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Samo Burja: Live and Dead Players

Whether you are examining past societies or living and acting within one today, it’s important to distinguish between live and dead players. A live player is a person or well-coordinated group of people that is able to do things they have not done before. A dead player is a person or group of people that is working off a script, incapable of doing new things.

The distinction between live and dead players also matters if you are trying to predict the future of society. You can predict what will happen in a society if you understand its landscape of live players. Societies with few live players will stagnate; societies with many live players will develop and adapt.

Whether a player is alive or dead is always relative to themselves. Thus, a live player is not necessarily exceptional in skill, although this is usually the case. If a player has already done X, doing X again does not make them a live player, even if other players can’t do X yet or X is an impressive move. The player would have to make a move that is new for them in order to be a live player.

There are two attributes that are necessary for a player to be considered live: tight coordination and a living tradition of knowledge.

If not merely one individual, a live player that is a group of people must be tightly coordinated in order to be flexible and responsive enough to do things they have not done before. This allows them to make moves outside of the formal structure of the group, go off script, modify themselves, continue acting even if the outer form dies, and so forth. Imagine, for example, an engineering team that keeps working together successfully after the company they work for formally blows up, perhaps transitioning together to a new company or just coordinating as hobbyists on the side.

The generation of new tactics, strategies, coordination mechanisms, and so on entails the production of new, useful knowledge. Thus, a live player must have a living tradition of knowledge. For the tradition of knowledge to be living, it must have at least one theorist, among other things. An individual live player may fulfill multiple roles in themselves, including being one’s own theorist.

… One strong sign is a player doing things outside of their expected domain—in a new, unexpected domain—which indicates that they can figure out new things for themselves….

We defined a dead player as a person or a group of people that is working off a script, incapable of doing new things.

What can cause a player to die? A player will die if their tradition of knowledge dies and they are unable to replace their thinkers or theorists. Perhaps an individual live player simply runs out of ideas. Even if tight coordination remains, the player is dead. They will compete in old areas, but have a hard time expanding into new areas.

A player will also die if their tight coordination is replaced by formal structures, which can happen as members of an organization change. If you’re constrained by formal structures, it becomes harder to go off script, and this won’t be adaptive enough. Remember, however, that tight coordination can be achieved by just one exceptional person.

Samo Burja Live Vs Dead Players

The original essay – including examples and discussion of how a dead player might be revived – is only slightly longer than this extract. Recommended.

See also:

World Without Ends
Who wins
Champion (1)
Champion (2)
Elites: Oligarchy, Aristocracy, Decline and Fall
Jo Freeman: The Tyranny of Structureless and Hidden Elites
Learning environments: kind, wicked and… fiendish?
Possibility: learning to see

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...