Video Supplementary Essay
The effects of anonymity in the online space is reasonably well documented, users, be they forum users, gamers or many of the other inhabitants of cyber space are gifted with a cloak of anonymity from the moment they sign up. It is the repercussions of this anonymity that my video and this essay explore.
I will explore this within the online gaming setting, users create a ‘GamerTag’ and this is how they will be known to other gamers, almost like a stage name taken by an actor or a writers pseudonym. This is the only information that is required to be displayed, you have the option to add details like your real name and location, but it is all optional. Instantly the user has been bathed in the all encompassing embrace of anonymity, and as such is free to engage in the darker sides of internet culture.
With all recourse removed, and almost no chance of actual repercussions from their actions users are free to say things to other patrons they would never dream of saying in a face to face social situation. Racial abuse, homophobic sentiment, verbal sexual assault and many more are rife within the arenas of online gaming.
The writer John Gabriel explored this phenomena and with his illustrator friend Tycho Erasmus Brahe created his ‘Greater Internet Dickwad Theory’ (Penny Arcade, 2004) which states that a normal person + anonymity + an audience = a total dickwad. This may not be very eloquent but is in my experience completely correct.
The intriguing thing is that almost all of these behaviours are mirrored from the real world. Just as people say negative things being people’s backs, without the chance of recourse the same is happening in the online space. In fact all of the behaviours are transplanted from the real world and exacerbated by the increased anonymity.
Recently Blizzard entertainment, the company that creates World of Warcraft and Star raft announced that they were going to change the way their forums worked. That people would no longer be identified on their postings by their GamerTag, but instead by their real name, this caused uproar from its customers. In an interview with Kotaku.com one user said the new policy had him and his friends feeling akin to “a Jew in Poland circa 1939-1940.” Which he later went on to say was alarmist but he had genuine fears of stalking; that the fringe elements that play World of Warcraft will get a hold of his name or those of his friends and use the information to track them down and do them harm.
This is real emotion, real fear for self preservation. Would people be more inclined to polite internet discourse and be less confrontational were they identifiable by their real names. Would a sense of real repercussions force the more outspoken gamers back into the socially acceptable interactions that govern their real world interaction? I believe it would, however we will not get the chance to see if this would come to pass since Blizzard entertainment has since deserted its proposed changes to its forum policy
In contrast all the negative effects I have previously stated regarding anonymity and the internet, there are some obvious benefits too as Patricia Wallace postulates (2008, pp 125) “This can be very positive, particularly when people are offered the opportunity to discuss difficult personal issues under conditions in which they feel safer.” This is increasingly true with teenagers who suffer from Bullying, or disorders like Bulimia finding council through the internet at specialist forums, they can talk to each other and share their inner most feeling, with people who have been through the same experience all from the safety created by the anonymity afforded by the web.
Over all the experience on the internet, be it forums or gaming is just an extension of peoples behaviours and personalities in the real world. We as an evolved society have really only recently reached this level of social responsibility. It wasn’t too long ago that black skinned men and women were used as slave labour, or women who were resigned to the kitchen were not able to vote. These are, in relation to the whole span of human society relatively new ideas and concepts. With the internet still in its infancy, its cultures will grow, shift and evolve over time. The difference may be that as with the rapid speed that the internet and its applications are expanding and as its adoption rate increases this ‘social evolution’ may occur in a much shorter space of time than the real world equivalent.
References & Bibliography
Patricia Wallace, pp 125, The Psychology of the Internet (19 Mar 2001, Cambridge University Press)
John Gabriel, Penny Arcade, 2004
Various, Encyclopedia Dramatica. Accessed 2010 (http://encyclopediadramatica.com/Internet_Fuckwad_Theory )
Kotaku, Kotaku.com. Accessed 2010
UNSC News Network.
1: Good Evening and welcome to the UNSC News Network, with Corporal Jones & Sgt Hartman
2: We break your regularly scheduled programming to bring you a special report on the growing epidemic of anti-social behaviour facilitated by the anonymity granted to users within online games.
1: Years ago, gamers would congregate in video arcades, playing the games, seeing who they were playing with and getting to know them in a face to face social situation, with the possibility of striking up a friendship.
2: Now, thanks to the invention and development of games consoles, gamers are able to play these engrossing titles at home
1: On their own or with friends over the gaming network
2: When gamers partake in this experience they first create a unique gaming identity, a sort of nickname to use for the entirety of their gaming career.
It is this nickname that other patrons will know you by and have all interaction with.
This abstract, detached moniker leads to a huge level of anonymity, and it is the repercussions of this level of anonymity and the effects there in
that we will be covering in this special report
1: In his “greater internet fuckward theory”, John Gabriel explains his theory on anonymity within gaming. A normal person, given a voice and an audience, coupled with anonymity becomes a complete… err…
1: They end up doing and saying things they would never dream of
1: Saying in a real life social encounter
1: And these interchanges are unfortunately usually racist, sexist, bigoted and worse.
1: Are you quite finished?!
1: Up next we have a video account of one of these behaviours, the overtly aggressive gamer. This clip contains some scenes that may cause distress.
2: Douche Bag…
1: Why you!!!….
1: Stirring scenes I’m sure you’ll agree. Another one of these behaviours is the act known in first person shooters as ‘Tea Bagging’
2: It is achieved by simulating the sexual act of the same name, which for decency’s sake we will not go into at this point, it is used to mock ones enemy, once fallen in a derogatory fashion, again we have a video record. Viewer discretion is advised.
TEA BAG VIDEO
1: These are only two examples of behaviours that exist thanks to the cloak and shield offered by the anonymity provided by gaming.
Others exist and are just as prevalent such as Sexism, Bigotry and extreme Homophobia. These are all actions and behaviours that people face, all be it usually to a lesser extent in the ‘real world’ , but with the almost complete lack of accountability people are free to voice their darker, un edited thoughts, which would usually be kept in check by the boundaries and expectations imposed by our civil society.
2: This final video is a un edited, real life account, of a cross section of the gaming fraternity. Like all our in game videos tonight this video may cause offence.
1: An atrocious video I’m sure you would agree, yet it happens daily to many people whose only crime is that of partaking in the game.
This, like real world bigotry and racism are from the vocal minority. We would hope that just as our real world society had evolved to be a more humane place, the same will happen to the virtual arenas over time.
2: That brings us to the end of tonight’s probing special report, if you have been affected by any of the issues addressed in this report, please visit our website for support and further reading.
Commerce & Copy write in the Digital Age
The term Copy write encompasses many factors, who has Ownership of the property, who own the Intellectual Property (or ‘IP’) and the Rights of Distribution for said property.
In years past it was mainly used for content creators to control the distribution, and ergo the licence revenue paid and collected for that content. With the full scale shift into the digital domain those laws have been reassessed as the providers, like record and film companies, or the musicians and labels try and keep ahead of the trend so they don’t lose out on royalties for their products.
A fine example is Television, the TV channels used to have complete control over what we watched, and when, then with the development and release of the VCR we, the consumer had some control, since we could record it and watch it at a time that suited us. Now with Digital distribution so prevalent the Television companies have had to very quickly change their business model as to retain some measure of control. There is almost no major channel that now does not have its own ‘on demand’ internet streaming service. This is a direct response to the ability of the internet to distribute shows, worldwide and in identical quality to that of the producing channel.
For example the hit HBO show ‘TrueBlood’ has had its whole season 3 available from torrent sites for months, just after its US premiere. The show is not due to show in the UK until January 2010. This is great for the consumer in the short term since they can see episodes of their favourite show whenever they please, however in the long run it may be their undoing.
The providers model is simple. They create the content, this is then shown on the parent channel supported by advertisements. This content is then licensed out for international distribution, again at a cost. It is these funds, coupled with how well the content does, i.e., how many millions of viewers that content receives has a direct effect on the commission of more of that content. For example, if the season 3 international viewing figures of TrueBlood are low due to people having already seen this content on their PC’s the producer, HBO in this case may not commission a 4th season.
It is clear that the consumers ability to get content as they wish, through elicit and illegal means at their convenience could be self destructive to the industry as a whole.
This is of course not limited to Television, the Film & Music industries have almost exactly the same issues. So it is up to the industries to find a ‘happy medium’, not to anger consumers with some type of draconian Digital Rights Management on their content. They may have to reconsider their international release schedule, much like Sky1 have been doing with shows such as Bones & Lie To Me, showing the new episodes of these shows only days after their US premiere.
Personal Lifetime Storage, this was a research experiment carried out by Gordon Bell for Microsoft Research. The experiment involved Gordon capturing a lifetime’s worth of articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice recordings and storing them digitally. He is now paperless, and is beginning to capture phone calls, IM transcripts, television, and radio.
Obviously this is a piece of future technology in its infancy; on the long road it will take to consumers a myriad of things would need to be addressed for people to adopt the system.
The system would need to be secure, beyond passwords and more like biometric security. If people don’t feel the content is secure it simply will not be adopted. In the same vein the law governing the contents of people Lifetime Storage would need to be refined. As the law stands now the police can take what they wish from digital files if they have cause to do so, obviously they don’t have the ability to do this with regular human memories. So the law would need revising or you would see people setting up ‘off shore’ accounts just for these files to secure them from police and government intrusion.
The system would need to allow for people to delete content they don’t wish to be remembered, or even have the ability to put an expiration date on content.
The concept can go far further than just never forgetting. The cameras and sensors which would inevitably be refined and reduced in size could, as Gordon Bell & Jim Gemmell theorise in their paper ‘A Digital Life’ (www.sciam.com, March 2007) monitor the wearers vital signs and atmospheric values around them. It could monitor the amount of Oxygen in the blood or the Carbon Dioxide in the air and processing this data could warn the wearer if a Asthma attack was imminent It could record the users heart rate over their lifespan and warn them if a anomaly was present, indicating the possibility of a Heart attack.
In an emergency Doctor could have complete access to every medical record instantly. Taken to the Nth degree it’s not completely unrealistic that in the future it could theoretically monitor cell mutation in the user, giving an early warning of the onset of Cancer.
However, security and durability, coupled with the ease of use would ultimately be the deciding factor in any form of mass adoption of the technology. Especially in the nuclear climate that we live in, all this digital data is vulnerable to the Electro Magnetic Pulse given off when a nuclear warhead detonates. If this system replaced traditional means of record, the survivors of any such nuclear war would be alive, but all of this data would be completely lost.
‘A Digital Life’, Gordon Bell & Jim Gemmell: http://www.sciam.com, March 2007
LifeBit Microsoft Research
Electro Magnetic Pulse Wikipedia
Avatars & Virtual Representation in Digital Worlds
An Avatar is a visual representation of the user, a ‘tangible’ embodiment of their identity.
Many games and online experiences utilise Avatars, as a gateway to allow people to interact in whatever digital field they desire, from Gaming to Socialising.
Nicolas Ducheneaut wrote a paper on the subject entitled ‘Body & Mind: A Study of Avatar Personalization in Three Virtual Worlds’ It referenced research and results from a very small, in my opinion focus group of only 100 people and came up with some interesting and some not so startling conclusions.
For instance the paper cites that Older users have the biggest difference in their Avatars and and their real world age and that people with a bigger BMI create more idealised version of themselves in Avatar form, and that it’s this same group that has the most attachment to their Avatars. None of this is startling revelation; however it did come up with data that also says that Hair choice is one of the most important components in the Avatar creation process, something that I would not have foresaw.
Some examples of my own Avatars:
There is a concept doing the rounds that people in these Virtual Worlds are ‘Race Tourists’ and a paper cites that in a fighting game children natively select the character of Asian origin, through some sort of subconscious need for ‘Race Tourism’. And it is this concept that I have the most problem with.
Most children would have grown up watching films with their parents, and seeing Bruce Lee laying waste in one of his many films, so the logical leap for a child to associate the Asian characters with being better at the game, which is competitive in nature rings much truer to me.
More water is thrown on this theory in games where there is a more fantastical cast, given the choice between Daemon, Cyborg or Angel for example. There is no ‘Racial Tourism’ of any sort. To really prove this concept a much larger subject group and a more exhaustive collection of tittles would be required.
Networks is a word that covers many fields, but in the context of this Theories module It’s safe to use Network in the context of Networked people, computers, businesses and social networking.
It is we, the ‘Digital Citizens’ who are the nodes that make up these networks, in the modern world it is almost impossible to avoid some facet of the Networking culture.
Our involvement and integration with these networks will vary from individual to individual, some are socialites and will frequent the likes of Facebook and MySpace to keep in touch with friends and family, while others will be part of Gaming Networks like XBOX LIVE or the Playstation Network, forming teams and virtual nemesis with people from all over the globe. Some people will be generating content for these networks in the form of Blogs or content on their own websites, there is even Music networks, the likes of last.fm and the Zune Social who record and tailor music recommendations for the user based on similar peoples tastes and recommendations.
In addition of peoples own interests, the level of integration and understanding of the systems will also influence their use of these Networks.
The ‘Digital Native’, a person who was born after the general implementation of digital technology, and, as a result, has a familiarity with digital technology such as Computers, the Internet, Mobile Phones and MP3’s over their whole lives will normally be deeply involved in one or more of these Networks, in contrast to the ‘Digital Immigrant’, an individual who was born before the existence of digital technology and adopted it to some extent later, this is usually cited and born before 1980.
An unfortunate side effect of almost all of these Networks is that their implementation over the Internet introduces a level of anonymity and as John Gabriel explains in his Greater Internet F*ckward Theory, a normal person, given a voice and an audience, coupled with anonymity becomes a complete asshole. Doing and saying things they would never dream of saying in a real life social encounter, and these interchanges are unfortunately usually Racist, Sexist, Bigoted and worse. This is the darker side of the otherwise flourishing internet Network Cultures, one that I hope will diminish over time.
This theory is beautify illustrated by the following image: