A disjointed college essay about why the NSA should spy on games
Posted by Troll Racials are Overpowered [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 January 2014, 1:07 pm
Remember when you'd need to write an essay about something but never quite had much to say? The general concept was there, but you didn't know or care enough to give it any depth. So you'd just keep branching out, giving shallow explorations of a dozen different related topics. Most of them would do nothing to advance your central theme. Those that did at least seem to advance it were so shallow that their actual contribution was negligible. If you were lucky this was a draft and the professor could point out the flaws. With a reality check you'd delve a little deeper and replace some of the width with depth. Sometimes it was the final draft. And sometimes it gets published.

This is what that looks like.
Virtual Worlds are Real:
Avatars have consequences offline. No wonder U.S. intelligence agencies are looking into them.

 In summary:
  1. The media mocks virtual worlds, thereby making it look ridiculous when government investigates them.
  2. These are new communication platforms and intelligence agencies should keep an eye on those.
  3. The appearance of avatars affects how we interact with them and therefore a virtual bin Laden would be a potentially useful recruiting tool.
  4. Online behavior affects our offline behavior.
  5. Offline behavior affects our online behavior.
  6. America's Army was an effective recruiting tool.
These are all worthwhile things to discuss. Given the headline and tag, points one and two seem to be the important ones. Point one gets a decent bit of space, while point two gets a few sentences. Surely this is where you'd want to discuss how to do this surveillance, based on the assumption that when governments see new forms of surveillance their second action is to spy on them. Is creating avatars in that world the best way to go about things? In most games that's going to give an extremely narrow view, restricted by in-game geography, social tools, and content. It's hard to properly interrogate the next bin Laden when he won't give you a guild invite, put you on ignore, and reported you to a GM for harassment. Some form of direct access to in-game communication seems like the logical way to go, but then you either need permission, something tech companies are starting to get wary of, or to break in, which has its own set of problems. The sixth point could tie into the first two. Surely it would be a good idea to keep tabs on players in Al-Queda's Army.

Yet there is the counter-point that is ignored: someone owns and controls these worlds. They monitor the communications. This isn't interception; it's directly sending messages to their servers, with their programs, and them sending it along. Even if intelligence agencies took no interest at all, there is still a Big Brother watching in the form of a company. They might not be eager to give the NSA access, but they're at least as eager not to give terrorists access. Virtual worlds just don't seem like a good place to discuss evil deeds, well beside EVE. On top of all that, shouldn't the agencies have defended themselves with some vague results? Not "we caught so and so", but at least "we've tracked some suspected guys and are continuing to track them." When even they aren't pretending it's worthwhile, that's a pretty damning argument.

The third point is a fascinating bit of psychology and definitely worth further study, but the recruitment angle is the exact absurdity that makes the media mock this sort of thing. Similarly, points four and five are worth studying. I've often been curious of how these virtual worlds with their different concepts of need and scarcity could affect our perceptions of real world economic systems, and how we bring those real world concepts into a place with a different context, where they may make no sense at all.

In conclusion: This is what happens when someone writes a book and has to promote it, not by promoting the actual book, but by trying to shoehorn everything into the latest media trend on why we should be spied on in every possible world.



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