Author: kyleatloyola

I am a student at Loyola University Chicago. Studying abroad in Rome currently, with an eye for exploring culture and going broke in Europe. Other stuff is cool too.

Using Threats as a Springboard

Anita Sarkeesian hasn’t had the easiest time in recent months. Between death threats, rape threats, and all other kinds of horrendous personal attacks, she has been constantly harassed and discriminated against for daring to call out the misogyny inherent in video games. During her talk at the Digital Ethics Symposium, Anita went into a fair amount of detail about the situation she currently faces, instead of delving into the research and work that caused this furor.

Honestly, that was the refreshing part. Video games, while a large source of revenue for the companies that create them, aren’t really that important. Yes, they do provide a forum for people to interact, learn, and explore, but they pale in comparison to interacting in real-world scenarios, and the issue of misogyny in games, while definitely something to address, isn’t as important as misogyny in the physical world.

At this point, I don’t think people can deny that women are portrayed in most video games as objects, designed to titillate the (predominantly) male players. The bridge here is that Anita isn’t really saying that video games are misogynistic, and that’s it. No, instead the discussion should (and has) shifted into the way women are treated in a larger societal context. We live in a society where an entire industry has been male-focused and male-dominated since its inception – the Gameboy has a decidedly masculine name, and is one of the foundational pieces of the video game industry and history.

This focus on males as being the primary targets of video gaming is two things: sexist, and not that smart. We have moved out of the age where it was socially acceptable to treat women like second-class citizens, and both genders need to be treated equally. That’s an established fact, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone to disagree with that. The “not that smart” argument is that video game creators are essentially ignoring an entire market for their games by ignoring women. There is no other industry that has such a willful disregard for an entire part of the worldwide population. If Apple decided to just market to men, they would have gone out of business quite a long time ago.

The interesting part about what has happened to Anita is that she has actually accomplished what she set out to do – show that the way women are portrayed in gaming and in video games is horrible. The sad part is that she had to sacrifice so much to do it. I did enjoy when she described the outrage towards her as a “sexist hyper tantrum.” Yes, the threats against her are very real, and need to be treated as such, but it does need to be said that the people who issue such statements should not be given the credibility that they are currently receiving.

Anita noted this – because of the anonymity of the spaces we inhabit on the Internet, people can create situations like this and post threats with impunity. There is a fundamental lack of oversight and responsibility in these spaces, and we clearly aren’t able to police these spaces effectively enough to make them safe.

Hopefully she is able to continue doing her work and research, and use her publicity and attention as a way to effect system change. For being a figurehead for this movement, she deserves nothing less.

 

Who Builds this Stuff?

Lambdamoo was my first experience with a browser-based, text-oriented game. The experience was actually incredibly infuriating-figuring out what words to use to make your character do a rudimentary task took a bit of intuition, and more often than not, simply typing a bunch of words.

In doing some research about the game, or online community, I was surprised to see that the description, and overview of the world was simpler than I had encountered. In my thirty minutes of exploring the world, I wandered around the house, found a ledger with names dating back to 1993 of people that had jumped off the cliff (which, according to Wikipedia, disables your access for three months), somehow found a set of armor that transported me to a different world, and found some alien metals and a castle, beautifully rendered in keyboard symbols.

For a community that was based on a world based on a house in California, this was surprisingly complex, rich, and explorable. Wandering around this space that someone had taken the time to create was an odd, and surprisingly intimate experience.

Knowing that someone had built the world I inhabited, and then put their creation onto a small community full of people who were engaged in Lambdamoo (there are an estimated 2,900 general active accounts at this point), led me to wonder at my own digital literacy. I don’t know how to build a space in an area like Lambdamoo, and I doubt I’ll ever truly invest the time and energy to learn.

This also made me wonder about the ways video games and virtual games have evolved. Lambdamoo relies quite a bit on the player’s imagination. Each person probably has a different idea of what the castle, or house even looks like. Today, games such as Destiny or Halo are rendered in such exquisite and hi-def detail that there is no place for the imagination. You simply look, and don’t populate the world using your imagination. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a different way to play.

I’m not sure if I’ll return to the world of Lambdamoo, but I feel like I have a better handle on what the games and architecture of the early Internet look like for having explored a fraction of its world.

 

Get Some Power Back

Whenever you use the Internet, you are tracked. Cookies and other tools let advertisers know everything about you, often to an invasively personal extent.

Jer Thorp, a “data viz guru” has a way to fight back.

He has created an extension for the Google Chrome browser that catalogs every ad you see in your browser. Not only does this plugin categorize the ads, it catalogs it in a beautiful way. The real breakthrough is that you can choose to voluntarily share your advertising habits to researchers on his team, so they can try to reverse engineer the algorithms that populate adspace on the web.

Check out the original article here.

Big Data with an Old Person

On Saturday, September 27th, I went with several friends to the Big Data exhibit and walking tour. I had never been to the Chicago Architectural Foundation, or seen the scale model of Chicago before. Being able to look at the city from a birds-eye view was an insightful look into how organized, massive, and sprawling the city of Chicago actually is. Photo Sep 27, 11 20 54 AMPhoto Sep 27, 11 20 49 AM

After several minutes of observing the model, and trying to find the exact locations of Loyola’s buildings, it was time for the tour. We suited up with Ipads, touristy headphone attachments, and went on our way. Our guide, Lisa, a 60-something Loop resident, was clearly passionate about architecture. Data and technology? Not so much.

The tour was interesting, and but was more of a basic overview than an in-depth exploration of the way Chicago uses Big Data. For example, Lisa could tell us that there are 3,000 Divvy bikes and 300 stations in Chicago, and that more than 12.5 million miles have been ridden since Divvy came to the city, but that was where the knowledge stopped. When I asked what Divvy was doing with that information, she didn’t know. This was the theme of the tour. Lisa noted that traffic is calmer (think slower) due to increased bike lanes in the Loop and on Dearborn street. That makes sense.

However, when the question “Does the increase in bike traffic reduce car traffic enough to offset the longer traffic time?” Lisa had no answer.

Photo Sep 27, 11 30 28 AM  The key takeaway from the tour and the exhibit, at least to me, is that Chicago and the various departments and companies within it are gathering massive amounts of data, but they don’t communicate with each other to be able to efficiently and effectively use it (this was the impression I received). Additionally, where does all this data go? Is it in some hard drive in a dark room in City Hall? Do you have to “know a guy who knows a guy?” Information on this scale, about the people in the city, should be available to those people, not only due to privacy concerns, but also because someone out there might have a better, cheaper, more innovative solution to any problem, or a creative idea to address a previously unforeseen issue.

The idea behind the exhibit, and the data behind the exhibit, were incredibly interesting and thought-provoking. The implementation, not so much. I will pay attention to the way Chicago uses Big Data, but not through a basic overview.

Digital Literacy Test: Can I Find You?

One of the most basic literacy skills is categorization. Without this element, whatever you’ve created will go to the dreaded “Uncategorized” section of the Internet, the library, and never access the reader’s mind. Being able to accurately and descriptively categorize what you have created is one of the most essential skills a human being in the 21st century must know.

Categorization is the act of sorting and organizing things according to group, class, or, as you might expect, category. This noun is very similar in meaning to “assortment,” “classification,” and “compartmentalization.” This is from the first result Google shows. They have categorized definitions, posts, and other relevant areas, and this was the best example of the category “categorization.”

To successfully categorize something, you must know what it is. For example, a blog post should be categorized for its content, author, date, and all of the relevant tags that the content mentions, explains, or discusses in any detail. However, these tags must be relevant. Tagging every single thing that you discuss means you will have a string of words, instead of a clear description of what your content actually is.

The easiest way to test someone’s categorization skills would be via a blog post. If the reader can blog about something, anything, tag/categorize it, and then find the post using an organic Google search (it may have to be a little more targeted than just a random search), the reader would have the basic idea of categorization down.

The next step would be a discussion about SEO, but that comes in a more detailed discussion. Basic understanding of how to tag content is an incredibly important digital literacy skill, and should be honed through practice and more practice.

Through Thick and Thin: Do Tweets Matter

The difference between thick and thin tweets is similar to the difference between reading a headline in a newspaper and reading the whole article. One gives you a statement, and the other gives you detail, makes you turn a page, and become a little more invested in that article.

In the same way, a thick tweet forces the reader to go to another medium, whether it be a Vine video, a webpage, etc… and do some viewing, and hopefully some thinking, on that new medium. Tweets like these include links to new sources of information, instead of “I had cereal for breakfast.” That message begins and ends there.

The most interesting part of using thin and thick tweets is this off juxtaposition where you have a very limited space, only 140 characters, to impart several different layers of complexity. How do you use words, links, hashtags, etc… to achieve maximum cognitive effect?

In my experience, thick tweets go something like this: statement, link, hashtag. The order doesn’t vary too much, and very rarely are things added. Pictures, videos, and other things that show up right in your twitter feed are nice, but in my mind, a thick tweet actually takes you to another screen or application. It requires you to digitally turn the page.

This tweet from Google is about as complicated as I’ve seen.

thick tweet

 

Google brings you in with some info, has a hashtag that requires some digging, and then links to an external page. This is a perfect example of a thick tweet. The tweet, to me, is a perfect example of Dibbell’s article. This is a quick medium, but links to more complexity, but only if we choose. We may not think in links and hashtags, but we are given the option, and we can take it if we so desire.

Digital Archive: How Far ESPN Has Come

I am an avid reader of anything sports-related. Reddit threads, niche websites, analytics services, and random blogs all fuel this addiction. However, ESPN is by far the sports source I consistently go back to. Articles are well written, the user interface and appearance of the website is sleek and well-maintained, and news is as current as possible.

Looking back at Espn.com from January 25, 1999 is a actually not that different. To my eyes, the appearance is dated and clunky (which is understandable, as it’s 15 years old), but the majority of the site hasn’t changed that drastically.

News is still formatted in a similar way, the writing is still high quality, and any new information looks like it would have been “breaking news” for that day in sports. ESPN is a Disney-owned subsidiary, so they have the technical might and know how of one of the largest media organizations in the world to help with web design, consumer-facing content, and marketing, and the website in 1999 reflects that quality.