October 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Andy Clark, “Technologies to Bond With,” Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies and the Future of Human Intelligence (2003)
Los Alamos! Bunkers & printers! The Black Hole! i.e. “an elephant’s graveyard of Un-transparent, In-Your-Face Technology.” Which perfectly illustrates the difference between transparent (intuitive; unobtrusive; human-centered) and opaque (something to trip over; conspicuously mechanical) technologies! The move towards transparency is neither natural nor necessary, rather is the result of co-evolution between hombre & machina! Basically anticipates smartfones via –at the time– pie-in-the-sky predictions about Wearable Computing and Augmented Reality. (“It might sound crazy but someday we may just have GPS systems built into our sunglasses!”)
Ian Cook, “The Body Without Organs and Internet Gaming Addiction,” in Deleuze and New Technology (2009)
Internet addiction is the latest in a long line of technology-related moral panics! In this essay we frame the question using Deleuze & Guattari’s conception of the “body without organs.” BUT OF COURSE! Body becomes plugged into the froggin Matrix, addict prefers that reality to real reality. Behaviors thus functioning as constant repudiation of the really real in favor of the really virtual (“reconfiguration”), except with bigger words & junk.
David Marshall, “The New Intertextual Commodity,” The New Media Book (2002)
Let’s talk about THE MATRIX again, except this time in terms of Hollywood/mainstream marketing. These days –not that this is a brand new phenomenon, I mean what is, but increasingly– the goal is to create layered transmedia worlds, well beyond a particular self-contained text. Hence “intertextuality,” which emphasizes play and the commoditization of similar. Well-placed headings speak a thousand words (no really): The Resurgence of the Play Aesthetic, The Dialectic of Interactivity, Game-Film-Game, The Multimedia Event, The Centrality of Play Within a Culture of Promotion. In conclusion, play is the key to petty much everything.
William Mitchell, “Homo Electronicus,” in Placing Words: Symbols, Space and the City (2005)
Interest in computers is waning I guess? Yes, not unlike the 17th century’s tulip frenzy. It was fun while it lasted! Except. The legacy of this apparently past-tense digital revolution can be still be felt in global telecommunications networks, which have spurred the proliferation of instruments of displacement. You know like smartfones and LCD displays at bus stops. Everything is (or could be) a screen, whisking us ever further from the Edenic condition, you know, before computers, back when everyone was happy and there was no such thing as war or lying. I’M CLUTCHIN MY CYBERPEARLS Y’ALL.
Mitchell and Clark’s essays reminded me of this, a thing I wrote fifteen thousand selections ago all mind = blown in response to Clay Shirky’s TED talk, particularly the bit about topless mermaids on Flickr. Logically I knew –not that I’d ever thought about it before, because I never had do– that pictures online aren’t automatically indexed. But image search has become such an integral part of my life that I don’t even notice when I do it, so spend even less time thinking about how the pictures got there. I mean, half my day is spent on the prowl, either for information or for images (sometimes both). So Shirky’s talk was one of those “by George, the world has changed while the fuck I’ve been in it!!” revelatory moments that belong on an episode of House.
Anyway. All this talk of transparent technologies and Wearable Computing (“instruments of distraction” if you’re cranky and wish the kids would get off your damn lawn) got me thinking about how many of my devices I no longer notice. The most obvious example is my beloved iphone, which I can only describe as some sort of brilliantly-marketed cyborg appendage. I don’t need to need it and I still (feel like I) need it — even if I’m just driving to the store and have no use for GPS or internet or you know calling, pssh, as if I’d ever do that anyway. This isn’t just about the device itself, though, it’s what I can do with it. I never think twice (and sometimes don’t even think once) about sending pictures or videos or emails or whatever else, this is simply what one does while grocery shopping.
Obviously it’s not always been like this, obviously at one point phones were phones and that was all. I remember being absolutely blown away when I got my first camera phone (2002?) — every time I sent something it felt like I was hacking life. I had a similar reaction in 2009, when the iPhone added MMS and you could (finally!) send pictures directly to another phone, as opposed to the recipient’s email. Looking back I’m like — lol, pictures to email? HOW QUAINT. But that’s just the thing, my brain has no room for how things used to be. The information is there, but on a day-to-day basis it doesn’t occur to me to remember. This made reading Clark’s essay very odd (and highly entertaining), since in it he speculates about all the AMAZING stuff we might be able to do, someday, with our Wearable Computing devices. Almost all of his predictions came true, including the above bit about GPS being at our fingertips, and in every case I had to remind myself that the shit he’s only dreaming about in 2003 is a) what I take for granted in 2011 and b) seriously amazing, even if (maybe especially because) the technologies have become so transparent.
October 21, 2011 § 1 Comment
Theoretically you could also inject meat into that meat, so the metaphor HOLDS.
Lisa Nakamura, Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet (2008)
In 2000 we argued that race, class and gender prefigure online discourse; in 2008 we’re considering the various ways that users consciously perform these same cultural markers. Online identity may therefore be framed as a signifying practice through which women and people of color become subjects, as opposed to objects, of interactivity. Case studies include: “embodied” AIM avatars, YUMMY MUMMYS’ digitally-rendered baby bumps and other GIF-clogged proclamations of gestational horror and racially (en)coded representations of (filmic/virtual) network interfaces. Also an examination of visual culture generally (which is rarely considered through the filter of CMC) as well as questions related to “access” and what that even means. Plus THIS VIDEO, which is a case study within a case study within an episode of I Love the 90s.
Because apparently I need to go eat a fucking hamburger, the arguments presented in Race in Cyberspace and Digitizing Race can be synthesized thusly: the solid flavor injector that is INTERNET ACCESS is always-already positioned against a person’s datastream. As in, there’s always a basic and material link between our bodies and the machines we use. In order to affect a “real identity” (as in, an online persona that reflects/embodies our actual rl selves) we stuff our injectors full of carefully-chosen solid flavor, including racial and gender and personality markers. In short, we fashion our online selves in the image of our real-life selves — a characterization I’m tempted to describe as the Facebook imperative. Because what is Facebook if not a personality anchoring device? We present our bodies, well, the most flattering angles of our bodies, for all the world to see. WE INJECT THAT MEAT, right into our code.
Obviously there are issues here; see every post I’ve ever written about Facebook. But let’s table that shit for fifteen minutes and consider what it means to perform meat via algorithm. The Facebook imperative tells us that we are what our profiles say we are, and that we’re only as fun as the pictures we’re tagged in. Ultimately we have control over what we show and how we show it (lol except for the shadowy advertisers and god knows who else who monetize that same carefully-mainculred meat); as a result our selves becomes a kind of brand (also a literal brand, thanks Zuck). We’re very smart about maintaining said brand, though markedly less smart about how our current brand might damage our future brand. Still — we are who we post, and who we post is (supposed to be) our most authentic selves. Authenticity (yes yes THIS WORD) demands “realness,” i.e. a body. So a body we provide, alongside a slew of likes, and listening tos and currently readings. Verily, it is the triumph of the digital meatsack.
October 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Lisa Nakamura, Beth E. Kolko and Gilbert B. Rodman, Race in Cyberspace (2000)
People don’t like talking about race and they certainly don’t like talking about race online, which is either said not to exist or exists so hard that all anyone can do is get real mad & throw balls of racially-charged flames at people’s cyberfaces. The discomfort people feel and the infrequency/difficulty with which these conversations take place (not to mention the resulting temper-tantrums) have all but ensured the academic ten-foot poling of race online — the default position being I don’t know how or I simply don’t want to talk about it. But it’s really important we talk about this, since race is embedded in language and language is predicated on meat. The manifestations of meat via language are of course widely divergent, and demand careful inquiry. The important point is that rl and online life can’t easily –and frankly shouldn’t– be decoupled. Hence this book.
Selected tl;dr chapter rundown
- Lisa Nakamura, “Where Do You Want to Go Today?: Cybernetic Tourism, the Internet and Transnationality”
The assumption that you can ever escape your meatlump via some form of purely cerebral communication is problematic to say the least, not that that’s ever stopped telcos from advertising how awesome it is to embrace precisely the diversity and transnationality that the internet (allegedly) (simultaneously) eradicates!
- Jeffery A. Ow, “The Revenge of the Yellowfaced Cyborg Terminator”
Feminist cyborgs smash and remix generatively! Male cyborgs (and they are always raced white) (here evidenced by tragicomedy paratext that is Shadow Warrior) merely redouble their phallocentric, colonialist fuckery!
- Tara McPherson, “I’ll Take My Stand in Dixie-Net: White Guys, the South, and Cyberspace:”
Neo-Confederates are all about the embodied online self! None of this “there’s no race on the internet,” there is by gum & it’s as pure as the driven snow! And is critical to the reconstruction of a bygone era. aka cyberwhitening, which ain’t just for neorebels, in fact is more of a racialized default setting than we might be comfortable admitting!
- Beth E. Kolko, “Erasing @race: Going White in the (Inter)face”
On MUDs and MOOs of yore, a player would have to input an @race property if he/she wanted to embody a particular race or ethnicity, a decision which quite literally would flag the player as “Other.” One cannot be an Other without a standard against which to measure itself; hence racelessness (& per Kolko, a particular kind of unmarked whiteness), was the default non-race.
The unifying theme of the above selections is that you can take the self out of the meat but you can’t take the meat out of the self. In other words, a person can occupy any number of races, gender negotiations, personalities or whatever else online, but that in the end, these identity fractures (if it even makes sense to talk about “fractures,” as the very notion of pieces presume some complete whole) all refer back to a very particular –and particularly interpolated– sock full of bones and red beans. Thus we are gendered and raced and classed already, whether or not we explicitly declare our nominatives, and whether or not these nominatives play an active (or obvious, or deliberate, or good-faith) role in the online identities we choose to construct for ourselves.
One of the ways our “true” self reveals …itself… (and by “true” I’m talking bones and red beans, not who we are or would like to think we are as people, or the various roles we play in various circles both online and off) is via language. For example, are we writing in English? If so, exactly what kind of English is it? British? American? Some weird regional hybrid? Do we mostly use big words or little words? When we use the grammar, are it standard? The bottom line is, even if we’re playing, that is, pretending to be something above or beyond or below what we are in real life, our linguistic and cultural database(s) will say a hell of a lot about the hominid who’s typing whatever sexy hawt commands. Again, this isn’t an issue of identity as much as basic locomotion. Because this shit won’t type itself, and the person doing the typing is bringing all kinds of social and political and interpersonal baggage to the table before he or she taps our a single expletive.
I mean shit, consider this dumb blog! You could extract my whole life story from what I’ve written here, even though I haven’t written all that much about who “I” am “really” — consciously or not, I bring some trace of my race and class and gender to bear every time that I of mine sits down to write whatever new dick joke. In conclusion meat. Catch the fever!
October 19, 2011 § 2 Comments
Darren Brabham, “Crowdsourcing as a Model for Problem Solving: An Introduction and Cases” (2008)
Look you guys it’s a brave new world! Individual genius is out and the wisdom of crowds is in. CROWDS ARE SO HOT RIGHT NOW. But we’re not talking open-source collaboration, where everybody labors but nobody profits (or everybody profits equally, though it sort of depends on what you mean by “profit”). Crowdsourcing is a more negotiated process by which a non-centralized group puts their hivemind together for any number of reasons (indexing, marketing strategy, original content), often generating much gold for whatever corporate overlord. And the crowds are perfectly fine with this arrangement, they’re like lol it’s cool, happy to help, because whatever it is they’re doing they like it, and want to. Sure sure there’s plenty of room for bad faith hegemonic exploitation, that’s a given, but the model has tons of democratizing potential, and that’s pretty cool!! Here let’s talk about Threadless, istockphoto and InnoCentive, which sounds like jailbait birth control! Should have crowdsourced that one LOL
Linked to a link to a link to a link to a link linking back to “crowdsourcing,” seemed as good a clip as any.
Last night while hanging out on my favorite website, Yahoo News, somebody posted a picture of the strangest penis I have ever seen. And I spend a lot of time on Yahoo News, so that’s really saying something! Somehow this penis managed to look like a decapitated ghost wearing a jean jacket; everyone was very impressed. Within a few minutes several “Yahoos,” as the kids call them, had downloaded, modified and reposted the picture, to better highlight its considerable charms, and unexpected topography. My research, everybody! And although not exactly an example of the kind of crowdsourcing Brabham describes, is indicative of behaviors the crowdsource model encourages. Not in terms of content (unless that’s the sort of thing you’re into, in which case there’s a crowd for that), but in terms of active, enthusiastic, and most interestingly, (ostensibly) uncompensated participation. The silly Yahoos playing Photoshop doctor didn’t have anything to gain from tweaking the picture, except maybe enjoyment, which as a behavioral incentive is vastly underrated and certainly throws a wrench in the whole labor-as-exploitation model. They wanted to; it was fun; so they did, regardless of what they “got” for investing their time and resources. This is the best kind of fun there is, really! AND YOU CAN’T PUT A PRICE TAG ON THAT, except when you can, which is precisely why companies are so stoked about crowdsourcing.
October 17, 2011 § 1 Comment
Tiziana Terranova, “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy” (2000)
Free digital labor = the modern sweatshop! aka NetSlaves! aka all knowledge work and no pay give Joe McSysop a bad case of the b&hammars! Because OOPS there’s no such thing as free labor. People online may be working “for free” (i.e. without remuneration) but the Fat Cats in Washington (Cheezburger?) end up profiting, and thereby comoditizing, that which is presumed to be given freely but is actually worth vast swaths of gold, just not to the person doing the work. See above; it’s what happens when the outernet plugs itself into the social factory of digital economic production thus ushering in an alternative (though not wholly new; this process long predates the invention of Al Gore’s Internet) logic of value. Keywords, everybody!
John Banks and Mark Deuze, “Co-Creative Labor” (2009)
Goddamn, these days all companies do is crowdsource ideas! And rely on user generated content to increase brand visibility! You know, viral content! Catch the fever, etc. The question is, what kind of relationship is this? And what kind of labor is co-creative labor? I mean it’s kind of shitty for the people who actually get paid to create content, and kind of shitty for people who add value to a given brand but aren’t compensated or even acknowledged. Then again people continue to contribute, because they want to, and jeez do we really want to say that this is solely exploitative? The exam gods shrug and point to the above selection, which per my uncanny ability to randomly pick embedded articles, cites Terranova throughout!
I am reminded here of everybody’s favorite e-ntrepreneur (YOU FUCKING SEE WHAT I DID THERE) Ben Huh and his wee liddle website called Most of the Internet. Indeed there was a rumble in the ROFL when he and moot revisited their actually sort of amazing throwdown from ROFLcon II, wherein the latter accused the former of helming an oil tower — basically taking more than he gave back. Huh resisted, said Cheezburger gave people tools to make things they liked, and a forum to share those things. moot wasn’t impressed, was like yeah you give them tools to make stuff, and a place to put it, but then you slap a shitload of ads onto everywhere, monetize said content and pocket the profits. How is that giving back?
The wild boyz picked up pretty much right where they left off, with Ben coming in especially hot. He argued that, sure, Cheezburger embraces let’s say twice-behaved behaviors (there was a particularly amusing exchange over an Official Cheezburger Bronies forum, which apparently exists), but…who’s to say who owns what to begin with? At which point the conversation took a metaphorical turn: so you’ve got this apple tree, right? A big fucking apple tree, with branches that hang over your neighbor’s yard. Your neighbor’s like, thanks for the produce stupid! And you’re like…but it’s my tree. Ben’s basic point was that we should set aside petty concerns, for example “whose tree it is,” and focus on the positive. Because apples are good! And the more apples we have, then better off we all are! -then promptly tossed his pilfered fruit into a gold-embriodered velvet sack, which he had delivered to Whole Foods at 500% markup. LOL JK HE DIDN’T SELL ANY APPLES. For one thing it was a metaphor.
But seriously folks, I actually really like this metaphor (and I actually really like Ben); throw in a couple extra hundred conflicting property lines and it would be perfect. For one thing the Giving Tree that is INTERNET beautifully illustrates the relationship between internet culture (its output represented by so many delicious apples) and those who stand to profit from its output (Cheezburger, ad agencies, various content producers), and helps explain the kinds of scuffles that inevitably arise when you have multiple interests tapping into one centralized resource. It also gestures towards something that neither moot nor Ben addressed explicitly — namely the ecological underpinnings of the tree itself (GET IT because TREE). I’m inclined to raise a good-natured eyebrow at Ben’s insistence that his making money off other people’s content benefits everyone. But I do believe that fallen apples nourish the soil, and that MY square of soil can only benefit from the health of YOUR square of soil, and vice versa. This is the idea behind collaborative work generally — I might think you’re an asshole, and I might disagree with your basic assumptions, but if you do well then I do well. So I want you to do well, not just because I want to do well, but because I’m invested in the project. Which, now that I think about it, gets back to what I was saying yesterday about the Goatse-sliver island ecology…
October 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Oh wait, you mean metaphorically? Damn, and I just bought a new mellonballer.
Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (1979; 2007)
Basically in today’s society there are two economies, the gift economy and the market economy. The former is gendered female and is predicated on eros (i.e. person to person intercourse, not necessarily of the sexytime variety), the latter is gendered male and is predicated on logos (i.e. unambiguous impersonal exchange). Art is a gift, not a commodity. Gifts are bestowed, not procured. “True” gifts can’t be commoditized. Nor may they be nailed to any one place, as gifts are always on the move. Gifts sustain communities. They are transformative and connective. It is very difficult for artists to navigate the economic market, which is driven by exchange value.
brb I’m giving a gift card
I’ve argued elsewhere that the (well one of the) really cool and seriously significant things about internet culture (“internet culture” referring to that particular roffly neighborhood including trolldom as well as its moar SFW boroughs) is the challenge it poses both to gift and economic market models. It partakes of both, couldn’t avoid either if it wanted to (more on that in just one second) — but that there exists a sliver on the Goatse Venn diagram particular to internet culture which, through sheer weight of content and influence, popped right out of place and formed its own contiguous memetic federation.
Of course, internet people continue to extract raw materials from both coasts of the mainland, and internet culture continues to export a dizzying array of remixed content, prime both for (re)gifting or commoditizing or both, depending on the community. In other words the borders remain highly permeable. But this is a new thing, since what internet culture does is not quite what the gift economy does, and is not quite what the market economy does. Internet culture, which again, couldn’t be what it is without strong structural support from both markets, functions as a cat-infested island ecosystem, complete with its own set of evolutionary rules and cultural practices. In my opinion this is the best and, really, the only way to describe the indescribable (at least, indescribable to outsiders). Trolling, for example, thrives on anonymity, is predicated on emotional distance and precludes individual reciprocity; as a result it makes little sense when run through the gift economic model. Similarly, given that lulz –the closest thing to a trolling commodity– are only valuable in and of themselves, trolling makes even less sense from a market perspective. On the island that is internet culture, however, the behaviors take on new meaning. In that they start to take on meaning. Meaning that. This little sliver is an important little sliver, and shouldn’t be lumped in with traditional accounts of anything.
October 14, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Adrian Johns, “A General History of the Pirates,” Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates (2009)
Piracy isn’t just about piracy, that is, intellectual property, that is, the law. It’s also about knowledge and authority and creativity and commerce, both above and below ground. Unsurprisingly, the term is difficult to define — the EU once described the practice as “whatever the knowledge industries said they needed protecting from,” thus framing the nominative “pirate” as a thing you call a guy who you don’t want to touch your shit. There are limitations to these sorts of half-facetious non-defintions, but they do help situate “piracy” as an embedded and highly contingent cultural phenomenon. Take Don Quixote, which is all about piracy, at least what would have been considered piratical back then. Or the idea that piracy emerges alongside (not just in reaction to) conceptions of “official” culture, and legal jurisdiction generally. In conclusion, this is a very cool and smart book that certain editors don’t have time to read all of (at least not right now), which is both a shame and the nature of the exam beast.
Adrian Johns’ book is like 7 million (read: 519) pages long, and if I had more than one day for each batch of selections, I’d never leave my chair till I was finished the whole thing. He had me at “not just about piracy” — normally this discussion does the same thing to my brain as the alleged “ZOMG IS IT A MEMMAY OR IS IT A VIRAL VIDEO” debate, which is to say it makes it go to hopping monkey land. Not that the stakes aren’t high, not that definitions don’t matter, not that it’s not a Thing to Deal With Basically in Today’s Society. But that doesn’t mean I have to get excited about it, except to the extent questions of legality sometimes dovetail into questions of online authorship and ownership generally.
Johns takes that to the fifteenth power by suggesting that anxiety surrounding “piracy” — whatever that even means — is actually anxiety surrounding something bigger and badder, with much wider cultural implications. Namely information, and the reliability of similar. Given that we’re cresting the wave of the techno-info revolution, as my coke-addled high school civics teacher used to call it, this is about as crippling an anxiety as you can imagine. What do we know (and more abstractly, what do we have) if we can’t always or easily be sure that what we’re looking at is the actual, or an actual, thing?
This isn’t even a philosophical question, though you could easily spin it in that direction. Because think about it — at any point pre-Web 2.0 can you ever remember someone chuckling at a statistical or anecdotal reference and saying “oh, you read that in a book? Then it must be true,” which is a something I either hear or catch myself saying at least five hundred times a week. This isn’t “piracy” per se, but what piracy does, and which Johns brilliantly highlights, is call into question the authenticity of our data. Questions of piracy can therefore be understood –at least in part– as questions of subjectivity (the relationship between who we are and what we do with what we have), questions of control and authority (quite literally, who gets to say whose thing this thing is) as well as questions of cultural literacy (our ability to distinguish the “real” from the “fake,” in themselves historically contingent).
And yet piracy is most frequently framed as “just” an economic and legal (and if you’re Jack Valenti and insane, a life-or-death moral) issue. Of course, it is those things (and there’s nothing “just” about them, although they mostly bore me personally which is neither here nor there), but the fact that piracy exists in the way it does, across the political and economic and social sectors it does, suggests that “piracy” as we currently understand it tugs, however indirectly, at what it means to live in a world dependent on the containment, yet subject to the fundamental intractability, of data.
Also, I’ve apparently been infected by some undergraduate murder-plague and am not sure I’ll be finishing today’s selections due to I’m feverish and not thinking straight. I was pissed a bit earlier but now am too tired. So………I guess I’ll just lie here, until Jesus cures me.
October 13, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Mizuko Ito, “Virtually Embodied: The Reality of Fantasy in a Multi-User Dungeon” (1997)
The Net! Slippage between the physical and the non-physical! Real but embodied but not! Information is never “pure”: data has a material basis, and thought gets run through a meat filter! In one way or another! This is abundantly clear in MUD culture! Which therefore & necessarily requires a hybrid methodological approach — because behaviors (“text”) (“what does that even mean”) evince a hybrid ontological status! Not to mention an ambivalent social ethic, see below.
Mizuko Ito, “Gender Dynamics of the Japanese Media Mix” (2008)
In Japan, post-Pokemon gaming culture(s) are more girl-friendly than in the United States. Gender is a factor in Japanese gaming, but there is much greater fluidity between “girl stuff” (kawaii/cuteness) and “boy stuff” (otaku/fanboying). This is a far cry from the comparatively rigid gender binary so prevalent in Euro-American gaming culture(s), & therefore challenges culturally-specific (but frequently universalized) assumptions about what qualifies as masculine and what qualifies as feminine within fan/game spaces.
Mizuko Ito, Hanging out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (2010)
Kids these days, with their engagement and negotiations! The means by which (and media through which) these verbs emerge are in a constant state of flux. But the nouns –learning, play, expression, identity– remain the same. The question is, how to these verbs influence, facilitate, threaten, enhance, etc the nouns? That’s what we’re trying to figure out! Via an examination of specific (and interconnected) networking platforms, on- and offline relationship patterns, gaming behaviors, cultural production and work — in other words, a holistic picture of what it means to be young and wired!
I am fascinated by the concept of virtual rape. Virtual violence generally, but rape in particular. Because…what? And how? And why? And who? And what? -all questions begged by Julien Dibbel’s now-canonical “A Rape in Cyberspace.” The nutshell version is that this grotesque sex-monster in LambdaMOO voodoo-dolled a handful of other avatars into committing all stripes of self-inflicted grossness (fork-raping, pubes-eating) & was toaded (booted from the server) for his troubles. People were upset, much text was generated — it was a big deal, these rapes, and everyone had something to say about it. Though recounted with particular…let’s say aplomb…Dibbel’s account is hardly anomalous. MUD and MOO rape was (and probably still is, to the extent that the communities live on) something that happened with enough frequency not to be particularly shocking (not not upsetting, but not beyond the behavioral pale). It shows up (however briefly) in most academic accounts of MOO/MUD culture, and –from what I gather, having never been personally involved with this sort of research– was one of those things that everyone agreed was “bad,” but which was really hard/weird to talk about (because again, “virtual rape?”) and even more difficult to stop.
The point is that rape –and/or what’s described as rape– happened, as did all kinds of violence, from the most banal rock-throwing all the way up to murder (called pking in MOOs/MUDs). And it’s odd — whenever I read accounts of these sorts of behaviors, I’m always struck by the tonal similarities to Web 2.0 trolling. This is especially true for the Bungle affair; the first time I read that chapter I was like…..successful troll is seriously successful? Which is most certainly NOT to say that trolling = rape or murder or rock-throwing (you know, “real” fake violence). But that the humor –and much of the MUD violence I’ve encountered, which again wasn’t firsthand, is underscored by a kind of sardonic humor– is very similar in flavor to modern (lol @ “modern”) trolling. The form of the humor is very different, which I would argue is more reflective of the platform than the particular disruptive impulse.* MUDs and MOO are lived spaces; you would go to there, and there were things inside of there, and you would interact with them. Whatever resulting motherfuckery (seems to have) stemmed from this sense of place and solidity and inhabitance. If you wanted to fuck with someone, you fucked with their bodies. Well, the body they’d written for themselves. There aren’t (fake?) bodies to (pretend to?) kill on Facebook, but there are (real?) feelings to hurt. And so that’s what trolls do.
That isn’t exactly a digression, but isn’t exactly not digressive either (welcome to my fucking world). It is however the thing my brain did in response to the first selection, in which Ito describes the ambivalence MUDders often feels towards on-site violence, and how this tension reflects both faith in and distance from the “reality” of the platform — a position perfectly embodied (U SEE WHAT I DID THERE) by Ito’s collaberator Scott Frank, who has no problem killing monsters and dragons because they aren’t real, but is morally repulsed by the pking of individual avatars, but heads a vigilante group tasked with pking avatars who commit fake acts of fake violence against real victims. This got me thinking about modern (again, lol @ “modern”) ambivalence towards trolling behaviors, both from trolls’ and outsiders’ perspectives. Which looped me to Bungle, then to virtual rape generally, then back again to trolls.
And that, my friends, is what they call a rabbit hole.
*Ask me about the relationship between trolls and the platforms they occupy. Not right now, my head hurts. But later.