Tag Archives: Privacy

Can Video Games Make Thoughtful Social Critiques?

Just to be clear, I am not a gamer. The only video game I ever successfully completed was Jill of the Jungle, which we owned on floppy disk when I was a kid.

I’m pretty sure I only liked this game because Jane was a super cool tough girl,

In fact, up until this past year I would have argued that video games don’t really have any redeeming qualities. At worst, they are a hotbed of misogyny and xenophobia, as chronicled by female gamers on websites like Not in the Kitchen Anymore and Fat, Ugly or Slutty. At best, they are like a bottomless pit where the lives of children and adults disappear, never to resurface.

Although I suppose the same could be said about pretty well anything.

This year a good friend convinced me to try a Digital Humanities class at my University. For those of you who haven’t heard of the field before (I hadn’t either), Wikipedia defines it as the “intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities”.  If you want to see some examples of the kind of research being done in the field, you could check out two of my past posts describing DH scholar Lisa Nakamura’s guest lectures at my university.

While this class has challenged the way I see technology in general, it has particularly challenged my very negative perception of video games. In fact, Ian Bogost, one of the DH scholars we studied in the course, argues that games can form powerful arguments and unique social critiques. In his book, Persuasive GamesBogost describes arguments made by a game as “procedural rhetoric“, or, more simply as “the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions, rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures”.

Below, I’ve included four examples of persuasive games my DH professor shared with the class. Each of these games make relevant and thoughtful arguments that wouldn’t have been as effective if they didn’t appear in their procedural form.

The Parable of the Polygons

Vi Hart and Nicky Case preface their simple browser game by stating that “This is a story of how harmless choices can make a harmful world.” Hart and Case explain that the triangles and squares are “slightly shapist”. This means that the shapes prefer some level of diversity around them, but will become unhappy if they feel isolated in their community. Players are then asked to drag and drop the shapes until all of the squares and triangles are happy with the community of shapes around them.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 1.28.02 PM

Click on the image to play the game

Once the player begins moving the shapes, it becomes apparent that even a slight bias will lead to large scale segregation. Continue reading

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Shame Day: The NSA (And Its Defenders)

Readers, I could spend a post and then some spewing acidic bile about the NSA, and as much as I am tempted to, I’m not going to. It’s not that the NSA doesn’t deserve to be lambasted, it’s just that this is a culture blog, not a political one, and it’s mentality we’re gonna be talking about here today- the attitudes (and people) which are giving this psychotic system fertile ground to grow in.

“It Protects You, So It’s Good For You…”

This isn’t the first time that stupid slogan’s been trotted out by whatever ******s are in power, but since it’s rearing its ugly head in public again, it’d be remiss of us not to take some shots at it.

Supposing the program is knocked out and, God forbid, a year down the pike something happens? I’d never forgive myself.

That’s a quote from Californian representative Dianne Feinstein, defending, last Saturday, the NSA’s continued invasion of the privacy of both citizens and non-Americans alike.

I actually agree with the Congresswoman on this one. It’s why I’ve got my family encased in bubble wrap and locked in my basement. Supposing I let them out and they got hit by a car? I’d never forgive myself.

No, because I am a sane person.

Continue reading

Shame Day: Political Ignorance

Do you know what the origin of the word “idiot” is?

It comes from the ancient Greek for someone who is totally self-centered; someone without any interest in public affairs. To the inventors of democracy, “idiocy” was the opposite of “citizenship.”

Readers, we are surrounded by idiots.

When I was putting together yesterday’s post, the pictures I used inevitably had a host of comments sighing “It’s Washington, what do you expect?”, “Politicians have always been dirtbags,” and “This is why I don’t vote.”

The issues change, but the reactions remain the same. People throw up their hands and start spewing folksy, thought-cancelling truisms about how politics is inherently corrupt, or how it’s always been this way and always will be, or how it doesn’t matter who you vote for. Continue reading

Destroy CISPA

The vast majority of my generation was probably too young to remember the Patriot Act even being signed into existence. Hailed as a necessary evil in the so-called “war on terror,” this piece of legislation made sweeping attacks on the privacy of the people it was supposedly meant to protect. Rather than repeal the Orwellian hallmarks of the Bush administration, Obama expanded them.

Every time some new attack on our privacy is proposed, I find myself hoping that this, this, will be the line.

So far I’ve been hoping in vain. Continue reading

Evan and Gordon Talk: Facebook and Privacy

EVAN: So in spite of the fact that I voted for my topic of preference on last week’s poll, Facebook and privacy and whatnot won. Having bitterly admitted that, Gordon?

GORDON: While the topic of Facebook (or all social networking) and privacy certainly isn’t a new debate, it’s not one that’s lost its relevance either.

As we rely on the internet more and more as our primary means of communication and entertainment, how do we address the issue of having every little element of our lives dissected and sold to the highest bidder?-

EVAN: I mean, really, everyone has been the target more or less of having their information used by Facebook. Log on and check out those sidebar ads; every one has been tailored using the cookies of sites you’ve visited. Which is why mine are always StarCraft related, etc.

GORDON: First thing we gotta ask is- “Is this really a problem? Aint it better to have ads that are actually relevant to you, rather than yet another ****ing insurance commercial courtesy of Geico?”

EVAN: Ugh, Geico. How many ad campaigns can a single company have?

EVAN: Moving disgustedly along, that’s a very relevant point. I’m interested in video games, so to have sidebar ads about such things is not something I can really complain about.

GORDON: I’ve got a pretty aggressive adblock, so I’m fortunate enough not to have to deal with that; but the underlying assumption with that kind of thought is that ads are inevitable. That you can’t get away from ’em, so you might as well try to get ones you like…

EVAN: Which is why, as you well know, I only thumbs up a select number of ad types on Hulu. Food, alcohol, video games, and certain movies.

GORDON: But with Hulu- you are the person in control. I mean, think of it this way: would you tolerate a guy going through your garbage so he can send you junk mail tailored to you?

EVAN: I’ve gotta think about that for a second . . . I mean, not getting junk mail about window/door services would be nice.

The whole “going through your garbage” thing definitely carries some different associations then simply tracking cookies. Maybe it’d be more like- a TV guy who follows you around when you shop, noting what you are and aren’t interested in.

GORDON: But that’s also flawed- in that scenario, you’re actually looking for stuff to buy….

EVAN: Well, you window shop, I mean- browsing, etc. Looking at what you look at, that sort of thing.

GORDON: So I’ve got this obnoxious guy following me wherever I go, listening in on my every word, and trying to sell me his wares without rest. Isn’t that one of the ironic punishments in Dante’s Inferno?

EVAN: Bringing this back to Facebook and whatnot, do we in general have a problem with the ads? I mean, they’re not the most obtrusive to begin with.

GORDON: Well, ads are only one example. What about your location?

EVAN: People want that stuff, though. It’s part of this new generation, tweeting where you are, statuses that read “I just had lunch with ______ at ______.”

GORDON: I’m not talking about when you state your location, I’m talking about when your location is pinpointed and used regardless of your awareness. Sexy Singles in Houghton being a prime example.

EVAN: Heh.

For context, Houghton is where we both attended college. It is so small it is not considered a town. It is a hamlet.

GORDON: The majority of the population- vast majority- is made up of the student body.

EVAN: Vast majority.

GORDON: Meaning that the town decreases by about 80% each summer.

EVAN: But those ads are all the same- they’re just slapping a different town [or hamlet] name onto whatever’s being advertised.

GORDON: But are you really okay with that? That not only your interests are out there, but your location as well? Regardless of your consent?

EVAN: As far as I can tell, it’s more eerie than anything else. And it goes from creepy to laughable when something like “Sexy Singles in Houghton” comes up.

GORDON: Now, as you are in Canada, this might not sound as relevant to your situation- but what about the gummint’ commin’ t’get’ ya?

I mean, there have been issues here in the States,  huge issues, with companies turning over personal information- including conversations- to law enforcement and security agencies without much (if any) process.

EVAN: Heh. “Gummint.” But yeah, that stuff has definitely happened. And seriously, what Facebook does with our personal information is very important.

GORDON: I guess it’s more or less the same for me- though I was a bit older, and having grown up in Syria (where they eventually blocked Facebook)- I never put anything on there I didn’t assume everyone could and would read.

Still do. Or don’t, rather.

EVAN: It’s interesting in that privacy settings are so much more advanced now though, in a way. If you don’t want people looking at even your profile pictures you can do that. Meaning that potential employers can’t use it as a legitimate check on future employees anymore.

GORDON: Now that  is messed up. We can all agree on that.

EVAN: Hm?

GORDON: Employers attempting to maintain control over their workers by monitoring their FB profiles, citing “character” as a reason or justification.

EVAN: Ah, that’s what you were getting at. So to some extent we’re in control of an aspect of our privacy on Facebook.

GORDON: No question. But speaking in a more general sense, what does that do to us as a people? As a society?

EVAN: Well, I for one am incensed when I want to look at a pretty girl’s profile pictures, and even though she clearly has them, I’m told that “there are no pictures in this album.” Bold-faced lies.

GORDON: You’re a pervert.

EVAN: My point stands.

GORDON: So we’re more dishonest with each other? We’re still ironing out the wrinkles in our old-world/cyber-world blend?

EVAN: Are we more dishonest with each other? I mean, if we’re really deconstructing this, the internet has made us more dishonest than we’ve ever been ever.

GORDON: Explain.

EVAN: Nothing we put online is necessarily true. Dating website profiles back me up on this.

GORDON: This is true. Are we then actually more skeptical and guarded despite the critics’ claims?

EVAN: Which are-

GORDON: The general spiel- the internet (social networking especially) is playing on our trust and making us more and more exposed for those who would make money off of us.

EVAN: Ah. Vulnerable, etc. I gotcha.

I’d say people in general are still naive enough to fall for obviously stupid ads [if they didn’t work they wouldn’t still be around]. But we are more skeptical as a generation, so really both are true.

GORDON: Fair enough.

EVAN: And we are exactly out of time.

GORDON: Remember to stop by next week for our discussion on the upcoming season of Community.

EVAN: Yes. It’s gonna be good. And I already know you’re going to end this with that Troy/Abed gif.

GORDON: I am indeed.