[Part 2] One Swarm, One Heart: Being and Infestation.

The Zerg campaign uses the word “essence” in almost every conversation. There are lots of interesting questions about “essence,” such as questions in constructivism and the challenge of natural kinds. Setting aside such puzzles, we can see that the Zerg obsession with essence is in the context of furthering power through connection and infestation. Unlike the Terran approach of controlling systems of power, the Zerg connect with power and weave some element of that power into themselves. They break down the barriers of distinction between themselves and the other thing. They seek to permeate and be permeated by those things around them, and are drawn to power to be permeated by it and integrate it into themselves; their infestation is presence, or “Being” in a sense Heidegger might approve of.

Even the essential game mechanic of the Zerg, “Creep,” illustrates the role of connection for this race. A growing, living carpet is the foundation of all Zerg bases and provides bonuses to Zerg units. Everything about the Zerg is a matter of connection: their hive mind, their sprawling, organic physical connection, and even the origin of all units from the same structure are all directed towards breaking down distinctions between beings into a single whole.

A lot of this is rightly alien to humans, if only because we don’t cover ourselves, each other, and our world in mucus. However, we do form a less tangible sort of organic carpet that connects us to everyone around us, which we call our culture. This living background also directs how we connect to power, each other, and ourselves.

[Part 4] StarCraft II in the World: How Korean E-Sports Power Makes Us “Foreigners”

All of these approaches are played out in answering the oft-asked question: “Why is South Korea so good at e-Sports?”
The answer begins with the Asian Economic Crisis of 1997. After a devastating economic collapse, governments like South Korea’s were faced with questions of rebuilding and moving forward. South Korea invested heavily in telecommunications infrastructure. As the economy steadily rebounded, one small business plan that grew around a strong telecommunications infrastructure was computer gaming cafes. These became so numerous and omnipresent that they became a major element in the culture of young people growing up in South Korea around 2000. As the culture integrated computer gaming as an important social medium, the quality of players grew. In the late 90s, there were not as many games that lent themselves to the kind of competitive, head-to-head, high-speed gameplay that fit the cultural need of young people gathered in a social setting, but StarCraft was a near-perfect fit. Just as Brazilian children gravitate towards soccer fields and so many American children hang out near basketball courts, sizable portions of Korean children spent free time at gaming cafes. It follows quite obviously that spending time practicing and learning leads to excellence. That excellence is so dramatic that it is even noted in the parlance of StarCraft II tournaments: competitors are either Korean or “Foreigners.”

[Of course, there are other factors that led to S. Korean unique dominance in e-sports—Japan’s anti-gambling laws undermined the growth of a competitive gaming scene, the US was sold on consoles like Xbox and PS2 over computer gaming, etc.]

There is a simple analysis of the story of South Korea’s success in e-Sports: Economics, legal possibility, and technological availability lead to the creation of a new infrastructure (Terran). This infrastructure was integrated into the culture, leading to the development of a specific kind of power (Zerg). The path of past events created a direction for power to be used (Protoss).

There is so much more to talk about in StarCraft II. Its rich story is filled with characters and ideas, and the storytelling and gameplay add depth and perspective to further enhance the potential subjects of discussion. For the considerations on power, there is a takeaway lesson about understanding and recognizing the inorganic structures and organic cultures that produce certain types of power, and realizing the direction that power wants to go. Whether it’s telecommunications, biotechnology, energy management, or sports and entertainment, these points are relevant and recognizable. Future outcomes will depend on how we make our systems and culture, and how we allow our creations to shape us.

Employer Facebook Checks: How the Law Struggles with Culture and Ignores Metaphysics

Question of privacy in cyberspace cover a vast range of applications. One that I find interesting is the use of social media as a tool by potential employers to research prospective employees. This is interesting because it is at an intersection of cultural, technology, law, and metaphysics.

It is increasingly common for employers to check on a prospective employee’s Facebook page (or other social media). I like to use the case study of Stacy Snyder in this NYTonline article: http://goo.gl/bMw0Kl

The issue is that a student-teacher was dismissed over a photo on her MySpace (that dates the example a bit, eh?) that was captioned “Drunken Pirate.” This situation becomes the image of concern: an employer delving into your personal (yet published) photo album to look for objectionable material.

Let me divide up the issues:

1) The legal and/or cultural claim to privacy. Before Facebook or MySpace, it would be extraordinary for an employer to ask to see photos from your latest party as part of the application process (barring government security clearance checks). Although social media has allowed us to share such personal material with a wider range of friends, we are not culturally comfortable simply surrendering previously private/personal material to the entire public sphere.

2) Context is everything. Bill Waterson’s iconic character, the rascally 2nd-grader Calvin, once explained that people are wrong to assert that “photos never lie,” for, in fact, all they do is lie. To illustrate, Calvin clears one area of his room and puts on a tie to have himself photographed as a clean, tidy young boy (he is normally dressed in a t-shirt and has a notoriously messy bedroom). So it may be argued with Facebook photos, Tweets, etc: Can a single snapshot, sentence, or post represent an individual- even partially? Can it be completely incorrect? Without further explanation, how badly can it be misinterpreted? This claim speaks not only to the protection of the poster, but also raises the question of whether investigating an applicant’s social media is truly helpful in obtaining accurate data about the applicant. A related issue here is the notion of Performance Identity online (see: Life on the Screen by Sherry Turkle). Many posts and photos may be uploaded not as a reflection of actual identity, but as an effort to entertain or amuse a particular audience.

3) The Metaphysical puzzles of being and identity over time. One of the core points of the NYTonline article linked above is that the internet makes possible the storage of everything we say or do- FOREVER. One question is whether applicants ought to be judged by high school or college photos or posts. Indeed, the question is founded on an ancient metaphysical quandary: what is the relationship with one’s self over time? We have a cultural concept of “not being the same person” at age 15 as at age 30. Yet right now, many 30 year old job applicants could be in the position to defend the digital traces left by their 15 year old selves.

The final point to note here is that Facebook was not designed to be a massive social media platform through which employers scouted and screened applicants. It was a way for college (and later high school) students to communicate and make limited broadcasts to a select audience. It was a kid’s toy, really. To me, it still is- I think that’s why my generation sometimes feels weird that our parents have Facebook profiles. The platform was never made for “grown-ups” or “grown-up things.” That was an accident, and treating it otherwise is a mistake.

A Video Game that Plays Itself.

I found a fun bug in Borderlands2 a few months ago: Following the final boss fight, the Mechromancer’s Robot (loving named “DeathTrap”) will continue to fight the infinite supply of flying lizard-monster-things (“Rakk”) for… about 6 or 7 hours. After this, your computer will crash because it is trying to keep track of all of the Rakk corpses your robot zapped. I liked that I could just let my game play itself. I went to class, had dinner, read some homework, and all the while I was getting gold and experience points for my character.

I don’t have as much time to play videogames; I don’t have time to grind for 50 or 150 hours for cool gear or leveling up. How about a game in which I play a big boss fight and then set up my character to grind while I do other stuff- sleep, pay bills, mow the lawn, clean living quarters, shower, go to class, go to work, study, interact with humans, etc. Was this what made Farmville such a hit? Can we replicate that with RPG or even TBS/RTS style games? Make the fights count, make the 1-2 hours of gameplay per session count. Game critic Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw mocked EveOnline for leveling you up while you don’t play, but he noted that it might be marketed to executives who need something to do while being soulless corporate drones and neglecting their wives (in his typical dry, cynical humor that compliments his rapid-fire delivery so well). As gamers get older, I think there’s an opportunity for a genre or game-feature that caters to people with busy, 21-century adult lives (rather than the dog days of a high-school student’s summer or a college student’s 7th or 8th semester).

The larger point here is the way in which games are growing up (and must do so). Just as the graphics have gotten better, the stories have become more mature (sometimes) and intricate, and even some of the mechanics have become more accommodating to a different audience (e.g., the unending games in the “quarter-guzzling” style of Pac-Man, Pong, or Galaxia vs current games with save points and conclusions). I speculate that as Generation Y and/or the Millennial Generation are forced into the “grown-up” lifestyle of regular employment and other adult demands on time, gaming will grow up in two ways. The first is already extremely prevalent: mobile games that grownups can play while at PTA meetings or while waiting in traffic. The second way gaming might evolve is into games that demand less participation, less grinding, less involvement. It would be a brave company that makes a product in the 21st century that does not cry out “PAY TO ME ALL OF YOUR TIME, ATTNENTION, AND MONEY!” But done just right, a non-addictive, non-demanding product could be a tremendously lucrative game. There’s a good chance I would play it and let it play itself.

Capitalism, Communism, and League of Legends

The Western worldview demands that one player be the best. It demands that one player’s success or failure be attributable to their own hard-earned genius or shameful failure. The analysis of performance and outcomes is simple (and simplistic), under this view. If your teammate Jax lost top lane, it’s because he is bad. If your teammate Vayne killed all 5 of the enemy team, it is because she is extremely good. For the Westerner, a few numbers tell the whole story: The players with lots of kills are good players and they are the cause of victory. The players with many deaths are the bad players and they are the cause of defeat.

I posit that this view is misguided and the consistent success of Eastern teams over Western teams can be interpreted as evidence of different views of teamwork. Perhaps some of these differences are manifestations of the emphasis placed by American capitalism and democracy on individual performance, and the emphasis placed by communism and agrarianism on community and role-interconnection.

Having no more than a general education regarding Eastern culture (so, take this with a grain of salt), I suggest that it is easier for a member of an Eastern culture to see a League of Legends game as deeply teamwork-oriented in a way that does not resonate with Westerners. For the Westerner, in all things, there must be a single person whose genius and skill determines the outcome; something analogous to the “Great Person” theory of historical interpretation (that history is largely shaped and determined by singular individuals who “move history,” rather than economic, cultural, or other larger, faceless forces). I wonder if it is easier for Eastners to embrace the notion that no single person on a team can succeed without the entire team.

Eastern teams do recognize individual talent, of course, but they place it in a different context. One of the best players in Korea for the first 3 seasons of League of Legends was MadLife. He played Support, and led his team to victory through leadership, macro-play decision making, vision control, protecting teammates, initiating fights at the best moments, as well as some amazing mechanical prowess to disable key points of the enemy team.

In contrast, the players who generate the highest levels of hype in NA and EU are Midlaners and ADCs- players with more potential to score more kills. The Eastern teams understand that the game is not about individual glory, but about 5 players filling different but equally essential roles. Western team struggle to internalize this lesson, and emphasize the “highlight-reel” ability to get kills over the more abstract strategic value of vision and communication.

In my personal experience playing on the North American server, it is difficult for Westerners to see the web of interconnection between each player’s actions, whether the outcome is success or defeat. The relationship between Taric’s wards and Vayne’s pentakill goes unmentioned. The only time such elaborate interconnection is brought up is when players experienced an undesired outcome, as illustrated by Tim Buckley:


The greatest success (measured both by victory and by enjoyment) I have experienced in League of Legends has come when the team recognizes both their dependence on their teammates as well as their teammates’ dependence on them. When a team sees themselves as 5 individuals operating side by side towards a semi-common goal, disaster and frustration result. When a team sees themselves as one entity that can be subdivided and grouped as multiple co-dependent organs, with an interdependence as intricate as any mechanical, electrical, biological, or structural system, I am reminded why I play the game at all.

Is the Law Language or Culture?

Almost all puzzles in the field of law hinge on a question something like this, “What does that word or phrase mean?” Difficult legal questions frequently turn on whether a modifier is applied to only the first term in a list, or each term in a list. Other questions are whether a specific object in a case is included (or excluded) by a [vague] category named in a statute. (Is a butter knife a “dangerous object”? A sewing needle? A jagged piece of plastic?)

In keeping with a previous post on this subject, I posit that legal analysis is fundamentally the analysis of language and the culture of that language. The primary worry about this can be phrased as this question: Can there be objectively correct and incorrect answers in a composite analysis of culture and language? Let me illustrate this difficulty with the concepts of semantics and syntax.

As I put on my coat, I tell my roommate, “I’m going out to the store for a few things. Do you need anything?” My roommate says, “There’s no soda in the fridge.”

Did my roommate ask me to get soda? The actual words he said contain no request, command, order, or anything of the sort; he only stated a fact about the contents of our refrigerator. This is the semantic analysis: the construction of the words and their specific meaning. However, most people familiar with our language and culture easily recognize this as a casual, polite request. Obviously, his statement that we are out of soda is in reply to an inquiry aimed at finding out what we lack that I could purchase at the store. It is largely uncontroversial that he means for me to buy more soda, precise language notwithstanding. This is syntactic analysis: the implicit, understood meaning in the context of the situation.

Here’s the takeaway: neither analysis seems entirely “wrong,” and that’s deeply troubling for those who want the law to be clear and black-and-white. The semantics cannot deny that my roommate may well have meant that I am to buy soda, and yet the syntactics cannot reject the fact that my roommate’s language contains no sort of request-in-fact for more soda. This leads to a problem in law: if a statute can be understood in two very different ways, and neither can be said to be wrong, how can we know that the law actually is? We are unwilling to accept that there is no “right” answer for the meaning of the law, because this leads us to the possibility of having two, inconsistent sets of laws depending on the interpretation of the statutes.

Remixed Culture

The Eiffel Tower, Gangam Style remixes, and the protest marches of the mid-20th Century are all pieces of culture. They represent people in a robust way—their dreams, their identity, their values, how they spend their time, how they see themselves, how they want the world to see them—, and it amazes me that those kinds of things can be represented in a photograph or 3 minute video. Entertainment media is fascinating to me because of the way it captures and represents people, and at the same time shapes them as they react to the captured representations of themselves. Whether they represent struggles, joys, triumphs or defeats (or any combination of events and the feelings that accompany them), our pieces of culture form a patchwork of symbols that tell the story of our civilization.

The law must grow in a way that allows that patchwork to continue to be stitched, even if it sometimes wants to stitch itself in ways we did not think the laws of physical space would allow. With so much of our culture digitally recorded, we can rework, remaster, remix, rewind, review, and all but redo the pieces of our culture. The process and tools of this cultural reworking become their own cultural artifact, symbolizing a culture of reflection, creative generation, and communal response.

The Legal Analysis is this: works derived from copyrighted works, if they use protected elements of the work, can be infringements. The 17th Chapter of the United States Code (a massive collection of federal laws passed by congress) addresses copyright and describes derivative works. However, a landmark 1991 Supreme Court case (Fiest v. Rural) is famous for establishing originality as the key and core precept of copyright. Recent developments in remixing and layering expose the tension between the case law and the statutory law. If remixes use copyrighted material, they can be considered derivative works. However, if remixes are original works, they are subject to their own copyrights. A 1994 Supreme Court case dealt with the creation of parody songs, and is noted for its emphasis on whether the new work is “transformative.” One question that can be posed is this: “Is a remix or mashup transformative or is it derivative?” Seeing some uses of technology to create new works as transformative rather than derivative can abate much of this discord. Generally, the two tools I think have the best potential to help resolve this tension are the Public Domain and Fair Use (which permits transformation of works). By expanding the meaning, significance, and use of these tools, the law can be made friendly to 21st century techno-culture while retaining the basic principles of copyright law.

The Social Analysis is this: When Time magazine named YOU the person of the year, they weren’t merely being pithy or lazy (benefit of the doubt being given). They were trying to capture this new era of Web 2.0, user-generated content, and remixes. They wanted to signal a shift in our culture. We are moving away from the old days of established entities determining who will be the next superstar and toward a future in which blogs and vlogs or a webseries may simply “catch on” and gather tens of thousands of subscribers with millions of views.

Yet as technology gives artistic, political, and social voice to so many new people, I worry that any kind of constructive progress is hindered by the sheer quantity of new material. If millions of people can easily and immediately tweet, blog, comment, post, text, e-mail, message, etc. a CEO, president, senator, secretary, etc., is democracy really served? If there are millions of blogs out there, and even hundreds which I might find greatly important and personally enriching, do I have much hope of finding them, much less reading all of their content? Tagging, categorizing, and searching are all useful tools, but they can only take us so far… we need something better if we are to get the most out of this Era of User Generated Content, the Digital Age, Web 2.0, YOU.

Technology and history have conspired to create a culture delighted by blurred distinctions, reflexivity, and overlap. The remix, the mashup, and other layered works are the cultural artifacts of the upcoming generations. The law must grow very carefully if it is to mete justice here, walking a delicate line between a communal culture of layered uses of ideas and a moral and economic requirement for proper respect for ownership of those ideas being layered.