Technologies of Behavior Modification

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff review – we are the pawns
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/02/age-of-surveillance-capitalism-shoshana-zuboff-review

While insisting that their technology is too complex to be legislated, there are companies that have poured billions into lobbying against oversight, and while building empires on publicly funded data and the details of our private lives they have repeatedly rejected established norms of societal responsibility and accountability. And what is crucially different about this new form of exploitation and exceptionalism is that beyond merely strip-mining our intimate inner lives, it seeks to shape, direct and control them. Their operations transpose the total control over production pioneered by industrial capitalism to every aspect of everyday life.

I’m not sure I’m up for reading the actual book, which sounds miserably depressing, but this is an interesting review. Two paragraphs are devoted to a blunt deconstruction of Pokémon Go, which is fair.

Even though most of the people (especially artists) I used to follow on Tumblr have moved to Twitter and Instagram, I still feel a bit weird about engaging with those two platforms. Despite its flaws, I appreciate that Tumblr is relatively chaotic and isn’t making money for anyone. Activity on the site has dropped off since the beginning of the year, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone. Also, as much as Discord annoys me for being exclusive, inaccessible, and difficult to use, I’ve found myself spending more time on art and sketch channels during the past few months.

Meanwhile, AO3 remains the Gold Standard of Internet and continues to be my happy place.

Tamagotchi On

I killed my Tamagotchi last night.

Or rather, I took the batteries out of the device. I’m not sure what effect that will have, but I’d rather not know. After playing with it for two weeks, it was time to stop, but I loved that stupid little thing.

One of the students in my Media Studies course in the fall semester did her class project on Tamagotchi. She did a lot of research, and I was so interested in her work that I tracked down all of the articles, blog posts, and videos she referenced. I also ended up buying the newest Tamagotchi model, Tamagotchi On, which was released last summer and retails for about $50 to $60 (depending on which color you want).

Like a lot of other 1990s children, I had a Tamagotchi back in the day, and the game was as basic as it gets – keep the creature in the plastic egg alive as long as you can by feeding it when it gets hungry and cleaning its poo. It beeped at you when it needed attention, and it needed attention about once every ten minutes or so. It would die if you left it alone for more than an hour or two, but I was a devoted Tamagotchi parent and managed to keep mine alive until the batteries ran out, at which point I put the device back in its box and promptly forgot about it.

According to my student, who gave a fantastic presentation of her work, the current “Tamagotchi On” generation is both more interactive and more forgiving. I spent a lot of December being very conflicted and unhappy, so I decided to take advantage of a holiday sale and get myself a new Tamagotchi. I put the box on my desk and let it sit for two weeks before finally starting the game on January 2. I needed to make sure I had enough free time, because the creature demands attention.

Your job is still to keep your Tamagotchi alive by feeding it and cleaning its poo. You also have to give it baths, help it vacuum its little house, and give it medicine if it gets sick. The most time-consuming aspect of the game, however, is making sure your Tamagotchi is happy, which you do by playing with it and taking it on (virtual) trips. You can earn in-game currency by playing minigames, and you spend this currency on toys and fancy food and snacks. Aside from your hometown, you can also visit other areas, which you unlock by meeting various conditions that you more or less have to learn about from a fan-written walkthrough. You can have simple interactions with other Tamagotchi characters outside your town; and, if you romance them properly (for which you might also need a walkthrough), you can create a baby that you raise using all the resources you acquired from the previous generation. In addition to breeding Tamagotchi children, you can breed pets for them, which serves no purpose aside from being cute. There’s also an app that will connect the Tamagotchi device to your smartphone via Bluetooth, but I didn’t want to mess around with that.

This generation of Tamagotchi seems to be programmed to pick up on the patterns of its user’s activity, meaning that it will leave you alone during the hours you tend not to interact with it and demand attention at times when you’ve given it attention before, which I appreciate. You can also turn the sound off entirely and pause the game by leaving your creature at its parents’ house, which I appreciate even more. I think that, if I wanted to, it would probably be possible for me to keep playing the game indefinitely.

The pixel graphics are wonderful, and the art direction and animation are lovely. The character design is a bit odd, but I think that’s probably part of its appeal. The physical design of the egg-shaped device is aesthetically pleasing, and it’s sturdy and sophisticated enough to warrant… maybe not $50 to $60, but the $40 I paid when it was on sale.

I quit playing for the same reason I quit playing Pokémon Go, which is that I passed my peak balance of time invested vs. emotional engagement. Basically, I realized that I was going to have to put in a lot more effort if I wanted to get more out of the game, and I wasn’t willing to do that. It’s not that I wasn’t having fun, but rather that I had no desire to be anything more than a casual player.

All things considered, I enjoyed my two weeks my with tiny little virtual pet…

…but I have to admit that I was also embarrassed to take it out of the house. Tamagotchi On is a neat little toy, but it’s designed for eight-year-old girls, and it’s so cute that it’s obscene. I accidentally left it in my laptop bag one afternoon, and it beeped when I happened to be riding an elevator with someone. They were like, “That’s such a cute text alert ringtone,” and I was like, “Yes… I receive text messages… like a fellow adult.” The downside of the game having its own device is that you can’t pretend to be checking your messages while you play it. I suspect that it’s intended to train children too young to have their own phones in the sort of behavioral patterns involved in constantly checking messages, which is somewhat disturbing. Still, I got some good serotonin out of the experience, so I’m not complaining.

The Gaming Memoir Genre

Thrill of the Hunt
https://medium.com/mammon-machine-zeal/thrill-of-the-hunt-68ebaaf1e339

We go to the sushi restaurant where I ate my welcome dinner on my first night, so I feel well-versed when it comes to using wasabi and ordering sushi, which glides down the conveyor belt on small race cars. They ask me questions about myself, but I otherwise defer to them, observe the space they create before deciding how I should contribute.

And then we drive around town. We stop at the culture center to play this game that I’ve had to download again. It’s just been released in Japan, and what were quiet nights now bustle. People are on bikes or on foot or in cars with their hazards flashing. This is the nightlife. We walk through neighborhoods in search, looking for virtual creatures that are new or rare. We venture to a park. We park in front of a Buddha statue and walk down an unlit dirt path.

This is a great piece of writing, and I could honestly read an entire anthology of essays about various people’s experiences with Pokémon Go.

I love how the “gaming memoir” has emerged as a genre of creative writing. I’m not particularly interested in video game novelizations (outside of fanfic, of course), but I think it would be lovely to have more nonfiction books and essays about single video game titles from a personal perspective. There are a number of games that I’ll probably never be able to play that I would love to read about. I think one of my favorite games, The Wind Waker, is one of these games for a lot of people. Ditto for Ocarina of Time, and I’m sure that the same will be said of Breath of the Wild in ten years. There are a handful of landmark games that were extremely influential and celebrated when they were released, but the medium is evolving so quickly that it can be difficult to get your hands on actual copies of these games (even pirated copies, in some instances). It can also be difficult and frustrating to play these games because of shifting expectations regarding game design. This is one of the reasons why I sincerely appreciate people who write about the experience of what playing a game was like in the context in which it was released. Another reason I enjoy this genre is because it’s a whole lot of fun, honestly.