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Week Fourteen (Mon, 4/25): "The Alienation of Play"....and Performing!

I. Coursekeeping
today's notetakers: ekthorp, MSA322, fawei

course evals for those missing on Wednesday:
cara, HillaryG, smile, kelliott, TiffanyE

Visualizing Tron

today's performers (second 1/2 of classtime):
phreNic, Marina & Merlin, Apo & tangerines (with supporting cast)

on Wednesday, everyone else will perform
(also sign up then for final conferences....)

from the forum:
Werner Herzog, via Hilary_B: "explaining and scrutinizing the human soul, into all its niches and crooks and abysses and dark corners, is not doing good to humans. We have to have our dark corners and the unexplained. We will become uninhabitable in a way an apartment will become uninhabitable if you illuminate every single dark corner and under the table and wherever- you cannot live in a house like that anymore.”

vgaffney: Herzog’s notion of illuminating the “dark corners” and, consequently, perhaps knowing or realizing too much evokes my initial response to Chorost’s idea of an interconnected web of minds via the internet…. perhaps such a web of interaction—such an increase in our knowledge of these “dark corners—would be deleterious … I feel myself resisting the extent of the knowledge that such access…would give us to others’ thoughts and emotions…. Herzog’s quote interestingly evokes some of the potential negative aspects of communication.

mirella's ongoing conversation with micahel chorost re: privacy

tangerines: My main issue with [Tron Legacy] is the way in which the film privileges “users” as being more intelligent and important than “programs”. Given the themes of our course, I felt this part of the film didn’t fit, since we have devoted so much time & energy to breaking down binaries/hierarchies.
II. which leads us to Corey Doctorow's short story,
"Anda's Game," also crossing the boundaries "between":
what's the difference (is there one?) between programs and users,
between those who game on- and off-line?

let's contextualize this reading first,
find out how much experience we have in this room:
who among you are gamers?
what can you tell us about your experiences?
how much are you aware of the larger world in which you game?
what do you know about the economics of the gaming world,
of its relation to various other dimensions of "meatspace"?



The title of Doctorow's story is a play on the famous SF novel Ender’s
; it operates as both a de- and re-construction of the original.
(Who is familiar w/ this story??)

"A hundred years ago, Ender, we found out some things. That when a commander's life is in danger be becomes afraid, and fear slows down his thinking. When a commander knows that he's killing people, he becomes cautious or insane, and neither of those help him do well. And when he's mature, when he has responsibilities and an understanding of the world, he becomes cautious and sluggish and can't do his job. So we trained children, who didn't know anything but the game, and never knew when it would become real. That was the theory, and you proved that the theory worked."

“Anda’s Game” is–very importantly– the first story Salon published under a Creative Commons license; and

more importantly? (Doctorow’s summary) “it riffs on the way that property-rights are coming to games: the bizarre spectacle of sweat-shops in which children are paid to play the game all day in order to generate eBay-able game-wealth.”

After so many classes of agonizing about our on-line identities –
do we re-do them or re-solidify them in social networks?
this story might operate as

  • a reminder of the U.S.-centricity of our work together here;

  • a reminder of the class-blindness of much of our work together here;

  • a return to questions re: how to apply what we are doing here outside here
    or: what difference does it make? how to enact that difference?

  • What character would we play [do we play??] in this society and why?


“Gold Farming” is a whole new ball game for me-- so more for you:

Ben Hoyle, Gamers’ lust for virtual power satisfied by sweatshop workers, The Times, September 23, 2006

Julian Dibbel, The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer, New York Times Magazine, June 17, 2007:
the phenomenon of selling virtual goods for real money is called real-money trading, or R.M.T.... M.M.O. players looking to sell their virtual armor, weapons, gold and other items would post them for auction.... 

For years now, the vast majority of virtual goods has been brought to retail
... by high-volume online specialty sites like the virtual-money superstores IGE, BroGame and Massive Online Gaming Sales — multimillion-dollar businesses offering one-stop, one-click shopping and instant delivery of in-game cash. These are the Wal-Marts and Targets of this decidedly gray market, and the same economic logic that leads conventional megaretailers to China in search of cheap toys and textiles takes their virtual counterparts to China’s gold farms....

.... online games — even when there is no exchange of actual money — can produce actual wealth. And in doing so ... curious has happened to the classic economic distinction between play and production: in certain corners of the world, it has melted away. Play has begun to do real work.

Rowenna Davis, Welcome to the New Gold Mines, The Guardian, March 5, 2009

Ge Kin, ‘Chinese Gold Farmers in MMoRPGs”

“One person’s play is another person’s work”
Marx on “the alienation of play”=power-leveling
“We sell our labor to someone else; it does not belong to us….
inevitable in capitalism? Play is an irreducible element of life…
what happens when it is commodified”?

“More than outsourcing”:

“in the virtual world, the competitors for resources and the consumers have
to face the Chinese gold farmers, and that kind of encounter causes anxiety”

“in the virtual world, our identity shouldn’t be limited
to nationality or race, but those things still matter”

“the virtual world is the perfect global village, this small place
where players from all over the globe can play together”

“but it is also a divided world:
those things that divide us in the real world still divide us
it has become a manifestation of the necessity to define yourself
against some one else, to have this win or lose scenario”

“gold farming pollutes the magic circle, this pure fantasy world
totally isolated from any troubles in the real world”

“As a non-gamer, I don’t care if I am playing this fair game;
it’s never a level playing field for me”

“What does this phenomenon tell us about the real world?
What lesson can I learn?”

“The world is not flat=
everyone does not have the same access to the same global market;
the gold farming shows that it is a divided global village.”

Let's think together about/explore the challenge raised by Doctorow’s story: what are the implications of your own gaming experiences for others in the world? Let's think beyond our own “identity issues” to ask (and try to answer?) the problem posed in Doctorow’s story: “The kids in the game–-she didn’t know what to do about them.”

  • How might you re-write the narrative about your own gaming experiences, from a more global–or linked– perspective? Think not only about the “identities” of the gold farmers (or those who have assembled your computer, or maintain it, or…) but about the conditions in which those identities are being constructed.

  • Tech Recruiting Clashes With Immigration Rules

  • Google’s ‘Immigration Fixer’

    On who else’s labor does your gaming depend?
    What do they need you to do?
    What can you do? What will you do?

    and now: performances by phreNic, Marina & Merlin, Apo & tangerines


course notes: ekthorp, MSA322, fawei