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Monthly Archives: March 2016

I found Shah’s article regarding porn as a regulating tool of human sexuality very accurate, especially considering current conversations in media regarding porn. This New York Times article applies Shah’s argument to teens, whose sexuality is shaped at an early age from a combination of accessibility of porn and inaccessibility of accurate sex ed. I am interested in this article’s awareness that we need to treat ‘new’ porn, as Shah calls it, with its accompanying framework regarding hate, guilt, abuse, and personal rights.

While reading Wark’s “Agony (On the Cave)”, I was fascinated by the authors use of centering the game as reality within their argument for a critical theory stemming from such- it seems to be an approach which simultaneously regards games as entities worth respecting, and reverses the usual reflection (that games are only mirrors of the systems of the reality, and thereby of course everything in reality is going to look like a game: it’s like saying the book feels like the movie based on it). In this, I find a unique difference between the game-space and reality- due to societal conditioning, physics, and physical needs, it may seem as though actions are bounded within the real world in the same way that they are in a game. However, the expansion of being able to make just about any word, or combinations of words, and such gives reality such a larger scope than the games held within it- a quantifiable argument for it be the predecessor and the center point of a critical theory. However, because options in a game are more limited, it allows us a more rigid boundary with which to construct our analysis of any product from the game space perspective. In this the outliers become much more apparent, and the thereby the world is more easily discussed and categorized. However, this categorization is of course inherently difficult (the combat between humans seemingly survivalist need to classify everything into distinct boxes and the reality of the amorphousness that is existence), and may provide a psychological feedback loop in the distinguishing categorization within mentalities. In essence, the categorized game trains the player to categorize more naturally- and then in the systems which they can build and control (for a key difference as well in the game world and the real world is the impressed ability to truly, permanently affect structures within the real world, a rare mechanic to say in the least), they make more categorized. And the vicious subdivision continues.

This week I found the Wark piece particularly stimulating and intrusive (in a healthy way).

Plunging into connotations of “The Cave”,  he shows how the act of gamification is no less primary than the depictions in Plato’s allegory. The concept of “shadow” is very deliberate, too, for shadow is the very result of the “blocking” of light. By saying “…The Cave is just a shadow”, Wark suggest that games are the absence and replacement of reality.

Different from Plato and Socrates, however, games today are based not on complete ignorance, but on the civilized men’s subconscious desire for control, hierarchy and war. As he points out: “On the contrary it is this fantasy of face to face encounter with an enemy killed bloodily that we construct in order to escape the Real of the depersonalized war turned into an anonymous technological operation.” Despite obvious interventions of war machines, gamification indeed infringes morality and social infrastructure by turning what use to be ethnical debates into “binary” options. Whatever the players do will only end in one of those two results: victory or defeat. Binary presets also infiltrate our physical world: Kelly’s blender and toaster questioned how our interactions with physical environment are now mainly achieved through “push buttons” – the prescribed boolean operations.

With artificial rules come artificial trophies. In the context of video games the player is reward with badges, blood or weapons as incentives for them to play more. In the real world, the “player”, if following the set rules, is rewarded with capital and social esteem. As Wark points out: “Faith is having the intelligence to intuit the parameters of this geek design and score accordingly”, and that the winner is “chosen by the game as the one who has most fully internalized its algorithm”. Morality becomes replaced by win-lose mechanisms.

This make me wonder if our current education system is indeed gamified as well. In some ways, we could think of higher education institutions as turning knowledge into commodity, using rules to quantify learning and exams to score the quality of students. And just as game developers are the “God” of gameplaces, the university predetermines what subjects and to what extent of each subject one needs to learn to survive Level Bachelor. Institutions also commodify knowledge through branding. Despite the reality that knowledge could also be learned outside of school setting, the system of diploma grants badges and trophies only if the player learned it in designated classrooms and time frame.

Last but not the least, the idea of “Plabor” raises very compelling questions as to the invisibility of cheap labor and violation of working conditions in the digital age. Amazon Mechanical Turk seems to provide “opportunities” to make money just by clicking on your laptop at home, but the reality is that the payment is so low that a person in third country has to stick to the computer for 10 hours a day to barely feed him/herself, let alone any social welfare or insurances that comes with the “job”. And because it’s often hard to distinguish wether a search suggestion is generated by algorithm or by Mechanical Turk, the severeness of labor exploitation is often blurred. In China, there are also game players hired to help tackle the initial levels of video games and then sell these player accounts. Whoever buys such account can start directly from a higher level without going through the time-consuming/boring levels, basically saying “my time is more precious than yours.”

The relationship between gamification and capitalism is something that fascinated me in the readings and lectures this week. Thinking back to my own experiences with games, I realized that many games seek to emulate capitalism, particularly through the same promise of individuality that capitalism offers. In real life, we brand ourselves with the brands we buy; in games like Neopets, we spend our hard-earned Neopoints on expensive paints and costumes and petpets for our pets in pursuit of uniqueness.

There are also games that grapple more directly with the relationship between gaming and capitalism. One called “AdVenture Capitalist” has the player gradually build an empire of capital, starting from selling a single lemonade stand. I downloaded it when I first heard about it and realized after about five minutes that there was literally no gameplay involved — you sit around pressing a little orange button which earns you money, which you eventually spend to invest in things that earn you more money. It’s a game which is solely concerned with the acquisition of money, which is then spent on things that earn you more money. I was confused. Was it a satire of other games structured like this in a slightly more complex form? Of the mundanity and repetition of most 9-5 jobs? Of capitalism as a whole? I still don’t know, but it was strangely addictive, despite its utter lack of meaning. In game-worlds like Neopets, at least, we’re coerced into forming an emotional attachment to our pets. AdVenture Capitalist drew me in, even though it was literally just numbers growing on a screen, because it made me feel like I owned something, like this virtual money gave me some stake in the world.

As Wark writes, “Work is a rat race… the economy is a casino.” The proliferation of games is also something that capitalism encourages through the gaming industry, thus making it easier for work places to gamify labor by marketing it as something fun and competitive. I’m fascinated by this twofold relationship between games in imitation of work and work in imitation of games.

The autonomy of Kelly Dobson’s transitory objects, such as Blendie provide an interesting opposition to the binary perspective of technology where we are the controllers of technological devices (such as Siri) that unfailingly respond to our needs, or that technology is implemented as a means to control and discipline human bodies; in either respect it promotes an unethical relationship with the subject being controlled. How could we consider the design of technology in relation to trans-subjectivity without removing the practical functions that they fulfill. Is this notion only limited to speculative projects?


The world of Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs), as we learned in Dibbell’s, “A Rape in Cyberspace,” strattles the line of real and virtual. Anything that exists or occurs in these worlds have no tangible, physical place in the real world, and yet holds real world implications. In the Dyer-Witheford chapter on biopower in the MUD, World of Warcraft, we are presented with the restrictions Blizzard places on user choices – they restrict the extent of character customization, as well as restricting the abilities of each character based on the choices made. This forms a hierarchy, designed by Blizzard, granting itself the authority and power to manipulate its subjects – users of the online game world.

Does this truth have real world implications? Perhaps this works to bring to light some harsh realities. In speaking of the World of Warcraft’s different options for races (blood elves, night elves, humans, trolls, orcs, etc.), Dyer-Witheford references Foucault’s concept of sustaining hostilities between the racial groups, “a war between between the races.” They achieve this through the aforementioned restrictions, the abilities granted to certain groups and denied to others. This simulates the truths of the real world – the habit of groups in authority to pit marginalized groups against each other. Just as poor whites were taught to hate African Americans and previous offenders of the law contend with veterans for employment program funding, the people of Alliance and Horde are also set up in a situation of “perpetual antagonism.” This benefits the people in authority, establishing a top-down exercise of biopower in which Blizzard and the hegemonic elite have the authority “to foster life or disallow it.” Thus, World of Warcraft effectively simulates a societal truth, an exemplary display of the gap between the real and the virtual.

Chris talked about apps that turn chores or mundane tasks of our every day into a game by offering virtual rewards when you complete them. It is so interesting how video games already were at a basic level formed from real life, making virtual games out of real life games and interactions. And now we are taking that a step further and getting tasks done in our real lives to “win” at these virtual games completely based on our every day actions. How much further can the line between gamespace and meatspace be blurred? When do they become one space?

So there were quite a few things about the Dyer-Witheford piece that I wanted to talk about some in terms of my personal experiences with a big MMO, experiences that vastly differ from the experiences that were depicted in the Everquest presentation and were roughly commented on in the Dyer-Witheford piece. That MMO was City of Heroes, a pay-to-play turned free-to-play MMO that ran from 2004-2012 and had twenty-three major updates in the time it was active. I was around for sixteen of those and lurked on the Champion server with the supergroup The Farstriders, who were also allies with the largest trans-server supergroup Safe Harbor. I’d like to emphasize at the time I started playing — April 2004, during the beta pre-release — I was only nine years old.

Dyer-Witheford emphasizes that “[w]hile an MMO’s initial programming— code manufactured and owned by a corporate publisher— sets the constituted parameters for virtual existence, it is the constitutive bottom- up behavior of player populations, the interaction of thousands of avatars, that gives this form content, animates its parameters, and sometimes pushes against its preset limits.”  This reminded me a lot of the Everquest presentation from Tuesday’s lab last week and the discussions of racism and homophobia within the game chat. It also made me think of a comment made to me in this week’s lab while playing WoW, where a veteran player was mentioning that it was nice to get to read the text on the missions because a lot of people within the core of the game would get impatient, focusing purely on finding teams with people who were interested on breezing through for the sake of being “powerful” and having a leg up over other people. While the worlds are created by the publishers, it is the people who build the environment within them, be it good or bad.

However, it’s also noted that “Azeroth’s perpetual antagonism between Alliance and Horde corresponds to Foucault’s suggestion that sovereign biopower depends on war: “It divides the entire social body, and it does so on a permanent basis; it puts all of us on one side or the other” (268).” Games like World of Warcraft and Everquest are built on the idea of PVP, or player versus player, being an aspect of the community. How the community interacts with each other is somewhat built into the game, with purposeful divisions and means of robbing each others dead bodies being aspects of the gameplay rather than social faux pas.

Which takes me to City of Heroes. As previously mentioned, I was nine when I started playing, and a girl. My Dad watched over my shoulder for the first two or three years, but after that I was left to my own to my own devices. One of the things that always struck me in hindsight was that, over the course of the five years I played, I encountered only two distinct instances of harrassment — and one was followed by a very drunken and polite apology after I asked my Dad to talk to the guy for me. The supergroup I was in was well aware of my age and took on an extra protective role around me, and was patient and kind despite my questionable tactics and lack of team-player skills. I had a tendency to rush in, or get lost in a map and require a search and rescue team to find me. My team — even people outside of my supergroup — were almost uniformly more than willing to make the trek to wherever I’d run off to and died.

That environment, one of acceptance and respectability and fun, wasn’t the standard of MMOs I’d come to find out, hence why I haven’t touched a multiplayer game since. While reading the Dyer-Witheford piece, I tried to make sense of what differed City of Heroes from other MMOs and what could be done to recreate that environment in the future. Unfortunately, the answer I came to was that any current MMO couldn’t possibly foster that community — it’d have to start from a blank slate.

There were two big differences between City of Heroes and other MMOs. One, it was pay to play from the start, with subscribers paying a monthly fee of $20 to keep their account active. They kept this method until 2011 when they switched to a hybrid payment model that offered limited free-to-play content. This mostly gatekept the game from anyone who wasn’t seriously invested in it, possibly preventing the worst of the toxic gamers who could have flooded the game if it’d been available to anyone. Second, it didn’t add PVP content until the fourth major update a year after the game was released, which ties back to that quote above about how WoW is built on pitting players against each other. The world has as much affect on the community as the community does on it. In City of Heroes, the heroes were pitted against the villan groups, and meant to work together in teams to achieve this. Even when PVP gameplay was added, it was so limited that no one really used it. There was one more major patch for it, and a few PVP zones created in those first few years, before focus switched to more customization (such as the addition of more super hero costumes, new supergroup bases, and the mission architect system that allowed players to build their own missions to show the public.)

People never jumped onto PVP because that was not what the players had joined to do. We joined to be heroes.

It’s important to note though that City of Heroes shut down in 2012 after a drop of activity made it impossible to continue funding the world that had been built, while WoW continues moving forward despite its questionable gameplay (as my girlfriend really likes to rant about despite not playing the game herself) and occasionally toxic community (as is present in a lot of Blizzard games, especially Heroes of the Storm). In my time in that world of heroes I met men who played female characters, strong black characters, characters who promoted LGBT pride in their design. I wish there could be an MMO of WoW’s caliber that adheres to the ideals that City of Heroes established — a world meant to encourage the community to work together rather than favoring PVP play, a world that offered one of the most iconic and in-depth character creators ever versus one where people are shamed and insulted for playing as a black character, or a woman, or any other marginalized identity.

But this requires a publisher willing to build a world that would foster that kind of community rather than actively encourage toxicity, and I’m just not sure any of them think another City of Heroes could make money in this day and age.

It’s interesting looking at the rise in gamification in the workplace and how this works to further capitalist ideals. Many gaming strategies employed at work such as leaderboards or employee of the month awards make work a competition and fellow coworkers become competitors. I’m curious how this affects workplace relationships and the ability of employees to organize in opposition to their employer.

“Everything is digital and yet the digital is as nothing. No human can touch it, smell it, taste it. It just beeps and blinks and reports itself in glowing alphanumerics, spouting stock quotes on your cell phone.” (Wark 6)
Wark describes objects of the military entertainment complex here with a certain flatness in the sense that- no matter efforts to texturize digital surfaces with vivid colors or 3D simulations- they will remain, “just an algorithm” (7). Kelly Dobson’s “ScreamBody”, however, complicates assumptions of digitized textures as smooth and contained (or as resemblant of a circuit board). Instead she houses hard mechanical parts inside a malleable, bodily shell to create an extended “organ”, of “natural” form. Counter to digital landscapes like that of Tron’s sleek, plantless grid, ScreamBody takes into consideration the flexibility of lifeforms. Insofar as industrial (tiled, leveled, metallic) surfaces are frequently gendered masculine, ScreamBody’s amalgamate composition- of rigid gears surrounded by soft sensors- present the possibility for a gendered device of some atypicality.