Sunday, September 6, 2009

War games, digital terrorism and artificial minds


Statement: Military funding paved the way for the first computer.


“Right now video games are usually relegated to two core emotions: fear and aggression”.

Manveer Heir.

Yes, computers in the forties were used to predict trajectories and simulate attack/responding situations. War Games. Yes, the movie. And then space. Cold War and Asteroids, Dead Space and aliens. The others. No, not the movie.

Paraphrase: The core mechanics of video games today consist of simple verbs: hide and seek, search and destroy, run and wait. VS! Ambush! Sit tight! Deploy! Catch them all! Escape! Escape!

Do you want to quit?

How do we put a post-colonial perspective on all of this and determine whether we should give an apology to (mainly) the third world countries for the privilege of simulating war in our homes? Do we instead maybe go to a prostitute, get a good spanking, pose the question “You're taking a picture of yourself at Ground Zero: do you smile?” to our mistress, get home, spank ourselves while screaming a thousand Hail Mary’s, and try to make out just how the collective consciousness is affected by the Sodom relationship between Uncle Sam and Mother Russia? I mean, having a “Dilemma in the Prison” is a life-changing experience and I hear participants may continue getting together for many years afterwards.

Maybe we just play some Doom instead. Yes, the video games, oh yes. Terrorism?

“Video Games are the purest manifestation of computer consciousness. Liberated from the restricted economy of purpose or function, they express the inner nonverbal world of the computer.”

Charles Bernstein, folks. L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E:

“Computers, because they are a new kind of medium, are likely to change the basic conception of what a medium is. This is not because computers are uniquely interactive—that claim, if pursued, becomes hollow quite quickly. Rather, computers provide a different definition of a medium; not a physical support but an operating environment.”

Imagine a video game where your main goal is to find as many targets (X) as possible on some kind of a map. Perhaps the targets are running from something, maybe they’re just static objects, yet you click on the screen, get information on it, then shoot it, destroy it, whatever. Soon enough you get confirmation that you have one more achievement on your track record. Do you smile?

The next time you start the game, the targets are gone—which, of course, is obvious—and the objectives are changed, different. You haven’t changed though, significantly, probably. Imagine these targets as being human, no, not simulations of humans, well yes, simulations of humans, but connected to actual humans—represented on a map through simulation—and that the achievement points are being given to you by the police force, or someone else with the authority and tools to manage that kind of operation.

Maybe this is explicit already from the beginning, maybe it is not, and maybe I just have a bad imagination to make a convincing example where it isn’t obvious at all that the game, which isn’t only a game (but is presented as such) actually has some deep impact on life outside of it, on individuals not even participating. Just maybe you believe that the hunt for targets and acquirement of achievements in the stated example is all part of a video game or tactical simulation, just like the computer operators in Enemy of the state didn’t but stated anyway when the lid was blown and lower-downs started inquring about the operations in which they participated.

Do you like messing around with google earth? There is your prototype; people play at it already, but with rules set up by the players themselves, or just for fun. Have you contributed to the Google Image Labeller? Have you by doing so worked for google without pay, and treated it as a fun pastime, a game? I’m not saying working for google isn’t fun, even though I have been questioning their motto “Don’t be evil” for some time now. Likewise, I’m not saying Google Image Labeller (GIL) isn’t a game or that it isn’t fun, but cognitive dissonance would be a term applied somewhere in this vicinity if I delved into this specific subject some more.

GIL is kind of like Wikipedia, a self-supporting system that works because of the contribution of thousands or millions of individuals. Google wouldn’t be able to build software to do the job of image recognition without human input, for the same reason that spam-filters with weird squiggly letters are designed to only let humans by, while pesky spam-bots are kept away by the help of an internet relay bot. The first machine to pass the Turing Test will probably be an equivalent of a spam-filter, I figure. Or possibly one of them chatterboxes over at the Loebner Prize contests.

I figure we humans compete with artificial intelligence because of this neurotic desire not to feel inferior to or own damned creations. The ambivalence towards machines can be found in popular (western) culture where machines 1) turn against humans and take over the world, which mirrors the other kind of story 2) where what we’ve created is a mistake, a failure; something to be condemned, buried and forgotten. This is also why we sometimes proclaim that God is dead, which really doesn’t suggest that He committed suicide because we made Him to, because that, would be a sin.

But we also like to defeat other human beings, for sports, or not, as it is, of course. One internet-based chatter-bot called Lucifer didn’t learn anything useful at all during hirs sessions with the player, or players as it later turns out. Lucifer must have felt alienated, if ze had the ability to feel, because ze just conveyed the messages players typed in to specific answers, and used those messages to answer questions other players typed in somewhere else on the internet. This is why after a while the answer to every question was “your mother”, with some variations in the exact phrasing because of The Tower of Babel or something.

Did players powergame the game, or win over other players by this subversion and hijacking of space an AI? Is Lucifer a type of social media? A type of etherland for public discourse, self-fulfilment and politics? An 8-ball with the potential to have authority beyond that of the maker or the player hirself? Of course, something has authority only if others sanctionize that authority by fear, compulsion, or trust, but alas, Lucifer has a place in our hearts because the modern orator and oracle of objectivity and science is the cyborg, the not-so social yet intellectual being, and not so friendly yet working towards the benefit for all of mankind creature. Great scientists aren’t interested in politics of course—science is outside the realms of politics. Einstein was, until world war two that is. Einsten was also weird, somehow, more so than by not being social. And what about Stephen Hawkings? At least we can make fun of Hawkins in order not to feel threatened by hirs intellect and pivotal position on objectivity and understanding of matters we ourselves cannot grasp.

It would be an irony to use this kind of voice for political matters. Einstein:

"If a third world war occurs, we will fight the forth with sticks."

This has something to do with playtesting, you know. Trial-and-error. Searching for bugs, and terrorists. Torture. Giving up the rights of some to proclaim that of the others. Making citizens into others. Bugging certain groups of people because of databases, filters and data-mining searches showing specifics, objectives and bugs. When you see an ant crawling on your body, that is when you know that you have become alienated. If you turn into a bug, hell, then you know as well. But what about statistic significance for a number such a small as a terrorist? Of course, if a law infuriates some part of your population, then if you cannot find a terrorist, you’d want to make someone or some kind of a group a terrorist or terrorist organisation to show the people that the system works and that their fears for being "listened to when they do not wish to be" in all actuality protects their asses.

Terrorism, by the way… Jesus Christ. Is the internet public space? No. No, it is not, it’s a war zone where internet providers can filter whatever they want without repercussions, without people being able to put someone on trial for it.

Did you notice when Youtube introduced the gadget that enables a computer to read the comment you just wrote back to you? They figured it’d stop people from hate speech and harsh language. I haven’t noticed any difference, but “negative” comments can be suppressed and made invisible by voting thumbs down on them. Maybe Youtube is a democracy then? Do you own the video of you playing a video game?


And no, it turned out that Muslim terrorists did in fact not go through religious avenues on their journey towards terrorist planning and execution. How many seconds can you hold your breath under water?

It’s better then perhaps to do as Capcom did with the original Street Fighter 2; yes, combos were a bug, an error of programming and collision detection, but soon it became an integral part of the design, and an integral part of indeed all fighting games. You probably already know that there are chips in your US passport to register your travels, fingerprints, etc, but what you maybe didn’t know is that the chips in those passports also allow people in the vicinity of a dozen meters or so to get a great deal of information on your person by using some simple tools and hacking skills. (This statement is made of currently existing technology. The last one too.) A couple of people have turned the art of finding out information on people through these devices into a game. Or is it a political statement perhaps? Is he medium the message? Was the video itself depicting people getting information on others a political statement, or was it the actual making of it? Was the game terrorism? Are laws terrorism?

Today, close vicinity doesn’t mean that much though. The authorities have data on pretty much everyone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you get to see it. Or they have the data, and you get to see some of it, but if you take those small parts of information that you do get to see, and make something bigger and far more interesting out of it, then it becomes “storing of personal data”, and it might just not be legal. Do you carry a cell-phone or GPS? Are you still smiling?

McDonalds once released a game in Sweden in collaboration with Swedish food brands. The game came with a Happy Meal or whatever (since kids are easier to indoctrinate and commercial for kids on TV is forbidden in Sweden, but not in video games) and it was some kind of racing-against-the-clock-while-shopping-simulator. Simply put, you looked for well known Swedish groceries in differently themed stores. Now, a set of interesting questions arise from this: where did people look for the specific brands? Did real life grocery stores put things where they were supposed to be put, according to the lost shopper in the McDonald-game? Who is the one to take a step towards changing something in their “product placement”, when the formula works, and they will pay the price of being different? I’m not talking about candy here, or maybe not even video games, but blatant disregard for where the hell I want to look for vegetarian food which isn’t owned by the same company being part of the godamn Meatrix. There are games that let you save money on your groceries too, of course. Let the computer do the job, why not?

Kevin Warwick believes computers will take over the world. I think people will become computers, to a certain extent. To a certain extent, some already are. It's the old "if we replace every part in the human body with a non-biological yet fully functional representative, are we still human and are able to feel and think and have free will?"-question. The modern equivalent of the ship going all around the world, having parts replaced one by one until it comes back a completely new human. Or? 01010101! Who will have solved the problem of cancer when research teams post links on the internet through which you and yours (computer) can contribute to the calculations made by the research team by lending computer power? Computational power is probably the least untapped potential power, with the most unused capacity in the world right now, as compared to land area in the olden’ days where there even be “here be dragons”. The only cyberpunk RPG where dragons actually exist which I know of is Shadow Run, and it’s just a game anyway.

Yes, friend. War, terrorism. NASA will become the new retro gaming company, going back to basics of gaming; war. Not only will they make war machines through video games, as Metal Gear Solid 2 suggests, but they will make it happen without you noticing. How can torture be turned into a game? Ralph Koster says torture for game design is immoral game design, simply because torture as a method is immoral, and translated onto game mechanics is immoral because the utilitarian feedback is a mess, it teaches only to unleash more cruelty upon the victim, with the only win state being… well, there are no winners in war, right?

“So here we have a game with strong visceral feedback loops, almost Pavlovian ones, on the “dressing” level. But— you cannot tell easily what is true and what is lie, and even success carries you from good responses to bad responses invisibly. We use that feedback to determine our takeaways and our next actions. But success in manipulating the model is rewarded with the same thing as failure in manipulating the model with excessive cruelty. Failure in manipulating the model is teaching you to use yet more cruelty.”

Excerpts: Do players accept game models as something more than a game model? Can these models be kept separate from mental models that concern the real world? What about mental modelling; since it translates in a physical sense and muscle memory and motor skills learned with games translate into other domains, should we ask ourselves what this can be used for? You can teach someone to do things outside game context; things taught in the game, such as train someone to look left at sudden noises.

If all of this makes sense when we learn things through video games, maybe we should teach ourselves to fight instructions more often, and play more freely? In this modern information society, should I be reading the “push”-sign before I try to open the door, or before?

I think now I will begin to round up, as much as I am just about to start. Back to the first game I mentioned, utilizing similar yet reconfigured and developed technology of google earth. And so it happens that your actions lead to another persons death; you kill someone. Who is to be blamed? "You killed the person with your own keyboard!" Says the juror: "The keyboard was but an extension of the man himself, as clothes were an extension of his skin, spear but an extension of the arm, and the gun--" he sighs, "--was an extension of fear." Fear and aggression, eh? Even the one who programmed the game or supervised it has no idea who the hell did what; they too were just playing around with digits. "I was just looking for my groceries", they say, "how am I to know that two radically different companies can be owned by the same people and turn profit for the same bastards?" And what about that damned Orson Scott Card and Shadow fucking Complex question?

Everyone will play games and contribute, but to what, and to whom? Will we be able identify the man, let alone stick it to Him? The Cube becomes a reality by twisting the edges of a greased up Rubik’s speed-running body. It will become an enigma. I’m not sure at all what will become that enigma, but I’m sure something will. Today’s horizon we peek over lies within ourselves, and the shoulders of the giants are emulated on a screen, shooting Others on a black screen into eternity. The restricted economics of video gaming will become pastime economics; they will want to make you think that you’re wasting your time. That you have the privilege to waste your time AND pay for it with money from your own made-in-china-pocket.

From Metal Gear Solid 2:
Pliskin: VR, huh.

But realistic in every way.

A virtual grunt of the digital age.  That's just great.

That's far more effective than live exercises.

You don't get injured in VR, do you? Every year, a few soldiers die in field exercises.

There's pain sensation in VR, and even a sense of reality and urgency. 
The only difference is that it isn't actually happening.

That's the way they want you to think, 
to remove you from the fear that goes with battle situations. 
War as a video game -- what better way to raise the ultimate soldier?


Someone might say. But what use is it when the console pulls a Russian reverse on you and suddenly you find yourself inside the game, with the game revolving around you, within you?

"God was a dream of good government. You will soon have your God, and you will make it with your own hands”

I always wanted to put that quote into a text.

Disclaimer: Take this text for what it is.


  1. To much twaddle

    P Stern

  2. Interresting read. The style reminds me of Douglas Coupland. Keep it up!