Inventing the Self

connection

December 4th, 2013 by Yitian Liao · Comments Off

Even when you’re overdoing a good thing, it will become bad eventually.

In God Jr,  Jim, the father, was searching for meaning and healing in the wake of his son’s death, which he felt responsible for. He tried to make memories with his dead son through video games and attempted to get to know his son. In the third section, “The Children Scraw”, Jim took the Bear from the game as his role, the game’s hero. The interaction between other characters from the game and him reveals his feeling of being the killer of his son and also built the bridge between father and son, hero and supporting characters. The process of the game, such as levels, quests and monsters, is like a spiritual treatment for the father. Game, here, is a tool.
Game can be other tools, as Ito and Brittani describe in their articles. “It is largely a form of friendship-driven sociability; while gaming is certainly important, it is not the central focus (p.206).” And, it could seize the mobilizing and even be a professional pursuit. Making a game is like promoting a brand, which is about public communication. It is not the age that the producers tell the users what to play and what to like any more. Consumers choose games that they think can represent and satisfy them (in terms of identity, life-style, social needs) the most.

When I was young, the first game my dad and I played together was Virtual Cop. It was violent, associated with guns, and quite masculine. Like Ito and Brittani said, some games are not made for girls, so my dad bought me SimCity later. Then I gained interests in decoration, construction plans, and when I started playing the Sims, the only interesting part for me was to build the house. Once I got the chance to pick up my own games, I played many RPG games. Ito and Brittani note that game can be the media to establish friendship and I was on that route to make my male friends. Plus, most of my pre and post Three-Kingdom knowledge was from games based on historical events.

According to my dad, he was worried about me at that time, but he realized I was not so bad after he heard some other kids who skipped classes and went to game shops to play games. This is the common thinking when people talk about game and game addiction Parents get terrified when their children start playing them frequently. Moreover, according to ito and Brittani, “in line with recent research in this area, we also believe that lack of access to game-centered sociability is of greater concern than the fears about game addiction (p. 240).” However, instead of this, shouldn’t we worry they don’t have other ways to socialize?

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Killing time

December 3rd, 2013 by matthew finston · 1 Comment

 

Having a love/hate relationship with games, gaming addiction, computer games, iPhone apps, etc. I felt that the readings this week touched on some interesting ideas. One thing Ito’s and Bittanti’s “Gaming” article glossed over was how a subject derives an interpretation of gaming as killing time.

It seemed like the article was more concerned with how individuals interpret their gaming experience rather than why they interpret it positively or negatively. The authors surmise, ”gamers talk about games as killing time and a waste of time and see value in precisely those properties of games that enable a certain state of distractedness,” (201). While the authors provide insight into how gamers interpret  their gaming experience, they do not discuss the process in which discourse informs cultural valuations of gaming. This was not their concern.  In the footnotes the authors reveal,  ”in this chapter . . . we focus on actual social practices of gaming and what game players describe as meaningful outcomes of their play” (2010, 241).  Gaming and meanings ascribed to the gaming experience are treated as givens. Gaming as a practice and the formation of meanings are not problematized.

 

Still, the idea of gaming as “killing time” speaks to me. I also interpret gaming as  killing time. But often I end up killing a lot more time then I originally intended. Once, killing an hour turned into killing 3 months. It was not so much that I was simply filling dead time. I was creating dead time. I was reducing my obligations or eliminating them so that I could kill more time.

 

What is funny to me is that just like some of the subjects in Ito and Bittanti’s article, I interpret my gaming as unproductive. Why though? What made the time spent feel like time lost? Another type of analysis the article did not explore was the phenomenology of gaming. What is existence experienced as gaming? In contrast to the “Gaming” article, Dennis Cooper’s narrative God Jr. provides insight into the phenomenology of gaming. The narrative did not distinguish the experience of gaming with reality. The father character, Jim Baxter, playing the Nintendo did not experience gaming as separate from himself. It was intertwined in his experience of his life. A type of the “machinima.” But more. He was not “Jim Baxter” playing the bear. Cooper portrays Baxter as experiencing life as the bear.

 

Heidegger’s hammer metaphor in Being and Time I think is analogous to gaming. Gaming, like the hammer, is ready-to-hand. While playing the game you are not aware of the specific colors of the buttons, the internal wiring, the game console, the television set, the room around you, the lighting in the room, the time of day, etc. Until the game stops working, does it become present-at-hand, meaning that you become aware of the game as game and not as an experience. The experience of gaming stops. When I used to own a Supernintendo, you would have to insert the game cartridge into the console. Sometimes the game froze and you had to blow on the cartridge to make it start working again. I was only aware that the game was not in my experience of it when the game stopped working.

 

In other words, gaming challenges the very notion of experience as something internal for the very experience of gaming always exists outside of oneself.  This brings me back to my original issue with the notion of “killing time.” It seems that gaming is devalued as experience because it metaphorically disrupts the idea of experience as internal. What you do in a game does not happen to your body. It is projected outside of yourself. Nevertheless, the gaming experience isn’t felt as external. Being successful in a game or winning in a game gives us the sensation that we are winning. Getting a high score belongs to the player not the computer. Yet the high score still exists only as we are gaming and within the world of the game. It is this paradox of gaming as experience that becomes interpreted as “killing time.”

 

My question is whether interpreting gaming as “killing time” comes out of a value system that treats productivity as an ideal. Additionally, I am also curious whether the essential tension of the gaming experience, viewing unproductivity as a negative experience, is paradoxically a form of self-prescribed treatment to assuage feelings of unproductivity. Is it a sublimated form of productivity? By that I mean, is “killing time” simultaneously a way of reminding oneself of one’s unproductivity as well as a way to have accomplishments? Doesn’t “killing” refers to an act, one that has yet to be accomplished? If the time is already dead (unproductive time) why does it need “killing?” In this way does “killing” refer to both failure (not using one’s time productively) but also an accomplishment (the death of time, aka “killing time”)?

 

It also seems that the discourse of the productive individual as an ideal is thus paradoxically confronted in the phenomena of gaming. Gaming as resulting in unproductive productivity enables a subject to produce individualized accomplishments. On the one hand, the subject participates in gaming to fulfill the feelings of failure. On the other, gaming is the practice of sublimated individualized accomplishment. The gamers build their avatars, complete quests, accomplish tasks, win fights, beat levels all in the name of achieving individual accomplishments. Gaming thus enacts the myth of practical meritocracy.

Gaming becomes intoxicating because it fulfills the imagined ideal of labor leading to results. In this way, gaming is the refraction of the paradox of capitalist ethics and its practice par excellence. Whereas capitalism requires laborers to be alienated from their products, capitalism also depends on reinforcing the ‘labor-to-capital conversion’ myth as a means of self-fulfillment. Gaming is a reproduction of that paradox. It enables gamers to invest labor into intangibles that are meaningless once they stop playing.  The valuation of gaming as “killing time” is constitutive of the practice of capitalism. Thus gaming is not a perversion of the proper capitalist ideal; it is its perfection. Gaming actualizes the ideal of capitalism by having one’s labor always translate into individual (avatarial) growth and it discloses the practice of capitalism with the feeling that one is “killing” one’s own time.

 

I think that the book God Jr. addresses these questions. For the father must kill his time to assuage his guilt for killing his son. Killing his time becomes a productive way to atone for his sin.

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Looking for function in aesthetics

December 3rd, 2013 by Jason Scaglione · 1 Comment

As someone with a deep and abiding love for games and game culture, I was surprised by how little I identified with Ito’s and Bittanti’s breakdown of “gaming practice.” I don’t think leading with a question about games’ functional place in the life of the gamer is the right angle for all cases. I can understand their categories, and appreciate the “academic spirit” with which Ito and Bittanti examine the medium—but I find my relationship nowhere in their explication. I sometimes game online to “hang out” with faraway friends, but my primary enjoyment of the medium derives from another place. Honestly, I may have more in common with the manic undulations of Cooper’s narrator than with the functional analysis in Gaming.

My sense is of games as aesthetic objects. They are not their content, their pixels, their mechanics. Not all games qualify as art, but many are foremost an aesthetic experience for the player, distinguished from other forms of media by the nature of their participation. I mean, all aesthetic experience is participatory—defined by an engagement with the things of our perception. And what is unusual about games is not the fact that they are designed: we see aesthetic design in paintings, in movies, in literature, on TV. All art is designed, and probably all “contains” in some way an artist’s vision, seeking to connect with an audience thru some aesthetic participation. But what is unusual about games is the significance of player input to the experience. A game, unlike a film, will not complete itself if you sit and watch intently for two hours. Whatever vision an artist poured into the work, it literally requires us to seek its completion. Our engagement is guided to varying degrees by hints and echos—by the ghost of an author. But we must mix with her intentionality and imbue it with agency to make real its contours.

We are the artist’s vision in operation.

My experience with games is something like this—having the sense of ongoing synthesis toward an aesthetic object. What does that do for me? Only God (Jr?) knows…

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Whistling Chimpanzees in baggy overalls

December 3rd, 2013 by Shona Mari Sapphire · 2 Comments

I ended up enjoying Dennis Cooper’s tumultuous tale of a father’s post-traumatic life experience. His rhetorical style engaged me towards what felt like a slow downward spiral into an ever more viscous, weed-smoke-filled fog. The themes of embodied sensations, both physiological and emotional, mental-escapism courtesy of marijuana and virtual video-game landscapes, and secrecy and shame were present throughout. The father’s emotions of hidden grief and shame over the accident that killed his son seem enmeshed within his physical habitus – in the status of his post-accident legs,  “I like to sit around our deserted house wishing things were different. That’s how I found out I could walk. I wished my legs could support me and they did.” (23) The fact that he conceals his returning ability to walk from his wife for some time, serves almost as a barrier from her permeating gaze. He notes his difficulty, as a former athletic person, in keeping his legs limp- as a means of de-sexualizing himself before his wife. Later, returning the site of the monument, he refers again to the function of his legs in relation to his emotion tied to the accident, “When your legs have amnesia, you have only two choices. You either torture them until they pretend they remember you, or you show them the world and hope they magically ignite like an infant’s” (117). The father tragically recalls the last thing his son said to him before the crash- “I wish you were my dad” – a humorous quip which was actually drenched in meaning. The self-alienating vehicle (or my interpretation as such), of video games and smoking weed engulfed the father’s existence and made it seem like the hope of emerging with any sort of clean-conscience or emotional catharsis was entirely implausible.

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On God Jr.

December 1st, 2013 by Kristina Bodetti · Comments Off

What a wonderfully interesting take on death, grief and gaming. This book, while short, touches on so many subjects. On one level its about a man dealing with the death of his son and trying to find a connection to him. Its an amazing display of the fact that everyone grieves differently and, anyone whose ever dealt with that close of a loss knows, it can make a person do strange things.

There’s also something very significant in his being in a wheel chair, realizing he can walk again and then hiding it for most of the story. Psycho-somatic problems are a common but rarely addressed phenomenon. Its not really clear in the book if he wasn’t able to walk because of the accident or if, it seems to me more likely, that his guilt over believing he killed his son presented as the symptom of not being able to walk.

The biggest part of the book, though, is obviously the video game. The game his son played (and the one building, in the one level, that he was obsessed with) and that the father becomes obsessed with playing. So many people loose themselves in video games. Video games are a great escape from the real world but many people become obsessed with their virtual world and stop living their real lives. Its a real thing that happens more often then you think. The Youtube channel Extra Credits (who have clever and deep discussions about video games) did a very intense 2 part video on this Game Compulsion. If anyone is interested in seeing them the links are here:
Extra Credits: Game Compulsion Pt 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5RSngCFpsc
Extra Credits: Game Compulsion Pt 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_qlumZ5K4I
The videos (esp. the second) are intense but are thought provoking and worth the watch.

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I think I was there…

November 20th, 2013 by Adam Wagner · Comments Off

Both of these readings evoked strong, nostalgic feelings.  Being relatively young (25), I kept reading these anecdotes and interviews and immediately relating them to myself in a Miller’s “identification and disidentification” way.  My friend and I used to sign on to each other’s AIM to talk to girls we liked as someone else to probe them about their feelings (or lack of) for us.  I’ve used Myspace to browse girls in my area outside of my social circle because I lived in a relatively small town and couldn’t meet many girls that I didn’t already know.  I never felt as if I was missing out on anything real or physical in any significant way.  In that sense, the Ito reading was less informative because I felt it was readily apparent to me as I lived it.

The Turkle reading, however, almost seemed like a “remember the good old days” piece (although throughout, there are interesting admissions of her enjoying the technological advances).  I am on the side that social networks and connective technology is a beneficial tool that aides social relationships.  In keeping with both readings, I’ll use an anecdote to elucidate a way it helps.  I ran into an old friend from Jacksonville (my hometown) on the train in to the city today.  We hadn’t really hung out or talked in close to two years.  However, it was not awkward or riddled with superficial pleasantries, rather was a rich conversation about our lives and goals at the moment.  The reason we were able to speak with each other like this in only the brief 15 minutes or so was because of our connection with social media and the network of friends we shared.  I was aware of his acting/movie production career (even his recent trip to begin his first lead in a feature) and he was aware of my move to NY for graduate school simply through the posts and conversations that were available for either of us to see.  This allowed us to move past the simple pleasantries a conversation with a friend after 2 years of disconnect would begin with and provided a rich, meaningful conversation.

The marrying a robot section reminded me of The Gos’s movie Lars and the Real Girl, where he falls in love with a realistic looking doll. I don’t think robots with ever be able to supplant real human connection, but some psychological issues might actually benefit from a companionship with less complexity and investment.

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Asking the right questions?

November 20th, 2013 by Yana Walton · 1 Comment

Conversations about human connection and technology usually fall within two predictable camps: Those who lament the lack of “real face time” connection, the false promise of more time, betrayed by the eternal presence of the virtual world via mobile technology (while using such technologies) – And those who celebrate the possibilities and expressions of intimacy and connection are fostered through social technologies. Sherry Turkle’s work is representative of this first camp, complete with the nostalgia for hopscotch on Brooklyn streets, and CJ Pascoe’s ethnography of dating intimacy and technology in American teens shows how rituals of public and private romantic relationships mediated by technology collapse rigid boundaries between the real and the virtual. Certainly these arguments and explorations are more nuanced than tech-resistant and tech-positive, but these overarching threads are present in both of these authors’ works.

While Turkle pose a good question when she asks what kinds of connections with others do we want to have, she neglects to answer her own questions that her “alone together” premise begs.  Before the rise of social tech, weren’t we still alone together – that is, distinct selves in relation to our human environments? Or even more pessimistically – alone alone? In some sense, the human condition is always one of solitude, which is the state of experiencing an ongoing self that is distinct from others. Either way we look at it, solitude and intimacy are ever present in the human condition, and technology is but one lens with which to observe the visibility of these aspects. When Turkle questions the inauthenticity of online lives & representations of self on social media by saying “We can edit our messages untile the project the self we want to be,” she doesn’t seem to ask about our underlying desires to be seen as we want to be by others. Don’t we already do everything we can to control our self-presentation in non-virtual arenas too? Hasn’t intimacy always been a time-consuming task? Finally, absent in all of Turkle’s critiques of the ways we feel eternally on-call and tethered to email  – is a critique of capitalism. She seems to put the sole blame on the technologies themselves, rather than the system in which we’ve developed technologies for a specific use: To be more productive so we can consume more.

On the other end, rather than ask what our relationships to our computers, tablets, and mobile devices are, Pascoe looks at what relationships humans have with each other, mediated through social technologies. A more productive question might be, what are our expectations of technologies, seen through this lens? If the disconnection from technology also means a disconnection from humanity, but we feel somewhat dissatisfied by the ways we’re connected or expected to connect, how can we connect in more satisfying ways?

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Almost Human

November 20th, 2013 by Samantha Gamble · Comments Off

There is this new show on television, Almost Human, which is about a cop who has a partner who is a robot. Although the robot is artificial, it exhibits human behaviors. In many instances, the robot seems more human than the partner.  In one particular episode they were kidnapping women and grafting their skin onto robots who were made to be prostitutes. There was one robot prostitute that assisted the cops in finding the guys responsible for this. In the end she had to be deactivated because it was illegal for robots to have human DNA. The robot cop asked to be with her and he watched her as she “died.”

After watching this episode my husband and I started talking about the possibility of having a robot wife. Keep in mind that the robots were extremely beautiful and exhibited all the right emotions. He then joked that it would probably be better than a real woman. But on the serious side, he stated that there would be no real connection or intimacy which is what make relationships worth having.

In Sherry Turkle’s book she talks about the idea of having robots as companions. She spoke with a graduate student who felt that if a robot could give her the “illusion” of happiness, then she would welcome it (8). I found it to be a little disturbing that someone would trade in a human for a robot in order to avoid the emotional rollercoaster that a relationship can sometimes bring. I understand how devastating a broken heart can be but, what about the wonderful surprises that a relationship with thinking and feeling human being brings.

On the other hand, when Turkle spoke about Miriam, the elderly lady in a nursing home, I sympathized with her. I felt comfort in the fact that she has something to comfort her. There are a lot of elderly people who are tossed aside by children and other family members, or who just have no one. In this case, I think that robots as companions are a great idea.

When it comes to artificial life and technology, I feel that it has its place. I feel that it is beneficial but I agree with Turkle’s idea that it cannot replace true human connection. All the human experiences that we have are a part of the learning process and completely avoiding them will stunt our growth.

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I share, therefore, I am

November 20th, 2013 by Sabrina Smith · 3 Comments

Lately I have been on a Facebook and Instagram budget.

Scratch that.

Lately I have been on a psychological patch, one that helps me reduce the obsessive compulsive attempts to update my feed or post a new photo of the day. And I think I have been making great progress.

Which brings me to the discussion of my response to psychologist Sherry Turkle’s view on the ‘self as we want it to be.’ In some ways I agree with her stance on the idea of the ”Second Self,” but I feel that there is a sense that we won’t be able to reclaim ourselves or pay less attention to the technological avatar. It is true that this community is obsessed with the latest gadgets, craves for social media buzz and people of varying age groups have the constant need to operate on a tweet or obtain the most “likes” on their personal page. In fact, it’s the the same behavior that I am trying to lessen in my day-to-day activity. Turkle makes an interesting point that we feel the need to be in control, and the tangible ability to erase a word or post the perfect picture demonstrates the desire to present ourselves in an almost perfect reflection. The moment were she mentioned the notion of ” I would rather text than talk,” it spoke volume for me because I know a few people in my life who are notorious for choosing the text pad over an in-person conversation or even over-the-phone communication. The short change of real conversation is a real social issue and the idea of forging new identities through computation is a bit pathetic, but we all do it at some point.

Even though majority of her points are agreeable based on current, social behaviors, I have a problem with the way that Turkle underestimates the human ability for change. At times (in both her reading and the TED Talk) it felt as though we (her readers and viewers) were like a child being scolded for something that is non-intentional but certainly controllable. Just as though we have the urge to control our lives, we can turn that sense of control into changing our habits and doing more to switch from the avatar to our normal selves. Multiplicity  is certainly at play here and it is our mission to level out our different personalities, one of them being the technological self. But there has to be a sense of confidence that we as people can do so, and unfortunately I don’t get that vibe from Turkle. I mean, she criticizes her young daughter about her analysis of the real turtle at the museum. Come on, she was a kid. On the other hand, I think her examples did offer some humanistic perspective to her argument which I could appreciate.

Let me clarify for the record that we are not only what we share.

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THANK YOU SHERRY TURKLE!

November 19th, 2013 by matthew finston · Comments Off

SOO, I know it is not my turn to go….but I couldn’t resist.
I think we can start off by saying that Turkle’s alarmist “Alone Together” is problematic. I think it would be useful to consider: Sherry, why have you been criticized for pathologizing people who seek intimacy through nonnormative partners? Hmm? Why would people take offense to an authoritative figure, professor from MIT, policing sexual and social norms? I wonder why she has been criticized for committing the same sin of the anti-gay marriage interest groups by defining criteria of normative relationships? Could it be that her critics find it problematic that she imposes the psychiatric gaze on bodies seeking alternative forms of intimacy? Could it be that she is moralizing proper sexuality? Could it be gay rights activism historically has not been limited to marriage rights but reflects a complex and dynamic protest against the juridical and disciplinary deployment of heteronormativity? Could it be that “Alone Together” is in fact a treatise for the reconstitution of the abnormal/normal binary in order to encode the conditions of proper sociality?

 

I think it is possible to have a serious discussion about the role of technology in the modern age without resorting to moralizing discourses about proper sociality. This is not it.

 

Her questions are all wrong and her framework is worse. The introduction is characteristically oblivious. Which site does she choose to situate this alarmist rhetoric? None other than the Museum of Natural History. Is it worthwhile to remind ourselves that the natural history museum was founded on the “spectacle” of imperialism and colonialization? Rather than investigating how interpretations of “spectacle” inform a preference for a robotic tortoise over one alive, she exhibits the children’s failure to see the true value in the spectacle as indicative of the dystopic reality technology has created.
To a “child” who has no conception of Darwin, the theory of evolution, or the complex historical debates that have emerged due to the evolutionary discourse, an inert tortoise is not interesting. The tortoise is not the spectacle. The spectacle is the deployment of evolutionary theory. It is that yummy feeling of reminding the antievolutionists how wrong they are. Without a concept of this, the spectacle can be nothing more than the object itself. And there is nothing spectacular about an inert animal. On the other hand, animatronics are preferable because they are a recomposition of life not as it is but as it should be. They are not lifeless. They represent an excess of life. The very function and composition is to make objects overflow with interminable life.
Thus, it is not less life that is desirable. Technological innovation is primarily concerned with the rejection of the finite. Further, technological advancements in communication are not used to run away from life. It is to inject life exponentially into every crevice once devoid of life. No moment should ever pass without having at our fingertips access to the excess of life.
I am going to try to sum up an alternative analysis of “spectacle.” A spectacle is an object of consumption (see Debord’s Society of a Spectacle). Debord argues, “The spectacle’s function in society is the concrete manufacture of alienation.” Debord uses a marxist analysis to create a theory of spectacle. I am not necessarily endorsing this. I am merely using the theme of alienation to turn the gaze back on Turkle. In what ways does she reinforce a culture of alienation by endorsing the spectacle of pathologized intimacy? How alienated do you feel now that you have found out that your predilection for technological gadgets is abnormal?
The understanding of what is worthy of a “spectacle” is not ahistorical, but has discursively reflected contemporaneous notions of the magnification of alterity. Think of Ota Benga in the early 20th century who was displayed in the Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo. Or Saartje Beetman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, also an object of the spectacle. And today, we still have exhibits of prehistoric hunter/gatherers who for some reason also anachronistically practiced heteronormative sociality exhibited as the nuclear family.
I think my biggest problem with this book is not that Turkle claims modern forms of communication produce alienation. Rather, that the text is embedded in the realm of moralism. But as a psychoanalyst, that is her job. She has the responsibility to help our fragile society. Parents need to know that giving their kids cellphones will lead to Robot marriages. Society is too weak-minded to realize that avatars are a perversion of proper sociality. Parents must protect their children! Poor Turkle has the sole responsibility to project judgments on inferior forms of sociality in order to help us discern the normal from abnormal. Thank you Sherry Turkle.

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