Inside the Skinner Box
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“I long since learned that my productivity and humanity fall precipitously when I allow myself to play these games.” Super-duper points for honesty - one of the most honest things I’ve read in a long time (and the last time I played any kind of video game - other than ten minutes at Xmas with nephews - was in the '80s).
“Call me skeptical or naive, but I still find it hard to believe that a company this big would take that kind of risk.” Some absolutely will. Some won’t, but some either insanely greedy company or a company facing failure will. To reverse engineer a bit from your closing statement: think about how many Wall Street firms have risked ruining (and have ruined) their reputations engaging in that exact type of behavior.
Yet another great read! I’m old enough to have had an IBM 8086 that played ‘ping-pockey’. I was addicted to Myst thru Riven. My son to ‘Evercrack’. Judging now, I would bet the ever-innovative game/porn industry will prevail, especially if privacy actually is real (?decentralised?).
“Still, if you want to know how big technology will be used to nudge you into behaviors across your socially and politically engaged lives, always look first in the same two places: Vegas and Video Games.”
Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem…Nowadays each online game is a little virtual world and as the games keep developing those worlds turn into considerably massive worlds with everything we have in reality and huge numbers of people," Liu said, who went on to say that one day massive virtual universes will become “no different than the real world.”
Different from traditional art forms, Liu noted that game culture is created by game developers and players together and therefore the special feature of this new art form is that each game can become a unique cultural product and story for each individual.
“We just need some key pioneers in the game industry to make it happen, just like how animation culture developed. Video games are highly likely to become a mainstream cultural art form.”
Hmmm, how do we get to the desired outcome?
Five years ago, I think I would have answered the question quickly: by embracing structures for every phase of human creativity - scientific invention, art, entertainment - which do not presuppose a desired outcome. More individual freedom, anywhere and everywhere.
I still think I believe that’s the right answer for ethical reasons, but I’m more aware of its shortcomings in preventing the exploitation of individual behavior under the influence of common knowledge. I don’t think there’s a better alternative than broad personal freedom of action (full hearts), awareness of narrative/meme/common knowledge, and tools to control use of our data (together, clear eyes).
I think that’s always a safe bet, Victor!
Good post, Rusty. I thank you.
Video games have never pulled at me the way you describe. Still, I was lucky enough to read Gibson’s Neuromancer 25 years ago (and then everything else he wrote), and his dystopias struck me as much more prescient and believable than, say, Orwell’s or Asimov’s, for precisely the reasons you describe.
Gibson’s world is now staring us in the face: the gamification of virtual space as a tool of exploitation & control, the hegemony of an oligarchical elite, the mass idolatry of celebrity avatars (Idoru), the privatization of real-world security and so on… Gibson imagined all that a generation ago; now it reads like today’s evil twin.
I am confident 99% of us want to be good but, collectively and individually, we are always at risk of ruin by the other 1%. That struggle is basically the story of our species.
Reality is not a pulp SciFi novel, so no plucky hero(ine) will emerge from obscurity to save our ship. Rather, if history is any guide, it will take many unrelated & un-thanked acts of goodness by those humble enough to know we cannot see the way, to steer us, year by year, between the ‘bergs of those who claim they can.
Thanks Rusty. Us early gamers appreciated this one - I recommend you read Ernest Clines’s Ready Player One (avoid the movie) for the pure 80s gaming nostalgia.
My friend in Internet Security has worked for both the gaming and finance industry. The effort gaming companies put into security so they can control the who in “who is being played” is immense (the building for lawyers was the same size as the one for developers!).
Virtual damage can be greater than IRL (in real life). Stealing a game pre-launch or breaking a game’s economy can be >>game over<< for a company. Stealing from a bank is just an insurance problem…
Is a simple game that is just entertaining no longer profitable? It seems so as everything needs to be a skinner box in some way.
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