Author: William Tolan

Anita Sarkeesian at Loyola University Chicago: Disney Villian or Gaming Hero?

On Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to see Anita Sarkeesian give a presentation as the keynote speaker at Loyola’s Fourth Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics. Sarkeesian is a feminist media critic who is the founder of Feminist Frequency, a video blog which provides commentary on misogyny in video games and other related media. Response to Sarkeesian and other female video game figures such as creator of Depression Quest, Zoe Quinn, have led to what is now known as GamerGate.

AnitaThroughout her presentation, Sarkeesian provided thorough examples of the cyber abuse she had had to endure as a result of her feminist commentary – harassment, conspiracy theories based around her supposed denial of her Armenian background or based on ideas that she herself is behind the abuse, death threats, rape threats, online impersonation and hacking. She also brought up the idea of an “information cascade,” which is when information spreads without validity and the idea of “loaded questions” which is when media outlets phrase slander in the form of questions in order to “justify” their accusations. A lot of the images she showed were quite shocking and graphic.

Sarkeesian labeled the people behind GamerGate as a “misogynist cyber mob” and seeing the abuse she has had to go through based on simply expressing her beliefs, it is easy to understand why this term is appropriate. She mentioned in her speech how the gaming industry, which she says is bigger than Hollywood itself, has faced a new reality where it has become a more inclusive environment. She said this cyber mob has “figuratively and literally concluded that I am some sort of Disney villain responsible for the shift in the industry.”

Photo credit: disney.wikia.com

Photo credit: disney.wikia.com

In many ways it does appear as though Sarkeesian has been created into a scapegoat by those behind GamerGate. It is inspiring to see how despite continuous harassment, she has not once backed down from stating her opinions. This endurance, in my opinion, matches some of the key points from her presentation.

Sarkeesian used her speech to state that neutrality is impossible when it comes to fighting sexism. One quote she said that I found powerful was that “one of the most radical things you can do is believe women when they tell you about their experiences.” She described sexism as a “big, toxic cloud we are all breathing.” While only a select few may be the cause for this cloud, we all hold a responsibility to help out. This notion explains a quote she used from social activist Howard Zinn: “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

In my opinion, I thought it was great that she put attention on the fact that she cannot be the only person speaking out against the treatment of females in the gaming industry. GamerGate has shown the public that there is a problem and while the industry may be becoming more inclusive, there is still a ways to go as long as this type of harassment continues. The events that took place on Oct. 17 make this most evident. Sarkeesian was scheduled to give a presentation at Utah State University when the school received threats of a school shooting. Due to concealed carry laws, the university said they would not be able to protect Sarkeesian from concealed weapons so she cancelled.

During her speech, Sarkeesian also referenced Danielle Citron’s Hate Crimes in Cyberspace to advocate for cyber civil rights:

  • Stalking laws should include online social networks.
  • Non-consensual publication/distribution of sexual photos and videos should be considered a criminal act.
  • Civil rights need to include gender bias.
  • Plaintiffs should be able to sue under pseudonyms to avoid further harassment.
  • Social media websites should have options for sharable block lists, allow friends to report harassment, have options to block new users and autoblock users who use certain words.
    • Sarkeesian said “these sites need to make reporting functions actually functional” or they force victims to relive their abuse.

Overall, I found all of her points to be effective. Change can only occur when an effort is made by others to advocate for what is right.

My questions would then be: What do you believe was the most meaningful quote from Anita Sarkeesian’s key note speech, and why? How effective do you think the cyber civil rights laws would be if put into effect?

By William Tolan

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LambdaMoo – A World of Exploration

Bodiam Castle

Source: Wikipedia.org, Google Images

LambdaMoo is a virtual online game that can be considered an entirely unique experience due to its text-based format. From the very beginning your character is inside of a small, cramped closet. From there you have to figure out how to open the door and explore the rest of the textual world that has been created.

There are no instructions, no rules, no guidelines. When you do something wrong you are confronted with “I don’t understand that” and you must keep trying to find a way to progress further into the LambdaMoo universe. What you make of the game is up to you and the anonymity the game provides can potentially allow for further creativity and exploration.

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Source: blog.nus.edu.sg, Google Images

As I went through the game, I was stricken by just how invested I became. It is frustrating to not be able to move forward and yet the discoveries the game has feel rewarding. For example, there is a cliff in the game that logs more than 1,000 different users who have jumped off of it. While this is extremely cryptic and morbid, it was interesting to see that the dates went back to the early 1990’s. Further beyond the cliff there was also a castle which was portrayed through the use of text and symbols.

LambdaMoo is simply full of endless possibilities. Once you are able to get out of your house and into the world, anything can happen.

It is fascinating to think that I was not alone when making my way through LambdaMOO and that there were many other people also creating their own journeys. Furthermore, all of the paths that are taken by LambdaMoo players are entirely unique from one another.  In Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed, he says that “the more anonymously we engage with others, the less we experience the human repercussions of what we say and do.”

LambdaMoo, in my opinion, puts this statement to the test. Anonymity can often lead people into saying and acting in ways that they normally would never think of doing outside of the Internet. However, a game like LambdaMoo, while anonymous, also encourages people to go out and wander. In this user-created universe, all actions lead to consequences that must be considered.

My questions would then be: In what ways does anonymity lead to a lack of human repercussions? How does LambdaMoo fit or not fit into Rushkoff’s statement?

By William Tolan

eBooks – Is Our Future a Utopia or a Dystopia?

Imagine a world where there are no libraries, no textbooks, no newspapers. Where all forms of printed publications are obsolete and where the touch-screen tablets we are used to having have taken over.

While this imagined scenario may not exist now (or ever), it is apparent that technology continues to show its influence over our society. Technology’s influence has both benefits and detriments that can lead people into viewing our future as either a utopia or a dystopia.

In the video above, a baby is seen displaying an understanding of how an iPad works. Yet, when the baby is given various magazines to look at, she just examines them in confusion, unsure of how to get the magazines to work in the same way her family’s iPad does. One has to wonder, does this video display any implications of what the future holds?

pearson

Source: blog.mrmeyer.com, Google Images

As time goes on, more and more schools are beginning to implement online textbooks (or “eBooks”) into their student’s curriculum. For example, Pearson is a major publishing company for textbooks that has incorporated this new use of technology. Depending on who you ask, people can view this new technology as either good or bad.

From a utopian perspective, one could say that online books in general are easier and more convenient. And in many ways, this statement is true. With a Kindle or iPad, you can store many eBooks in one place with no extra weight. It is no longer necessary for students to have heavy backpacks and you can have an entire library in the palm of your hands wherever you go. In a world where efficiency is key, eBooks have found themselves experiencing more and more public interest.

However, from a dystopian perspective, one could also say that the use of online books is also contributing to a lack of critical reading. When a person has a physical copy of a book, they are able to write, annotate and take notes in it. It can even be argued that reading an actual physical publication can make it easier to concentrate on what is being said. Tablets (and technology in general) sometimes make it very easy to get distracted. For example, a person can be reading an online version of The Great Gatsby when they decide to go on Facebook instead. With just one or two clicks and a few spare seconds, the person can be on their Facebook feed commenting on their best friend’s latest profile picture.

In this AT&T commercial, the Internet and the bookstore are basically competing against one another. This commercial dates back to 1998 and even back then, books in general were shown as slower and less convenient.  danah boyd says in her article, “Incantations for Muggles: The Role of Ubiquitous Web 2.0 Technologies in Everyday Life”  that “technology has become a ubiquitous part of everyday life.”  She goes on to say that “what makes users happiest and most passionate are when their priorities are met, not when the ideals of society are met.” With just a little observance, we can see everyday how new technology is steadily finding its way into all aspects of our lives. eBooks are just one of the many examples of this.

My questions would then be: Do you view the increasing developments of eBooks as a positive or a negative? How have your experiences with eBooks been?

By William Tolan

The Complexity of a Tweet

I am going to be honest and admit that before today, I never really thought of creating a Twitter account. While I’ve never completely disregarded the whole idea of Twitter, I just have never had the urge to really go through the effort of it all.

The irony of this though is that there really is no “effort” when it comes to Twitter. It is easy, accessible, and a quick way of keeping up-to-date with your friends, family, and all of the websites, companies, public figures, etc. that you want to keep in touch with. It makes perfect sense why Twitter’s popularity continues to increase.

When trying to come up with some tweets for today’s assignment, I thought about what Julian Dibbell said in his article, “Future of Social Media: Is a Tweet the New Size of Thought?” He talks about how a tweet can be many different things including, but not limited to:

“…a marketing tool, a public diary, a communal news feed, or even, simply, a sort of brain game — a text-message Sudoku, where the daily challenge is to fit the maximum amount of cleverness into the minimal space of a 140-character limit.”

Ultimately, someone’s Twitter page can be anything they want it to be.

Our goal for this assignment was to create two “thick tweets.” David Silver describes a “thick tweet” as a tweet that “conveys two or more layers of information, often with help from a hyperlink.” As I thought about this assignment, I decided to try and relate the tweets to actual thoughts, events, etc. that are going on in my life. Tweets can be easy and concise, yet they can also be informative and incorporate different aspects of media in many ways.

Something I have noticed when browsing different Twitter pages is that Twitter can be an excellent source of advertising and self-promotion. As a result, Twitter has become a great way of connecting with fans and consumers. Some examples below:

I recently joined ((dop)) (Loyola’s Department of Programming) this year and decided to use Twitter to help promote the sale of Chicago Fire tickets. In my tweet, I was able to mention what is being sold (tickets for a Chicago Fire game), who is selling them (Loyola’s ((dop))), when the game is taking place (Saturday), a link to the original Facebook post from ((dop)), and I used a hashtag to further promote Loyola’s ((dop)) (#loyoladop). In this instance, I used Twitter as a way of promoting one of our school’s events to those who are able to see the tweet.

For my following tweet, I decided to take a different direction. One of the great aspects of Twitter is how we are able to showcase our likes and interests all through a simple tweet to those who follow us. Dibbell says that:

“And just so, too, by forcing users to commit their thinking to the bite-size form of the public tweet, Twitter may be giving a powerfully productive new life to a hitherto underexploited quantum of thought: The random, fleeting observation.”

This random observation can be anything from hearing a song on the radio to quickly reading an article on BuzzFeed and wanting to share it with the world. Regardless, Twitter allows people to connect to one another based on their interests and ideas.

Today I had heard Clean Bandit’s Rather Be on the radio. While I have heard the song before, hearing it today inspired me to post it on Twitter. In this tweet I mentioned the artist’s Twitter account (@cleanbandit), I used a hashtag to promote the song itself (#RatherBe), I referenced how I listened to the song (the radio), I provided my opinion on it (I loved it), and I provided a link to the music video so those who have not listened to it before can give it a shot and see if they like it or not.

I wanted to share the song with others in hopes that people will like it as much as I do, but the tweet definitely stemmed from the “random, fleeting observation” that Dibbell describes.

While Twitter has a 140-character limit, through the usage of “thick tweets” we are able to see how much thought and ideas can be compacted in a clear, easy-to-read tweet.

My questions would then be: Do you believe the use of “thick tweets” is a good advertising strategy for companies, celebrities, etc.? And what do you think is more common – “thick tweets” or “thin tweets” that only convey one layer of information?

 

By William Tolan

A Talking Purple Car, Nostalgia, and the Ever-changing Ways of New Media

When I think back to the times I spent on the computer while growing up, there are many memories that come to mind. I still remember signing up for Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom, trying to beat my words per minute score on Mavis Beacon and messing around with the various artistic options available on Microsoft Paint. I even remember the days when dial-up Internet access was actually a thing. My first memory, however, takes me back to the day I got one of my first video games.

Putt-Putt_Joins_the_Circus_2000_Game_CoverSource: http://www.voiceacting.wikia.com, Google Images

Until this moment, I had never even bothered paying attention to the family computer in my basement. As far as I was concerned, it was just a giant, grey block that my dad would occasionally use. It was not until my parents had bought the game, Putt-Putt Joins the Circus, that I experienced one of my first and most important moments involving new media.

Looking back, the game just seems kind of ridiculous now. It focuses on a talking purple convertible named Putt-Putt as he joins the circus in order to help some circus members with their show. The graphics have aged and the story is completely childish; yet, I cannot help but look back at Putt-Putt with fond memories even if I can recognize that the game is no longer as amazing as I once thought it was.

As a kid who had never even touched a computer before, this game was a completely new experience that I did not even know was possible. I had such a good time that I played the game virtually non-stop until I finished it (which took me quite awhile).

As I think about the various memories I have had with the computer and Internet, it is astonishing to think of how far we have progressed. The pace at which technology continues to upgrade and change is just remarkable to behold. While I do not view this progression as something bad, I cannot help but feel just a little bit of nostalgia based on my early Internet experiences.

computerSource: http://www.advantagepcrtp.com, Google Images

While I would not want to go back to using dial-up Internet or give up my current laptop for the clunky computers of the past, I can still look back at these moments with fond memories. By remembering these memories, I am able to have an even greater appreciation for the technological advances that we have today.

It is a constant reminder that as time moves forward, we are forced to adapt to the ever-changing forms of communication. Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree claim in their essay, “What’s New About New Media?” that:

“… new media can be viewed as an endeavor to improve on human capabilities … Media are designed to fit the human, the way telephone handsets or headsets literally fit from ear to mouth, but also the way telephone circuits, satellites, and antennas fit among their potential consumers, as integral parts of communication/information networks that literally shape what communication entails for individuals in the modern age. And if media fit humans, humans adjust themselves in various ways to fit media, knowingly and not.”

I could not agree more with this statement. I think it is evident when looking back at our first memories with the computer or Internet (compared to where we are at today), just how true our adaptation skills really are.

After looking back at my first experience, one of my questions would be: Have you experienced a sense of nostalgia when looking back at some of your early computer memories and if so, does that nostalgia provide some sort of acknowledgement/appreciation towards the technology we have today?

 

By William Tolan