Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, July 13, 2009

his tiny life

I often think that all stories about the relations between online gaming and real life are just footnotes to Julian Dibbell’s My Tiny Life (free PDF here) — one of the great masterpieces of contemporary journalism. I was looking it over again recently and noting how, though the technologies have developed significantly in the fifteen years since Dibbell was doing his research, the ethical challenges of online life remain pretty much the same.

Take this story, for instance. David Myers is a media professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who, as part of his research, started playing City of Heroes and became so incredibly good at it — simply by following the rules of the game more strictly than others did — that his fellow players came to despise him.

Well, that’s how Myers tells the story, anyway — and the reporter he talked to bought it. But others tell a different tale. The comments on this post are pretty interesting, as is Myers’s response to the controversy. (See his other posts also.)

But really, the proper template for understanding all such controversies is in My Tiny Life. If you haven't read it you really should.


  • Michael Straight said...

    Several people have contacted Loyola's IRB which says they are investigating his failure to get IRB approval before doing "research" on human subjects.

    My Tiny Life looks way more interesting than this story which seems to boil down to: Professor is jerk in game, provoking people to get annoyed at him, then complains publicly when they do and calls it "research."

    The "I was doing a social experiment to see how people would react" defense is one of the oldest, lamest excuses of the online jerk.

  • Alan Jacobs said...

    "The 'I was doing a social experiment to see how people would react' defense is one of the oldest, lamest excuses of the online jerk." Amen to that. It's the Troll's Creed.

  • As some folks pointed out in that comment thread you linked to, the idea that he was doing it to "study player responses" just makes it worse. Inflicting psychological distress on minors, when they aren't even aware that they're part of a study, and refusing to stop even when they specifically ask you to do so? I'm not sure what sort of ethics board would approve of that.

  • Ari Schulman said...

    You should check out this piece, from the illustrious pages of this very journal: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-world-made-new

Post a Comment

[Basic HTML tags can be used in this comment field.]