Monday, August 13, 2018

Kjerringa mot strømmen

This is here to link a folk tale of the most contrary of women, who is also a Norwegian folk hero, the wife above the waterfall, or the woman against the stream. Please do read both the collected version from fairytales, and the poem by André Bjerke at the end.

Not a conspiracy, just a consequence

There are  several different theories of education at the moment, from the more reasonable: "learn to search for information and cooperate, don't focus on rote learning," (the problem with this is that without a certain level of simple facts learned the hard way, we don't know what to look for), to "learn mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, these are the core skills for everything else, all the rest is useless," at the other end of the scale (no need to interpret, contextualise and critically question if you can test everything in  laboratory). Just to get my point of view out there, the only theory of education I vehemently oppose is one where science is equalled with religion, and can be compared and exchanged on a curriculum. The rest should learn from each other and reach a point of mutual best practice where kids learn philosophy and physics, music and maths, art and biology, facts and cooperation. How to reach that ideal, I leave to educators.

But.

Here's the thing: All children need and deserve the best education any nation can afford to give them, education that teaches them to take informed choices about everything in their lives, from feeding themselves by way of choosing a profession to electing the leaders of their countries. If we keep skewing education only in one or the other direction, we take these options away from our future decision makers. We really don't want to do that, but we are doing it.

By emphasising the natural sciences to the cost of social science or the humanities, we are reducing the chances of children to become critical thinkers who can question social systems and the ethical and symbolic meaning of progress. We are taking away from the future the ones who would have a chance to question and oppose the oppressors, abusers and manipulators that will rise.

I am not saying that there are people who try to achieve this effect by attacking educational institutions and diverse information. I am just saying that if the funding keeps being shifted away from education to - just about anything else - this will be the result.

And that was my warning of the day. I do try to find other ways to oppose this trend, for instance by educating critical thinker, but here is why I stay in academia.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Game addiction controversy

Game designers used to be very proud of how addictive their games were. During the nineties, designing an "addictive" game meant having a great success. And so behavioural psychology was raided for knowledge of what extrinsically motivates people, this was rebranded as gamification, and used as an argument about how it is possible to use game design strategies in order to make any apparently boring or insignificant chore... well, if not fun, then at least more engaging and, yes, addictive.

But was this really addiction?

Addiction is a tricky word. It is currently used in several news articles in order to warn about the dangers of video games, but the WHO classification of diseases doesn't talk about addiction, but disorder, underlining it as a warning sign. There is however no specific list of what a gaming disorder might be a sign of. There is however already a decent body of research that points out that by treating gaming as an addiction and a disorder in its own right, the real problems go ignored. And if you disagree with all of these researchers since they are critical of the term, here is an article co-authored by Mark Griffiths, one of the strong voices arguing in favour of obsessive behaviours being classified as addiction.  Here's the list of other problems this article finds that "gaming addiction" is associated with:
In terms of the results, the following personality traits were found to be significantly related to Internet gaming addiction: avoidant and schizoid interpersonal tendencies (Allison et al. 2006), loneliness and introversion (Caplan et al. 2009), social inhibition (Porter et al. 2010), aggression and hostility (Caplan et al. 2009; Chiu et al. 2004; Kim et al. 2008; Mehroof and Griffiths 2010), boredom inclination (Chiu et al. 2004), sensation-seeking (Chiu et al. 2004; Mehroof and Griffiths 2010), diminished self-control and narcissistic personality traits (Kim et al. 2008), low self-esteem (Ko et al. 2005), neuroticism (Mehroof and Griffiths 2010; Peters and Malesky 2008), state and trait anxiety (Mehroof and Griffiths 2010), low emotional intelligence (Parker et al. 2008), low self-efficacy in real life as opposed to high self-efficacy in the virtual world (Jeong and Kim 2010), and diminished agreeableness (Peters and Malesky 2008)
It's like treating the fever, without asking if the patient has meningitis or the flu.

It is important to note that no game researcher today will claim that gaming has no problematic aspects. Just the one-sided use of time that for many very dedicated gamers could be better spent maintaining face to face communication, a healthy exercise habit and some variety in their general life experiences is worth considering when we talk about how games should be used. From there we see problems all the way from the development of cultures of exclusion based on game performance, by way of a language of aggression developing from the very direct communication ingame, to the huge economic losses caused by microtransactions. No, games are not always a fun and healthy habit. Neither is gardening, if you take it to an extreme that ruins your health, isolates you from friends and drains all your money. The only thing that makes excessive gardening better is that if you avoid pesticides and invasive species, at least you add to the production of oxygen and help counteract the heating of the planet, rather than adding to it through the support of the massive server-farms running to keep the games up. That is a huge benefit. Please go with problematic gardening, if you can choose.

The main danger of the decision to treat gaming disorder as a disease is that it shuts down too many other venues of exploration in order to understand why people play. It's becomes simple: It's because there is an addictive component to games, and like with drugs, alcohol and gambling, the only way to avoid the very wide range of problems ascribed to gaming is to shut down the games. But we don't know that. All we know is that there are a large group of people who wish it was that easy. If school shootings were caused by games, they would end if there were no games. If games cause teen-age pregnancies, they will disappear when there are no games. If games cause young men to become shut-ins and isolate themselves from the world and their families, they will emerge from their basements when there are no games. Students will finish college, grades will rise, drugs will disappear from the streets, crime-rates will drop. So many of society's ills can be cured, if we just remove games!

OK, the above was a touch of hyperbole lifted from the many, many articles describing what may happen unless we restrain games, and what games cause in society. The WHO classification underline that it's a very small part of the population that gets problems with games. But already the knowledge that this is a registered disorder has caused the business of treating it to bloom. And if that is allowed to happen without more research and more understanding of what is really going on, that means another boom of bad treatment clinics.

I rarely recommend comedy shows as references, but John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, May 20th 2018, had a long section discussing the rehab industry. Look at that, and then consider the potential for a gaming addiction rehab industry. There is after all a long history of strategies and research on drug rehabilitation. The so-called need for gaming addiction treatment comes with none of this, only concern and rumour.

When we, as games scholars, are worried and concerned, protesting the classification of gaming disorder, that is the real nightmare scenario.

Elsewhere on this:

The Verge on Gaming Disorder

Friday, June 15, 2018

The normativity of a fun Facebook challenge

Last night I let myself be convinced of a fun challenge on Facebook. It looked pretty innocent, and I just wanted to play along. It was as follows:
NO cheating 😉 Please brighten my day with the 11th [put in the number you are given] picture on your camera roll, no matter what it is! 😂 Have fun & play along. Then, copy and paste using the number I give you.
This looks innocent, right? I did however sense something was off, because when I reposted it, I pointed out that people should definitely cheat. And I soon learned why.

Not everybody's camera roll is comfortable sharing material. We use the cellphone cameras for a lot of stuff. I use it for remembering shopping lists, addresses, names and numbers, as well as for just regular images. I take pictures of books and handwritten notes. It's not all stuff that needs to come out on FB. And that is before I have started thinking about baby pictures and kids, faces I really don't have the right to commit to the face recognition machines harvesting our data. And since I am not really convinced that my body is all that attractive anymore, I do not have physically revealing pictures, and so that whole universe of either straight or queer images of enticing revelation was not on my mind at all.

But that is, of course, an important part of how we use our phones. It may not even be for tittilation, but just registration, even for health. It may be revealing pictures of ourselves or our friends or family, from naked children jumping into a kiddie pool to heavy fetish wear or situations. And both may easily exist side by side on the same personal image roll, without problems or perversions - until somebody tells you that you have to show them one particular image.

And that is when you learn why cat pictures are so popular on the internet. Because you will hastily scroll past all the pictures that will give away too much information, reveal a face that should be kept away from the public eye, or show somebody in a compromising situation, and end up - with a cat. Or, like me, in the lack of a cat, with a landscape or a building.

Of course, nobody checks. But at the same time this challenge forces us all to revise the reality, and you and I know. That revision is cheating. Still, in this day and age of surveillance: the game is already rigged, so please, do cheat.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Media-Ludic approaches

Two years of planning, pitching, reviewing, editing and writing sees its reward in the June 2018 issue of MedieKultur. It is an open source journal, so for all of you who really want to do some serious reading about research methods, here you go! My personal favourite here? My co-editor Emma Witkowski's interesting and innovative work on Sensous proximity in research methods with expert teams, media sports, and esports practices.

MedieKultur is a wonderful, well-established media journal that is also daring enough to give up space to a special issue on research methods still about the be established. I am immensely grateful to the editors and volunteers in the journal for putting in the work to maintaining this journal, which I have loved pretty much my entire academic life, and for taking a chance on Emma and me as guest editors.



Monday, June 11, 2018

Cookie Policy

So, this blog now also has a mention about cookies and how information is collected displayed across the top, and I have checked that it works. It is a standard notification, the way Google does it elsewhere. I used to think those were seriously annoying. Yes, I know you follow all my clicks, Internet. Every page eats my info, selling my presence. As with any other media, my eyes and my view of the content is what sells. The difference from a paper news source is that here, I also produce the content others makes money off. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, any other company that lets us produce and find content online, are making money off us both coming and going. I have known that all along.

But I have made thinking about this my life. I study, teach and research use of the Internet. It is not a trivial thing to me, quite the opposite, it is a fascinating theatre of human behaviour, a stage of love and hate, victories and pain, anger and reconciliation: all on top of a complex network of economical, military and political interests, driving increasingly sophisticated technology.

I do still get surprised by what people do online. But I no longer get surprised by my surprise. It has become a rule of thumb for me that if something can be exploited online, it will be. That includes you and me. That includes you reading something on this blog.

So yeah, there should be a cookie policy. There should be a warning that your advertising may change even if I choose not to have any on my blog. I am not making money off you. But I am convinced that your visit to my little blog here is part of Googles data collection. I am not sure what they plan to sell you afterwards. Books? Computers? Games? Gadgets to preserve your privacy online?

To help the little Internet spiders along, I will give you two suggestions.

Charles Stross has a series of alternative world Sci-Fi that I love, and which definitely follows my somewhat paranoid mood today. The Empire Games is a follow up of the Merchant Princes, and while I loved the first, the second (except where there are endless plotting scenes that I constantly fall asleep in the middle of) series feeds my surveillance paranoia.

Edited by Dale, Goggin, Leyda, McIntyre and Negra, The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness offers exactly the kind of relief from the fear, suspicion and general paranoia the Internet induces once you start asking questions. Not that it will really help in the long run, because as you will learn from this anthology, cuteness is a plot, and not only one to make you open the fridge or offer belly rubs.

Enjoy. And you are warned. Here be cookies.

Monday, January 29, 2018

American collapse?

I am old enough to be a little concerned when my new haircut makes me look like an aging Ulrike Meinhof, to remember the fear of a global war when Russia entered Afghanistan, and to have drawn a sigh of relief with the relaxation of the cold fronts between the nuclear powers. But in all of this time the US was a place of continuous progress. It might not always have been a progress I was comfortable with or agreed on - I have always avoided American style fast-food joints when possible - but I thought of it as a nation at least trying to make life better for others.

Then came the election of Bush in 2000. I was in the States at the time, a visiting scholar at the NYU, and heard the professors speak about the voter failures, particularly in the black neighbourhoods, where whole sacks of registration forms were lost. Later came professor Johan Galtung's assessment of the American society. Now, umair haque's article on the American Collapse.

I thought my belief in the US had fallen with the Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe's book "We who loved America" (in Norwegian), a collection of essays on American war crimes and the prosecution of intellectuals in the Soviet Union, but it hasn't been until the last few years that I realised I still thought of the US as a nation where the society tried to make life better for all who lived there. A progress at least vaguely aimed at the good of human kind.

I still love my US friends - now perhaps more than ever, as so many of them think, breathe, speak and act on a resistance to the collapse - but my optimism on behalf of the system has been lost. I am now reaching for Galtung to understand what is going on. And listening to a younger generation, who have walked into the world we made for them with their eyes open.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Hello World 2018

It's been a while. I know I was going to blog more in 2017, but somewhere in Bangkok that disappeared from my agenda, and I started being very, very present in the here and now. That is good, you know, all that mindfulness and paying attention kind of thing, but also bad, because my here and now is rarely as interesting as my over there and then.

Case in point. My current here and now finds me fighting dust. I am having the kitchen and hallway redone, and it's going to be fabulous. But right now it means I am walking on temporary boards, through clouds of dust, to get to the bathroom. I have no kitchen - it is a dark hole from a post-apocalyptic fantasy. It doesn't help that I am currently reading the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant. I am expecting the zombies of the world to lurk under the lacking floor boards, and there I am with nothing but a plastic dust-door between me and a new life as carnivore.

But it is Mira Grant who inspired me to write my blog again. Her zombie apocalypse comes with government conspiracies, transgender make-up artists, and, above all else, bloggers. The way she thinks about blogging is how I thought about it ten years ago: with an upbeat optimism, some naiveté and a deep love of a functioning, quick and open internet. This is a world where the government may be experimenting with viruses that leaves your undead even more dead than expected, but it is also a world where Net Neutrality is going strong, and the hackers are our heros. They do get bitten first though, once they leave their safe space in front of the monitor, so they aren't the main heroes.

Anyway.

2017 was a year of movement and change. I visited four countries besides Norway and Denmark, which isn't all that much for me, but I spent half a year abroad, in different locations. This brought with it new routines, new experiences, new fun and new frustrations.

 I learned to love Bologna more than ever. Italy is one of my favourite countries in the world, and after three months of winter/spring in Bologna, I am now homesick for it. I want to walk its street, eat the food, listen to the voices, read in the libraries and people-watch for ever.

The next shock to my system was Bangkok. I did not stay for long enough for Thailand to become familiar, as this was just a quick visit, but it left a deep impression. This was such a different way to live, and still so wonderfully vibrant and interesting, that it will always be there as a temptation to explore with (a lot) more time and preferably somewhat lower temperatures.

Melbourne however was perhaps the most difficult experience. I thought I was familiar with Australia, but I have just touched lightly on the surfaces and not been experiencing it. And this version of Australia was winter, cold, influenza and a grey, windy city. So, kind of like Copenhagen, but without the bikes. I left just as it was about to enter into spring, and I have to admit, at this point the only aspects that I miss from Melbourne are the people. My wonderful RMIT host Emma Witkowski is a colleague I love to work with, hang out with and spar with, and I miss her. My hosts and the designers of the game that was the subject of my doctorate thesis, Dragon Realms, and their children, are friends I miss on a regular basis. And I made new friends there, wonderful and warm friendships with people I would love to have in my life every day. They made it worth while to deal with being cold all the time, every day. I don't even dress that warmly now, in January in Denmark, as I did to keep warm there. Australia does have more than Melbourne going for it though. I just went north to the sun and the beaches, and suddenly I remembered why I love the continent in the first place. Editing at the side of a pool, with occasional breaks to swim, is not the worst thing. I could do without the giant cockroaches though.

All of this has lead to two articles and a book. The articles are one done, one in review (and in need of being expanded). The book is 2/3rds ready and will be done before spring. (I hope.) It has also lead to new and renewed contacts, to new ideas and new ambitions, and a rethinking and affirmation of my scholarship. But most of all: I am no longer a zombie.

In 2016 I had a very small piece of surgery with huge consequences. If you are curious, google hyperparathyroidism, and read about the symptoms. I was a living walking braindead, with enough awareness to be terrified of what was happening to me. Now I am awake, alert, alive, and looking forwards to more exploration and new adventures! As long as the zombies don't rise from my ripped-open kitchen floor.