The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'sadism'
The internet, with its detachment between online and offline actions and its lack of a private register, has spawned the phenomenon of griefers, or highly organised subcultures of people (mostly young men) who delight in ruining other people's online fun:
Consider the case of the Avatar class Titan, flown by the Band of Brothers Guild in the massively multiplayer deep-space EVE Online. The vessel was far bigger and far deadlier than any other in the game. Kilometers in length and well over a million metric tons unloaded, it had never once been destroyed in combat. Only a handful of player alliances had ever acquired a Titan, and this one, in particular, had cost the players who bankrolled it in-game resources worth more than $10,000.
So, naturally, Commander Sesfan Qu'lah, chief executive of the GoonFleet Corporation and leader of the greater GoonSwarm Alliance — better known outside EVE as Isaiah Houston, senior and medieval-history major at Penn State University — led a Something Awful invasion force to attack and destroy it.
"The ability to inflict that huge amount of actual, real-life damage on someone is amazingly satisfying" says Houston. "The way that you win in EVE is you basically make life so miserable for someone else that they actually quit the game and don't come back."
To see the philosophy in action, skim the pages of Something Awful or Encyclopedia Dramatica, where it seems every pocket of the Web harbors objects of ridicule. Vampire goths with MySpace pages, white supremacist bloggers, self-diagnosed Asperger's sufferers coming out to share their struggles with the online world — all these and many others have been found guilty of taking themselves seriously and condemned to crude but hilarious derision.Griefers defend their behaviour by claiming that they're merely giving those who take the internet far too seriously a reality check. The implied subtext is that anything that happens online is just a game and doesn't count. Though, given how the internet has become a mainstream part of many people's lives (witness, for example, the rise in social networking websites), this assertion makes about as much sense as Tom Hodgkinson's call to kill your Facebook account, throw away your email address and instead socialise in the pub with people near you. There's not a great leap from asserting that anything that happens online doesn't really count and absurdly ludditic claims like "if you don't know what someone smells like, they're a stranger".
On the other hand, there is no such thing as the right to be respected, or even to not be ridiculed. If one posts a web page detailing one's peculiar political views, conspiracy theories and/or sexual fetishes online, one can expect to be laughed at and even snidely remarked about. Though there is a distinction between demolishing someone's homepage in a blog or discussion forum and actively gathering a posse and going out to hound them off the net.
Griefing happens in the real world, though it's usually called other things, such as bullying. The difference is that the internet has democratised bullying. In the real world, in more conformistic societies, bullies can typically only be those either of or contending for alpha social status, enforcing an exaggerated version of majority values by picking on those perceived to not conform to them (witness the use of the word "gay", sometimes semi-euphemised as "ghey", as a general-purpose term of derision), and in more liberal or pluralistic environments, even that is frowned upon. Online, anyone can find a group of like-minded misfits, make up a cool-sounding name, set up a virtual clubhouse and start picking on mutually agreed targets, with little fear of social consequences.
Focus groups at advance screenings of Gigli, a new gangster-themed Hollywood Romantic Comedy have demanded a new ending, in which both Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez die "in as brutal a manner as possible". Sounds good to me...
"The danger here is succumbing to what people in the business call 'option paralysis'--being caught with so many good ideas that you're not sure which one to use," Brest said. "Getting shot is fine, but what about an automobile fire in which Ben and Jennifer are shown perishing in a slow-motion montage, their newfound love discarded as they try desperately to claw their way past each other's melting bodies, while slowly roasting to death in their own fat? You'd be surprised at how many people came up with that one. Or having them crawl through a field of broken glass while a safely booted and gloved Christopher Walken casually advances on them with a spray bottle of acid and a pair of bolt-cutters? I must say, a part of me loves the idea of them chewing each other to death during a 14-minute dolly shot."
Read: Why nerds are unpopular, an interesting essay which starts by asking the question of why intelligent kids are so unpopular in schools, and going from that to the malaise of living in a world detached from any real meaning:
And the active persecution is, if anything, the less painful half of the popularity equation. As well as gaining points by distancing oneself from unpopular kids, one loses points by being close to them. A woman I know says that in high school she liked nerds, but was afraid to be seen talking to them because the other girls would make fun of her. Unpopularity is a communicable disease; kids too nice to pick on nerds will still ostracize them in self-defense.
The author posits that the culture of sadism and cruelty is an emergent property of human nature in an unnatural environment (both schools and the wastelands of suburbia), and that in a world without meaning or purpose, kids find their own meaning in popularity and create their own arbitrarily vicious society. (I.e., the Lord of the Flies Effect.)
I think the important thing about the real world is not that it's populated by adults, but that it's very large, and the things you do have real effects. That's what school, prison, and ladies-who-lunch all lack. The inhabitants of all those worlds are trapped in little bubbles where nothing they do can have more than a local effect. Naturally these societies degenerate into savagery. They have no function for their form to follow.
If I could go back and give my thirteen year old self some advice, the main thing I'd tell him would be to stick his head up and look around. I didn't really grasp it at the time, but the whole world we lived in was as fake as a twinkie. Not just school, but the entire town. Why do people move to suburbia? To have kids! So no wonder it seemed boring and sterile. The whole place was a giant nursery, an artificial town created explicitly for the purpose of breeding children.
As far as I can tell, the concept of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia. I don't think this is a coincidence. I think teenagers are driven crazy by the life they're made to lead. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle everywhere.
Faith-based government: Florida, the state which gave George W. Bush the presidency, is leading the U.S. in its march towards theocracy. Case in point: the new Bush-appointed head of Florida's child welfare agency and his outspokenly fundamentalist views; among other things, he believes that ''biblical spanking'' that leads to ``temporary and superficial bruises or welts do not constitute child abuse'', that women should not work, and that husbands have ``final say in any family dispute.''
The essay also said Christians should not marry non-Christians, that divorce is acceptable only when there is adultery or desertion and that wives should view working outside the home as ''bondage.'' The ''radical feminist movement,'' the essay adds, ``has damaged the morale of many women and convinced men to relinquish their biblical authority in the home.''
(Notice the use of the word "biblical" there, seemingly to mean "atavistically brutal". Barbarism begins at home, folks.)
In other faith-based-government news, a woman in Nigeria has lost an appeal against a death sentence for bearing a child out of wedlock, and is sentenced to die by stoning (a slow and uncommonly unpleasant method of execution) as soon as her child is weaned. Her boyfriend was discharged.
So a woman who didn't harm anyone is sentenced to be tortured to death in a spectacle of bestial sadism, all in the name of an infinitely merciful God.
Two designers in Germany (where else?) have developed a video game which inflicts pain when you lose. Called the PainStation, the game is a two-player tabletop version of the ancient TV game of Pong, only players place their hands on anelectrical plate. An electric shock is delivered to a player when they miss a ball; it can do several sorts of pain, including heat, punches and electric shocks of various duration, and looks likely to be a big hit with the Big Yellow Shorts crowd:
"When you're playing in public against a friend with people cheering you on, it's very hard to throw in the towel without putting up a good fight. I've seen people leave the table with blood on their hands and their skin completely raw because they didn't want to back down in front of an audience."