The WHO proposes a "behavioral addiction pathology" for excessive video-game playing. But not one for a similar pattern of compulsive, harmful, endlessly looping use associated with smartphones and the internet in general. Ian Bogost writes that the proposed diagnosis reflects a desire to cast negative behaviors as the result of individual mental defects rather than more complex social, political, and economic factors at hand. The discrepancy between digital dependencies considered pathological and those considered perfectly normal may simply come down to pleasing lobbyists--or avoiding their displeasure.
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But what about computers, smartphones, or the internet more broadly? Proposals for internet addiction have been advanced for possible inclusion in the DSM-V. In those cases, a similar reliance on the substance-abuse model persists, along with suspicions regarding the legitimacy of withdrawal and tolerance as diagnostic criteria. The WHO told me that it began evaluating the public-health implications of excessive use of computers, smartphones, and the internet in 2014, in response to concerns from its community. But despite those concerns, gaming disorder made it into the ICD-11 draft as the only “clinically recognizable and clinically significant syndrome” related to the broader category of computing and the internet.
Some researchers wonder if the WHO might be under pressure to codify gaming disorder. In 2017, an article in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice argued that two members of the WHO advisory group, Geoffrey Reed and Vladimir Poznyak felt political pressure to identify gaming disorder, particularly from member states where the consequences of excessive online gaming have been particularly extreme.
Back in 2010, the video-game designer and scholar Ian Bogost created Cow Clicker, a withering satire of Farmville and other clicker games that were, at the time, wildly popular on Facebook. (Wired wrote an excellent story about it, worth reading.)
As he developed Cow Clicker, Bogost quickly discovered something: Facebook gave app developers a lot of data about users. He was able to get each user's unique Facebook ID (Zuckerberg's is"4", as it turns out); and without even him asking for it, Facebook sent him "affiliation" info about users' schools, workplaces, and other organizations they belonged to.
In essence, Facebook at that time outgassed info so readily that it was almost hard to avoid building profiles of people. But of course, it made it insanely easy for something like Cambridge Analytica to happen, as Bogost notes.
He wrote an engrossing piece for the Atlantic about the experience, and it's the best thing I've yet read that walks you through how Cambridge Analytica got its hands on so much data. You hear phrases like "50 million Facebook profiles", but it can seem awfully abstract. When Bogost describes precisely what Facebook offered him as he developed his Facebook game, you understand much more deeply what's at stake.
And of course, as he notes, a) there were oodles of people developing apps and games at that point for Facebook, and b) they probably all still have that data, as he does:
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But because I stored the numerical identifiers for user affiliations, I still have them.
Have you ever wished you had a social media feed you could like, fave, signal boost and comment on without having to actually interact with people in any way? Binky has you covered. Read the rest
Wow! An edible drone with extruded vegetable spars that can be flown into famine-affected areas! Reworded press release posts popped up everywhere last week with this image attached. Ian Bogost wasn't buying it. Read the rest
Ian Bogost (previously) describes the "deflationary" use of "artificial intelligence" to describe the most trivial computer science innovations and software-enabled products, from Facebook's suicide detection "AI" (a trivial word-search program that alerts humans) to the chatbots that are billed as steps away from passing a Turing test, but which are little more than glorified phone trees, and on whom 40% of humans give up after a single conversational volley. Read the rest
There's a wonderful special section in the New York Times on “Internet Culture” this week. The sociology of online life fascinates me, and I love digging into good, meaty reporting on who we are and why we do what we do online.
How do tools and apps shape our behavior? How do virtual bonds originate, grow, and sometimes degrade differently than they do with face-to-face communication? This is stuff I think about a lot.
There's a great feature in the section by Quentin Hardy about how "trolling" as we now know it sort of originated as "griefing," in games.
In the gaming community, griefing historically meant doing stuff like “repeatedly killing the same player so that the person can’t move forward, reversing the play of newer gamers so they don’t learn the rules, or messing with other people’s play by blocking their shots or covering oneself with distressing images,” Hardy writes:
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“Griefing was a way to have power over other people without any repercussions, since you can create multiple characters in the same game,” said Jack Emmert, former chief executive of Cryptic Studios, a maker of online games. “When there are no repercussions, some people will start to do crazy things.”
That was basically acceptable when online communities and games were made up of small groups that understood one another’s behavior, said Ian Bogost, a game designer and professor at Georgia Tech.
“Folks who are griefing or trolling feel like they are in a secondary universe that isn’t the same as the real world,” he said.
Beginning in July 2014 and continuing to April 2015, someone (possibly Ian Bogost) maintained an obsessive Tumblr site about whether Ian Bogost, an eminent and brilliant video games critic and editor of a spectacular series on everyday objects, would buy a pressure washer, and if so, which one. Read the rest
Ian Bogost's How to Talk About Videogames
isn't just a book about games -- it's a book about criticism, and where it fits in our wider culture. Bogost is the rare academic writer whose work is as clear and exciting as the best of the mainstream, and whose critical exercises
backfire by becoming enormous commercial/popular successes.
The Object Lessons project, edited by game theory legend Ian Bogost and cultural studies academic Christopher Schaberg, commissions short essays and small, beautiful books about everyday objects from shipping containers to toast. Read the rest
Austin "Steal Like an Artist" Kleon has posted a fantastic meditation on the idea that "creative people say no" -- the idea that you have to say no in order to get your work done. The piece includes a bunch of amusing, funny, sometimes a little smarmy form-letters that famous artists have used to rebuff correspondents, and I share Kleon's horrified, tempted fascination with these artefacts. Read the rest
Just today, I endured a typical 2015 phone call. My caller's voice was a warbling digital mess that cut in and out. Latency had us constantly talking over one another. After a few minutes of this, we switched to IM.
At Boing Boing, we have a weekly online meeting with several editors on the line. Most of these meetings are spent asking one another if we can hear one another, or telling one another that they're cutting out, or otherwise being confused and frustrated by the irremediable awfulness of VoIP.
How timely, then, that The Altantic's Ian Bogost reports on the stunning decline of the general experience of telephony in the age of pocket computers, where the worst phone apps connect to worser infrastructure operated by the worst telcos in the developed world. Read the rest
In this deeply-personal postmortem of her game Problem Attic, Liz Ryerson explores her relationship to iconic indie darling Braid—and what the game may say about the culture of development.
We face a practical -- and cultural -- archiving crisis unprecedented in any other medium. It's time to change that.
Fortune-telling games help us fumble toward deeper truths, at the junction of technology and mysticism