Crazy in the City: The world is your urinal

My home office looks out onto the street. It’s not the prettiest view in the world, but there is some foliage and traffic to keep me entertained in  moments of procrastination and daydreaming.

I live in a decent neighborhood with it’s eclectic mix of whack jobs and professionals. Yet, it does not seem to matter what walk of life a man comes from, they all seem to view the great outdoors as their personal toilet. I cannot recount the amount of times I have been innocently looking out my window only to see a man walk towards the parking lot across the street while skittishly looking all around – heading either behind the green recycling bin (to the left in the picture) or behind the chain link fence (to the right in the picture) and quickly unzip their pants and let loose. I have seen men in business suits do this – I have seen punk rock kids do this.

Yesterday, I saw a nice car pull over – it looked new – and the guy who got out was well dressed. Assuming he was off to visit someone or go somewhere, I was shocked to watch him scurry behind the recycling bin and unzip – not even having the courtesy to turn around as he felt pissing on the building was an appropriate urinal. As soon as I realized this, I turned my attention to my computer screen, hoping to change the mental image in my head.

And this happens all the time. About a week ago, early evening, my partner was working in the basement with the door open. He was on the phone when he heard some rustling in our backyard. He ran outside to catch a (very) disheveled man urinating on the wall next to the open door! Confrontation ensued, and the men eventually left – but not soon enough as to leave stains on our new foundation. To be fair, I kind of expect this kind of behavior from someone in the state of inebriation that this man was – but this is not behavior reserved for such men. It seems no matter how well to-do, it seems when a man’s gotta go, he’s incapable of going to a gas station or waiting until he arrives at his destination….

Online Sociability: Yahoo! Chat to Facebook

Sitting in my living room last night with the television off (a rare occurrence for me, who usually needs background noise..) and I started thinking about my time online over the years. While I was a stay at home mom, I started chatting in 1994 in the Yahoo chat rooms. Sorted by topic, the rooms were filled with regular users and sporadic new ‘faces’ who would lurk until they felt comfortable enough to jump into the conversation – of course, this goes on much the same way these days, except at the time, there were less online spaces where one could go and just hang out with a group of friends. I spent a lot of time in those rooms, and over the course of a few years, made a pretty solid group of friends around a few topics, and even met a few people face to face. I remember feeling sad when I went back to work and didn’t have as much time as I used to to chat. I remember logging in and entering one of my old favorite rooms only to realize that I don’t recognize anyone and they didn’t recognize me.  Over time, I stopped logging in completely, forgetting about most of the users I used to consider close confidants (of course, to this day, there are a few names that stick out in my memory). Leaving the Yahoo! Groups was hard, perhaps more sad, but what made it easier was that there was no traces left behind to go back to and reminisce over. Of course, there are still chat rooms all over the internet that I could join, meet new people, and perhaps recapture this feeling, but somehow it just doesn’t feel the same.

What I like about Facebook is the way that it archives all those interactions. Yet at the same time, it makes me a bit uneasy too. I like being able to go back further and further and reading what people were on about on any particular day, yet the memories are weaker. The archives are not of interactions between myself and my ‘friends’, but of individual actions collected through the guise of  ‘friends’. Instead of logging in and running into a random group of friends for a limited amount of time, it is always the same people in the same place at different times – whenever I want, I can log in and read about my friends. I miss the synchronicity of chat rooms, but I like the ability to ‘check up’ on friends even when I don’t feel sociable. It’s a weird feeling really. To think that my online time has shifted over the years from a very interactive form of social interaction to a more singular sense of sociability – where I can be among friends without having to interact (directly) with them. Of course, this is not the only means of online interaction, but it is what my use has become. Instead of logging in every morning to a list of different rooms, catching up with people and talking about our day, I log in every morning and read my friends’ blogs, check their Facebook pages and poke in on twitter to see who is saying what – all the while, being removed from anyone knowing I was there. While I am keeping ‘in touch’ with more people, my online interaction has seen a dramatic shift from incredibly social to incredibly solitary.

This got me thinking (again) about the archiving of online interactions. Of course my old chat days were logged, I think one of the things that made it easier to walk away from was that the community was always changing. That the people never stayed the same, and over time, the chat rooms morphed into a new group of people with new stories. With Facebook, it is different in that it is always the same people on my friends list. While some may be more active than others (and FB sorts my friends’ activities in ways that make me think that only 20 of the 300+ friends actually update their statuses & pages). But since the activity is archived, I can dig back and back and feel like I am not alone even when no one is “online”.

Of course, I am rambling – but it seems that the more “social” outlets I have, the less social I feel.

 

Working Through Ideas and Reality

I have been working on what is essentially the same research question since 2004 – working towards understanding the player/avatar relationship and identity – not in it’s classic sense as that which belongs (and identifies) an individual or entity (avatar), but rather how identity is morphed and redefined through digitally mediated interactions into something new. I am sure I can come back to this statement in two hours and re-articulate it again and again – get lost in it and come back again, but in the end, when I am talking about “hybrid-identity” (as I have yet to find – or invent – that perfect word for what it is I am talking about), that is basically what I am talking about.

My MA work pointed to a very specific, contextualized form of ‘hybrid-identity’ – an identity which emerges from the long term interactions between the player and the avatar and the game world over time and (social) interaction. This identity does not belong to either the player or the avatar, although both player choices and avatar design play a part in it (along with other contributing elements). I developed a framework of interconnected gameplay elements that contribute to the emergence of this type of identity in mmorpg’s. (note: this research stemmed from Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, Lineage II and early WoW [pre-Burning Crusade] – since then, there have been significant changes to the genre that may alter the original framework. I will address this in my dissertation if all goes well =)).

The (long term) goal of the framework is to be able to apply it to a range of games (and contexts) and determine whether or not the conditions exist for ‘hybrid-identity’ to (potentially) emerge. My PhD work is testing the framework that I developed in my MA (specific to mmorpg’s) against different genres of games (through close readings of gameplay) to see where the framework breaks down, what restructuring is required  for it to be a useful analytic tool, and essentially, to test whether or not ‘hybrid-identity’ even has the potential to emerge in single-player games. Of course, the most grandiose  goal of my research is to re-articulate the nuances of identity in digitally mediated game play (and not just the player’s or the avatar’s).  These are my ideas.

The reality that I have been struggling with while writing is seeing my ideas materialize into clear, defendable arguments. The challenge of making proof plagues my sociological brain. It all makes perfect sense to me. I see it with my eyes; feel it with my heart, but when I try to explain what I mean, I sometimes lose control of my argument and find myself caving into the exist definitions of identity. The concept of identity is so concretely grounded in the human (or at least as a human construct), that trying to pry it loose seems to be a very messy (and sometimes controversial) project. I am passionate about my ideas, it is the reality of articulation (and proof!) that keeps jamming a stick into my spokes.

And with all of that – it is time to get back to work. I am close… so very very close to getting this dissertation out the door … perhaps when it is enveloped in its intro and conclusion, the reality will mirror my ideas and I can breathe easy again.