Don’t Hate the Player Hate the Game?

After reading Lisa Nakamura’s article ‘Don’t Hate the Player Hate the Game: The racialization of labor in World of Warcraft’, in Trebor Scholz, (ed.) “Digital Labor: The Internet as playground and factory” it reminded me of a game my friends used to play called RuneScape a fantasy massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) very similar to WoW (World of Warcraft). In her article, Nakamura addresses the topic of gold farming which has recently sparked a very interesting debate on online racialization. “Gold farming” is playing a MMORPG to acquire in-game currency that other players purchase in exchange for real-world money. Despite the majority of gaming operators expressively banning the practise of selling in-game currency for real-world cash the gold farming business has become very lucrative. This is supposedly because nations such as China where a reported 100,000 full-time employees work (an estimated 80% of all online gold farmers) take advantage of the economic inequality of the vast online community. Through cheap labour and hours of extensive online gameplay, gold farmers trade to players in richer, more developed countries who’re wishing to save hours of online playing time. The problem being, that gold farming is a shunned and semi-illegal trade causing serious negative connotations on the Asian and Chinese gaming community who are constantly being besieged with racial abuse, whilst simultaneously threatening the primary games market as a source of revenue.

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Whilst doing some research I spoke to a friend (who we’ll call Rob) that used to play RuneScape, and he told me that he’d been muted for 3 days for commenting on the “Asian plague” whilst he was in combat levelling a skill. Rob went on to justify that this was just the norm on RuneScape chat and that he never thought he was being racially abusive; it was simply 15 year old gaming lingo. The question is, is a 3 day mutation an adequate punishment for what Nakamura describes in her Ted Talks speech as “Anti-Immigrant Racism in Virtual Worlds”: her fifth classification of online racism. Nakamura goes on to state in her article that MMORPG’s much like MUDs (multiplayer real time virtual world) and MOOs (text-based online virtual reality system) have encouraged the development of racialized personae in a supposedly race-free medium. Personally, I’ve known Rob for many years and he isn’t an abusive human, let alone a racist, but his previous online persona articulates otherwise. So why is this, why do people moderate their language in real life if they’re going to remain uncivil online? And more importantly who is to blame for the development of Anti-Immigrant racism in virtual worlds- who’s responsible for regulating and controlling the user’s conversation, is it the producers of these games, the users or the parents?

As Nakamura suggests, I believe these games are simply encouraging the development of racial behaviour online by not moderating their users activity to a significant degree. RuneScape users who average an age of 16 have no restrictions on what they say or do, and can therefore be openly racially and verbally abusive. At such an apprehensive age, where teenagers thrive in unregulated scenarios and are constantly trying to push the boundaries it’s simply irresponsible that these programmes aren’t supervised more. Similarly, conglomerates such as Microsoft the producer of the Xbox light-heartedly enforce their user’s content policy in the Xbox Live code of conduct by asking users to “be polite and treat others with respect. Just because you’re online doesn’t mean you should be a jerk” and that’s about as far as they take the matter. I believe this is a significant contributing factor to the rise of “voice profiling of users”, Nakamura’s 2nd type of online racism which has increased rapidly due to users wearing headsets. In conclusion, the subject of gold farming has left me heavily questioning the governing bodies behind the producers of these games. Anti-Immigrant Racism is just another form of cyber bulling, and just like in Web 2.0 abusive anonymity online is serious matter that needs to be addressed and acted upon.

Forms of Digital Media

The traditional means of communication and expression such as cable television, radio, movies, newspapers and books have been forced to adjust to life in a rapidly changing digital age of new media where the internet and video games are justified by avidly borrowing from their analogue predecessors and granting access to them at anytime, anywhere.

A concept which explains the bond between the old and new is “remediation”, the idea that all new media rely on one of more preceding mediums which it refashions or re-purposes. Supposedly, the internet simply wouldn’t be anything without reverting back to traditional forms of media, all the internet does is network these preconceived forms- images, text, films. Remediation operates according to two representational strategies; “transparent immediacy” and “hypermediacy”. Transparent immediacy tries to make its medium invisible, by creating an interfaceless interface, concealing the process of remediation, whereas Hypermediacy calls attention to the process of remediation by acknowledging or highlighting the medium itself, like most television and the World Wide Web.

I recently watched a film called Strange Days (1995), a cyberpunk action thriller which talks of a futuristic technology called “the wire”, in which the sensors somehow make contact with the brains perceptual centres, enabling it to record the experiences of the wearer, then using their sense perceptions play back the experience. A concept which threatens to make all media forms obsolete, embodying the desire to go beyond mediation. A concept which despite being technologically impossible draws light on the human desire for a un-mediated virtual experience.

As Jay Bolter states in his article “Remediation and the Desire for Immediacy”

“In addressing our culture’s contradictory imperatives of immediacy and hypermediacy, this film (Strange Days) demonstrates what we call a double logic of remediation. Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them.”

However when Lenny (Protagonist/Black marketer) tries on the wire his experience is merely a continuous, first person point of view shot. Commonly known in cinema as a subjective camera angle. Despite this, the concept wasn’t too implausible. Digital media is constantly pushing for a medium that is so immediate we forget it’s there, a medium that “disappears from the users consciousness” which reminded me of a new digital media form Google have been working on. Google Glass.

Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head mounted display, with the mission of producing a mass market ubiquitous computer.

Google Glass

After watching the promotional video I was amazed. Google Glass I believe is a revolutionary concept in which people, or society will be connected to more knowledge and culture than imaginable whilst being able to communicate through virtual experience. Another thought that arose is how can this be managed; surely one could subtly film and capture content that is intrusive and private without anyone raising an eye, so is the technology moving faster than our cultural, legal or educational institutions can keep up with?

As a new medium, it is still just a computer which displays information in a smartphone-like aesthetic hands-free format, which communicates with the internet via natural language voice commands. And just like many other immediate forms of new media it wants to erase itself, it wants to be transparent. But what’s more transparent than glass? As Jay Bolter says “our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation” Is this what society has been waiting for?

Digital Culture

Digital Culture simply put, is the way in which the Internet and the World Wide Web changes our world socially, economically and politically.

If you think about just how big digital culture is it can become very daunting, so to simplify it I looked at an individual relationship between a person and technology.

In a recent article I read published in 1945 written by Vannevar Bush, a leading engineer, inventor and science administrator called As We May Think notes his prophesy of the organisation of information. In chapters 6-8 he talks of a “Memex” which is the concept of an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory. As I was reading this I immediately related to his futuristic vision in terms of modern technology.

“A mechanized private file and library… stores all books, records and communications, and which is mechanized so that it can be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility”

“On deflecting one of these levers to the right he runs through the book before him, each page in turn being projected at a speed which just allows a recognizing glance at each. If he deflects it further to the right, he steps through the book 10 pages at a time; still further at 100 pages at a time. Deflection to the left gives him the same control backwards.”

My first simplistic thought was of my Apple Ipad, a tablet computer with touchscreen sensitivity. As Bush speaks of “deflecting one of these levers” I imagined myself swiping my finger across the touch screen, browsing through my Ibooks library. If the book I’m looking for isn’t already downloaded I’d head to the search bar, configured simply by word association, a reality Bush could only dream of. Just like the Memex, my Ipad stores my favourite books, photographs, articles, videos and various other forms of media.

It amazed me to read this article and see just how far the relationship between technology and people had developed in the last 70 years. However storing personal data and memory is only a small, personal aspect of how digital culture has evolved. It made me wonder if technology has come this far in the last seventy years, where it will be in the next one hundred. How far can human beings rely on computers?

In contrast to the relationship between technology and individual people I looked at a case study of a recent relationship between technology and an entire country.

What started with a philosophy called Objectivism by Ayn Rand led to a digital culture called the Californian Ideology. A belief that technology can liberate people from the old ways of politics and form a self-sustaining independent new market. At first this concept didn’t seem too far-fetched which is why I think it was a growing voice in the US, especially the West Coast including Silicon Valley where networking technologies were rapidly growing. However this growth led to huge financial fluctuations. At first computers allowed America to enter the New Economy, an age of computerised stability in which productivity dramatically increased and politicians reaped the rewards. Unfortunately naivety from President Clinton to ignore advice and delegate authority to the treasury led this to continue for many years until 1997. Greed, love and power led to the collapse of this plentiful era, causing the property crisis in East Asia, in which the US had so heavily invested. America’s financial stability was over and when the crisis hit Clinton’s treasurers only helped themselves, far from creating stability the US market was corrupt and left many countries in East Asia including Thailand and Indonesia devastated.

The moral I learnt from this story is that the Internet cannot create a democracy; the idea of computerised market stability has failed, and to become dependent on computers is potentially very dangerous, yet we still can’t imagine another future than one with digital culture leading the way.

Digital Media and Everyday Life

Digital Media has been a part of my everyday life for nearly as long as I can remember. For me digital media’s primary function is to work as a cheap, fast, and efficient way of staying in contact with friends and family from all over the world. Using sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Soundcloud and Youtube to name those most popular.

I use it on pretty much a daily basis to arrange meetings and social gatherings, to share and to receive new found interests and activities with my nearest and dearest, as well as creating personal accounts to store my own virtual diary of photographs, articles, music and video clips.

However as much as I love digital media, there isn’t a better feeling than being in a remote part of the country, relieved from the weight of the digital world we live in. Often only for a few days, until a bar of signal or 3G reaches your mobile and social applications start swarming you with notifications of new, fresh action you’ve missed in the last week.