Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I will have to think of something clever for the next one though, I'm not satisfied with the link ratios just yet. I can do better. With gaming culture there is always one sure-fire method for doing this: write about a classic hit. Unfortunately none of them seem to be about law. Or not yet anyways.
Challenging material to produce, hopefully not to read though.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011
The above image is from a famous ad campaign featuring Catherine Deneuve for Chanel No. 5. She is, or was I guess, famous for her sophistication and classic beauty. You slap the product next to her skull and print it into every single magazine you know potential consumers read. They glance at it, shrug, and keep flipping pages. The subconscious makes the connection, your conscious mind doesn’t have to do anything. The basic formula is “Fame and Glamour = Catherine Deneuve = Chanel No. 5”. You dump enough cash into this and eventually people will eventually just think, “Fame and Glamour = Chanel No.5”. That’s a basic 1 to 1 ad system with only one intermediary. Williamson’s theory is that, “this is the advertisement…constantly translating between systems of meaning, and therefore constitute[ing] a vast meta-system where values from different areas of our lives are made interchangeable.”
Saturday, October 22, 2011
I was inspired enough by Courtney Stanton’s eloquent rant on the loss of Google Reader that I decided to do my own homily for Buzz.
I’ve been bonking around social media the same way most people have: right on the cusp. Instant Messenger got big while I was in college and I had a long list of friends. Remember Away Message culture? Those funny little AIM icons at the bottom with those white faced cartoon characters? Repeating a funny quote from a convo or selecting that choice line from a movie that just really described your mood. I had a Prodigy account where I insisted on writing everything in all caps. An AOL account for logging in and jabbering in those awkward chatrooms. I even got onto that MTV show once where they livecast chats. I typed in all caps for that one too.
Facebook came to my college right as I was graduating and it was initially a lifeline to old friends as we all scattered around the country. I remember life before the newsfeed. G-mail was a no brainer and g-chat quickly became a staple of any lecture in law school. I signed up for Twitter as all the friends I’d accumulated writing about video games made the same migration. For the longest time my relationship with digital media was to connect with as many people as possible. To find as many points of view as possible and absorb them. My path was to always go where the people were.
I’m not quite sure why that started to change. The fighting, probably. I think I was known for having a temper back in the day but I’m not even sure what I was mad about. Law school was no picnic certainly. And I do have a blunt attitude. There are plenty of people out there who don’t have a high opinion of me and for good reason. It’s just…the noise. The endless waves of links, opinions, ideas, caps on, caps off, cacophony that hundreds of people generate when trying to talk all at once. I would turn on Twitter and spend 20 minutes just sifting through what I’d missed, only to have to spend another 10 sifting through what got posted in that time.
This got so intense that I would literally turn on Twitter and it would put me into a bad mood. Sarcasm has been an emotional crutch for me for so long that it might as well be a third leg. Combine these two things with waves of people talking at me and it just brought out the worst. And let’s not forget that this is true of people online in general. Why on Earth someone could ever think it’s a good idea to tweet to me that my article is completely wrong and I should read their correct article is beyond me. The fact that they meant it innocently, phrased it politely, or were totally correct was something you could only cling to for so long. I’ve begun to believe that being an internet celebrity has a lot more to do with patience than actual production.
I finally realized one day that something had to give. So I shut it all off. There is about a 9 month period where I basically vanished from the web. I moved to a new town where I had to make new friends. I had to start a new job and start all over again as a first year associate. I resigned from my post at Popmatters after 3 years of working for free there. I quit writing in general.
Buzz was something that I handled the same way most people did when it came out. I flipped it on, followed a bunch of people I recognized, lost interest, and went back to Twitter. I’d turn it on occasionally but never paid much attention to it. At my new job I found myself sitting in front of a computer all day. I don’t even remember why I was reading it that first time, boredom probably but I imagine the desire to share was finally coming back after 9 months of silence. You can only go so long without sharing with others, particularly about your passions.
Buzz was a pretty crude place. The people I found talking there were venting their rage and frustration at life and video games. You could call a popular, well-connected writer a fucking moron without worrying about them getting offended or blacklisting you. Even if they did hear about it, Buzz had so few active users that it wasn’t the same level of insult as saying it on Twitter. It’s the social difference between a whisper and a scream. But it was a well-designed forum. Topics could be posted and commented on indefinitely while new ones kept piling up to give each one a natural lifespan.
What interested me was that none of the usual social media vanities cropped up. Nobody cared how many people they were following. There was almost zero desire to vapidly increase the number of people they were broadcasting to. As a consequence you had less nonsensical posts of cats or wonk. Less desire to hit ‘post’ without even considering who would find it interesting. My theory is that like Facebook, Twitter began to sabotage itself by coercing people into connecting to so many others that you could no longer actually talk. If you criticized something, a dozen or so people would jabber at you about why you were wrong. Like Reddit, only positive and polite things would get encouraged by the system. The desire to ever say anything controversial or different was steadily eroded. I was on Twitter for 2 years. I can't think of a single meaningful exchange I ever had on there. At a certain point, the social service just became another mask.
Buzz was different because it stayed small. I've lost count of how many brilliant ideas or great links I've gotten from people on there. You got to know the people around you. People didn't take it personally if you mouthed off because they knew it was just you being you. You can't force something like that to happen, it's just a matter of time and place. I could post an elaborate ramble on a game I was playing, post a cool quote I saw, or just spout nonsense. On Twitter, you couldn't do that because everyone was watching.
And now, as with many others, the only online forum I give a shit about is being shut down. I’ve tried using G+ a few times but it is essentially the same problem as Twitter or Facebook. It’s a numbers system, people broadcasting their views on as many people they can while Google charts clicks and exchanges on a global scale. It’s not the privacy thing I’m bothered by, I accepted what these services were a long time ago. It’s being channeled into the same kinds of services I stopped using 2 years ago because they mostly seem to bring out the worst in people. Myself included.
Buzz was not a perfect service. The very thing I enjoyed about it was that so few people used it. But it is still a place in the way that all forms of social exchange become places. The occasional drunk rant. The rapid fire comment sections. The long, wordy posts and responses when someone suddenly had the impulse. Posting quotes from random books. The unspoken codes of conduct about not posting nonsense or delving too deeply into narcissism. You hold these things close even though they aren’t really yours or anyone else’s. They are the space we have between one another.
And now it is fading away.
Monday, October 17, 2011
That process of things getting complicated and the issues it poses for fixing it started to fascinate me. It has been discussed at length by various sources and you can find dozens of proposed to solutions. I decided to use my experiences with a particularly complex game to just illustrate the how and why of complexity with laws.
It just getting people to accept the very notion that nothing is simple with large rule systems is a start.
Friday, September 30, 2011
The column is about the inherent knowledge gamers develop about systems and how this approach applies out into the real world. A lot of these ideas are in the gamificaiton series, but I tackled some relevant issues instead of getting bogged down into theory.
Here's hoping the gaming generation keeps getting bigger.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Link to Part 3
Monday, August 22, 2011
To borrow a popular criticism of gamification, a feedback system alone is not a game. It is, however, a potential application of game design principles to a system that employs both seriousness and play to produce tangible benefits. Going back to Greg Lastowka, he identifies three key differences between a legal system and a game:
1) Games are disassociated from life in a way that makes them less serious than ordinary life.
2) Play absorbs players intensely and utterly.
3) Games are not materially productive.
Gamification, if we were to condense it into a form, provides a means for 2) to exist in a system that otherwise does not necessarily have the other two elements. Huizinga’s example of this occurring was the Renaissance and I narrowed it down to something like the art patron model in the previous post. A person is given the freedom to totally absorb themselves in an otherwise productive task. This was possible because the patron environment creates an accelerated feedback system. The artist is paid before the work is completed so they have something to live on and to give them supplies. Nobody yet knows if the work will be any good nor is this payment indicative of that.
Donella H. Meadows, in her great book Thinking in Systems, explains that the information delivered by a feedback loop can only affect future behavior. It can’t deliver the information immediately and so can’t have an impact fast enough to correct behavior that is driving the current feedback. An example she uses would be letting the water out of your bath tub. The water isn’t all gone immediately, it takes time to flow out and you don’t notice until the water is gone. In the patron’s case above, you don’t know if the money is going to lead to a great work of art until it’s too late.
This situation can play out in dramatic ways because people are often making bad decisions based on improperly interpreting feedback. For this reason a system often cannot self-regulate and repair itself, the feedback may take decades to resolve itself and by then it’s too late. On an individual scale this is something as simple as not exercising. On a marketing scale this could be a person failing to use a product properly or not experiencing the full benefits of its use. Gamification would be an attempt at making a system capable of self-regulation because it has good enough feedback to where people can make proper decisions based on their own self-interest. They’ll introduce their own corrective behavior and engage more fully.
Advocates of gamification being used for social change would use this to help people experience immediate benefits for tasks like recycling or exercise where those rewards often take time to play out. You get some bonus points every time or your score competes with other participants. That way, even though recycling itself is not giving positive feedback until many years later, the system can still provide it. Marketers, assuming they actually understand what they’re doing, would be using a similar approach by creating a more coherent feedback when engaging with a product.
Just as a law requires a certain amount of social acceptance to function properly, a gamified system would have to align itself with the individual’s own self-interest. Meadows explains, “The most effective way of dealing with policy resistance is to find a way of aligning the various goals of the subsystems, usually by providing an overarching goal that allows all actors to break out of their bounded rationality.” That bounded perspective simply refers to the limits of our perceptions of any system. The feedback helps prevent the “drift to low performance” problem that occurs because people can misperceive negative feedback and cause the system to go into drift. That is, people are no longer behaving based on what’s going on but rather a misperception. The lower the perceived state of the system, the lower their self-interest propels improvement through corrective action because they don’t think it’s working.
A gamified system will have to be sophisticated and carefully tuned to the individual’s wants while also guiding them to longterm goals. This would be the basic dividing line of the play elements (individual wants) versus the longterm goals (serious elements). The problem is that, as noted above, a feedback system is not a game. It does not have the play element in it because it’s a static system. You need a certain degree of competition, creativity, something generating the play form to allow the absorption aspect we’re trying to maintain.
Which is where the complications begin to arise because like the comparison between a utopian society and a more diverse community in a previous post, a game is not composed of one play standard. For each cultural sphere there will be a unique play sphere that applies. More realistically, a culture can support numerous play spheres of different types and in varying states of solidity. The classic example of this is Richard Bartle’s different types of MUD players. If the play sphere exists independently of the game, then it’s important that one maintain a system that is always adapting to the varying needs of the individual to maintain alignment.
Most legal systems are built around the reality that feedback is often slow to arrive. Laws take a long time to create and then long periods of fine-tuning are expected via the common law. Things simply do not change fast enough to necessitate a legal system that quickly modifies itself and preventing improper reactions to feedback is a virtue in this case. One area where this is changing is environmental law because you need to be able to respond more quickly than a traditional front-end system allows. If a natural disaster occurs in an area that has been protected or a species is put at extreme risk, you may need to change the rules that day, not in four years. This is the topic Barbara Cosen tackles in her work..
I’m going to borrow from J.B. Ruhl’s essay on dynamic system theory for this section. The issue with systems that have random elements is how much space do you allow it to deviate before its fundamental structure and purpose has changed. Sticking with our Renaissance example, certain restrictions are imposed on the artist by the patron like make it classically themed or painting the patron standing next to Jesus, while creative independence is also allowed. Excessive control would be like the Big Bear Plane Company example, where the boss is insisting the plane have a propeller because he likes them. There isn’t any one specific element that corrupts the system, it’s the complex nature of their relationship that creates the dynamic
Resilience is the key test for a dynamic system because it gauges what kind of changes it can handle. Ruhl defines it as, “the capacity of a system to experience shocks while retaining essentially the same function, structure, feedbacks, and therefore identity.” This comes in various forms, with Ruhl outlining ecological resilience as the magnitude of disturbance the system can absorb without changing versus engineering resilience tries to channel and minimize disturbances through design. Ruhl uses the analogy of a bowl and ball with the ball representing an occurrence in a system. Engineered design is a vase: the ball has a limited opening to enter the system and it is tightly channeled into a small area of possible outcomes. Ecological resilience is a large bowl: there is more space for the ball to land but it will roll around and potentially stop in multiple places.
Resilience can be problematic if the system is so stiff that it’s producing results outside the acceptable spectrum of standards. A gamified system would have to be a much looser and employ more adaptive reward structures than a traditional game if it wanted to maintain its play element. Ruhl identifies the five key features of a system contribute to the capacity to endure through surrounding change: 1) define problem, 2) determine goals and objectives for system 3) determination of ecosystem baseline, 4) development of conceptual models, 5) selection of future restoration actions, 6) implementation and management actions, 7) monitoring and ecosystem response, 8) evaluation of restoration efforts and proposals for remedial actions. The goal of this approach is to increase response diversity so that unexpected positive behavior can be rewarded without having to change the entire system. It’s the Renaissance, with all its limitations, but still that possibility that you can do something new and amazing.
You need a lot of authority delegated to an individual or agency for this to work. Administrative systems focus too much on the front end design without making changes on the fly. The Renaissance was able to work because it mainly boiled down to the artistic tastes of one eccentric patron in the exchange. They could be bartered with and changes could be made more easily than if one were dealing with a corporation or committee. Whatever elements of play you were extracting out and relying on to induce absorption from the user would have to be carefully maintained in an environment where the serious aspects are always in flux. Large dynamic changes are going to have be made to a gamification system on the fly, you can’t just change the scoring model every year and expect it to hold together.
Which brings us full circle on this series. The very first post on Gamification and Law began by stressing that the most important game design has to offer law is crowd sourcing techniques. Dynamic legal systems represent that idea by proposing laws that can change quickly and respond to social conditions on the fly. Legal theory, in turn, has a lot of nuanced ideas about how to study and address rule systems once you get outside closed-off play systems. My goal with this series was to cross pollinate a wide range of ideas and disciplines on the subject of gamification, something the public dialogue has sorely been in need of. If gamification is to make much progress, it will be in the hands of people who do not care much for boundaries and other static ways of thinking. As Donell H. Meadows comments, “It is great art to remember that boundaries are of our own making, and that they can and should be reconsidered for each new discussion, problem, or purpose.”