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Category Archives: Hunter’s section

As I was watching Citizenfour during this week’s screening, a thought occurred to me.  It was simple and obvious and yet somehow hadn’t really registered in my brain even halfway through the viewing: the reality of NSA surveillance is terrifying.  The notion that my very existence can be tracked at all times by adding a narrative to unwillingly collected metadata is something that should be wholly creepy and unsettling, like walking through life with a camera focused on my figure.

However, as I watched Edward Snowden struggle to settle his moussed hair into a less-than-obnoxious style, I realized that the cinematographic decisions made by the director were detracting from the gravity of the subject matter.  On one hand, the entertaining insertions of awkwardly dry comedy and distinctly human moments made me feel invested in the figure of Edward Snowden and the story he had to tell.  However, on the other hand, I couldn’t help but find myself caring a little too much about Snowden the man and too little about the gravity of what he was reporting.  Snowden himself frequently warned of this phenomenon occurring, debating with Greenwald about the timing of his stepping forward out of fear of diminishing the impact of his words by supplying the press with a distracting figure to project them onto.  Ultimately, I am left questioning Poitras’s intent in creating the work.  If her intent was to create an entertaining piece that is biographic in nature, I applaud her.  However, if her intent was to create an informative piece that was focused around best portraying the story, I question the stylistic decisions made.

A theme I found myself thinking back upon through out this week’s readings concerning hacking and the lecture about revenge porn, was the idea of the function of morality, and how it is both central and tangential to the inner-workings of each concept we explored. I feel as though there is a pull towards a certain “moral duty” of either hackers or spiteful ex-boyfriends to be the “morality police” and determine what some people do as wrong and how they are the ones that then must fix it. Upon further reflection, I feel as though the seemingly democratic structure of the Internet allows for this autonomy to take the actions that ones finds justified. What I find interesting about these Internet hackers and activists taking power into their own hands to correct what seems unjust always seemed hypocritical and contradictory to me. I thought there was a direct contradiction in people criticizing a system or systems for being unjust for entrenching their beliefs onto others, when, to some degree they do the same. In the same vein, the revenge hackers seek revenge against people who they find have done something wrong, and they push their idea of what is right.

I find this as an interesting take of how people approach morality.. I find it brought up the question of, when there are no systems or institutions such as governments which dictate what is morally okay (due to lack of legal laws written about the internet), does the internet present us with a form of anarchy? Is the way that people act on the Internet examples of what humans do when they are not given limits or constraints? Sites like Anonymous and IsAnyoneUp make me question human nature to some extent, and peoples’ true abilities to inflict pain on others when they do not see an immediate consequence.

Walking away from Citizenfour, I had mixed opinions. While the documentary was certainly revealing, it was a radically different perspective on an issue I previously thought I was fairly well informed on. I, therefore, can only assume that I am a prime example of the media-fed mass caught in a web of misinformation and skewed perspectives.

Let me be clear: I do not trust this film. Citizenfour paints Edward Snowden and his colleague Laura as whistleblowing heroes, out to serve justice on a corrupt system. As Professor Chun would say, “perhaps.” The reality is that regardless of Snowden’s best intentions or his selfless motivation, the NSA information leak which he caused revealed a great amount of confidential, private information that was potentially damaging and scored him his own critically acclaimed documentary and media celebrity status. It is valid to question whether the information he released should have been private or confidential in the first place, and what it actually means to be “private” in an age of the NSA tapping in, but there certainly may have been repercussions of his actions that go entirely unaddressed by the film. I appreciate that they put a personality behind the actions, and the film certainly paints him in a positive light opposed to the American media that responded with a heated debate over his criminal or savior status.

The shockwaves of Snowden’s actions will be felt for generations to come. The age of surveillance and control society has brought about a remarkable shift in the way we experience freedom. It can be seen where, in the movie, every hand raised at the question of whether people felt they have been watched. The static concept of freedom of years prior, idealistic in its penchant for unlimited expression and open will, has been shattered and cannot even been idealized any longer. Where we once could turn a blind eye to the tracking and metadata that very well may be occurring in our lives, we no longer can ignore corporate and government coding. The freedom that is idealized today, even in its most unrealistic sense, is still grounded with the undoubted recognition that our movements and participation in media and technology is being tracked. We will still work toward and aspire toward freedom, but it will not be achieved, and I think people recognize this even without Citizenfour our media theorists’ writings on the topic. It is a historic cultural change. Unfortunately, in my lifetime, I do not foresee us regaining faith in the land of the free.

*Controlled.

Obviously I am not the only student who was shocked and, to be honest, uncomfortable and scared in today’s screening. Clearly we are all familiar with the Snowden scandal and the ensuing media frenzy, and it’s natural that we would all have similar reactions to being forced to face the amount of surveillance all of our lives are under. However, I think I may have experienced another realization while watching Citizen Four about another level of ignorance I have or had. When these stories about the NSA broke, I was a far less aware junior in high school (I was reminded of this because of the Selena Gomez song that topped the charts at the time playing in the background of the documentary). Of course I followed the stories on some level, it was impossible not to, but I don’t think I understood the gravity of their implications until recently (maybe due to this course). Maybe it’s because of the reaction (or lack thereof) my parents had to the stories or because I was simply more self-involved and unaware of my surroundings at the time, but I seem to remember seeing Snowden as sort of a villain at the time, and I assume that’s because that’s the way the American government portrayed him. I understood that the amount of surveillance was wrong and a violation of privacy and therefore liberty, but I think I also thought that Snowden was wrong to leak government secrets as well (still trying to figure out how I reconciled these opinions). After watching Citizen Four, I sympathize with Snowden much more and even admire his bravery. I’m ruminating on his points about how the surveillance efforts of the government in order to fight “terrorism” did quite the opposite, and I take this to mean that the government ended up as invasive terrorists themselves, stripping Americans of their basic rights and violating fundamental values of the country.  The documentary plays out like a thriller portraying the potential extremes of government power and intimidation, so it’s very alarming that it’s all real and was so well hidden a few years ago.

Shah writes:

“These digital memories, as Chun argues, necessarily leak and betray us, placing our physical bodies in conditions of vulnerability and precariousness. This incontrovertible moment of exposure is the result of how the camera and the digital network work in tandem to create nodes of exposure that defy and challenge individual rights and aspirations. This mode of exposure is active.”

While obviously anxiety inducing for Shah, among others, in what way does this understanding of the leaking of digital memories – especially in terms of pornographic memories – allow a redefinition of the notion of a body? A memory of a body that is not digital constructs the body elsewhere than in the body; it is a conceptual image of a body and thus an extension of the body called “body.” However, if new media and its conncetion to pornography allow that conception of the body to engage in this leakage, is there optimistic potential in a vulnerability or a precariousness? Is it possible fora body to leak and to be exposed, but not injured? Perhaps not politically, but interpersonally? Is not this vulnerability akin to an intimacy? Intimacy – so rooted in the body – is a concept entrenched in the one-to-one-personal-interaction of the pre-internet. How could a rethinking of intimacy, the body, and vulnerability in terms of the potential leakage that is present in the verbal sense of “exposure” be used to forge new understandings of “intimacy” in ways that could be productive rather than destructive? (In terms of affect: women feel “destroyed” at their identity showing up on revenge porn sights; they’re upset. Is it possible for this leakage to occur in something quite unlike upsetness? Something like pleasure in the body that is leaked?)

My World of Warcraft character is a squat, scowling woman with bushy green pigtails, flowing robes and hoop earrings. Because why the fuck not. I remember picking some sort of classifications for her (magician maybe? dwarf?) but given the brief period of time we had to explore the magic circle of WoW, I couldn’t make myself care terribly about the fashion choices of my avatar.

After finishing the point-and-click tutorial quests and escaping the toxic waste filled underworld, I arrived fresh-faced and full of hope on the surface of a low-poly, steampunk alpine village which seemed to be in the middle of a kind of siege by … I don’t even know what. Something green and slimy. I guess the title World of Warcraft should have clued me into the fact that siege is a pretty quotidian affair in this universe. Suddenly, my diminutive stature and lack of any notable weapon seemed much less adorable and much more ill-thought-out.

Appropriately enough, I was almost immediately killed.

When you die in WoW, you awaken as a ghost in a cemetary in a black-and-white version of the world that reminds me forcefully of those artsy-fartsy infrared camera shots of normal forests. The only major differences in gameplay are the moody color scheme, the ethereal swirling vortex in the sky, and a total lack of other beings to brutally dispatch your innocent little self. Given my nature as more exploratory than combatant gamer, death was possibly the best thing that could have happened to me in the World of Warcraft. Only then did the work of moving from one quest to the next become the play of discovery. I spent the next 45 minutes wandering around woodland trails and fantastic castles undisturbed by bothersome quests and frightful beasts.

There’s a concept in game development called Time to Penis, or TTP. The TTP of an individual game is the time in which it takes a user to work within the rules of the game-world in order to create a representation of a phallus. For a game like Minecraft, this could be on the order of half a minute or so. Sim City might take you a bit longer. Due to my unfamiliarity with the game, I’d have a hard time estimating the TTP of World of Warcraft, but I don’t anticipate it’d be very long. There seems to be an innate force within some human gamers driving them to this subversive goal. It’s as if to say: Look, game developers, you don’t entirely own your creation. And here’s a massive cock to prove it.

I’m reminded of TTP by the fun of playing WoW as a ghost. I think the typical gameplay strategy is to find your way from the cemetary back to the place of your death, reincarnating yourself to continue on fulfilling quest after quest — continuing on in the game’s intended narrative. In the same way that Sim City isn’t for making dick-shaped villas, WoW isn’t for haunting around. But people still do these things. Subversion is, for better or for worse, a part of human nature. Games, and online media in general, seem to have an uncanny capacity for intensifying this desire.

Perhaps it’s the anonymity — as a fictional, polygonal avatar, the gamer is somewhat distanced from the consequences of their actions. Perhaps it’s the fiction itself — the game world is a game, somehow less serious than reality. Acting on intrusive thoughts is more acceptable here. Perhaps it’s the implication of competition — a game invites us to one-up each other, and by extension to one-up the world itself. By coloring outside the lines, so to speak, the gamer proves themself better even than the game.

The relationship between the intent of the creator of a piece of media, and its interpretation by an audience is typically complex. Many a text goes misinterpreted, sometimes with disastrous consequences. The relationship between playing a game as it should be and as you want to is no exception.

 

 

World of Warcraft was an interesting experience insofar as orienting a linguistic economy around the structures that are presented in the narrative of the game. “Linguistic” in terms of the limited language of actions that are available to characters during the game (this is certainly wide-sweeping and complicated: for example, my character, a blood elf, had his sword as well as a set of other powers he gained as he moved up levels). “Economy” is clearly present in the game seeing as the interaction players have with the quests and the corpses they kill deal with a trading of goods, but those goods can only be accessed through the “language” of the game. For me, what seems to be an interesting crux in the game is the way this linguistic economy has its foundation based in potential: the ability to engage in this economy is choice based; what highlights this strange threshold of action is the ability to engage linguistically in the game but not economically: wandering through the Sunspire in my world, I realized you could select and kill cats, which were not part of a mission and had no loot in their corpse. What does this represent in terms of relating excesses of linguistic action (excesses of what you can do in the game) that are extra-economic? How does this redefine the relation of the player to animals that are killed for quests? Does this isolate killing from the economic factors in the game?

Logging back onto World of Warcraft today was a huge flashback to my childhood – I don’t know how many hours I had poured into that game. My friends and I used to play all through high school until finally I made myself quit for the better. Yet this time revisiting my all-time favourite game, I had a completely new perspective. Much of this is down to the Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter’s article Biopower Play: World of Warcraft. They quoted Foucault: “The exercise of biopower makes possible the adjustment of the accumulation of men to that of capital, the joining of the growth of human groups to the expansion of productive forces and the differential allocation of profit” (124)

WoW to me before was nothing but simply a computer game, something that I can indulge myself on whenever I would finish my homework of have free time. Yet when I look at it now, I see what Foucalt is saying, a huge interconnected network of human groups that exercise this ‘biopower’, in order to foster life. To foster life within this hyper-real is to give it content, to be substantial, to have mass. As more and more people subscribed onto the game, it allowed the developers and moderators to pour more in-game material and expansions in order to suffice the needs of the gamers. “It is the constitutive bottom-up behaviour of player populations, the interaction of thousands of avatars, that gives this form content, animates its parameters and sometimes pushes against its preset limits.” ”. (127)

In short, Blizzard is creating a hyper-reality that mimics the real. What good is a society if there is no one living in it? There are cities that serve as hubs of the fictional world, such as Stormwind City for the Alliance, and Ogrimmar for the Horde. Likewise, in our own real world there is New York City, London, Hong Kong — central hubs of trade and business.  What all of these have in common is that they are recognised as their respective worlds’ social hub of interaction and activity. There is always someone awake and engaging in day-to-day life, or logged on, spamming the channels to look for groups to run dungeons or PVP (Player Vs. Player) teams; some even sell one-off items that garner the attention of everyone within the walls of the fictional city. The supply and demand never ends as the game keeps pumping out items that could be resold onto the market.

“Tapping into the collective creativity of millions of players can be highly profitable.” (148) This is resoundingly true as the practices of every player in the game allow a constant flow of new interactions, new experiences to be had, new missions and monsters to complete and conquer. The power of the people holds true even in this virtual reality. As a result, the joining of the growth of human groups allows the growth of capital as well – that naturally an organised society blooms in the face of biopower.

As we focus more on the notion of currency, or ‘gold’ in-game; we start to expose the boundaries of ‘preset limits’.  Like eBay, users sell whatever they want onto the auction house and buyers purchase whatever they feel like. When I used to play, I remember myself buying most of the cheap copper ore on the market. They were all bought at various prices, but I price fixed them so that the market value of the ore itself changed due to my own input and actions. Gamers bought my copper ore, and I made a healthy profit in the long run as I was able to undercut everyone else’s ore that was posted afterwards by a tiny margin as people would always choose the cheaper option.

Which leads to the main predicament of gold farming as posited by the original article. Subsumption “is the way capitalism gradually envelops the entire social environment, extending itself from the workplace into ever-expanding areas of culture, changing life habits, consumption practices, political practices, and interpersonal relations, creating what autonomists term “the social factory”.” (150).

As the access of gold becomes easier and cheaper, the incentive to just pay someone else for an absurd amount of gold that would’ve taken yourself ages to earn is proof that capitalism rules. The bigger the population, the bigger the chance of exploitation and of inequality. The tensions between gold farmers and regular gamers becomes amplified as the game becomes “a low-intensity resource war with echoes of ethnic cleansing” (147) People who do not take advantage of these services, which includes the option of purchasing rare weapons with real money or even high-level characters if you name a good price – all these serve to ruin the beauty of the game itself. This virtual world supposedly exercises the freedom of becoming anyone you want, rid of societal virtues. Yet capitalism envelops the entire environment, allowing WoW to become ‘the social factory’.

Therefore, as we overstep the limit of this bottom-up approach, we observe a ”dystopian realities of social existence so saturated by commodification that it is impossible to escape even in play.”  (150) In essence, we must ask – does biopower foster life? or disallow it? From the looks of it, not even in play of WoW can we escape the commodification that disrupts virtual life in itself – a tantalising parallel to us back in the human world.

Terranova’s essay emphasizes the increasingly blurry boundaries between work and leisure which arise as a consequence of the expansion of the internet and advent of new media. The blurriness of these frontiers is an overarching theme in this course and can be linked to Manovich’s discussion of interfaces — how we use the browser to search people’s profiles on Facebook while simultaneously doing research on a paper topic. The blurriness arises from the continuous movement and access to information, which is also addressed by Thrift. In Movement-Space, he states that “through cycles of calculation, observation and projection, we are individuals moving around connected to other people but not necessarily forming a group identity.” By always having access to information, it is becoming harder and harder to “switch off” completely and stop working.

I have always been distant from games my whole life, and as a result, I never considered them to be narratives, or rather, anything substantial. After reading Henry Jenkins’ piece on “Game Design as Narrative Architecture,” I tried to embrace the game as a story while interacting with the virtual world presented to my avatar. As Jenkins stated, my experience was mostly exploring and finding out about a space that the game makers built, rather than a coherent storyline. Granted, there were blurbs popping out every time I got a mission or completed one, describing why or how my avatar needs to slay the enemies or accomplish a task. However, after the first few pop-up windows, I stopped reading the explanations and only cared about specific information, such as which creatures to find, where to find them, and how many to kill. Consequently, the amount of narrative that I took in decreased steeply during my play. Despite my lack of interaction with the storyline, I would consider World of Warcraft a game with more narrative compared to other games. For instance, a game like Candy Crush requires minimal understanding of the context and relies heavily on the rules of switching and crushing the candies.

The narrative of a game also depends on the skill level of the player. While playing WoW, I had a difficult time coordinating my finger movements—both speed and accuracy were very low—and ultimately ended up dying 30 minutes into the game. I am sure that the narrative experience would have been different for a player more skilled at video games than I am. Meanwhile, considering my experience with Doom and Myst, WoW was extremely satisfying and fun, especially because the 3D interface was smooth and easily navigable. The map was much more easily accessible than in the other two games, allowing me to find my targets or destinations without too much trouble.