Article Summary: A Rape in Cyberspace

This article describes a virtual rape and the options open to the virtual world participants to deal with the situation, as well as the feelings engendered by those involved.  As the article says, there is always a space beteen the real world and the virtual world, and things that happen in one can affect the other, but the feelings and ideas that one is left with may inhabit that grey zone.  The article goes on to say that the virtual work of a MUD is neither real nor make believe, but the associated meaning and emotions are real.

The article describes an incident that occurred on a text based MUD, called Lambda MOO.  A character called Mr. Bungle, caused other characters to sexually violate themselves, while he also violated them, though use of an online voodoo doll.  The response of those individuals whose characters were violated was unique to the virtual world, in that they weren’t quite sure how to feel; although they felt wronged and shamed in front of others, nothing had actually happened to them are “real” people.  If such an incident had happened in the real world, a hue and cry would have ensued, but since it happened in the virtual world, one women noted that although she was hurt by being violated, the Bungle character simply acted in an uncivil manner.

The MUD community rallied though and held an online meeting in which they proposed to remove the Bungle character; in real life this is said to equate with the death penalty.  But since none of the characters could do this, and the technicians (wizards) had earlier decided to take a hands off approach to social problems on the site, the group was left without recourse. However, they completed an amazingly democratic vote for their proposed action. So, as in real life, one individual took charge, and as a wizard, was able to remove the account of the Bungle character, thus “annihilating” him.  However, as in the real world, the system of justice is not perfect, and the Bungle character simply created a new account, calling him or herself Dr. Jest, and haunted the site for a while before leaving for good apparently.

In this article, the author does a very nice job of equating what happens with the virtual world with the real world, while at the same time pointing out the differences. The process of how to handle an event of this nature closely paralleled how it would be handled in real life, The sense of democracy and community available on the MUD is quite amazing considering none of the people have met in real life. And the failure of the system of justice to reform or punish the perpetrator is left at the end, similar to what often happens in real life.

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What is a Game Meant to Do?

We watched the documentary on “Super Columbine: RPG!” in class the other day. I thought it was very well done; not only did it discuss the “Super Columbine: RPG!” game, but it covered other areas as well, such as different people’s individual values and beliefs on games. They also discussed violence in games in general, as well as comparing the violence in “Super Columbine: RPG!” to the Columbine Documentary that was made. I thought this was interesting, because the documentary had more graphic images than the game.

I also found interesting why the maker of the game created “Super Columbine: RPG!” I wondered why he put and exclamation point at the end of the title if he was only expecting about 25 of his friends to play the game though, because in that case, the title of the game probably wouldn’t matter as much – Danny already had his friends attention and had pulled them in with sending them the link to the game.

Is the game disrespectful? I don’t think so if the intention was that it was trying to teach, as well as be an outlet for the creator. Is it offensive? Sure, to some people. Like I said earlier, we all have our own value and belief sets. Especially people of different generation gaps, I feel (or at least that’s what I got out of the documentary).

I especially liked that the creator of the game made this documentary. It explained his side of things, what happened with the game once it came out, and brought up good discussion topics to what games might (or should) evolve into over time.

How Easy is it to Dismiss Identity?

In class we discussed that people may deliberately not think about identity as much when playing games because it may interfere with the flow or fun of the game, as well as the fact since violence is a sensitively charged topic, people might not want to think about their identity in too much detail or with too much thought.

I found this interesting to apply what we talked about above to games such as “Rapelay,” since it is a first person game and because it was intended for the exact reason of rape, and not something like “Rollercoaster Tycoon,” where the violence of dropping people into the water is only a side feature. I feel that if the violence is the purpose of the game, for instance as in a FPS game, then yes, people may not want to think too hard about their identity, as in “Call of Duty 4,” where the player can shoot innocent civilians in the airport of the “No Russian Mission.” This ignoring of or pushing aside the knowledge of identity may be because it is not socially acceptable, for instance, to be a terrorist in the United States (even if you are acting undercover, you still have the option to kill the people in the airport). The player might not agree with doing something like what they play in games versus in the real world, but in VR if the player doesn’t analyze or scrutinize his or her identity too much, it is a little easier on the conscience, and in so many other ways general as well.

On the other hand, the rape in 1993 with the clown in a text-based “room,” was also intentional, and a first person experience, (as well as “Rapelay,” as I said above, earlier), but I am not sure how players in “Rapelay” or the clown in the text-based “room” would feel about identity. I think these two situations (FPS vs First Person Rape, for lack of better wording) could possibly be something totally different from what we discussed in class – the idea of thinking about/acknowledging identity too much may interfere with the fun or the flow of the game. In these two cases about rape, I think the player (or clown) could actually be acknowledging identity very much so, and that is why they are raping in virtual reality in the first place. Again, because it is not socially acceptable, and the player has come to realize this, the player instead does it in VR, where it either acceptable or “more acceptable.” Therefore, the player must have acknowledged both his or her real AND VR identity to figure this out. I think the player therefore thought about identity in detail, rather than it being ignored or shoved to the side. Perhaps since what happens in VR can be thought of as non-permanent, it is easier to dismiss the action of rape, but then also easier to get away with it?

Genered Play Spaces — Identity

Article Summary

“Complete Freedom of Movement”:  Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces

by Henry Jenkins

 

This article has basically two themes, the first setting the stage for the second.  The first theme is that as backyard and neighborhood open play spaces are diminished, the need for exploratory play remains, and for many children, the “open spaces” of video games can fill the void.  The second theme is that there are differences in traditional “boy culture” and “girl culture”, and that many of the present day video games which fill the role of creative play for those without open spaces reinforce the stereotypical gender roles, or simply are designed “to gratify preadolescent males, not to empower girls” (p. 24).

Jenkins spends a lot of time describing the creativity inherent in spatial exploration of outdoor spaces, even if the outdoor space is a sidewalk.  He shares the value of freedom of exploration in an open space as opposed to the stifled play that can occur in a circumscribed way at places such as parks or playgrounds, which have been designed by adults for specific play. Jenkins goes on to show that due to our present day way of life, many children do not have backyards or open spaces, and video games can help fill the void for creative play and spatial exploration. He especially points out that although behavioral problems may have increased in children, we should not look to video games as the cause, but rather an inability to break out of a confined physical space as being the problem, and that video games may offer an alternative to this confinement.

Jenkins points out that in general, when we discuss physical play and play outside, we are really talking about boys and their play. Historically, he describes a “boy culture” as independence from adults, daring physical prowess bringing recognition from peers, need for mastery and self control, competition for “top dog” position, physical aggression and dominance, adult role playing, and bonding. Overall, he describes gender segregation in play, and shares that girl culture centered around staying close to home and mother and nurturing play with dolls.  The author describes written books which follow the same type of gender differences:  boy books about adventure and danger, such as Treasure Island and Huckleberry Finn, and girl books about secret spaces, being alone, and meeting the needs of others, such as The Secret Garden and Little Women.

Video games have followed similar gender stereotypes, though the author spends quite a bit of time describing the Secret Paths in the Forest game by Purple Moon as being more of an open space for girls to explore which combines female nurturance and love of magic and secrets with spatial exploration (of secret paths and areas in nature) and mild risk taking. It is a game designed to foster interdependence and sharing among girls as well as to practice social strategies. Another game intended for girls is a game based on the book Harriet the Spy, in which spatial play within a town is combined with spatial exploration outside the town and its people, intended to develop a sense of curiosity and interconnectedness among the people and their spaces.

The author believes that since most existing video games are designed for the boy culture, fast paces and full of danger and competition, we need to design video games that can entice girls to play, since both genders need the outlet of a digital play space when true outdoor exploration is a thing of the past. Slower pace, less danger, believable characters, and places to discover may fill this need in video games for girls. Jenkins also points out that we don’t simply want to recreate the division in video games that already exists in books between “boy books” and “girl books”.  This will only foster the separation of the sexes. Providing themes that do not stereotype males and females is a key to providing the means for girls to explore their competitive side and develop confidence and for boys to slow down and explore character relationships and magical thinking. Perhaps then boys and girls can enjoy the same play space in a way in which they never have before.

A Woman’s “Open Relationship” with God — The Onion

I read a story at http://www.theonion.com/content/node/67089, titled:

I’m In An Open Relationship With The Lord

By Bonnie Nordstrum
Polytheist
September 26, 2007 | Issue 43•39

It’s just an interesting  article on a woman’s relationship with God and how she identifies herself through that relationship…I also figured she posted it on a website, so VR is involved as well as  religion and how Nordstrum came up with her “open relationship” theory/analogy on God, worshipping, and feeling “fufilled” through having a special identity with this “open relationship,” which she explains in the article.

Here is a little bit of the beginning of the article to get you interested (it gets better as it goes on, so click on this: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/67089 to read the whole article (which you definitely should — it’s not too long, funny at times, and not hard to get through):

With Jesus as my personal Savior, I felt like I had it all. But then we hit a rough patch, and before long, I was beginning to question both my faith in Him and His commitment to me. At one point, it seemed the relationship was doomed. But I did a lot of soul searching, and together we found a solution that fit both of our needs by adopting an alternative theological lifestyle.

Now that I’m in an open relationship with the Lord, I feel a greater spiritual satisfaction than I’ve ever known.

It all started when I was 16 and first asked Jesus to enter my heart. It was incredible. He filled me up with His love. I’d never been redeemed before, but with Jesus it felt so right, as if the sins of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. For a while there, we were communing via the sacraments several times a week! And every night we spent what seemed like hours in long, mutually satisfying sessions of prayer. I worshipped Him.

Soon the honeymoon period ended, however. Whenever I spoke to Him, He seemed distracted and distant—sometimes I wondered if He was listening at all. Daily devotionals felt like we were just going through the motions of repetitive, meaningless dogma. A few months later, I made a potentially disastrous discovery: I found out I wasn’t the only one He was sanctifying….

Check it out and let me know what you thought of the article…

Intimate Confessions on the Web…

Article Summary Day

“Intimate Confession Pour Out on Church’s Web Site” by Neela Banerjee writes about a website called mysecret.tv, which is an evangelical site based off of LifeChurch. . The Church holds a conservative view on homosexuality and abortions. LifeChurch is based in Edmond, Oklahoma, and has nine locations.

At mysecret.tv, people can write confessions anonymously to the LifeChurch Founder, Reverend Craig Groeschel. After 16 years of working at the ministry, he thought of mysecret.tv because “he knew that the smiles and eager handshakes that greeted him often masked a lot of pain.” The Reverend did not want secrets to “isolate” people, so 10 years later he created LifeChurch.

Even later, about a month ago when this article was written, mysecret.tv. was set up as an online forum.  LifeChurch  now has “an interactive Web site tied to its sermons,” mostly for the need of confessions. Throughout LifeChurche’s nine sites, it draws 18,000 total of people to weekend services. LifeChurch is also online and has a virtual campus there as well which technologically “binds” and intertwines the campuses through actions such as broadcast sermons.

Since mysecret.tv has gotten off the ground, 150,000 hits and 1,5000 confessions (since the article was written). The author describes a few other places online for confessions, but then brings her writing back to LifeChurch and mysecret.tv. Banerjee states that mysecret.tv may be special from all the other confessional sites, because “it gives people at LifeChurch an easy opportunity to act on the sermons…”

The confessions are of all types, usually just a paragraph or two, some “rushed and without punctuation, as if the writer needed to get it all out in one breath,” whereas others are “eloquent, almost literary.” The article describes intense confessions, such as the confession of a woman who shot her abusive boyfriend, or of an adolescent who as been molested before, including by her mother. Sometimes in the confessions they wonder if there really is God.

The article ends by saying a few negative things, such as: because the site is anonymous, there is no way to reach out for help, and points out that the resources section of the site at the moment lists mostly religious books, not lists of places for mental health services.

The last bit of the article discusses the major positive point – that since people can read these anonymous confessions online they now know they are not alone, they are not the only ones out there struggling for hope.

Defining points of Rituals

In class on Monday we discussed what we thought features of rituals involved, and discussed Tambiah’s definition of a ritual as well. The class came up with some key words for rituals:

-Order, Communication, Repetition, Relation to Real World, Body/Physical World, Symbolism/Indexical, Relationship to Time/Place, Cultural Context, Acts/Words, and Other Worlds

            Tambiah had some other insights for key words to what a ritual might be as well that we hadn’t thought of, such as:

-Transmission of Information, Participation and Structure

In Grimes’s book I read “Constructing Ritual” by Catherine Bell, and learned even more about defining rituals. Bell especially discusses Geertz’s theory, in which he discusses how the meaningfulness of a ritual can be a cultural phenomenon (27).

I always thought that rituals can bring about cohesiveness to the community (as a feature of a ritual) and so did Geertz. When he wrote about a funeral as a ritual that “failed to function properly…Geertz concludes that the conflict which surfaced at the funeral was a result of a growing discontinuity between the community’s cultural framework of beliefs…’ (29) Not only does this show the importance of a community’s unity, but this also relates back to our class discussion on games and rituals and how perhaps instead of being looked at as winning and losing, it should be looked at as success and failure. Bell says that “Geertz wants to conclude that ritual facilitates change,” (30) but cannot say so because a failed ritual leaves the conflict unresolved.

I agree with Geertz mostly on his thoughts of rituals facilitating change, although I think just because a ritual has failed does not mean that a person or group of people do or does not undergo change, it is just perhaps not the change they were expecting or hoping for. Perhaps someone with OCD fails to wash their hands right away after they visited someone who had a cold, like they always do in that situation, thus the ritual failing. Let’s say they do this ritual for fear of contamination, and that this person with OCD fears that they themselves will get catch that cold. Now let’s say two weeks later, they still haven’t caught a cold, even though that person didn’t wash their hands right away. Perhaps they then went through a change, a realization that their fears won’t always come true if they don’t perform that ritual within a certain amount of time. So, even though the ritual failed, I do not see why one cannot undergo change.

Article Summary for 10.14.09

Diaspora on the Electronic Frontier:  Developing Virtual Connections with Sacred Homelands 

This article describes the beginnings of using the Internet for religious purposes.  The use of the Internet blossomed for religious reasons has ranged from interactive chats, to informational websites to virtual pilgrimages.  One specific use of the Internet has been to connect dispersed people with specific religious practices and environments from their original homeland. As technology has advanced, so has its uses for religious purposes, and it has become more sophisticated on the way. Estimates of the number of websites in 2006 with a religious content outnumbered the number of websites devoted to all aspects of science.  Clearly, this is a significant force that has great potential for those who wish to use it and for those who wish to channel it for specific purposes.

            This article describes the beginning use of the Internet for religious communication (rather than simply information) as occurring through the USENET network in the 1980’s.  Originally part of a larger general group, a number of people petitioned to have their own specialized newsgroup for religious purposes and were granted their own space. However, religious intolerance within different religious groups further led to a separate section for Judaism, and later one for Christianity.  The author views this as the first evidence of displaced people wanting their own religious identity in a place where they could gather from around the world.

             Shortly after this occurrence, a group of Asian students attending school in the U.S. developed an interactive Internet site for anything relating to Indian culture, which included the Hindu religion. Many of the posts regarded religious issues, especially those of people not in the area native to the Hindu religion. Another student group eventually developed two Internet sites specific to the Hindu religion, with the goal of bringing together people from all over the world on this one topic. This last group went beyond the traditional chat function and began posting religious text and scriptures that was requested.

The development of the World Wide Web created an even larger base of websites devoted to religion. Some, such as the Vatican website, were strictly informational and not interactive, though quite in-depth. Others served the purpose of allowing communication by and between many people, in an interactive and personal manner. These latter websites allowed people around the world to discuss religious beliefs and practices. Eventually such websites also began providing this service for people who were not allowed to openly discuss their religions form their homeland while they were in exile (Tibetan Monks) or in non-friendly cultures.

Eventually, the function of many religious websites moved into the area of personal religious practice, and allowed not only connections between people living away from their homeland and place of religious origin, but also allowed for new exchanges between people and new places. Online broadcasting or religious festivals was able to be live. Virtual pilgrimages were now available to a number of destinations.  Such religious sites worked hard to overcome the limitations of such online viewing of the disconnect involved when one cannot actively participate and experience the preparation and hardships involved in such an event. Real-time viewing became available, and virtual visitors were able to sign in and let the other participants know they were there. Some sites allowed Internet participants to leave a prayer petitions that would be used along with all the others in a special service.

In particular, Hindus have developed a particular website in order to connect themselves more obviously with their sacred homeland. People now have the ability to request specific rituals conducted specifically for them in sacred Indian temples. They are able to participate in rituals that were previously only available on specific days if one journeyed to a certain temple. And now, this website sends a CD of the videographed ritual to the online participant, along with other possible verifications of their participation, similar to what would occur if they were actually present in person. A new question though:  are people using the Internet to participate in temple rituals still participating in religious rituals in their new homelands? The article did not have an answer.

The Sacred and the Virtual: Religion in Multi-User Reality

Article Summary for 9.05.09 (COMMUNITY)

This article starts off with an abstract (about what I will be discussing). First, the authors have an introduction; they discuss virtual reality (VR) 3-D worlds on the web that have text boxes that let you talk to other people who are also online at that same time. You are an avatar – basically a 3-D person like the characters that you make on Wii that can move around and interact with each other (through the text boxes). If you would like, there is a website of the Contact Consortium, http://www.ccon.org, which the article says has several different images of  the avatars and their different virtual world systems.

The authors talk in this piece about how religion is expressed through these multi-user virtual worlds that are mainly for socializing. They go on to mention that “the nature and structure of communications have profound social and cultural effects” (p 2). The three authors then talk about the E-Church world (the name has been changed for privacy reasons), which has prayer meetings in a church in one of these 3-D worlds. While there is no physical presence of a community, “graphics, video and sound open up a range of ritual possibilities that may have profound consequences for the symbolic expression of religiousity” (p 2). “Second Life” (which was not in my article, but I wanted to find an example) is one of those VR 3-D worlds that is mainly for socializing, but also has many religious places and things that you can take place in, such as prayer meetings in a church. I looked on the web, and found a video of an avatar touring the many places of worship in the VR world:

The E-Church was one of the first instances in the online 3-D virtual worlds that were directed towards religion/a religious community. The major variation between the E-Church and other more socially oriented VR worlds is the structure – the E-Church is more formal and the other worlds are looser in the way they work. Otherwise, the architecture is the same quality; the E-Church world has several buildings with a suburbia type of landscape, along with a church and some crosses with prayers and announcements. The formal part of the E-Church is (a) that the service is at a certain time on (b) a certain day of the week. Also, (c) the conversations that the avatars have are more restricted to a certain topic (a religious topic) than just a plain social 3-D virtual world and (d) the conversations are held in the same confined setting of the church. Then there is the tightly structured prayer meeting and how it works, which is easily compared to going to a ‘regular’ church.  There is a priest, or one or two leaders who lead the meeting (which is structured like in real life) along with the other participants – known as speakers in this article. Thus, there is a hierarchy taking place, which is another comparison with going to a ‘real’ church meeting.

The E-Church is a more “serious” (p 5) type of community, and because of this, their level of closeness sets them off from other virtual worlds. The E-Church has strength in a common subject that is discussed through regular attendees. However, because of the subject, the church’s weakness is that the followers of the E-Church only know limited things about each other, such as their religious theories, which can make a community less cohesive.

Even though the E-Church is considered ‘more formal’ in their online world, in ‘real life’ the church would be considered less formal. For instance, the E-Church prayer meetings tend to be more open and interactive, and members usually come from/have different traditions. Also, leaders in the E-Church can be women, which priests in ‘real life’ cannot be. What the leader(s) in the E-Church preach, however, often have to do with the group’s emotional commitment; the leader(s) power comes from what he or she speaks of out loud, which seems to have a pattern of religious language and reflects on the bible or ancient creeds. The article goes very in-depth on what the language is that is used and how it is applied. Here is a video of part of a prayer meeting, and the language that is used (again, I used a clip from “Second Life”):

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4980949658144622505&ei=I-XJSoTOOaS6lQf87cTrBg&q=second+life+church+part+2#docid=-1796994387083048516

In the E-Church, some of the practices of a conventional church may become different and changed because of the technological advancement. The authors note weaknesses such as these and others: “verbal exchanges become shorter, emotional solidarity with co-participants is weaker, and there is less orderliness to the prayer meetings” (p 11). But the article also states how being technologically advanced has gains: “the virtual church allows for more candid exchanges between participants, it enables a kind of access from all over the world that is not available in conventional services, and it permits experimentation in the use (and prior to that, the design) of the virtual space that is less constrained than a church in the real world” (p 11).

The article also discusses the boundary between public and private and where that line is online. For example, the authors were not sure what text from the E-Church world they were allowed to use in the article – the study of the E-Church and its world had researchers spend time in the E-Church world, so they were able to gain text from conversations, etcetera. However, the authors decided to only quote what was obviously public and available, and tried to disguise the space itself, for privacy reasons. They made this one of their sections in their article.

To end the article, the authors discussed the three elements of which they thought a religious ritual consisted of: “the physical co-presence of people to enhance emotional energy, the ritualization of actions which includes ‘coordinating their gestures and voices’, and a symbolic sacred object that reifies and reinforces the group’s sense of itself” (p12). The authors concurred that the E-Church met all three requirements, although the three elements may not be as explicit and “straightforward” as in a conventional church. Therefore, one may not have the same experiences as a real church, but the E-Church does reproduce the essential features needed.

Intentions of Creators of Games & Limits to What You Can Talk About In Communities

There was one other question that I felt was important that we ended up touching upon in class on Wednesday but I thought it should be its own separate post: What is the difference between a game teaching us to understand how someone ‘sick’ felt, and a game teaching us to act that way? Do people have to have something ‘inherently wrong’ with them to bring the game into the ‘real’ world, like some people blame video games do? I would say absolutely not. Remember our earlier class discussion about ARG’s and finding clues in a newspaper (in the ‘real’ world)? This is my evidence backing up my ‘absolutely not’ statement. Perhaps even in textual narrativity there may be a way/ways that a person will bring the game into the world the person lives in (depending on how much the person identifies with the context of the game/storyline). I am not much of a gamer myself, but if was, I could probably come up with at least a few other examples.

To answer the first question I mentioned in this blog post, no one except the creator of the game knows what the intentions were for making it, although I am sure many of us would be/are curious to know. Some even come up with theories, like how Bogost thought that “JFK Reloaded’s” game design features suggested “that the developers stated goal was a ruse meant to inspire new perspectives on the historical event itself” (“Persuasive Games,” 132-133). I have noticed that many first person shooter games that we have recently discussed in class could have this aspect, or just perhaps being able to gain more perspective on the event which the game was based upon.

In another whole area itself, but still related to the first question about games and intentions, was what we talked about in class for what the army does sometimes for placing people in the field. I found it interesting that the Army uses a certain video game to help place people in the field by logging onto the person’s video game account (with permission) to see his/her stats (what the person was best at versus what the person was worst, or mediocre at). So even though they did not create the game, they used the game for their own intentions, which I think touches on a whole different part that was not addressed in my first question of this blog entry (but does relate). It does seem to me a bit unrealistic to decide what guns people should use based on their stats (because shooting a real gun feels incredibly different than hitting a button on their controller), although I do not see it unrealistic do use people’s stats to log into other abilities, maybe such as aiming, but more so the mentality of different positions people get into to put the person in. However, I do not know exactly what the Army uses for placement options when they look at a certain person’s video game’s statistcs.

I couldn’t decide to put this part last or first, but it got put in the end of this blog, but either way I feel it appropriate to discuss this since we have been on the unit of communities. Some communities in cyberspace are more formal, like religious prayer groups when they might meet in a chat room, per say, versus writing on your best friend’s Facebook wall about all the fun they had that Friday night when they went out partying. The same applies to real life communities. But either way, when you are having a discussion of some sort, I feel you should think about what you say/the way you say certain things and always be aware because it might offend people. I think communities grow closer and more together this way. Of course, depending on the setting and situation depends on how open you can/should be (formal versus informal), but either way, respecting boundaries makes a group/community more cohesive, in any ‘world.’

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