, authority, and institutions struggling to move beyond a bureaucratic governing logic.
To what extent is this attempt to co-opt digital games for the purposes of corporate governance a tale about technology, and code specifically, and to what extent is it about governance? The power of code was something of which Lindens, and especially developers, were well aware. Faith in digital technology, and in their own ability to manipulate it, was so deeply a part of the developers' worldview that it was rarely mentioned, but instead simply acted upon. As recent work on the culture of software development has shown (Coleman 2004, Kelty 2005), the political commitments of this group are more often practically than discursively realized. For Linden Lab, this lack of explicit acknowledgment of their own position as the deep architects of the world they had created stood in sharp contrast to the message the company conveyed to users-that the users had all the agency anyone could ever want.
The issue is fundamentally about the contradictions of governance and the paradoxical position in which a company shot through with technoliberal ideology found itself as it could not shake its differential level of authority over Second Life. But digital technology is a crucial element, along with the techniques of game design. Together they have opened up ways for institutions to move beyond bureaucratic modes and begin to contrive seemingly open-ended systems as part of their continued efforts to control. Herzfeld's work, however, helps us remember that these gambits on the part of institutions looking to make our lives more game-like confront a new version of the same challenge of nation-states: that of finding a meeting point between the intimately poetic and the institutionally mobilized.
What are the implications for cultural intimacy? Herzfeld shows us how rituals of bureaucracy, which in their playing out make room for the private acknowledgment of collective failings, contribute to the generation of a feeling of belonging to a social whole larger than one's individual self. But games do not seem so easily to provide such room for the acknowledgment of a shared sensibility. In the way in which they highlight performative mastery, something that differentiates rather than unites social actors, games appear not to fit so comfortably within institutional projects of shared meaning-making. This recalls Claude Lévi-Strauss' characterization of games as generating an asymmetry that stands in contrast to ritual's capacity to unite (1968; see also Malaby 2009c). We may understand better why games are such a staple of culturally-intimate yet non-bureaucratic spaces in Herzfeld's work when we see how their contrived open-endedness is always in some ways structurally subversive.
The research upon which this paper is based was conducted with the vital support of the National Science Foundation, through its subprogram on Ethics and Values Studies in the Science & Society Program (Grant # 0423043) and by a fellowship from the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The text celebrates my appreciation of Michael Herzfeld and the ever-fertile concepts he has contributed to cultural anthropology, but I would also note here that his personal generosity has always matched this professional one. I am also indebted to Vasiliki (Vaso) Neofotistos, who skillfully and doggedly shepherded this special issue from its earliest forms to publication, with an often remarkable amount of direct and prompt followthrough. Of course, the usual qualifications regarding any shortcomings herein apply.
1Importantly, however, as flexible as Jira was, it still could not " see" certain kinds of non-discrete tasks (such as handling the customer service phone queue, a never-ending job), nor did it make sense to create Jira tasks for things that demanded immediate attention, such as server breakdowns at the collocation (where all of the servers on which Second Life runs are housed). Infrastructural tasks of this sort were not visible to Jira (in a way that recalls, strikingly, Adam Smith's own judgment that infrastructure, as well as education, are essentially out of the market's sight).
2A summary of the Elo rating system and links to further resources were found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elo_rating_system on March 27, 2007.
3The non-game initiatives attempted by Linden Lab lie beyond the scope of this article. See Malaby 2009a.
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Malaby, Thomas M. 2006a. "Parlaying Value: Forms of Capital in and Beyond Virtual Worlds." Games & Culture 1(2):141-162.
_____. 2006b. " Introduction: Control and Contingency Online." First Monday, Special Issue No. 7. Edited by Sandra Braman and Thomas Malaby. http://firstmonday. org/issues/special11_9/intro/index.html
_____. 2006c. "Coding Control: Governance and Contingency in the Production of Online Worlds." First Monday, Special Issue No. 7. Edited by Sandra Braman and Thomas Malaby. http://firstmonday.org/issues/special11_9/intro/index.html
_____. 2007. "Contriving Constraints: The Gameness of Second Life and the Persistence of Scarcity." Innovations: Technology/Governance/Globalization 2(3):62-67.
_____. 2009a. Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
_____. 2009b. "These Great Urbanist Games: New Babylon and Second Life." Artifact 2(3):1-7.
_____. 2009c. "Anthropology and Play: The Contours of Playful Experience." New Literary History 40(1):205-218.
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_____. In press. "Burning Man at Google: A Culture Infrastructure for New Media Production." Media and Society.
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Thomas M. Malaby
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee