In these troubled times of financial uncertainty, I’ve decided to invest. I am currently attempting to buy a share in KmikeyM, the first publicly-traded person. Here’s the short story:

The Conceptual Businesman: KMikeyM

I came across Mike Merrill via an article in The Atlantic detailing his journey into self-commodification. In 2008, he divided his ‘self’ into 100,000 shares and sold them at an initial public offering price of $1 a share. What started out as a creative experiment turned into a full-fledged simulated stock market with shares fluctuating , turning him into a publicly traded person.

KMikeyM Trading Chart

Shares allow stockholders to vote on Mike should do with his life, from who and how he should date to various questions big and small:

  •  Should he get a vasectomy? (Rejected)
  •  Should he subscribe to Spotify? (Approved)
  •  Should he grow a mustache? (Rejected)
  •  Should he attempt polyphasic sleeping? (Approved)


I’m not sure I fully have the hang of the trading business yet – my offer to buy a share is still pending – but I already feel invested in the life of my “conceptual businessman” and look forward to weigh in on his next life-changing decision. He is now crowdfunding for his latest project, a ghostwritten book about a fictional version of himself that lets the public design the manifestation of his personal erotic fantasy – a collaborative Choose-Your-Own-Adventure process to have fun with what he terms himself a dumb genre by asking collaborators to debate and decide on what they want to read.

Publicly Traded Privately Held Video from Mike Merrill on Vimeo.

As with other projects launched by Mike Merrill, it’s holding a mirror to so many things: financial world, social networks, decision-making process, notions of authorship and readership… with a wonderfully absurd and deadpan strain of humour, but also some pretty serious theory bubbling behind. While his mantra – community through capitalism – can appear worryingly cynical, this reflection on markets as communities is a useful reminder of the role of money in our economies of life: an enabler of exchanges, a tool to build a platform, rather than something with intrinsic interest.

Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about? These #81, Cluetrain Manifesto

Merrill’s creative response is to take this theory to its logical end: monetise everything, turn his blog into a shop and sell anything from digested reads (written by others), a random spreadsheet straight off his desktop, his attention ($5 for an email response) or his presence at your party (complete with Powerpoint presentation and laser pointer).

Radical Games: Molleindustria


I discovered Molleindustria’s “radical games” around the time I was working at Unicorn, a Manchester-based vegan workers’ coop, spending a lot of time reading Corporate Watch and Red Pepper. Artist and game designer Paolo Pedercini describes his games as “homeopathic remedies to the idiocy of mainstream entertainment in the form of free, short-form, online games”, ranging from “satirical business simulations (McDonald’s Video game, Oiligarchy) to meditations on labor and alienation (Everyday the Same Dream, Tuboflex, Unmanned), from playable theories (the Free Culture Game, Leaky World) to politically incorrect pseudo-games (Orgasm Simulator, Operation: Pedopriest).”

Molleindustria from paolo pedercini on Vimeo.

The McDonald’s Video Game and Oiligarchy are old favourites, exploring the complex economies of the fast-food and oil industry and revealing how and why decisions are made. Molleindustria is now venturing into VR with a new experiential essay, The Short History of the Gaze… It requires Oculus Rift, so it’s not something I can comment on for the time being, but it makes me curious about the potential of VR for the performing arts.

Casual Games for Protesters

At the low-tech end, Molleindustria also recently launched Casual Games for Protesters, “an ongoing collection of games to be played in the context of marches, rallies, occupations and other protests” designed to facilitate meaningful participation.  

Co-designing the future: Games for Cities

At city scale, what can games and playfulness do for intergenerational and intercultural interaction and participation? Can they help to imagine more inclusive and sustainable cities?

Amsterdam-based Play the City is a city-building agency that creates bespoke games to involve stakeholders in creative problem-solving and imagine new ways to design and govern cities and systems. They respond to challenges ranging from affordable housing and  digital development to social change and urban transformation. With a range of partners, they also run the collaborative platform Games for Cities, which recently organised its first international conference, bringing together designers, urbanists and decision-makers.

Paolo Perdecini – him of Molleindustria – was one of the keynote speakers, taking a critical view of SimCity and the simulation game paradigm. SimCity’s ideology is at odds with the real – messy – world, presenting a winning urban ideal that’s all grid-shaped, zone-based and car-centred, devoid of historical class and racial conflicts, and unreservedly buying into the idea of unfettered growth. Perdecini describes his own city games series as Magical Marxism, inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities – and the first chapter, Nova Alea, is a dreamy, intuitive user-led experience. He concludes by calling for a different kind of city game:

What we should make are not games that explain how cities work. But rather games we can use to think about our cities, past, present and future.

That’s where the performing arts approach – and its notions of process, participation and legacy – comes in. Toronto-based Mammalian Diving Reflex has developed an impressive portfolio of playful interventions and platforms for expression, giving voice to children, teenagers and seniors (talking about sex!). In France, public space collective La Folie Kilomètre imagines stories, promenades, poetry and mapping workshops to create new dialogues between people and cities. International platform Playable City platform – led by Bristol’s digital & arts centre Watershed – are working across a network of cities (to date, Bristol, Recife, Lagos, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Oxford and Seoul) to prototype, develop and tour innovative projects that create sparks and disruption in the urban fabric.

Playable City puts people and play at the heart of the future city, re-using city infrastructure and re-appropriating smart city technologies to create connections – person to person, person to city.

Through interaction and creative installations it unlocks a social dialogue, bringing the citizens into a city development conversation – one which will vary in each location.

Playable City Lab in Lagos, Nigeria from Playable City on Vimeo.

What’s the relation between the custom-designed civic games of Play the City, city simulation games and these playful embodied artistic experiments? Are they completely different types of ‘games’ responding to different needs and set apart by motivation, purpose, expected outcomes and evaluation methods? What can each type learn from and bring to the other?

For researcher and designer Eric Gordon, the civic value of games lies in their “meaningful efficiencies”:  

We play games not because they are inefficient systems, but because the inefficiency in games—that means that the fastest path between point A and point B is not a direct line—provides some ability to make meaning from that process.  (…)

A system with mere inefficiencies is something that’s frustrating. There is no clear opportunity for a meaningful encounter with a system or another person, it’s just about frustration with not being able to proceed.

Deliberation is a great example of a meaningful inefficiency within a democratic process. The quickest way for a group to make a democratic decision would be to vote. But the process of deliberation where there is dialogue that builds over time where multiple stakeholders are involved, and the positionality of those stakeholders matters. That very process is a process that people engage in not because it is efficient, but because it is inefficient. There is opportunity for people to discover things along the way. It is actually designed for that purpose.

In a different interview, he also points out the distinction between ‘gamification’ – making a particular situation more playful in order to nudge users/players to a particular behavior or a desired outcome beneficial to the provider of the game, in other words setting the agenda and employing a behavioristic strategy to motivate people to carry it – and ‘engagement’ or ‘empowerment’ – including play to empower users to set (or at least influence) the agenda themselves. Just like it is important to be aware of ideological biases in simulation games before using them as educational activities, considering the nature of participation is essential when setting up a game-inspired project. Artist-led initiatives and residencies – such as Mary Miss’s City as Living Laboratory – can enable conversations with and amongst residents that city planners and bureaucratic structures find difficult to foster.

Festival City 1: Cannes


It’s officially spring, and this means one thing: Cannes season is approaching. Growing up in France, there was a sense of the cycle of life, always and never the same, in the yearly media coverage “en direct de la Croisette”, with all of our six national TV channels – those were the days – reporting daily on the films, the stars, and the topless starlettes on the beach.

For a strictly invitation-only event, ‘le Festival’ is big business: according to City of Cannes website, it “provide[s] both the city council and all sectors of activity in Cannes with a very large proportion of their annual income. (…) Local businesses see a ten- or even fifteen-fold increase in turnover. Shops stay open longer – some even for part of the night – and employ twice the number of staff. This increase is not only noticeable during the Festival period, but also during the various conferences held each year at the Palais, and more broadly in the million tourists who visit the city throughout the year. Cannes is second only to Paris as the French city that hosts the greatest number of conferences, and this favourable position comes as a result of the film festival.”

Cannes Film Festival was created to make up for the lack of tourists in low season. The first festival, planned for 1939, was postponed by the war and eventually took place in 1947. The original vision included right from the start a purpose-built venue, the first Palais des festivals, opened in 1949. The new Palais, inaugurated in 1982, has a total surface of 35,000 m² and spaces for all purposes, from a 2,000+ theatre to multiple reception rooms for cocktails and galas, huge exhibition halls and a terrace overlooking Cannes’ marina.

The Palais plays host to many other festivals and events throughout the year, such as the MIDEM, a 7,000-delegate international music industry conference; the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, an 11,000-delegate advertising festival; and major events programmed by the Palais itself, such as the Festival International des Jeux, a free fair all about gaming which attracted 175,000 visitors over 3 days in March 2013; the Festival de Danse, a contemporary dance biennial ; and an annual performance series, “Sortir à Cannes“, which 2012-2013 season highlights included Alvin Ailey II, Amadou et Mariam and the stage version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses directed by John Malkovich.

The management structure of the Palais des festivals is a public-private partnership quite common in France: a single entity, called the Société d’Economie Mixte pour les Evénements Cannois (SEMEC), is in charge of managing the Palais des festivals, leading the municipal tourism strategy and programming cultural events. It’s run like a private company, but funded at 80% by the City of Cannes and under contract to deliver its public service mandate of economic growth and cultural excellence: in other words, a heavy public investment into the cultural life of the city, with the understanding that it will improve its reputation, bring visitors, increase spending and create jobs.

There’s a festival for everything in Cannes, from Flamenco to Fireworks, and even one dedicated to the art of shopping – which turns out to be a rather classic Fashion Festival with lots of coupons. Most of these festivals are publicly funded and managed, and the oldest and most famous of them, a non-for-profit organisation created upon the suggestion of the pre-war Minister for Education and Fine Arts, Jean Zay, sees half of its €20 million budget provided by the Ministry of Culture (via the National Cinema Centre), the City of Cannes and other regional authorities. Cannes Film Festival’s economic impact was estimated between €130 million and €200 million in recent years.

Pierre Viot, Festival President from 1984 to 2000, has a simple and pragmatic way of describing this impact:

“Le Festival, c’est la culture plus l’économie.”

For a more poetic vision, Jean Cocteau has the perfect quote:

“The Festival is an apolitical no-man’s-land, a microcosm of what the world would be like if people could make direct contact with one another and speak the same language.

And just for the absurdity of the analogy:

“The Festival is like the telephone. One may criticise it, but it is useful.” Louis Malle.

The City of Cannes website features a great selection of quotes, figures and anecdotes about the Festival.

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The 66th Festival de Cannes runs from 15th to 26th May 2013, with Steven Spielberg as Président du jury. The Great Gatsby by Australian director Baz Luhrmann will be screened on the opening night, in 3D (out of competition).