If you can't go a day without using a computer, a smartphone, or a car, you are inescapably a cyborg. But how would you tell if you were a good cyborg? Find out with The Virtuous Cyborg, out now as both a paperback and a new ebook edition.
May contain ideas some people might find offensive or distressing.
As I head into my annual Autumnal Social Media Break, I've already resolved to once again use December for blog letters as I did back in 2017. The last two years I was so heavily into the A Hundred Cyborgs project I didn't manage it - but it's a great way to spend the run up to the Winter Festivals. I will gladly reply to anyone, on any topic they choose to discuss with me, without reservation or restriction. Some subjects are harder than others to talk about - some, as this year has shown, can be rendered impossible to talk about. So it is vital that there are a few souls who are willing and able to talk freely on even the difficult subjects. But you don't have to write to me about something weighty and ponderous - I will quite happily talk to you all about anything.
I'm kicking off this year's Social Media Break two weeks early... this is largely because my attempts to patiently unravel a difficult research topic have been met with a near constant stream of derision and abuse on Twitter, bringing on my worst bout of insomnia for several years. I'm not blaming anyone - I should know better than to think philosophy of science would be welcome in a time of international panic, and especially in the grotesque arena of knee-jerk hatred that is Twitter! Still, I can only be myself, and I've never been good at staying quiet when I see people being hurt by the petty evils of bureaucracy, nor when good scientific practices are being ignored or, worse, suppressed.
After about 120 hours of reading papers and listening to those in the relevant medical discourses, I appear to have all the answers that are going to be possible at this time. I set out with the suggestion that if we were going to deploy medical interventions with potential risks, we were obligated to do the research to verify that these measures actually help as expected and do not also cause unanticipated harms. In return, I have been told the most astonishing and bizarre things - that we should do the research later, that there is no need for further research, that "science has spoken!" and how dare I oppose it, or just that I should stop complaining. It is strange indeed to demand "the stakes are so high, we must not investigate further!"
No-one can claim to be a friend of the sciences while they tacitly suppress the disagreements that all research fields depend upon to refine their understandings. No matter how preposterous the arguments you've heard on these issues might be, it won't change the fact that I'm not arguing those things. My story in this regard is quite simple. I witnessed the discourse in the medical community in the UK collapse at a time when good scientific practice was needed more than ever. I have vainly tried to repair that rift by studying the disputed topics and continuing to ask that we conduct the further research required. I have become horrified that the necessary research is not happening, and even more so when good people try to argue in all sincerity "where's your evidence more evidence is required...?"
Here in the UK, the argument for the measures deployed in this country was made on weak evidence by the very admission of those who asked for it. To not then conduct further research to verify the impact of these unprecedented courses of action would be criminally negligent. In the medical sciences, we expect strong evidence (e,g. randomised trials) for all medical interventions, so when we don't have that evidence we are obligated to pursue it. This is a view many clear-sighted medical folks in the UK share with me, and it is summarised with great clarity by Dr Margaret McCartney in her piece for the BMJ, We Need Better Evidence About Non-Drug Interventions against COVID-19. People in the UK - almost all of them poor and many now at the brink of destitution - are being fined for their non-compliance with medical interventions that the government has refused to check to see if they are working as hoped. That is a civil rights failure as well as a scientific failure.
I apologise without reservation for any distress I have inadvertently caused in my pursuit of this issue. I never write with the intent of hurting other people, and mental health issues are extremely important to me. But you cannot ask me to be complicit in unreasonable, unethical, unscientific inaction because you are either too furious or too terrified to think clearly. I'm asking for further research on matters where lives and livelihoods hang in the balance. How can you in good conscience oppose this request? There is no point trying to shout me down, demanding that I stop, because I cannot possibly put this aside until the circumstances that allowed scientific practices to become politicised, circumvented, and even censored have been addressed. And I rather doubt this will happen in my lifetime.
Speaking of my lifetime... I'm getting rather long in the tooth. I'm turning 49 on January 1st, and my lifestyle choices in my 20s have probably taken a decade or two off my life expectancy. I'm not afraid of my own death (it's one of the reasons I had to make a pact with myself never to commit suicide, no matter how depressed I might become), but there are things I would like to do in my remaining years. In particular, I should like to give talks in some of the places that I have friends but that I have either never visited (like New York state), have so far visited solely for business (like Poland), or have already said I'd be glad to visit when I can (like Rio). I know most of you view in-person events as unthinkable right now... but by Spring 2021, I have hope that we'll be starting to look at everything quite differently for various reasons not worth elucidating here. So if you have the courage or recklessness or chutzpah to begin planning a currently hypothetical in-person speaking event, anywhere in the world, with me as a part of it - please do get in touch! There's a contact link at ihobo.com if you don't already have my email address.
In the meantime, please try to be good to one another. Whatever the outcome of the US election, our situation will not improve without the efforts of everyone to move beyond the disastrous political impasse we reached in the last decade, but which has been building for far, far longer. Listen to pre-Disney Master Yoda's advice about fear, anger, and hatred; it's very wise, and just as relevant now as it was forty years ago. And if you're capable of writing a letter, and willing to share letters publicly - then please write a blog-letter to me! I am looking for correspondents from the Republic of Bloggers (i.e. anyone) whom I can write to this December, and as always I will talk to just about anyone about just about anything. Virtuous discourse matters and I need your help to encourage it.
With unlimited love,
Dr Chris Bateman
PhD, MSc, BSc, OΦM.
Only a Game will resume in December.
Remember that dissonance will manifest whenever any part of the game fails to align with the player's experience and expectations; this means the game systems themselves need to avoid clashing with each other, and also with the story materials. For instance, if you have a fantasy game in which an ancient sword of great power is a key plot device in the story, players will experience dissonance (or at least grumpiness) when acquiring the sword does not give them a new weapon! Avoid this, where necessary, either by making the plot device something the player can carry but not use (e.g. an orb only a sorcerer can use, but the player character is a warrior), or by adding a limitation to the weapon such that despite its power, the player can use it only sparingly (for instance, because it drains their life force while they are wielding it).
We generally fail to recognise that our engagement with most game systems is in itself a story-generating activity, because all game systems are representative i.e. they ask that we imagine some specific arrangement. It is precisely because games are inherently representative that we make the mistake of thinking there is an unavoidable clash between stories and games - but we mean by 'story' here 'a story in the style of a movie or TV show' i.e. a screenplay. The problem is not and never has been an insuperable gap between games and stories, it is that the stories created by screenplays diverge dramatically from the stories that game systems produce on their own. Sometimes this tension is felt as rupture (the imagined experience collapses), sometimes as inelegance (Hocking's complaint about Bioshock is more of this kind), but in all cases it is game dissonance.
Over on ihobo today, the start of a brand new three-part serial about cognitive dissonance, narrative design, and the aesthetic flaws of videogames. Here's an extract from the first part:
In suggesting that an aspect of what went wrong in Bioshock was that the player lacked a choice, Hocking reveals a likely cause of his dissonance: the assumption that player choice is an essential missing link in bridging the gap between a game story and the game systems. This, I would suggest, is what might be called the scriptwriter's fallacy - that the power of a videogame story lies in the choices that are not available to a screenwriter in other media. I would counter this claim the same way I did in my blog-letter to Caroline Marchal and John Yorke, Beyond Choice in Game Narrative: that screenwriters perpetually overestimate the importance of choices, and as a consequence all too frequently offer meaningless choices that the writer has effectively pre-empted, instead of engaging with the turbulent depth of game's capacity for narrative where the player can take the story where the developer cannot hope to anticipate.
Just a short post to say that new material is coming, but I have some fraught weeks working on the page proofs for the second edition of Game Writing and wrangling tasks for clients. I am still puttering around with blog material in the gaps of my time - there are just fewer gaps! First out of the gate is looking likely to be an ihobo serial called Game Dissonance, but a philosophical interrupt here is always a possibility too, assuming I can get my head out of the nonsense (there's a lot around at the moment). Should be posting before the end of the month, chaos willing.
Also worth saying that with #100Cyborgs completed I am open for blog-letters of all kinds, to which I always reply, one way or another! (Of course, I was never closed for these, but I am specifically inviting them over the next year.) Never written a blog-letter? It's a great time to start! No blog of your own? It's never too late to start one!
To everyone who has supported my blogging over the years, my infinite and unlimited gratitude, love and support.