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Week 7 INF1001 Knowledge + Information in Society

Oct. 26 Lecture: Playful technologies (of oppression)

Sara Grimes

on 2 March 2016

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Transcript of Week 7 INF1001 Knowledge + Information in Society

Knowledge + Information in Society

INF1001 Week 7 10.26.15
Playful Technologies
(of Oppression)

Group Blog Visit:
"Playful" Surveillance
Ellerbrok (2011): Research aims to better understand the recent shift in public opinion about privacy (dramatic change over a very short time span).
Ellerbrok (2011, p.530): "...more playful uses of an otherwise controversial technology have fundamentally altered both its popular representation and the ways in which it is taken up by the public - moving from an identification technology widely associated with state control, airport security, and the war on terror to a new representation as a “benign” and user-friendly computer application that instead speaks to pleasure, convenience, and personal entertainment."
FR: Troubling history. Origins = various "militarized identification purposes". Boom following 9/11 within national security schemes: increased funding + decreased public resistance (e.g. FR-enabled CCTV systems in airports, border crossings, city centres, etc.).
"Serious" presentation
"Playful" presentation
FR = for personal use, diffusion through social media, Web 2.0 tools (photo uploads/sharing) and emerging digital cultural practices (e.g. seen as an extension of photo tagging), convenient & easy to use.
Not only largely accepted (**although still resisted at ind. level by many!!!), but enrolls users in working FOR the technology - putting in time/energy (immaterial labour) to compensate for the technology's limitations (e.g. false positives).
What happens when a "serious" tool is used for "playful" purposes? Are the serious implications still there? Are these technologies really so context dependent? Facebook might appear "worlds away" from national security...but user info is shared w/ NSA, police, etc.
Key Term: "Function Creep": "the process whereby a technology, process or data set that has been developed for one purpose often ends up being put to new and unforeseen uses down the line" (Ellerbrok, 2009, p.539).
Proposes associations between once-controversial surveillance technologies/practices and "play" (in this case, leisure, fun, socializing, Web 2.0 cultural practices) are key to unpacking these shifts.
Focus on automated face recognition (FR) systems: from history of marginalization of vulnerable groups to new incarnations e.g. Picasa/Google, Facebook
Continued difficulty in correctly identifying individuals - lots of false positives, implicated in racial profiling (design bias - algorithms more easily confused by darker skin and eye colours). In keeping with biometrics throughout history - linked w/ discrimination (ethnicity, race, gender, socio-economics, etc.)
These forms coded as "soft" - fun - social, consumer-oriented, less technical, feminized, controllable (or is it?).
Normalizes FR (and arguably other surveillance technologies/applications) - by increased familiarity (association with fun and mundane uses), focusing shift to using it yourself, etc.
According to Ellerbrok, noteworthy in 3 ways:
matches are verified by individual users (correct/incorrect)
often connected (auto/by user) to a real-world identity (email, Facebook profile, etc.)
increasingly made (publicly) available to social media platforms (which also means available to data-brokers, governments, etc.)
What happens when we shift from a "serious" example to a "playful" example?
Do the underlying politics and potentialities shift as well, or are they still there, obscured by the playful?
Is the potential for the "serious" (the system in place, the opportunities to use it for this or that purpose) what we should focus on, or concrete examples/actual uses?
Coleman and Dyer-Witheford (2007)
Background on how and where issues relating to information/cultural enclosure, prosumption and immaterial labour, and the idea that "information wants to be free" surface within digital games technologies, cultures, industries and markets.
Parallels here with the trends, processes and relationships explored in the Eischen, Wark, Mosco, Cohen, Cote & Pybus, and Ritzer & Jurgenson readings (among others).
"warez" = Information wants to be free, hacker ethic

MMOG play as a form of free labour (or playbour) = Prosumption & immaterial labour

Gold Farming = rationalization of cultural labour, content farming
Coleman & Dyer-Witheford: "Desktop creation and alteration, instant copying and networked
circulation blur the identities of producers and consumers and
strengthen copiers, adapters, fans and amateur authors/artists" (p.947).
From "gold farming" to the rise & spread of in-game/in-app purchases
Journalism is used in other works as example of this "multidimensionality" of contemporary media relationships, but "an even better place to examine it is in the domains of digital play" (p.947).
"In digital play the breakdown of division between producers and consumers becomes strikingly apparent. The defining feature of videogames, their interactivity, undermines this model at root. Where there are no audiences, only players, the always dubious boundary between passivity and
activity, production and consumption, is undercut from the start" (p.947).
How does this argument fit or compare with Ellerbrok's proposal that embedding controversial technologies (or business strategies) within playful (vs. serious) contexts works to "soften" them - enable function creep, etc.
Cybulski (2014)
Digital Games and/as Digital Commons
Playful Surveillance
Monitoring and storing of player data (actions, inputs) is a fundamental part of game designs - how progress is saved, scores are tallied, adversaries/difficulty is scaled to player ability etc. It's a key part of what makes games interactive.
"What is interesting about these processes of collection is that the surveillant aspects
of code are ambivalent; they exist to ensure that videogames act as dynamic, seamless simulations where
the role of computation is opaque and instantaneous" (p.429).
Feenberg's (1999, p.7) concept of "ambivalence" - "the availability of technology for alternative developments with different social consequences."
Performative dimension of digital game culture: displaying personal achievement and skills deeply associated with cultural capital, prestige, reputation, etc.
"These digital trophies and the tracking they represent are indicative of Microsoft’s ability to forcibly surveil users, who have no way to “opt-out” of achievements, dictating that the surveillance of play is a normative operation on the console. [Also...] indicative of the way in which Microsoft has leveraged pre-existing conditions in videogame culture and technology to facilitate surveillance" (Cybulski, p.429)
"Maiberg attacks games like those using the Fuseboxx system that collect data and use it to manipulate users into small in-game commercial transactions or continue playing games that increasingly provide loops of meaningless feedback and use positive feedback and its denial to psychologically manipulate or entice users into paying real money for small packets of enjoyment (Maiberg 2013)" (in Cybulski, p. 430)
LittleBigPlanet as Cultural Scene?
User-Generated Content
As cultural practice, as immaterial labour, as prosumption
Coleman & Dyer-Witheford focus on mods/machinima, MMOG play as a form of collaborative creation, to address intersection of play/labour, production/consumption. Today, games inc. tools for users to create and share content - more formalized, more integrated way. DIY or "UGC Games"
Common business model & approach to IP revolves around "prosumption":
links to traditional fan practices (e.g. fan fiction)
paid-for "fair use" engagement with copyrighted materials (otherwise seen as copyright infringement)
various micro-transactions and paid-for DLC (downloadable content)
Games as Non-Places
Looks at the ways in which meaningful, rich, and tranformative sociocultural practices ("scenes") can also manifest within commercially-controlled systems (LBP, Sony).
"...the player-creators’ complex relationships with creativity, production, prosumption and play – along with the underlying corporate and legal structures that mediate these relationships – unfold in a constant state of negotiation, reproduction and occasional subversion" (Grimes, p.380).
Grimes (2015)
Within cultural scenes, commercial processes (like mobilizing users' affective labour/UGC content) are often integral components "rather than as separate, invasive or necessarily exploitative forces" (p.388).
Argument that cultural scenes contain "far more semiotic information … than can be rationally parsed" (Shank, 1994, p.122). It is "forever in excess of the productive ends to which it might be put" (Straw, 2004, p.412).
"the commercial and technical mechanisms through which much of the LittleBigPlanet scene is articulated are privately owned and operated, subject to the whims and agendas of a small collection of corporate entities who exert an enormous amount of control over the scene and its participants" (p.389).
But is this truly a limitation when scenes are considered (or evolve) within digital information systems? Does the volume and meaning of the information generated (still) exceed the market's ability to parse and make sense/use of it?
"The LittleBigPlanet scene is inseparable from this institutional infrastructure, whereas other cultural scenes are characterized in no small part by an ability to remain autonomous from the cultural institutions they are engaged with" (p.389).
A non-place in the Auge sense - undermines its function as a cultural scene. Not due to the game's virtual-ness, or its unfolding within private/domestic contexts, but rather to its commercial "tether" and, esp., lack of "edges."
The tether in this case is not only technological or economic (business model). Also affective - as players are drawn back into the LBP brand, and non-conformists are expelled.
"It works to either appropriate or efface that which would make up the ‘edges’ of the LittleBigPlanet scene. These processes are even partially acknowledged within the games’ official corporate discourses and marketing materials, for they also represent some of the primary ways in which Media Molecule and Sony have formed a responsive and collaborative relationship with a large segment of the player community" (p.393).
"The non-scene is informed by commercial interests that do not merely seek to appropriate and monetize grassroots cultural activities, but instead work
to build sustainable, embedded networks through which surplus creative production (not to mention immaterial labour and use value) can be continuously generated, identified, amplified or discarded as required" (p.396).
"The edges not only work to distinguish a ‘scene’ from the
cultural mainstream but also provide crucial spaces for the creation of surplus ‘expressive energy’, ephemera and liminal practices. These in turn enable scenes to maintain a certain level of independence from the cultural institutions and commercial processes that might otherwise seek to absorb them" (p.392).
Gold Famers (2010), Dir. Ge Jin
Ellerbrok (2011)
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