Evgeny Morozov: How much for your data?

Evgeny Morozov has a nice essay in Le Monde Diplomatique (English Edition, August 2014) on Whilst you whistle in the shower: How much for your data? (article on LMD here). He raises questions about the monetization of all of our data and how we are willing to give up more and more data. He describes the limited options being debated on the issue of data and privacy,

the future offered to us by Lanier and Pentland fits into the German “ordoliberal” tradition, which sees the preservation of
market competition as a moral project, and treats all monopolies as dangerous. The Google approach fits better with the American school of neoliberalism that developed at the University of Chicago. Its adherents are mostly focused on efficiency and consumer welfare, not morality; and monopolies are never assumed to be evil just because they are monopolies, some might be socially beneficial.

The essay covers some of the same ground that Mike Bulajewski covered in The Cult of Sharing about how the gift economy rhetoric is being hijacked by monetization interests.

Since established taxi and hotel industries are detested, the public
debate has been framed as a brave innovator taking on sluggish,
monopolistic incumbents. Such skewed presentation, while not inaccurate
in all cases, glosses over the fact that the start-ups of the “sharing
economy” operate on the pre-welfare model: social protections for
workers are minimal, they have to take on risks previously assumed by
their employers, and there are almost no possibilities for collective

Gamergate: the community is eating itself but there should be room for all

The Guardian has a good story summarizing the Gamergate controversy. This follows an essay about How to attack a woman who works in video gaming that outlined the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency and Zoe Quinn. A hard-core of gamers seem concerned that game journalists are falling for political correctness and that so they are abusing and threatening women designers and critics.

The abuse mirrors the violence against women that Sarkeesian points out in the video essay above. Abuse of women is used as background plot decoration. The abuse provides a “quick emotional punch to the player” making it quickly clear who are the bad guys players can kill so they can save the women (or watch them be abused first). Now that the abuse is happening for real in the gaming community we should ask if some trolls have started to behave in imitation of game worlds they take as normative. Life imitates arts when we take an art too seriously. It is time to study the homosocial environments that have evolved around gaming and in gaming to understand the ideas of masculinity that have become currency.

And the abuse should stop.

Nintendo still unable to solve smartphone puzzle

The Nikkei Asian Review has a good article on how Nintendo still unable to solve smartphone puzzle. At the recent Replaying Japan 2014 conference I had a talk with some of the folks at Ritsumeikan who have insight into Nintendo. We talked about how Pokemon is controlled by Nintendo so the announcement of a Pokemon Trading Card Game for iOS is significant. It shows Nintendo is experimenting with tablets in a way that still protects the heartland (consoles and core franchises.) If the experiment works they might try some of the other franchises. If it doesn’t they can pretend Nintendo never bowed to app pressure.

The clock is ticking for an aging Asia

George Magnus has written two insightful articles in the Nikkei Asian Review on the impact of an aging population on Asian countries. The first, The clock is ticking for an aging Asia goes beyond the usual stories on Japan to look at other countries including India. The second, Strategies for winning the demographic battle looks at what is being done and what could be done.

What does this mean for the games industry in Japan and, more generally Asia? First of all, we need to remember that the Asian games industry is growing dramatically as the large countries like India and China get wired and videogame-capable systems (smartphones and tablets) become accessible. It will be interesting to see what happens as this audience ages. Second, we in the West are not necessarily the obvious export audience for Japanese games – Japanese companies may turn to focus more on South Korea and China than North America and Europe. There are cultural continuities that make certain types of Japanese games more likely to appeal in Asia than in the west. For example, warring state games – ie. games that have as a background the shared mythology of medieval warring states (whether the period of civil war in Japan or that of China.) Third, we could see Japanese companies developing games for the west in the Philippines as they move development offshore the way they have moved ship building.

To be honest, I am just guessing. I feel we need to understand the Asian game market to understand Japan (rather than thinking of Japan as our other), but I’m not sure where things are going. Magnus’ articles are the best news I’ve read on the issue of aging populations for some time.

The Cult of Sharing

Mike Bulajewski has written an excellent critique of the The Cult of Sharing. He describes the way ideas of community and sharing are being exploited by a new type of cult-like company like Airbnb and Uber. Under the guise of sharing and building community these companies are bypassing employment and labor legislation. What’s worse is that they are painting basic labor rights as the outdated way of doing things.

That’s because they’ve adopted a kind of cultural critique of capitalism. For them, the problem with capitalism is not the system itself, but rather depraved contemporary Western culture, which is greedy, individualistic, selfish and acquisitive, and rewards greedy, corrupt, ill-intentioned individuals. The opponents of the so-called culture of greed see the behavior of Black Friday shoppers and Wall Street bankers as equal manifestations of the same general phenomenon, and perhaps believing that we get the leaders we deserve, conclude that the public’s moral flaws makes them in some way responsible for the greed of Wall Street.

The sharing economy is clearly not the kind of economy where wealth and prosperity is shared between rich and poor. On the contrary, it worsens income inequality and concentrates wealth in the hands of those who need it the least. Progressive advocates are well aware of this, but they also see an upside: these startups teach their workers moral lessons about sharing, community, giving and service with a smile.

I’m not sure this is going to be the problem Bulajewski thinks it will be, but he has me worried. I hope that that shine of sharing will wear off and consumers/sharers will begin to treat this as any other industry. I also think the media will soon start reporting the downside of staying on someone’s couch or getting a ride with someone who isn’t licensed. It’s like the internet, which we all thought was a nice sharing community, until it wasn’t.

Kim Kardashian Hollywood App

Someone mentioned the Kim Kardashian Hollywood app and how successful it was so I thought I should try it. The app is free and as addictive as this article documents, Oh God, I Spent $494.04 Playing the Kim Kardashian Hollywood App. You probably think you are above all the Kardashian stuff, but you aren’t!

Neither talent nor intelligence are needed to succeed in Kim’s app universe. There are no puzzles or hidden object searches or anything like that. There isn’t even any strategizing. You mindlessly tap on the screen to earn and spend money.

Anyway, the philosophy of the app can be found in the hints given while loading:

Dating famous people will get you more fans too.

Dating costs money, but it’s a quick way to level up!

Changing your look and buying nice clothes can get you noticed by the media.

You can get friends or game contacts to help you with projects by hiring them as co-stars.


I was sent a note about Checktext.org, an web site where you paste (or upload) some text and it gives you basic analytical information like Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. One neat feature is that it will do a plagiarism check against a database. It isn’t clear how they build their database or if they are just using Google, but it caught a web page I passed it.

NovelTM: Text Mining the Novel

This week SSHRC announced the new partnership grants awarded including one I am a co-investigator on, NovelTM: Text Mining the Novel.

This project brings together researchers and partners from 21 different academic and non-academic institutions to produce the first large-scale quantitative history of the novel. Our aim is to bring new computational approaches in the field of text mining to the study of literature as well as bring the unique knowledge of literary studies to bear on larger debates about data mining and the place of information technology within society.

NovelTM is led by Andrew Piper at McGill University. At the University of Alberta I will be gathering a team that will share the resulting computing methods through TAPoR and developing recipes or tutorials so that others can try them.

Replaying Japan 2014

Last week we organized Replaying Japan 2014 here in Edmoton. This was the second international conference on Japanese game studies and the third event we co-organized with the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies (in Japanese with English pamphlet).

The opening keynote was by Tomohiro Nishikado, the designer of Space Invaders – the 1978 game that launched specialty arcades in Japan. He talked about the design process and showed his notebooks which he had brought. Here you can see the page on his notebook with the sketches of the aliens and then the bitmap versions. I kept my conference notes on his talk and others here.

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The conference was a huge success with over 100 attendees from 6 countries and over 20 universities. We had people from industry, academia and government too. We had a significant number of Japanese speakers despite English being the language of the conference. After the conference we met to plan for next year’s conference in Kyoto. See you there!

This conference was supported by the Japan Foundation, the GRAND Network of Centres of Excellence, the Prince Takamado Centre, the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies, CIRCA, and the University of Alberta.