Monday, April 14, 2008

outline version of my recent gameification work

From the Front Lines to the Computer Screen: Battlefield Blogs and the Gameification of the Iraq War

Francesca Marie Smith
April 14, 2008

Research Question: How do United States soldiers negotiate and communicate in their personal blogs the complex ethical issues surrounding the Iraq War?

Case Study: Armor Geddon
• Battlefield blog written by Neil Prakash, a U.S. tank platoon leader

• 12-13 November: Make Way for the Cavalry
o over 30 printed pages of narration and dialogue
o most recent entry published
o 70 comments
o 23,000 Blogger profile views

• Three major rhetorical strategies:
o dehumanization
• of the enemy: “bad guys,” “fuckers,” simulated corpse rape
• “pretending to hump the body while he was standing up and flipped both middle fingers at the corpse”
• of allies: synecdochy of “crunchies,” call names such as “Ramrod 6”

o dramatization
• descriptive sensory experiences: “The tanks and Bradleys looked like shadows, swallowing up any light from the stars. They were like ghosts.”
• heightened emotional dialogue: “GET THE FUCK BACK ON YOUR TANK. GET AWAY FROM THAT THING!”
• sound effects: “BOOM,” “POP-POP-POP-POP,” “Click-Skrrrrrr-Ka-chunk”
• aesthetic sublimation: fictionalizes the account and strips it of ethical judgment

o gameification
• umbrella strategy to amoralize reality of war
• video game terms, strategies, and competition over “getting kills”
• exciting toys, “superpowers,” and explosions
• lighthearted, fun, supportive commentary: “YEAH! That was fucking awesome!”
• language use mirroring that of comfortable gaming scenarios

o taken as a whole, such strategies justify U.S. soldiers’ behavior by circumventing ethical questions at the outset

Philosophical Foundation: Alinsky’s Situational Ethics
• Situational ethics: Take into account unique contextual features

• Saul David Alinsky
o 1909-1972
o studied criminology
o worked as an activist promoting radical community organizing
o helped such groups as the Irish-American ghetto “Back of the Yards,” Black communities in Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, and Rochester, Canadian Indians, Italian labor unions, and Chicano migrant workers
o founded the Industrial Areas Foundation in 1939
o instructed would-be organizers, but also argued for the relative nature of truth and ethics
o Reveille for Radicals (1969)
o Rules for Radicals (1971)
• 1. Those closest to an issue do not have the luxury of ethical evaluation
• 2. Political standings will influence ethical beliefs
• 3. In war, the end will nearly always justify any means
• 4. Ethics are intrinsically tied to an event’s situatedness in time
• 5. The more options available, the greater the concern with ethicality
• 6. The less important the ends, the greater the concern with ethicality
• 7. Success or failure is a strong determinant of ethicality
• 8. Measures taken to avoid imminent defeat are generally seen as more ethical than the same acts taken when success is already assured
• 9. The opposition will likely judge effective tactics as unethical
• 10. “You do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments” (Alinsky, 1971, p. 36)
• 11. Goals should be framed in terms of common values such as liberty and equality

Evaluation: The Ethics of Gameification
• Soldiers like Prakash have few options available to them, yet are still bombarded with ethical criticism and must defend their choices to themselves and others thanks to modern technological advances

• According to Alinsky’s situational ethics, they must not be concerned with the ethical complexities of their actions; they must carry them out for professional and pragmatic reasons, then justify them in any means possible

• Therefore, gameification is used as a means to justify behavior by minimizing any potentially immorality and rendering the entire situation as nothing more than an irrelevant game
o dehumanization makes lives lost irrelevant
o dramatization normalizes, fictionalizes, and aesthetically sublimates the conflict, distancing the reader from reality
o gameification effaces the grim realities of life and death and allows the reader to be drawn into a comfortable, lighthearted, worry-free environment

• Is this communication ethical? Alinsky would suggest yes, since soldiers must secure a “passport of morality” to avoid spiraling into depression, guilt, and psychological trauma

• Limitations: Exploratory study with results that cannot be generalized; further research must expand corpus, see if such amoralization processes have occurred in the past, explore alternatives to gameification, and evaluate whether gameification appears intertextually in films, news reports, and videogames

• Implications:
o a potentially pervasive genre that addresses contemporary realities of ethically complex warfare combined with the widespread availability of blogging
o raises questions about the effects of (violent) videogames on recent generations
o draws attention to the limited moral possibilities afforded to those in certain situations
o calls us to address the consequences of turning life and death into nothing more than a game

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