A profile piece in PC Gamer sparked a class discussion on the ethics of ramifications of virtual murder in EVE Online, causing me to wonder further about issues of ownership in MMORPGs. Given the situation described in the assigned reading, one might very well make the argument that much fuss was raised over Negroponte’s bits, essentially a meaningless commodity in and of itself. By all accounts, however, the sense of loss felt by victims of online theft seems very real. In order to better explain this phenomenon, I would suggest that what is lost is not just the item, but the representation of that item; badges, achievements, and trophies have become a method for us to gauge ourselves against one another and provide a palatable way for us to measure up. Status and identity have coalesced into (worthless if meaningful?) bytes, and the stealing of these items represents a loss in our sense of self. Can we ever go back to valuing what the badges are supposed to represent? Can we ever go back to an appreciation for having had an experience?
In a broader sense, the question of possession becomes increasingly relevant as we also seem to be moving toward a culture in which the lines of ownership have suddenly become much blurrier. We freely (if perhaps unknowingly) release personal data online, engage in a continual process of remix through sites like YouTube, and have begun to realize the power of crowdsourcing. Facebook owns the data that we upload and yet we bristle when the company chooses to use that information in a way that violates our assumptions regarding fair use. Where and why do we draw the line regarding ownership?
Going back to EVE Online as an example of an MMORPG, why is that we feel that anything in the game is ours in the first place? Put another way, all of the loot/drops/rares are the property of the game company—although we may have them temporarily in our inventories, we do not necessarily “own” them. Do we unavoidably apply the principles gleaned from real life (e.g., physically possessing an object means that we, in some way, own it) to the online realm? As we increasingly integrate virtual worlds into our lives, will we develop new rules and/or standards regarding the ownership of information as opposed to property? Is information in fact property and, if so, to what extent?
The ice cubes in my mojito clinked slowly as I swirled the glass in my hand. In my mind, it was officially summer and I had reverted to a cooling drink to cap off a long weekend. While there was a lot of e-mail to catch up on, I decided to take care of the easy stuff first and so I opened an item from Ross to discover a link to YouTube. Now, I’m not usually one for watching viral videos but I trusted that this friend had a modicum of taste so I settled in and clicked on the address. After a second or two, Ellen DeGeneres appeared on my screen and proceeded to deliver her Commencement speech for Tulane. I closed the video and started to compose a reply back to Ross—despite being an occasionally amusing fellow, Ross thinks differently than I do and I was not entirely sure why he sent me the link.
As I continued to filter through other e-mails, bits of Ellen’s speech continued to reverberate through my head. While a large part of her talk consisted of her usual jokes, one section struck me in particular; Ellen mentioned that while a number of negative things occurred as a result of coming out, she also received letters from children who might have otherwise committed suicide. While I’ve never felt the urge to kill myself, I understand the thought process of the people who wrote the letters to Ellen—as an Asian male, I can appreciate the joy of finally seeing someone else like you in mainstream media. When you find someone relatable in popular culture, all of a sudden you become a little less weird, a little less outcast, and maybe a little more accepted. As I’ve stated before, to me, exposure to the unfamiliar can only be a good thing. Well, unless you come across an old man in a trench coat. In that case, be prepared to run.
So maybe exposure isn’t always a good thing.
This past month a new attraction, whose goal was to foster awareness about sex, garnered a lot of attention in China. The theme park, called “Love Land” featured large models of male and female genitalia along with exhibits regarding sex. According to the park’s manager, the goal of Love Land was to provide people with more information about sex.
When I first heard about the project I found myself ecstatic for here was an attempt to normalize sexuality in a country that I had always thought of as rather conservative. I hoped that this park would make discussions about sex a routine part of life and provide people with easy access to reliable information. Love Land seemed to be a natural, if rather eccentric, extension of the Chinese government’s effort to launch a national sex education campaign.
Shortly after it had made headlines, however, the attraction was demolished without much explanation.
In retrospect, however, maybe the majority of the Chinese population was not ready for this particular effort. Love Land would definitely have been an interesting place for me to visit, but I’m sure that’s partially because I’m interested in sex. I’m interested in learning more about the subject, I’m interested in talking about it, and, sure, I’m interested in having it.
Despite the demise of Love Land, I am hopeful that progress has been made. For a couple of weeks, a large number of Chinese were debating the pros and cons of sexual education (in some form) and surely that’s worth something.