Blog Post #3 Computer Data: Is it mightier than both the pen AND the sword?

“Press Enter” is keeping me up at night.  Lisa’s life and (spoiler alert) death have affected me to the point where using my computer is beginning to frighten me.  Yet I’m glad for this, because this story has done exactly what any good science fiction story should do: blur the line between what we know and what we fear may come to be.

I’m fairly inexperienced when it comes to computer coding; but as far as information databases go, I do know that there are some regions of the internet that the average American citizen is not meant to access.  Whether or not certain government agencies would kill to maintain privacy from hackers (as is questioned in the story) is most likely fictional exaggeration; but it cannot be doubted that there are legal ramifications for those who manage to access forbidden sites and data files.

As I broke down the story, I attempted to find an avenue through which I could relate it to video game culture.  Computer hacking was a fairly consistent plot device in “Press Enter”, which invited me to think about hacking as it pertains to video games.  I would argue that online hacking, particularly in games like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, can be categorized into either one or both of Huizinga’s two rule-breaker roles: the cheat and the spoil-sport (Huizinga, 106).  As a cheat, a hacker can quietly manipulate the online world around them to acquire more in-game funds, specialty weapons, access to hidden locations, &c.  This usually does little to disrupt the overworld as the end goal is personal benefit.  Yet the spoil-sport hacker (more commonly known these days as a troll) chooses to disrupt the overworld by breaking the laws of the game to the extent that other players are then affected by it.  This may include crashing servers, player-killing (or PK’ing), stealing items, or “going rogue” (i.e. betraying teammates).

At the risk of delving too deeply into literary analysis, I could easily see Kluge and Lisa fitting into Huizinga’s roles.  Kluge’s hacking, which in the end caused mass disturbance among the fellow members of the cul-de-sac, might be considered the act of the spoil-sport.  Conversely Lisa’s character, who seemed to be interested only in personal gain, could be associated with that of the cheat.  Interestingly enough, both rule-breakers were caught in the end.  Whether this is a clever narrative commentary on the morality of hacking or simply a sci-fi love/horror story is up to the reader; yet I believe that both interpretations confront the reader with the idea that the modern world is caught in a game of 1’s and 0’s, and those who know how to read them can hack their way through reality.

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3 Responses to Blog Post #3 Computer Data: Is it mightier than both the pen AND the sword?

  1. Kluge is a shadowy character in this (and keep in mind that “kluge” refers to “a system, especially a computer system, that is constituted of poorly matched elements or of elements originally intended for other applications; or a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem”) — the person that unleashes whatever-it-is that (Intelligence? an intelligence) enters houses through electrical lines and other conduits. He’s a hacker, insofar as he can get to places no one else can, but it’s not clear to me that he’s a spoil-sport. Perhaps the more useful connection to video game culture lies in the fact that Lisa (this isn’t as clear with Kluge) is playing a game with Kluge’s system. But it’s a game whose rules she clearly doesn’t understand and one that in the end proves fatal. So perhaps it’s more important to think about how play works in the short story (and in Haraway’s understanding of the cyborg). Some play, to channel Haraway, is fun and some play is deadly serious. Survival lies in knowing the difference.

  2. kswartz3 says:

    Blog Post Response 1:

    I think this correlation drawn between Huizinga’s concepts of the cheat and the spoil sport in regard to the computer or video game hacker is an astute observation, especially when considering their application to John Varley’s “Press Enter.” It is particularly intriguing to assess the deaths of both Kluge and Lisa as not merely being the victims of some sort of shadowy technological watchdog organization, but as being a kind of punishment for their unwillingness to play by the rules.
    Though technology and the unknown force that eliminates Kluge and Lisa are intended to be sinister and frightening, taking the perspective that their deaths occur as retribution for their decision to operate outside the agreed upon ways of society (i.e. the rules of the game) almost begins to justify their murders. However, following that thread of thought, Varley’s story becomes alarming for a whole new set of reasons. Not only is there the externally frightening element of being able to be monitored and potentially killed by the technology we use, there is also the implication that merely by not adhering to the ‘accepted’ ways of society we may in fact deserve death. As Huizinga would say, Kluge and Lisa are guilty of violating the rules of the game, breaking not only a contract of trust amongst the game’s other players, but also in effect disrupting the ‘magic circle’ which allowed for the players to immerse themselves and subjugate themselves to the established rules. The only difference in “Press Enter” is that the game being infringed upon is that of general society, the illusion of grandeur surrounding which comes into direct danger by Kluge and Lisa, who are essentially ‘cheating’ at life itself. The deaths of these characters illumines not only the frailty and putative nature of the society we belong to, but also the danger that outliers present to its tenability.
    With the death of the character Kluge, though frightening to think about, there is a certain sense of ‘he got what he deserved,’ especially since his role as a spoil-sport wasn’t just impacting himself, but would spill over to harm others as well. However, Lisa’s elimination is a separate manner. While Kluge may be viewed as a threat to other players of the game, Lisa operates outside the rules in a private and limited fashion so as to only benefit herself while keeping her ‘cheating’ essentially a secret. As such, Lisa did not pose any real danger to the game players, but instead only to the integrity of the game itself. It is after this realization that “Press Enter” begins to get seriously scary. Lisa’s death wasn’t punishment for any injury inflicted upon any real individual, but for her potential threat to an unthinking system, that out of protection for itself ended the young woman’s life. The idea that technology may be capable of finding and eliminating us may be spooky, but the idea that our society values itself over the lives of its members is terrifying.

  3. Hmm. So both Kluge and Lisa are cheats, according to this logic, while perhaps Apfel is the spoil sport? Although that’s complicated since Kluge it seems wants to leave the game (which is why he’s killed). Lisa seems more invested in the game itself, although perhaps she too wished to leave the game and paid for that with her life.

    But I guess that I don’t see where the distinction between cheating and spoil sport gets us in terms of understanding the story and what it has to tell us about technology. As we discussed in class, there’s much in Huizinga that’s dated and less than useful (especially the concept of the “magic circle”).

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