Sunday, July 13, 2008

Geeks Are Dangerous!

Something that's happened in the past few days is a weird and overblown fiasco with Pharyngula. Today, he published a few of the death threats he got, including the headers.

Scanning down the comments thread, I'm reminded of an alternate reality game, such as I Love Bees. Except, in this case, the puzzle the geeks are solving is not an alternate reality: they've more or less torn someone's life apart.

I guess I'm supposed to feel sorry for the guy after writing something so somber as that, but I don't. Instead, I'm just reminded of the newest holy grail in game design: using humans to do Useful Things while they play their games. There's a few examples out there, all very polite, very clever, very harmless.

But geeks are not harmless. In this world, we have a tremendous amount of power, and it is not terribly limited by any kind of civilized force.

So it strikes me... using players to accomplish Useful Things... what if it wasn't polite or safe?

It used to be that the impolite, dangerous people were largely disorganized. If you had a stalker, it was bad... but it was just one stalker. Even if you were Madonna or something, all your stalkers would act independently. But if there's one thing geeks are good at, it's organizing... we can even do it without any leaders. We can do it anonymously (and Anonymously). (Of course, we're basically pacifists in the real world, no matter how brutal we get on-line...)

So if it was built right, a project could grow exponentially and out of control as long as there was still something to do and a reward to be achieved. ARGs are limited because they require writers. Games like the new galaxy-detection system or visual pattern definition systems are limited because they have no real rewards...

Can you think of anything that could be arranged more perfectly? Dangerous and impolite? Self-propagating, self-rewarding?

Useful?

Think of it as this: Griefers for Progress. How would you do it?

10 comments:

Ryan said...

I'm not sure if this counts: http://xkcd.com/426/

They kinda spoiled the puzzle by making a Google Maps app that tells you where to go though...

Craig Perko said...

Also, there's no coherent reward or useful activity... although it's interesting!

Ryan said...

I'd say that the reward is meeting other probably-like-minded people. The useful activity is getting out of the house and exploring.

Craig Perko said...

Hmmmmmm...

Does it work?

Ryan said...

The "official" time to go out and do this is Saturday at 4:00pm.

http://wiki.xkcd.com/geohashing/2008-07-05_45_-122

http://wiki.xkcd.com/geohashing/2008-06-14

http://wiki.xkcd.com/geohashing/2008-06-07

Michael said...

Daniel Solove, a law professor and blogger, wrote a book called "The Future of Reputation" -- a segment of it talks about the "Digital Scarlet Letter" that you might find interesting.

Direct link to the chapter here.

Matthew Rundle said...

I was listening to Dan Carlin yesterday. He's basically a indie broadcaster - used to be a radio host, and he does podcasts now - one about history, and the other about american politics, he's basically anti-partisan, fundimentally pro-founding-fathers. Dude is a kook, but I like him.

The podcast he put out yesterday talks a little about how activism as-it-was doesn't work anymore, that it isn't cool, that you couldn't get a million people to storm the Whitehouse - because today's young people wouldn't be into it. Activism has to suit the people you're working with, and people nowadays aren't wired the same as the ones at Woodstock were.

Anyway, he goes on to talk about the internet, and he gives the -I guess the standard "internet is a great tool for the future" bit because he's not really a tech guy, but he believes that the internet is the next greatest platform for activism, if we can only figure out how to use it... and it kind of puts me off, because I can't really see how it's supposed to work either.

Anyway, that's where I'm coming from to here, and I think you have another part of the puzzle. I still wouldn't know what to do with it, though. Only that I thought the connection was interesting.

Craig Perko said...

Michael: That's a good link!

Matthew: I'm not sure what to do with it, either. I don't like the idea of a system focused on shame or destruction, because people who want to enforce social codes are a very limited sort of people. Giving them more power seems like a step backwards.

I'd like to have something else... but I don't know what.

Patrick said...

Have you ever considered the game-like properties of markets and how a certain "game" or trading could optimize the efficiency of resource allocation where it's needed most?

Craig Perko said...

Yes, that sort of info-wrangling is what I had in mind... but I can't figure out a good way to do it.