Electron Dance
13Apr/11Off

The Glass Society

If you're still intending to shake your mouse at don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story (DTIP), the latest horse bolting from Christine Love's game stable, you might want to give this post some distance until you do. At a reasonable pace, it'll probably take you about 3-4 hours.

This is a discussion of DTIP's final message. Spoilers are most certainly inevitable.

Don't Make Assumptions

Before I go off and sound like I hate the game, let me clarify that I really, really don't. It's highly polished. It's well-written. It's engaging despite having little real interactivity. It's engaging despite being about teenage angst, a tricky act to pull off without going all Twilight. It's quite the hypertext novel, with multiple stories and reflections of those stories all happening simultaneously.  If I wrote a review, I'd sum it up using words like "recommend", "thought-provoking" and "pickled onions". I like pickled onions. And Kendall made me laugh. U mad?

J. Michael Straczynski, the creative power behind 90s landmark yet forgotten sci-fi series Babylon 5 said about his baby: "If we can start some bar fights, I'll have done my job." That's what DTIP is, it's a discussion piece, a bringer of bar fights.

Let the fights begin.

Don't Take It Personally?

John Rook teaches an English class to a bunch of students who, let's be honest, could care less about the subject. To help him pick up on bullying that might otherwise go unnoticed, the school has given him complete access to the students' private AmieConnect messages. AmieConnect is Facebook.

You're not Rook himself, a man incapable of dealing not only with his kids' problems but his own. You only get to whisper at his conscience at particular points which may leave you exasperated at times, screaming at the screen, "Seriously, what the fuck are you doing, John?"

My John Rook was responsible and carefully negotiated the minefield of getting too involved in his students' affairs aside from one particular incident. When I was done, Kendall and Charlotte were a couple, so were Nolan and Akira, and Rook rebuffed all of Arianna's advances. He also kept his cool when taking Taylor down a peg; the students had already turned lynch mob on AmieConnect and she didn't need her teacher tearing into her too.

But I didn't know why Rook felt it was his duty to mess around in his students' affairs or why he hadn't had any training regarding this. DTIP is set 15 years in the future, but rules of student-teacher conduct have hardened in recent decades, not relaxed. The internet burns scandals into permanent digital memory, putting everyone on edge. When the universe shuts down, the internet will still be there reminding everyone you once posted LOL during a discussion where the topic was that video with the Chinese woman stomping on a kitten. This is an age where a single Twitter misstep can have serious repercussions.

Here are two things you could take away from the game:

  • The youth of the future will spend so much time connected electronically that they will forget what privacy means
  • The youth of the future will spend so much time connected electronically that they will be stunted educationally

The conceit, unveiled in the game's final moments, is that your class expected you to be snooping and was cherry pie fine with it. So DTIP is a parable about shifting attitudes to privacy. It's my story, it's your story. It's all our stories, out in the open, for other eyes to consume. Try not taking it personally.

Don't Lie To Me, Kids

DTIP is not saying "privacy is dead" but pointing out that the "veil of privacy" is gradually being pulled back, as electronic stitching merges all our lives into a single, digital story.

Rook's students certainly do understand privacy.

For example, if no one knows what privacy is, then why are there "private conversations" between students? And then there's this:

And if you click the link to the compromising photo:

Hmm, a private link with password security. And lastly, if you give into your compulsions and opt for a relationship with Arianna, you can see conversation like this at the end:

Semantics. These kids can't pretend they don't know what privacy is. Unfortunately, this dithering between a headline statement from Yamazaki that "privacy is dead" and "well, we can still be discreet" dilutes the message of the game. By having it's cake and eating it, it ends up saying less than you'd expect.

Rook's presence affects the conversations taking place, more observer-effect than fly-on-the-wall. As everyone acknowledges AmieConnect is a semi-public domain, the juicy stuff takes place offline. For example, where does the class arrange their grand AmieConnect conspiracy against Rook? Also take note of Taylor's exchanges on AmieConnect running up to her attack on Akira: she is very careful with her words.

Let's shovel all this over to one side and assume the message stands and that the kids are perfectly fine with a lack of privacy. There's another glaring problem. They can't see each other's private conversations - only John Rook can. This isn't liberation, this future is the Panopticon, with the teacher the almighty authority who gets to witness everything.

The kids are happy to submit their privacy to overseers to cherry-pick for pertinent or embarrassing information. Why would I possibly have a problem with this?

Don't lol porn

In 2006 I wrote a short story called Crutch which featured the emergence of a "glass society", where all data is visible. One of the things that seemed obvious to me is that a self-regulating pseudo-privacy would establish itself. The trick is that voyeurism is impossible as the act of reading is also information that people can track. Knowing your clicks are public knowledge prevents you from accessing things that really should be private. It becomes less about privacy and more about good manners.

Not everyone contributes to the grand social networking projects happening online, but everyone of us clicks across the information ocean of the internet. Those clicks can reveal everything about what you find interesting, who you are connected to, what perversions you harbour. Marketing departments are all over your clicking habits, your cookie trail. This is the modern authority you are currently submitting your privacy to.

Don't forget Google is out there too, getting high on your search queries, queries that say a lot more about you than your Facebook page. Thanks to Marvel Brothel and Beautiful Escape, WordPress tells me I have hits through Google searches on the following queries:

  • cut body hentai
  • incest hentai
  • hentai rpg rape
  • hentai+browser+game+rape

I'm not judging, but some people might.

So when I played through DTIP, a game about voyeurism and asymmetry, I suspected Love was tracking what I read. That's what stopped me clicking on the nude links when they popped up during the game. It felt like a trap, a trap she'd use against me later.

On my first play, I steered clear of these links like they carried the bubonic plague and didn't even know the images were password protected. Lewis Denby, who worked out the password, said he "got up, and walked around the room a little" before proceeding to access the images. This is the moment that gives you pause.

It's a shame these links only surface if you get Charlotte and Kendall back together as this sliver of genuine choice encapsulates the moral question of the game.

Don't Click And Tell

Although what you've clicked isn't tracked - particularly as the game compels you to click every piece of AmieConnect text available - the whole narrative revolves around the fact you have been doing a lot of clicking and everyone knows that. So it does confer a sense of guilt-through-click-association.

My criticism of DTIP is that it does not explore the flip side of its arguments: that a careless disregard for privacy could be dangerous. Rook, ever the limp lettuce, caves to Yamazaki's sound-bites in the final moments.

Just because you know there's a benevolent overseer in this situation, it doesn't mean you'll always know that an overseer exists. See if the students are happy for their boss father-figure to monitor their online chats in the corporate workplace down the line.

The students make me think of people who don't use their vote, forgetting how hard people have fought for that vote throughout history and how some people are still fighting for it right now. These are people typically subjected to indiscriminate surveillance without checks and balances.

If not everybody signs up for the glass society, those who remain behind walls will hold all of our lives hostage. I hope DTIP scared you as much as it scared me.

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Posted by Joel Goodwin

Electron Dance Highlights

Comments (9) Trackbacks (3)
  1. Extra info. Christine Love has written about the responses to the game.

    And yes Crutch can be found online but I’m not handing you a link, oh no. It is way over-complicated for a short story and as I wrote it at the start of my Serious Writing period, it doesn’t read well. There are five years of writing skill level-ups between then and now! One of these days Crutch will be expanded into my first novel, like all those other first novels I’ve planned.

    And to continue my self-deprecation, let it be known the title of this post up to two minutes before posting was “The Clicks of the Panopticon” which was a bit wank, if I do say so myself.

  2. That bit where you showed what people found your site… Arcadian Rhythms gets more hits for David Dickinson, Frankie Muniz 2011 and Altered Beast than for its own name in searches. Not judging either.

    Have skipped over large parts of this review as this might be one of those games that I get around to trying. Everyone is giving it the thumbs up so I feel almost obliged (less so than Minecraft which is a bulldozer that crushes all)

  3. As a testament to Google strangeness, Second Person Shooter does very well in attracting hits from queries on Omar Sharif.

    Actually, I felt DTIP is divisive, I’ve come across many negative comments about (a) art style (hello RPS comments), (b) characterisations, (c) the unreality of the school situation and (d) the message at the end. It’s also down to the individual whether they feel receptive to a game like this and “visual novels” have done poorly in the West possibly due to the lack of personal investment in the story.

    I haven’t gone near Minecraft because I’m sure it’s a time sink I can ill-afford. I have my own views on Minecraft-hysteria though but so does everybody and his terrier… and I try to shy away from popular topics because it’s difficult to say anything new unless you’re controversial and/or offensive. Maybe I should write an article called “Fuck Minecraft, It’s For Idiots!”

  4. Excellent piece of writing, HM. I too was affected and… how to say it… emotionally divided by the game. I think it will be divisive not only amongst individuals but within them as well. Mostly I applaud that this game has gotten attention and is being discussed.

    A commenter at Tap mentioned that it had played out quite differently for him based on certain decisions, while I got more or less the same story both playthroughs. I’ll have to try it again and see what more there is to see.

  5. Thanks Steerpike! I think DTIP is great-but-broken-in-some-ways because Christine Love did the whole thing in a month. If she had given the project more time I think it wouldn’t be the game we’re playing now and… that might not have been altogether an improvement.

    There’s so much innovation and excitement to be found in the roughness of games that a dedicated super-polish can scrub away.

  6. Well, I’ve at last read this post having now played/read the game… and I think you’ve said much of what I’d intended to mention more eloquently than I’d have managed.

    The worldbuilding is indeed inconsistent, but thanks to those characters and the well-judged melodrama (hi, anime!) my disbelief was thoroughly suspended.

    Anyway, I feel that this is one to sleep on before discussing further.

  7. Shaun, this is one of those games that touches so many areas you can literally go off an write about 16 articles – you’re just spoilt for choice. I’ve tried to just hone in one thing – the aspect I think is the most probable “let down” for those players who enjoyed the majority of it.

    I always sleep on games before writing about them! I’d be no good as a reviewer because I mistrust my initial impressions and those impressions end up shaping people’s views on the internet. Like Cryostasis which I’m progressing towards writing about: my initial impressions were “fuck this game” but my eventual results are going to be a lot more moderate. The on-line space prefers we didn’t stop and think about things before sharing – but it’s often too late to go back and correct what we said first time around the block.

  8. I suffer from that impulse myself, but try and work around it by writing extensive notes which I then ignore for a few days or weeks. After that I revisit said notes and try to figure out the extent to which I still agree with them.

    I started out reviewing books and actually hated taking notes for that, as I tend to either take no notes or reams of them. Trying to turn 3,000 words of notes into a review is, frankly, tedious.

    Nowadays I mostly write about music and games and find the engage > note down > draft > finalise process a much more comfortable one.

    As for DTIPB, I’ve got my notes and I’m doing so well at ignoring them I don’t remember what they say. Excellent! I think I’ll revisit the game this weekend and write something up. Hooray for bank holidays.

  9. A tweet of complaint about DTIP’s ending from Prettiest Boy made me play the damn thing. It was lucky I was off work with a horrendous cold otherwise I wouldn’t have had the time.

    Still DTIP was a bit of an exception for me. I had immediate negative thoughts on its final message and wanted to catch the moment while there was a lot of interest out there. And all of the articles I read seemed to bite off more than they could chew, because there’s simply so much you could talk about – that in itself is a winning endorsement of the game, perhaps missed in the clamour to simply talk about the Latest From Love.

    It was a bit reckless of me really, because every day I changed my mind about what I wanted to say.

    As for massive notes, you should see what I have stored for The Aspiration. How large is your hard drive?