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Drop the Playstation Vita and back away

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It’s amazing the stuff that gets into your house despite your best efforts to shape the influences in your kids’ lives. Barbies. Disney. Pokémon. Tambourines.

When my kids were younger, the main vector was well-meaning relatives giving presents. But now that they have a social circle, it’s their friends who act as the conduit for all that’s awful, counter to our values or just unhelpful. Thanks for bringing that Nintendo 3DS over, Miles. Thanks a crapload.

And the truth is, you can’t shield your kids completely, and you can’t shield them forever. Your best, most durable hope is to instill strong values and foster a rapier capacity for media criticism.

And maybe install one of those TSA body scanners at your front door.

🚨

I drew this and six other cartoons about parents, kids and tech for Alexandra Samuel’s session at SXSW 2016, The Myth of the Family Tech Market. It’s based on her two-year study of how more than 10,000 North American parents manage their kids’ interactions with digital technology.

Find out more about Alex’s work around digital parenting here.

A nativity scene with the baby Jesus saying: Actually, it's about ethics in gaming journalism.

The reason for the season

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(In case this cartoon is baffling.)

If I don’t talk to you lovely folks before January 1st, happy holidays and a terrific, bug-free new year to all.

Recreational misogyny

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I’m starting to think we’ve reached a tipping point on the issue of misogyny in video games in particular, and a big chunk of tech culture more generally.

To get here, it’s taken a lot of courage from a lot of women. One of the most notable is Anita Sarkeesian, whose video series has done more than anything else I can think of to force a conversation on the issue. It’s also drawn a backlash: some of the ugliest, most vicious responses I’ve ever seen.

There’s a lot further to go. If you’d like to support her work, you can make a donation here.

Updated: Lloyd Dewolf added a link on the N2S Facebook Page to Sarkeesian’s talk at the XOXO Festival, where she described the range of attacks she’s received after launching Feminist Frequency. Well worth watching.

The blood elf flies north at midnight

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So now we know that the NSA isn’t just mining mobile phone metadata. They’re mining World of Warcraft gold.

I suspect their people are a lot less clueless than my cartoonist’s heart would like to believe. Sure, I’m tickled at the thought of James Bond flailing helplessly in mid-air for hours in Second Life. But even as someone whose knowledge of the intelligence community is largely informed by Michael Westen‘s monologues (see previous cartoon), I’m pretty sure these folks are used to adapting quickly to different cultures and unfamiliar environments.

And intelligence work in a MMORPG probably isn’t much different from intelligence work anywhere else: building relationships, gaining trust, listening carefully, and doing a lot more boring sifting through data than you might think. (So online community managers, you can probably expect a call from a CIA human resources officer any day now.)

That doesn’t mean the execution went off without a hitch. According to the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, there were so many intelligence agents in the virtual field that a “deconfliction” group had to keep them from wasting time infiltrating each other. Not that there aren’t folks who use Second Life as a way of infiltrating each other, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic. And the ProPublica article on the Snowden revelations suggests strongly that terrorists weren’t actually using World of Warcraft or Second Life except for recreation and getting one’s freak on.

What the article doesn’t address, and what I suspect the biggest danger posed by MMORPG ops, is mission creep.

Anyone who has missed work to finish a quest, or looked up from an online melee to realize it’s four in the morning, knows what I’m talking about. Intelligence agencies used to have to worry about field agents “going native”; now they have to worry their loyalty could be divided between their country and their guild. Yeah, you’re pretty sure that mage is MOSSAD, but she’s awfully handy with a Frost spell, so now she’s in your questing party. And maybe you haven’t come up with a lick of actionable intel in three years, but you’ve kept Al Qaeda off the leaderboard, and isn’t that what really matters?

Incidentally, there’s also the massive violation of privacy (and community). Wouldn’t it be great if there was someone trying to do something about that?

Brains and balance sheets

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I drew this week’s cartoon on my iPad, in a plane, at 37,000 feet. I penciled it, inked and colored it all in the confines of an economy-class seat, which experienced air travelers know has now shrunk to the size of a Scooby-Doo lunch box.

We’re now accustomed to digital miracles. High-speed, jaw-dropping graphics on a cheap gaming platform? Been there. The video projector that sits in the palm of your hand? Old news. Casual 10-way videoconferencing? Thanks, Google. (Now what else have you got?) A massive personal catalog of music you can access from nearly anywhere you’re likely to go today? Apple is about to deliver it,and they’re playing catch-up to Google and Amazon.

A few years ago, The Onion created a front page supposedly from July 1969 that read “HOLY SH*T – MAN WALKS ON F*CKING MOON”. I’d like to buy that and hang it next to my drawing tablet, just to remind me that these walking-on-the-moon moments happen now pretty much every day.

No, not Apollo-level engineering triumphs or half-million-mile moon missions. But things that would blow not just our ancestors’ minds (flying at hundreds of miles an hour!) or our grandparents’ (a powerful computer you can carry in a bag!), but our own, just a few short years ago.

These are the days of miracles and wonder (and Paul Simon hadn’t seen the Web when he wrote those words 25 years ago) and every once in a while, it’s worth taking the time to look at the latest new development not just with acquisitive glee, but with a little awe.

By the way, here’s the cognitive surplus explained, in Clay Shirky’s TED talk:

#tombstonetuesday for gamers

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Wow… on a sudden whim I searched on “spirituality” and “video games”, and came up with 45 million hits. Some of these are of the “zap the temptations before they reach the sinner!” Flash-game variety, but others delve a little more deeply and meaningfully into the subject.

And no wonder. Between multiple lives, higher powers, predestination and the creation of evanescent world where we live brief lives before returning to this one, video games raise a lot of the Big Looming Questions.

From this, we can conclude that

  1. Cheat codes are blasphemy.
  2. That moment when your game controller just doesn’t seem to work on your avatar is probably free will in action.
  3. Every time you reboot your platform, you’re causing an apocalypse.

We are the world… we are the night elves…

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You might think I’m mocking gamers here. I’m not, actually – I just got seized by the idea. I’d love – love – to see a charity set up something to let you contribute World of Warcraft gold to them. (There’s a market for WoW gold, so in theory this should actually be possible.) It’s not unprecedented – the American Cancer Society raised a little over $274,000 last year with their Relay for Life in Second Life (I just dropped by ACS in Second Life, and confirmed that it’s on for this year, too – July 17-18.)

By the way, if you’re looking for ways to help the people of Haiti, the CBC has a list of agencies doing relief work there. My U.S. readers may find this list compiled by the people at Convio handy – along with this article from the Nation.

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