Another Couple of Loose Ends

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Loose End the First: “United”, You Fail

So many fewmets have hit the windmill in the last two months that it may take a serious jog of memory to recall “United Nations Citizen”, a promised new virtual world that was all — and only — about The Good Life of conspicuous virtual consumption. I dissected it in a post titled “Vaporworld”, in which you can also find a link to Dio Kuhr’s wielding of the scalpel upon the verbiage to be found at UNC’s website.

In the comments to my post, Dale Innis said:

I think this United Nations Citizens thing (doesn’t the UN have some kind of trademark, btw?) will be completely forgotten in six (three? one?) months, except as an amusing example of how everyone and his uncle thinks Virtual Worlds are the cool thing to do.

I decided to wait two months (7 weeks, to be more precise), before taking another look. Granted, given what I and others found, predicting a stillbirth was not difficult… even so, it appears that the dissection I performed was an autopsy after all, even though the subject was unaware at the time that it was already dead.

Anyone who contacted UNC around the time of its announcement, including me, was sent a boilerplate email that alleged to list their roll-out schedule. It ended with: If you are still interested, we will be providing a comprehensive email on next steps, retail locations, potential positions and more on Jan. 22, 2010. Anyone get that email? I didn’t, and I should have been on the mailing list.

On January 25, a biz-blogger named Andy Abramson posted “Need A Job? Go Virtual With Cisco, Equifax and Harris”. He referred to his “good friend Tony Loiacono”, and also said:

Since it launched it has 65 job applicants. The UNCitizen jobs go live February 3, with at least twenty percent getting work from the start.

February 3 is soooo last month… any of you 65 applicants get a response yet, let alone an offer?

Andy also said: Not bad for a concept without any VC funding yet. No VC funding? Surprise, surprise…

Nothing has changed at UNC’s website since January 13th, either… except that the front page includes a feed from it’s Twitter account, uncavatar, which has generated all of 9 Tweets — the last dated Jan. 30 — and has a whopping 20 followers.

Put away the butter and jam — UNC isn’t toast, it’s charcoal.

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Loose End the Second: Blaming the Medium

Anyone not read this horror story yet?

Girl starved to death while parents raised virtual child in online game

OMG! The Internetz is Ebil! Gaming is addictive! Pass a bunch of laws against those “enabling” PC-bangs, right now! Gaze deeply into your own soul and admit that you, too, are an addict!

‘Scuse me, folks, but I call bullshit. Not that I think the story of those two people and their dead daughter is false. My complaint is with the pop-psych hyperbole of the last couple of decades that publicly brands any perceived divergence in normative behavior as “addiction” to something.

As long as there has been a human imagination, there have been means to “escape from reality”, and there has been a tiny fraction of the population with a tendency to remain too long engaged in the escapes — usually to their own detriment only, but sometimes harming others as well. It is justified to be outraged about the behavior of those two individuals, but it is in no way justified to blame what they didn’t do on what they did instead. They neglected to care for their daughter, and she died as a result. Those two individuals probably would have acted the same way in a time before MMO’s, or the Internet, or television, or radio…

If you’re going to place the blame on immersive virtuality for the crime of neglect, you might as well blame the entire genre of Fiction.

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7 responses to “Another Couple of Loose Ends

  1. Thanks for linking to my post! ;)

    We have no way to know whether there would have been a different outcome if the couple did not have access to MMOs. But given their reported history and the amount of time they were spending online during the time their daughter was slowly dying from dehydration, it seems like it was at least a significant contributing factor.

    I don't see this as a question of blame, but rather part of a prudent inquiry into the causes and conditions that lead to the tragedy. The point I was trying to make in my post, was that it would do many of us good to question the impact of our virtual lives on the important aspects of our RL relationships, careers, education, etc. And that virtual world bloggers might try a less defensive approach when responding to perceived attacks on the avatars or virtual worlds.


  2. Thanks, Botgirl ~

    Yes, we're speaking to different purposes in our respective posts. Yours, from your admirable Buddhist perspective of “mindfulness”, has application to all aspects of life, no matter in which “world” it's conducted. Mine is directed at those who would jump to broad-brush conclusions and mistake the symptom of that couple's dysfunction for its cause (see also, Tateru's recent post).

  3. I'm going to go out on a limb here, so stick with me for just two heartbeats (maybe three).

    Let's consider symptom versus cause and how they can be deceiving, and even change with time.

    First, do we agree that certain drugs are “addictive”? My answer is yes, because they predictively leverage chemical processes beyond our control.

    Second let's look at symptoms versus diagnosis, can we get it wrong? My answer is yes. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder and in 1975 the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives followed suit. In this case the “symptoms” of same sex attraction were initially diagnosed and classified as a mental disorder and assigned to a small part of the population until much later it was agreed that it was a normal variation of our human form.

    We both know I'm not a psychologist, but I do believe that for each of us there is some magic mix to which we can become addicted. And, when I watch the dynamics of FarmVille I see what I interpret as addictive substances that are tapped into different parts of our human psyche and needs structure – many of which brilliantly talented game designers understand (see Jesse Schell).

    Being human is *always* the root cause of addiction, but clever game design, just like drugs, is culpable.

    Please remember to restart your heart ;-)

  4. *coats the paddles with conductive gel, rubs them together, shouts “Clear!” and applies them*

    Grace, we do agree on your first two points: chemical addiction is just that; psychology is an interpretive art, not a science — albeit (sometimes) with scientific methodology — and can “get it wrong”.

    The example you chose for the latter is significant; it illustrates the mistake of allowing conventional wisdom — e.g., “homosexuality is sick” — to skew interpretation of evidence, and then exacerbate the falsehood by adding the weight of authority. Now I see that operating again: popular opinion has taken a superficial resemblance between chemical addiction and other immoderate behaviors, conflated the two, and declared by force majeure that aberrant fascination with immersive activities is also “addiction”. (Recall also, when jogging hit fad status, talk of “the runner's high” and “endorphin addiction”…)

    That is, when the same vox populi isn't characterizing the same clusters of behavior as “ADD” or “Asperger's”.

    Is there a genuine neurochemical basis for a medical diagnosis of addiction in cases of hyperfascination with immersive entertainment? Are clever game designers creating, inadvertently or deliberately, a sub-population of “wireheads” (to borrow a coinage from Larry Niven)?

    I'm a layman; I have no idea, though I suspect it's being studied. Meanwhile, I reject pop-psych out of hand; first because it's “psych”, but more because it's “pop”.

  5. Though I would note–there are very many people on SL who identify as having Asperger's. I have been pondering what about the environment aids them so, because in most cases, that seems to be what's happening.

  6. Indeed, Miss Em — I've met a couple of them. I might suspect that self-identification has a professional diagnosis as its basis. That's a bit more substantial than “the psychiatric couch of public opinion” (with reference to “the court of…” a.k.a. “trial by the Press”)

    I'm going to take a wild guess about what is inherent in SL that helps them: The interaction with other minds on the screen, without the physical presence of other humans in the room.

    Even regular shy folks have told me that they're more outgoing and confident in SL. Maybe it's like being a radio DJ or television newscaster (both of which I've done): the number of people listening or watching don't cause stage fright because you can't see them.

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