Blog Post #4: The Right to Protest in Game Space

I found Chan’s article about dead-in-iraq extremely interesting, Concerning the debate between enraged gamers and thoughtful activists, I originally found myself siding with the gamers. And in most cases I still do – if I was an avid Counter Strike fan and some of my teammates were to spend their time in the game standing still and voicing a political message, I would be annoyed at their unwillingness to participate. To relate it back to Huizinga, as Chan did, they become the spoilsports of the game – not for the reason that “I don’t want to hear about any real world relevance,” but because people enter the game space with a joint agreement to play the game and have fun. In fact, I would assume that most players of the game would agree with the types of messages that DeLappe posts in chat, and I think most people come into the game world knowing that they are distancing themselves from reality – the content of the game does not by any means imply that those gamers will have an increased desire to go out and join the army. (As I have written before, the main campaign for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has the player massacre innocents at an airport, almost as a form of resistance within the game itself. This is rare, but I would assume would have the opposite effect.)

I definitely think that games like Counter Strike, or any other games, are much more in favor of the players. There is a time and a place for the messages, and many players understand that. However, my opinion changed about this when Chan’s discussion of America’s Army dug deeper. America’s Army is fundamentally different from games like Counter Strike, because essentially the point of the game is a recruitment tool developed by the military. In this case, the game space is not an end, but a means to an external and very real end. I have to leave the side of the gamers and be somewhere in the middle of both sides on this argument, because while it is disrupting the game space to not move and type for the entire match, the game space is actively, intentionally, and unconsciously shaping the minds of its players. It is very hard to say what is right and wrong when AA functions as both a game and a political persuasion tool. In that sense, DeLappe has every right to counter the propaganda perpetuated by the game. I think that a major point to keep in mind, when talking about what actions are allowed in a given game, is what that game was created for. If the point of the game is to spread a certain ideology, then players should be able to share their own. If the point of the game is to have fun, then players should be able to have fun together. There is something very scary to me about AA allowing itself to make a political point and users not being able to fight back in the name of the “magic circle”. Though I wonder if DeLappe would have been more successful if he had played the game and naturally steered the discussion toward deaths in Iraq. Perhaps gamers would have then seen him as an ally who is just worried about the state of things, instead of a troll.

Resistance as a plot line or mechanism of games is also something very interesting. It exists in many indie games particularly, such as Super Meat Boy or Braid, and at varying levels of depth. This is also something I am very interested in, because players want to play these games because of that against-the-grain feel combined with addictive gameplay. This is sort of a side note to what I just wrote about, but I feel that indie games will really lead the way on this dialogue in the future. It’s a very interesting discussion, and I hope players and developers alike pursue this discourse.

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4 Responses to Blog Post #4: The Right to Protest in Game Space

  1. I like watching the development of your thinking about Chan’s piece — you come around, by the end, to thinking that his disruption of players’ play experiences is acceptable. But what if I wanted to make a similar in-game protest around anti-Chinese sentiment in WoW, or homophobia? Chan cites Naomi Klein’s argument about “interception” — that these are important bits of political resistance. Hopefully, more on resistance in our final class tomorrow.

  2. evanmarshall3 says:

    Blog Response #4
    Hello!
    I went through a very similar experience reading Chan’s piece. And like you I come down somewhere in between. I particularly like your observation that because the end of the game is ostensibly propaganda as much as it is ‘fun’ that DeLappe has every right to use the space to express an alternate viewpoint. But I would also like to add that (in my view) because it is still a space intended for game play that the other players have every right to kick him out for refusing to play. That to me is the real ‘dick move’ here. Not that he is protesting in the space, but that he is not also playing. I, like you, wonder how much more effective DeLappe would be at generating conversation regarding the war in Iraq if he would stop willfully breaking the magic circle. What’s more, what if he were an exceptional player? Would other players be even more inclined to listen out of respect?
    This leads me to what I would most like to discuss about DeLappe’s work. The efficacy of his protest. This is something that Chan explicitly shies away from in her piece, preferring instead to focus on the implications of these new developments in culture jamming. And I understand that efficacy is rather unquantifiable, but to my mind it is still the most important thing to examine with regards to protest. The sentence that most excited me in Chan’s article was this: “The most sophisticated culture jams are not stand-alone ad parodies but interceptions- counter messages that hack into a corporation’s own method of communication to send a message starkly at odds with the one that was intended” (274).
    I agree! In the post modern consumerist paradigm that has appropriated and romanticized even the idea of protest and revolution beyond any recognition in order to serve its own ends, the only effective form of protest can now be that which appropriates the methods and systems of the culture itself. I believe this principle was made starkly apparent by the (in my opinion) relative failure of the Occupy Wall Street movement to affect any sort of change or to bring awareness to any issue beyond the ages old “rich people control a disproportionate about of the world’s wealth”. Occupy Wall Street was less of a protest than a simulation of what participants thought a protest should look like, woefully dependant on the systems it objected to. We can no longer fight the system, but become the system to break it from the inside. But how effective is DeLappe at doing this? Let me use another example. Satirist Stephen Colbert wished to draw attention to the absurdity of Super-PAC’s during the 2012 election. But rather than simply be content to comment wryly or ironically on the topic, HE STARTED HIS OWN SUPER-PAC. He quickly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and used them to run numerous attack ad’s against the absurdity of Super-PAC’s themselves. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVvfL9Rt6qg I would explain more but you should just read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colbert_Super_PAC Rather than simply shout at the system from the outside he became the system in order to expose the system. Genius.
    But is DeLappe anywhere near as effective (or creative) as a culture jammer? I find the comparisons to Dada and special performance art ignorant at best. But beyond this, the more interesting question for me is not whether DeLappe’s is a legitimate expression of protest, but whether it is one worth doing. So let’s talk efficacy! Is his time well spent?

  3. evanmarshall3 says:

    Aww Crud. Typo. I meant spacial performance art not SPECIAL performance art. So much more to say! Hope we get there in discussion!

  4. ewiggins2013 says:

    Blog Post Response #4:

    This is in response to both the original post and to Evan’s response post. One thing that you guys both agree on in your posts is that, due to the recruitment nature of America’s Army, DeLappe has every right to protest the game’s message (this is especially true because he wasn’t violating the EULA). I couldn’t agree with that argument more. However, I think it’s worth examining whether or not DeLappe’s “interception” should be allowed and could be meaningful in other forms of gaming.

    In Chan’s piece she cites several quotes from gamers who did not appreciate DeLappe’s message (on page 281). These quotes reveal two general arguments. Firstly, DeLappe shouldn’t have the right to free speech on a server owned and operated by somebody else. Secondly, DeLappe should be participating in the game, rather than subjecting others to his views. This second opinion is partially reflected in both of your blog posts, as knystrom refers to Huizinga and the concept of the “spoilsport,” and Evan argues that the other players should have the right to kick him out for refusing to play (essentially the same thing). While I definitely would not be happy or excited if I was playing a game in which one of the players decided to be a “spoilsport,” I do think that there are circumstances in which it could be valuable. The reason I believe this is because all games have (or take on) messages, regardless of whether or not they were originally created as propaganda. To illustrate my point, I’d like to borrow the WoW Chinese “gold farming” example from Professor Stabile’s post. As Lisa Nakamura acknowledges in her article “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game,” it has become commonplace on North American WoW servers for gamers to racialize “gold farming” as both Chinese and despicable. Take for example this image that mocks the practice:

    (note: I couldn’t figure out how to include the image within a comment, but here is a link to another blog that includes the image to which I was referring- http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/3035/2566 -it’s about 1/3 down the page)

    Wouldn’t there be some value to somebody using a North American WoW server as a space to challenge the notion that all “gold farmers” are Chinese (which they’re not) and that “gold farming” is the most “morally reprehensible form of cheating” (Nakamura 129). While using a North American WoW server to stage this sort of social protest obviously would not change the perspectives of all “leisure” players, it could definitely incite some to question their current viewpoints. Maybe they would begin to understand that some Chinese gamers choose to “gold farm” due to really difficult economic circumstances, which is something that shouldn’t be racialized (“all Chinese are poor”) or made fun of.

    There really is value to truly free speech regardless of where it is spoken. All too often in video games, and in other areas of life, people become unwavering in their beliefs because those beliefs are shared amongst members of the communities within which they most actively participate. Sometimes it’s essential for an outsider to take some form of medium and “intercept” it to create a message that might positively alter the perspectives of some of those who participate within said medium.

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