Final Critical Photo-Essay

The following link leads to the revised and improved version of my critical photo-essay. Once again, comments are welcome.


Network Gaming: The Potential and Problems

The video game industry is intricate, large, and diverse. As a previous member of the gaming community, I have witnessed firsthand the following that video games can build amongst interested members of the population. Commercial social entertainment networks like Xbox Live, which has reported a worldwide group of members numbering over 48 million, have clearly begun to assert an enticing pull for many. These growing communities provide immense networking possibilities. Anil Dash speaks highly of networks that grow fast, do not exclude those who are late to join, and allow people from different areas and who possess different talents to exchange and amplify ideas. Chris Anderson argues in “How Web Video Powers Global Innovation” that the formation of diverse crowds that can see what each other are doing and possess desire leads to accelerated innovation. With its capacity for both collaborative multiplayer gaming and internet access to amenities like Skype, Xbox Live is one of the many forums that allow for the developments discussed by Dash and Anderson to form.

The online gaming experience alone has become a complex social system. It is still possible to purchase games that allow their user to retire to his gaming cavern and spend his nights exploring fantastic worlds without companions, but many games now also include immense online matchmaking forums. The graphic to the right depicts online gaming from one such game known as Halo 4. Its multiplayer environment has many features, but it is perhaps most remarkable for the network it can create. One can play on teams identified by colors, and teammates can come from many different places and backgrounds. Those with Xbox 360 headsets can speak with their teammates. These conversations do not have to be limited to gaming but can focus on any desirable topic. The teamwork involved in the gaming process can potentially result in the building of ongoing relationships (or networking) with a diverse array of people.

The possibilities associated with gaming networks are well outlined by Jane McGonigal in “Gaming Can Make a Better World.” Games provide those involved with a reason to trust others, engage in challenges that can be overcome, and remain occupied. As McGonigal argues, this can lead to a sense of optimism, the creation of a social fabric (network), a belief in productivity, and respect for a good narrative. If these traits could be applied in the real world, a new dedicated generation of thinkers and problem solvers would emerge to combat the emerging problems of the day. They would not be as inhibited as many others by preconceived notions and limitations because of their familiarity to adapting to different worlds. The new group of thinkers might be the all-important spark of innovation described by Anderson.

I am hesitant, however, to believe in this vision of the future to the extent that McGonigal seems to believe in it. I question whether or not gamers are as willing as McGonigal seems to suggest to begin to play games that would help solve problems in the real world. A game that forces one to respond as they would if petroleum was in drastic decline would be helpful in finding new ways to combat the issue, but would the game be as attractive to users as Halo 4? Would gamers abandon games designed for sheer entertainment in exchange for those with a more notable social function, or is their goal to be entertained more than anything else? I also think gaming companies would fight against suggestions which would lead people toward playing games produced by governmental agencies or research institutions for the simple reason that profits would suffer.

The ideas of Seth Priebatsch in “The Game Layer on Top of the World” also make me question whether gaming networks could be harnessed for purposes less benign than the accumulation of ideas. He suggests that the game layer is to influence what social networks have been to forming connections. Gamers are used to following predetermined paths of action and completing itemized tasks. They are also very susceptible to pressure from other gamers and have long been following the orders established by game designers. Could games then be harnessed to push gamers toward certain thoughts, conclusions, and actions?

My personal opinion is that social entertainment networks currently provide an excellent forum for conversation and debate. I also think they are a resource that can and should be utilized to generate ideas and stimulate debate designed to solve societal problems. However, accomplishing these goals might be exceptionally difficult if gamers are not amenable to change or if there are those who try to manipulate the situation for personal gain.

The Myth of Universal Views

I think beauty is a devilishly difficult thing to attempt to define. Therefore, I was fascinated by the valiant attempt of Anne Frances Wysocki to characterize beauty in her article “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty.” Wysocki discusses many different theories, and a number of these ideas seemed to suggest that beauty can be universally defined. Kant seems to be seen as particularly influential in the defining of a universal concept of beauty. Wysocki says, “A judgment of beauty for Kant, then, is a disinterested and universal judgment that finds a universal form in the form of some particular object or person” (163). This concept of universal beauty is accompanied by discussion of how we are supposed to pull away from beauty to analyze it from and unattached and distant perspective (Wysocki 166). I must admit that I cannot agree with the idea of a universal concept of beauty or an unattached and distant perspective just as Wysocki seems unable to (171). My experience in sociology classes suggests that supposedly universal views are never truly universal and emotions and biases infringe on everything. As Wysocki suggests, “The web of social and cultural practices in which we move give us the words and concepts, as well as the tastes, for understanding what we sense” (171). The reality is that different circles exist in which to move, and perspectives are inevitably altered by these different surroundings. I think this concept warrants further investigation.

One way to analyze the differences in perspectives that cause us to view beauty in and out of texts differently is to take a closer look at two different types of beauty. The picture to the right is a commercialized image of what beauty is. The woman pictured is a supermodel paid for her work, and I would think Kant would consider her to be attractive according to universal judgment. Her proportions match those boasted about in popular culture magazines and there is a complete absence of tattoos or other more controversial modifications. The textual equivalent may be an academic text with a few graphics and standard paragraphs. It is exactly what we expect to see when we view an academic text just as the supermodel is what we expect to see in glamour magazines. However, it would be a mistake to think that we all view her in the same way. The most obvious difference in perspective is the different ways the woman would be viewed by heterosexual men in comparison to heterosexual women. Other traits ranging from her hair color to judgments about what her appearance may reveal about her character introduce a vast number of other variables that will inevitably be evaluated differently and not universally. A traditional academic text would be subject to the same differences in analysis. A college student who has read dozens of academic journal articles and an illiterate individual would view the article in drastically different ways. Every detail from font to punctuation would create unique responses based on reader experience.

The previous analysis sought to indicate that universal agreement on degrees of beauty seems virtually impossible to reach. The impossibility of universal standards of beauty become even more obvious after analyzing the picture to the right. Some may react with disgust or fear at the man’s appearance, but he would be likely to be viewed as attractive by fellow members of the gothic subculture. His look would indicate his devotement to the group and suggest that he is not a poser within their ranks. Universal standards are stymied by these different perspectives and cannot account for different social views. These social views are impossible to ignore; we cannot step back and coldly analyze the man’s appearance because our subconscious minds form opinions based on our cultural biases immediately and without conscious consent. Many other subcultures exist that would be likely to cause similar reactions. However, such drastic examples are not needed to illustrate my point. Every group of people has a stigma of some sort attached to them whether or not that stigma happens to be positive or negative. To relate this idea to text, think of radical websites like those that are tailored to certain audiences. These websites may appear beautiful to some and disturbing to others. Even mainstream websites are not judged universally; we all have our own opinions because of the biases which automatically spring from our social environments. This argument reduced to its simplest form explains why some people use Google while others use Bing.

The same elements of diversity I have applied to physical beauty can provide a unique lens to view the world. I do not deny that it is useful and often necessary to generalize and try to introduce uniformity, but large oversights are the constant companions of such macro conversations. The other texts our class read this week serve as examples of generalization and uniformity and how responsible academics acknowledge the limits of their work through qualifications. When discussing the perceived differences between “womanly speech” and “manly style,” Kathleen Jamieson uses words and groups of words such as “presumably” and “thought to be” to indicate that she is presenting generalizations which may not always be accurate (801). When speaking of his perception of a new visual world, Clive Thompson is more assertive. Nevertheless, he utilizes the introduction “I feel like” as a premise to his discussion of emergence of new writing and blogging CEOs. Such qualification are scattered throughout his writing. Cory Doctorow peppers his speech about copyright and intellectual property with assertions that, although his ideas are backed by statistics and sources, other people have different ideas about copyright and intellectual property laws. In short, all of our readings present perspectives on their given subjects. These perspectives are backed by evidence, but their presenters still recognize the necessity of asserting that the subjects they address are not viewed in one uniform way that cannot be questioned.

Sociology asserts that uniformity in culture is seemingly impossible due to our different social roots that shape thinking and biases, and I have sought to express how these different views loosen the social bonds of day-to-day life. This makes me wonder how sticky the embrace of beauty really is (Wysocki 173). Are we really as bound together as Wysocki and Kant seem to think? Wysocki does not seem to believe in a universal definition of beauty, but she still asserts that there are widespread principles to push against (173). In a world as diverse as ours, however, I wonder if we are always pushing against these principles due to our different methods of understanding. Do we rebel against the suggestion of uniformity without even attempting to do so?