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Warren Sack «Agonistics: A Language Game» | Interface
Warren Sack, «Agonistics: A Language Game», 2004
Interface | © Warren Sack
Web-Link: Project site Agonistics

Warren Sack «Agonistics: A Language Game» | Agonistics screenshotWarren Sack «Agonistics: A Language Game» | Agonistics screenshotWarren Sack «Agonistics: A Language Game» | InterfaceWarren Sack «Agonistics: A Language Game» | InterfaceWarren Sack «Agonistics: A Language Game» | Interface

Categories: Computer game | Internet

Keywords: Group

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Sack, Warren ««Agonistics: A Language Game»»

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 Warren Sack
«Agonistics: A Language Game»

\Ag`o*nis"tics\, n. The science of athletic combats, or contests in public games. (Webster's 1913 Dictionary)

Argument is war. In their book «Metaphors We Live By,» George Lakoff and Mark Johnson explain how this is metaphorically true. The language we use to talk about arguments is a language of war. We ‹attack› our opponents' positions and ‹defend› our own. We ‹shoot down› opposing arguments. We say that claims are ‹defensible› or ‹indefensible.› We talk of ‹winning› and ‹losing› arguments. In arguing we have ‹tactics› and ‹strategies.› We are ‹on target› or ‹off target› in our criticisms. We ‹gain ground› or ‹lose ground.› In fact, it is not simply that we talk about arguments like this, this is what we do. Lakoff and Johnson ask us to consider a culture in which arguments are not conceptualized as verbal warfare, but as collaborative dances: participants are not opponents but partners and each counter-move is a balanced, graceful response. That would be a very different world.

Of course the latter is not an alien idea. Philosophers have long distinguished the constructive, cooperative art of conversation (dialectics) from verbal combat (rhetoric). However, the problem has often been that - when the cool reason of conversation comes in contact with the heated emotion of argumentation - rhetoric melts dialectic and we get a shouting match rather than a reasoned debate. What can be done?

In the 1980s, Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau had an idea: why not think about democratic discussion as a competition, an «agonistic» activity, a game? Society is recognized as impossible, as a space of endless contingencies. Establishing precise distinctions between difference and conflict, they articulated a democracy based not on hostilities where parties are enemies to each other, but on "agonism," where parties are constructively adversarial. This theory accepts that democracy cannot be organized in a well-mannered way without room for confrontations and a
multiplicity of voices.

In the game «Agonistics,» players post to one or more online, public discussions (e.g., Usenet newsgroups) using any email program. The system translates players' posts into a graphical display. Depending upon the content and the threading of the messages written, a player is assigned a position on a circle. The goal of the game is to win points and move to the center of the circle. Players score points if they are are in dialogue: if they mutually respond to or cite the messages of other players. To win the game, one needs to establish a dialogue with as many other players as
possible. Scores are updated after each message posted to the group and a list of leaders is displayed. The players winning the game have their texts highlighted and so define the group's response to current themes of discussion.


Warren Sack