The Market, Cultural Diplomacy, and Role Playing Games

State sponsored cultural diplomacy and public diplomacy in general struggle with the question of how to determine the impact of its programs. Perhaps preventing the availability of useful information on program efficacy is the lack of market mechanisms providing feedback. I’m not suggesting that State Department should literally sell culture to foreign audiences. But the type of feedback the programs’ oversight expect does not lend itself well to traditional assumptions on return for investment. Hearings depend ultimately on the American people’s perception of how effective State Dep. policies are and the justification for the use of resources and well as on what kind of program to be used. That seems to be the main feedback State has to go from, “does the program accomplish what the Administration things cultural diplomacy should accomplish.”

“Accomplish” is an interesting word to use here, there is no “mission accomplished” in cultural diplomacy. Their is general consensus that the market should not determine our cultural outreach, and as Nick Cull suggests, can even be counterproductive and reinforce the very perceptions we try to eschew. Such is the case when the prestige form of CD is too closely tied to the commercial or mainstream. 

CD is where a less monetary idea of the market place comes in handy and the market place of ideas shines. The exchange of said ideas does best with minimal gov’t intervention. Its role should not be to replicate “firms” that originate organically. Which may result in the creation of unsought, mismatched,  inefficient ones. It should encourage and facilitate the formation of organizations capable of engaging in each form CD, without bias. Send independent American documentary makers around the world to share their projects and collaborate with others on new ones. Promote youtube personalities and have them visit other personalities around the world. The state-side drawback of course, is that in the Liberal environment of the marketplace of ideas, the truth is ultimately the product being sold. How the “truth” manifests itself in art, music, science, etc. are all things we benefit greatly from, however, when political truths are the precipitate, the state(any state) will not appreciate the further loss of control.

 

To help ease at least the angst at not seeing immediate tangible results from cultural diplomacy, it may help to reframe our rational for investing in it. Cultural diplomacy is the long game. Perhaps this analogy can be extended to be seen as developing a well rounded RPG character. There are a variety of abilities and attributes as well as types of activities to engage in to improve one’s set of abilities and attributes. Abilities are active of passive and active abilities are usually determined by material means i.e. shooting fireballs requires mana potions, killing enemies requires guns and swords etc. Passive abilities like charisma determine NPC’s base receptiveness to you. It is developed by making choices  not only  in realtime conversation, but in investing skill points towards mental attributes otherwise spent on the physical. Through skillful interactions with other players, knowledge is gained that better informs the application of your active abilities i.e. fireballs works best on ghouls and not at all on dragons. Thus, I did not technically slay the ghoul with my charisma. If I “tanked” and spent all my character development resources and time spent doing skills augmenting activities in a very narrow focus, using pure might to succeed in a game, it would be much harder. And I have college to do and tests to study for, things holding me accountable for how I develop the character evenly to boost efficiency.

Perhaps the metaphor has focused more on the rationale behind developing a likable character, and less on how to do so, as in the specific strategies of CD that are most useful. With specific tactics and their effects, the metaphor could potentially be extended to the four forms of CD in a multiplayer setting, but I’ll  overextend this in a different post. 

On a final note, RPG’s are already being seen as a medium through with cultural exchange is occurring. Looking less at the personal character development aspect and more at the multiplayer interactions between citizens of different countries, there is plenty to study.

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