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October 23 - Halting State, Day 3

Page history last edited by yleavel@... 11 years, 9 months ago


Main Points


     We discussed the idea of technology as a kind of filter of volitional speech, i.e., suddenly your right to volitional speech is determined by your level of access to the technologies that mediate it. On the one hand, in our world, the anonymity nteractions through media such as AIM allow people to say whatever they want without fear of real-life repercussions. On the other hand, it is also easier to control information and communication on the Internet. An example of this would be government imposed firewalls in China. Control depends on effective surveillance, which is very easy to do in a wide-open public forum (or so we think) where everyone is scribbling their thoughts all over the web. Surveillance therefore becomes sort of the price we pay, or the "stakes of the medium", for such the information glut that is the internet. Also, people who do not have access to the internet and related communications are therefore stripped of volitional speech if the rest of the world decides to communicate that way, almost as if a certain percentage of the planet suddenly developed telepathy, leaving the rest in silence. We are now dependent on technology for a portion of our speech acts, so this has become a real concern.  


     Surveillance, or ubiquitous media, is a major theme within the novel. We discussed the advantages of surveillance, which include crime control, UPS tracking, and Amazon personalized shopping logs. We then moved on to discuss conspiracy theory within the novel, or more specifically, the differences between conspiracy/detective novel (Lot 49 vs. Halting State)



-lots of actors

-readers get pleasure from inability to get to the heart of the mystery

 -there is self-referentiality, a self-involved narrative that keeps pointing back to itself



-individual seeks answers

-readers gain pleasure from wanting to find out who did it

-Halting State wraps everything up in a nice little package for you at the end, as opposed to the ending of Lot 49.


Both texts are dominated by paranoia. 


     We listed stereotypes of gaming as degeneracy. (p.123) "But to a visitor of Wellsian or earlier vintage, it would be wholly incromprehensible other than as some weird display of vile degeneracy. (You vile degenerate, you and your hundred million cyber-spatial compatriots!)". The stereotypical "degenerate" gaming demographic consists mostly of nerdy kids. Games are often considered escapist, but so is extensive reading. They are also criticized for distancing their players from the real world, but so do a variety of media including common ones like Facebook. Finally, they are criticized for being highly gendered, and having questionable content. 


     Is Stross engaged in using an "autoplot generator"? (P.134) We discussed whether the way he's talking about the game development is applicable to the way he wrote his novel. Stross follows the structure of a game in writing his novel, especially the clinched ending that mirrors the narrative of a game. However, it is debatable whether games actually have closure or not.  


 "What Would McLuhan Say?" 

      Mainstream culture has always viewed the practice of gaming with more than a mild sense of contempt. Role-playing games in particular, which place the player within a fictional role in a fictional universe governed by fictional rules, have always drawn criticism for their tendency to encourage total escapism from players' realities as well as their seemingly addictive nature. It is interesting to note, however, that social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace, equally notorious for their addictive properties, have been fully embraced by at least the younger generations. Role-playing games, particularly online ones, and even the table-top games, also have a strong social component, one that in many cases is essential in shaping the player's experience of the game. Why then do role-playing games suffer a stigma of degeneracy? This is simply a matter of the activity's distance from "the real world." While Facebook and Myspace serve as extensions of one’s “real" social life, role-playing games encourage the player to immerse himself in a reality that is often-times designed to be as far removed from the player's direct sensory perception  of reality as possible. This association of gaming with degeneracy is pervasive throughout Halting State. As the novel progresses, Jack and Elaine begin to spend less and less time preoccupied with their games, and become more and more functional as a couple engaging in a physical real-world space.




      “Hackman is stripping you naked – not of clothing, but in a more significant way; stripping you of the right to volitional speech, stripping you of ability to     communicate, stripping you of identity.” (page 355) 

      We discussed how media exerts social pressure on our lives, and the role of media in our social interactions. In this scene Hackman is asking Elaine and Jack to remove all of their technological accessories, which Jack thinks of as sheilding, defining parts of himself, the same way we think of clothing. This goes back to the scene where Elaine pulls off Jack's glasses, causing him to feel uncomfortable with the sudden experience of looking into her unshielded, naked eyes. Technology appears to have created a certain distance between people even when they are in close physical proximity.


   "They've set up a botnet, and now they're controlling it through Zone space. Zone space runs distributed across most mobile phones-just about any multi-user     game you play relies on one or another version of Zone/DB to handle transactions.They're sending control packets disquised as flocks of birds or patterns of     trees in forests, or something, you know?  Updating the database, and relying on the zombies in the botnet to pick up the changes. It's their backdoor into the     public network, by the way-they feed instructions to the zombies, and the zombies with the stolen authentication pad update the routing tables. The traffic looks like game-play to GCHQ or CESG or NSA or whoever's sniffing packets; looking in-game for characters run by Abdullah and Salim holding private chat about blowing up the White House garden gnomes won't get you a handle on what's going on because they are not using the game as a ludic universe to chat in, they're using it as a transport layer! They're tunnelling TCP/IP over AD&D!" (page 299)


      This a neat "the medium is the message"-type situation.  Jack makes a point that people began surveilling games on order to observe terrorist activity in the form of terrorists using their avatars to meet and chat with each other. However, they are using the background graphics of the game to communicate encrypted messages, for example bark patterns and formation of birds. The NSA and co. are looking at the content of the game, the characters and what they are doing, but the meaningful significance is buried in the medium, in the foundation of the game universe.  



 “In a few years it will all run on quantum exchange magic . . . it looks like the twentieth century” (page 309)


   Class opened with a passage from Halting State which discusses the eerie and misleading surface similarity between our present and Stross's imaginary future, or even our present and the recent past. The idea is that generally we expect science fiction to be a sort of technologically grounded escapist genre that imagines an alternate present or a possible future which differs vastly from our world. The more a sci-fi world resembles ours, the more disturbed we are by its problems and implications. Also we may be dissapointed by a perceived lack of imagination, or the possible limitations of our reality.  





Machinima: "Machine cinema," some game software includes moviemaking tools so players can record and edit their gameplay.  Allows the player to create their own work by filming in the gamespace.  Most common in role-playing or first-person shooter games. This would be a great example of why games are considered more "configurative" as opposed to the "interperative" experience of the novel or the play.


LARP: “Live action role-playing” is a form of roleplaying game in which players physically act out their roles, portraying themselves as physical manifestations of imaginary characters. In doing so, they adopt the dress and behavior of their imaginary counterparts. Each LARP has different rules governing the ways in which this role-immersion translates to physical, real-world interaction between players, but combat is an essential aspect of nearly all LARPs. Players often use foam-padded PVC pipes as swords or paintball guns as a substitute for real weapons. Depending on which LARP the player is engaged in, actual physical combat might be substituted for symbolic combat, the results of which might be determined by dice rolls or characters’ previously established imagined attributes and abilities.


MMORPG: “Massively multiplayer online role-playing games” are a genre of computer role-playing games in which a large number of players interact with each other in a virtual world. A lot like LARPing the whole thing takes place virtually. Examples include World of Warcraft and SecondLife.  


Metaverse: A virtual enviornment, inspired by Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash, where players interact with one another via avatars. 




Charles Stross Interview - The first few questions are just about how he got interested in Sci-Fi, but if you scroll down a bit, he talks about "singularity" for a few questions, which is pretty interesting


Live Action Role Play "Ogre Battle: - Just in case you wanted to check out real-life present day LARPers


Second Life - The closest thing to metaverse technology widely accessible today. 


ffffound.com: Similar to Amazon, by choosing an image, you are immedietly presented with images suggested based on your taste.  This is another example of how surveillance and tracking can be helpful.  As PMOG introduced us to this site through thematically strung mission posts, this site collects images from all over the web and presents them for a targeted audience.


This is a good example of how people who are associated with gaming and online interactive games (or whatnot) are related to negative traits or simply misunderstood.   

Comments (3)

Brian Croxall said

at 11:45 am on Oct 31, 2008

I'm not sure if I'd call Second Life an MMORPG so much as a Virtual World or a Metaverse.

yleavel@... said

at 1:46 pm on Dec 11, 2008

Bcroxall's comments our evaluation:
• I’d like to see the main section organized a bit better
• The explanation of the first passage is good. The second and third? Not so much. Of course, these passages get discussed in your main discussion. Perhaps save some of that commentary for the passages section?
• You may want to make some connections to the quote about how the world is different but looks the same (which starts the entry, although it’s been truncated to the point that it is hard to understand what is happening) to the fact that the game’s structure/its code is what really matters. It’s what’s underneath the surface, the not-content, that matters most in both the game and in the real world. Tellingly, Jack makes both of these discoveries.

yleavel@... said

at 2:04 pm on Dec 11, 2008

can someone post that passage on 309? My book has different page numbers, I can't find it. thanks.

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