Archive | April 2015

What’s On The Agenda?

The end of this session is fast approaching and, as most university students would understand, I’m getting tired of staring at walls of texts every day. So, I thought I’d mix it up this week, and instead of writing out a 400 word blog post I have made a slightly more attractive infographic. I’ve detailed what my game group’s objectives are for the next four weeks, and what I will be doing to contribute to fulfilling those objectives, and to get our game ready to rumble in time!

For some context, my group and I are creating a snake-inspired game, in which the user has to collect a trail of ‘friends’, and attempt to get as many ‘friends’ as possible without dying. We’ve called it ‘Friend Request’, a simply brilliant name if you ask me which we came up with by mere accident. We want to not only create the game, but a universe to go along with it. This will involve a website, videos, illustrations, and social media interaction. For this reason, we’ve got a range of content that needs to be produced before week 12, which can be seen below:

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The Power of Anonymity

Anonymity has always been a loophole to gain power. Throughout history we see women writers who, in an attempt to make greater success, write either anonymously (Jane Austen’s first published novel was ‘By a Lady’) or under a male pseudonym (Nelle Harper Lee discarded her first name when publishing ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’).

Unfortunately, the ability to remain nameless has also resulted in faceless crime and harassment, with evidence suggesting anonymity can make people meaner. Such anonymity has helped progress the art of trolling, whereby a game is played ‘about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players’.

Trolls obtain power by their ability to deceive other online participants. If they are successful in convincing people that what they are saying, no matter how outrageous, is true, they gain the upper hand. This type of power is often criticised as trolls can threaten the reputation of the victim, and particularly when celebrities are the victims, trolls are known to point out their victim’s flaws, for example the Twitter trolls who criticised Pink for her weight.

However, while the work of many trolls might be defamatory and considered as harassment, such power can be attained by anyone. Unlike Hollywood celebrities who promote ‘narcissism and self-inflation’, ‘superstar professors [who] command high salaries’ or sports ‘players [who] rake in obscene salaries’, anonymity gives way to power that is not rooted in fame-seeking behaviour. A former Anonymous troll explains such a basis as being the success of anonymous communities like 4chan as the ‘primary ideal of Anonymous’:

‘The posts on 4chan have no names or any identifiable markers attached to them. The only thing you are able to judge a post by is its content and nothing else. This elimination of the persona, and by extension everything associated with it, such as leadership, representation, and status, is the primary idea of Anonymous.’

As Miller concludes, ‘it leads us back to the realisation that what counts as abuse, and what counts as lulz, may just depend on which end of the stick we have grasped’. While many playing the victim of trolls may not agree that trolling is a fair and intelligent pursuit of power, we mustn’t forget that the basis of their action is to eliminate any status or position of power they had to begin with. Judgements are to be made on intelligence, humour and personality, not on a prestigious title.

References:

Octagon and The Magic Circle

This week we were asked to play-test and review a game of our choice. I decided to flick open the App Store, and download the number one free desktop game.

The game was Octagon, described by the developer as ‘a minimal arcade game with maximum challenge’.

After launching the game, I was welcomed by a motivational, techno pop ballad, and a quite beautifully minimalistic game design. I immediately immersed myself in the game. Huizinga used the term ‘magic circle’ to describe this special and quite unique nature of games. This notion suggests that games have no correlation to the real world, and while are known to be pervasive, are useful only for engaging in play (Jakobsson & Pargman, 2008).

I attempted to get my fix of play by starting the game, and realised the developer had not lied. Despite the crisp, geometric aesthetics of the game, it was a challenge to get going. While the text on the screen said ‘scroll to change game mode’, after much deliberation, I could not change the mode. By pure accident, I found that ‘scroll’ must’ve meant ‘drag’, as dragging the game mode icon shifted the game mode. I was agitated by this misuse of words, and went to the App Store to complain, but was stopped when I realised the developer had already put up a notice:

IMPORTANT! ‘scroll to change game mode’ means ‘drag and slide to change game mode’ I’ll fix the hint in next update, thanks

Suppose I’ll let that one slide then… or should I say scroll?

Having put my aggravation aside, I returned to the game and finally made it to the actual game play part. A screen like this appeared:

Once again, I was met with a challenge. I had no idea what the idea of the game was, or how I was meant to play. Disappointed by the lack of instruction, I escaped the game, and reviewed the rules, which were hidden in the somewhat ambiguous menu.

The objective of the game was quite simple: get the ball to the end of the level. Navigation was executed through the arrow keys, and the ball moved automatically at a constant speed.

Once I got the hang of it, I started to enter that antsy state, an early stage of game addiction. I was really enjoying it. The design didn’t fail to impress throughout game-play, and the balance of challenge verses ability to actually complete the level was perfect.

However, while I was playing, I couldn’t help but think about how I was doing so while watching TV and eating. Unlike Huizinga’s ‘magic circle’, I existed in the world of play and the real world. The challenges that I was faced with in the game activated my initiative to attempt to solve them, and the design inspired my creative thinking. Different elements of the game affected me in ways that will impact my life outside of me playing it.While the scores and game controls were limited to remain inside the game, as Jakobsson & Pargman argue, ‘the idea of a clear limit between play and non-play’ is not realistic.

Needless to say, Octagon made an impression on me. While my first encounter wasn’t very smooth, the visuals and audio, coupled with the addictive nature of the game made it enjoyable. I’d recommend the game for visually pleasing, brief bursts of entertainment, however not much more.

References:

Jakobsson, P & Pargman, D 2008, Do You Believe in Magic? Computer Games in Everyday Life, ‘European Journal of Cultural Studies’, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 225-244

Artificial Intelligence vs. Human Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is not something limited to science fiction. It exists in our world today. This is because we live in a heavily ‘technocultural’ environment. That is to say, we live in a world where technology interacts deeply with politics and culture. Such a word reminds me of what I discussed in Optimize Your Identity, a blog that explored technicity: the notion of technology improving us, and forming a part of our identity.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is ‘an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans’. Therefore, AI works in a way almost opposite to technicity: it imparts human-like knowledge into technology, rather than technology being fused into the human body.

Ted Mitew discusses ‘Brad the toaster’ as a clear example of the possibilities that Artificial Intelligence welcomes. ‘Brad’s capacity for sociability is relentless; yes, he speaks with the voice of his maker, but he can also initiate agency independently, as well as communicate with other things and his human interlocutors’. Mitew explains that through the Internet of Things, Brad the toaster can gain not only a personality but also power.

What I find intriguing about Artificial Intelligence is that it attempts to replicate the human mind, and strives to give machines human skills such as speech recognition, learning, planning and problem solving. This draws a connection between people and computers. There is a two-way relationship between the user (human) and the machine (computer). Both work harmoniously to produce a specific result, and each must keep up with the other (Chesher, 2003).

While Mitew looks at the potential of objects gaining power, Chris Chesher explores how technology can be submissive and gentle. ‘When a computer addresses users, it doesn’t’ speak as an authority… It doesn’t demand that I write, but offers support if I want to write. ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ doesn’t command Sam to dance’. He writes, ‘all that invocators want in return for the powers they offer is that we become users’.

How can both be true when they sit on opposite sides of the spectrum?

Artificial Intelligence imparts power into once passive technologies, and computers give way to further human intelligence. The truth is that both coexist. Without one another, progress regarding both human and machine intelligence would simply stop.

References:

Apple: Supporters of Concentration Camps

Aside from my very first phone, which was a Sony Ericsson slide phone, I have owned nothing but the Apple iPhone. I think that Apple should be applauded for its ability to market their brand so successfully that they have mesmerized 51% of the US population. However, discovering their complete lack of ethics has recently broken my once whimsical support for the company.

Apple has been ranked the ‘most admired’ company in the world this year for the eighth time; masses are continually buying into the façade that Apple maintains. However, hypocrisy lies in their success. While the company ranks number 1 in all of Fortune’s nine key attributes of reputation, there is clear evidence to disprove the fourth attribute: ‘social responsibility’.

BBC Panorama released a documentary in late 2014 exposing the numerous breaches of Apple’s own code of conduct that occur daily at Pegatron, one of Apple’s factories. The programme showed footage of the disgusting working conditions in the Chinese factory, and shared the poor treatment of workers.

After watching the documentary I found myself comparing the lives of Apple factory workers to those of war prisoners confined in Germany’s largest concentration camp, Auschwitz Birkenau. While I mean no insult or disrespect to the undeserving victims of World War II, and by no means am dismissing the repulsive nature of the German concentration camps, I want to outline the ways in which Pegatron’s conditions compare to that of Aushwitz to illuminate the severity of Apple’s lack of social responsibility in such a modern age, and certainly not to undermine the traumatic experiences of war prisoners.

Prisoners of Aushwitz were forced to work a minimum of 11 hours per day, with the remainder of the time being filled with ‘long roll-call assemblies, lining up for rations or a place in the latrines or washroom’. Living conditions in Aushwitz were extremely poor, with sanitation and safety non-existent, and sleeping conditions overcrowded: The barracks were ‘intended to accommodate between 250 and 400 prisoners, but they would often house 700 to 1200 prisoners each’.

One of the undercover reporters for the BBC documentary outlined that he worked up to 16 hours on many days, with the majority of workers engaging in over 60 hours of work a week, with rest time spent waiting 30 minutes to enter the production facility. The BBC also found that 12 individuals occupied employee dorms, ‘when the rules only allow eight workers to share a room’. Workers were often placed in unsafe and increased risk situations, such as wearing gloves that do not ‘sufficiently protect from the materials used to create the metal backplates for the iPad’.

Of course the living conditions of Pegatron are not congruent with those of Aushwitz, however the same negligence’s apply. Just as prisoners lacked proper nutrition, safe-working conditions, personal space and restricted work hours, so do the factory workers. We are so horrified with the dehumanisation of individuals in concentration camps and other instances throughout history, however turn a blind eye to the mistreatment and devaluing of human life that is happening right now.

References:

American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2015, Auschwitz-Birkenau: Living Conditions, Labor & Executions, Jewish Virtual Library, viewed 22/4/15,

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/auconditions.html

Gurman, M 2013, Working conditions at Apple manufacturing partner Pegatron come under fire, 9TO5 Mac, weblog, 28 July, viewed 22/4/15, http://9to5mac.com/2013/07/28/working-conditions-at-apple-manufacturing-partner-pegatron-come-under-fire/

London Jewish Cultural Centre, 2010, What were the camps?, The Holocaust Explained, viewed 22/4/15, http://www.theholocaustexplained.org/ks3/the-camps/#.VUbjodqqqko