01 December, 2016

The Digest—Thursday, 1 December, 2016

[The Digest is a collection of articles, videos, and other media I've viewed and found significant throughout the day. It is a way to divest myself from other social media that is more reliant on likes, click-bait, and peer-approval rather than quality, intelligence, and diversity of opinion, which are the qualities I find important. It is also a way to devote myself to daily contributions to this space...at least in theory.]

-=Summary: Video games & humanity, violence against female professions, MDMA to treat PTSD, psilocybin to treat depression, ancient/intelligent machines, and Dragon Age: Inquisition=-


How Video Games Change Us
Laura Miller from Slate

OK, off the bat, settle down! This isn't one of those "games turn kids into psychokillers" articles, though it discusses a book with that premise and rather roundly debunks it. She also makes a very good point that articles with even the slightest criticism, or even calls to criticism, are attacked so completely as to shut down the conversation. Is that what gamers want? Zero conversation about their medium? Attacking, Trump-like, any and all critique? Not this gamer. 

Something in particular she said resonated with me: 
Filter bubbles aren’t an unanticipated consequence of the pleasures of social media: They are its main attraction. They offer us the dream of inhabiting a curated reality.
"Curated reality." Ouch. But she's right. I've been writing about this for years. Online life allows one to avoid the unpleasant, whether it is a troll e-shouting obscenities to news one disagrees with, to the point where many are surprised those that disagree still exist (witness: recent election). 

She also talks about Battlefield I and the hyperreality of the recreated experience—that obsessive attention to detail that tries to evoke the horror and trauma of war without the main aspect that made it all so horrific: one's own pain, one's own impending doom, one's own mortality. Agsin, she has a point.

I know that FPSs aren't supposed to evoke your own impending doom and inflict unimaginable physical pain. I know that when I shoot some Raiders in Fallout in the head and those heads suddenly explode in an incomprehensible morass of disassociated eyeballs and streams of red, I sometimes find myself giggling. I also know that doesn't mean that, when I see an actual human being gunned down, I will also giggle. Quite the contrary. 

From my point of view, the violence in shooters is part of the system of the game, normally a simple equation of, "If I don't shoot them, they will shoot me." The violence is often exaggerated to ridiculousness, such with flying eyeballs, and I fully understand this is not the world I live in.

The area that does concern me is the disconnect many people face when interacting with other actual, living human beings within gaming constructs. It's one reason I don't engage in multiplayer gaming experiences, other than the fact that I suck at games in general and would sink any team I found myself part of. It's the, "Well, I'm not actually shooting you in the face, so it doesn't matter if I'm a prick" mentality, the treatment of other persons inhabiting a space as NPCs to be bullied, harassed, blocked, ignored, and discarded. 

Yes, I can mute the pricks around me in cyberspace, but I wish I didn't have to. 

Why Violence Against Nurses Has Spiked in the Last Decade
Alexia Fernández Campbell from The Atlantic

Quite disconcerting, but it also reminded me of the safety lecture I received at the residency I attended in Atlanta for my MSW (Master of Social Work) program. We were told never to wear shoes we could not run away in; to immediately locate alternative exits (including windows) when visiting a client's home in case the front door was blocked; to leave the home immediately if you smell alcohol or see evidence of drug use; to never park our cars in a client's driveway because we could be blocked in; to never leave the office without a full tank of gas and fully-charged cell phone; to always organize our office space so our chairs are closest to the door, and to never place our desks between our own positions and the door; to have a safe word with coworkers in the case of potential violence if our offices are not equipped with panic buttons; to alter our routes to and from work throughout the week; to check state law for what self-defense devices we are allowed to possess, as some states bar social workers from carrying even mace or pepper spray, often leaving keys as the only weapon of defense; etc. 

I think I listened to that lecture with my mouth hanging open. The situation is even more dangerous due to funding cuts to social service agencies, cuts that lead to staffing shortages that force social workers to attend more and more situations on their own, as opposed to in pairs. I heard horror stories of agencies so deprived of funds, they sent student interns alone to home visits to take children into custody. 

About 75% of social workers are women. Women outnumber men in the nursing profession 9.5 to 1 on average in the United States. These are not occupations where professionals knowingly walk into dangerous situations as a matter of course, such as jobs in law enforcement. These are majority-female professions that actively work to help, assist, protect, and save the lives of the citizens their professionals encounter. So why are they so dangerous? 

MDMA approved for final trials to treat PTSD before possible legalization
Olivia Solon from The Guardian

This is awesome, though apparently some commenters didn't even bother to read the article and think this is wholesale legalization of E rather than the very controlled and limited application of drugs within a strict clinical setting. I'm quite curious to learn why this drug assists with recovery from PTSD, but am satisfied to hear, for now, that it does.

Magic mushroom chemical psilocybin could be key to treating depression - studies
Sarah Boseley from The Guardian

Again, awesome. It seems pretty clear to me that psychedelics were criminalized to combat the counter-culture of the 60s and 70s, just as pot and cocaine were criminalized to imprison African Americans en masse, as the hysteria around pot, acid, MDMA, etc. has been wildly overblown to rather amusing proportions since they appeared on "the scene." I'm glad these drugs are helping treat mental illness, but I'm also baffled that the same people who tend to scream about government staying out of their business are likewise so anti-drug. 

I will say that, without doubt, I would be a wholly different person without my experiences with psychedelic drugs, specifically LSD, in my younger days. But that is a whole other, longer, private set of stories. 

Searching for Lost Knowledge in the Age of Intelligent Machines
Adrienne LaFrance

So cool. The Antikythera Mechanism—the world's oldest known "computer"—as an introduction to computer and machine learning, search engines, knowledge connectivity, data indexing, and reconceiving all of the above. 
“In terms of how to visualize it, that is one of the biggest challenges. We need to move away from the list-of-links approach, like the traditional search engine, because otherwise you’re back to the same situation where you need to click, and read, and click, and another window opens, and another window, and another window—and you don’t let your brain see the whole connection.”
Excellent. LaFrance concludes:
We search because we must, because in every direction, stretching back to the beginning of human history, is the irresistible possibility that we might yet find a strange new sliver of who we were, and better understand what we have become.
Indeed, the old search for the alibi. Baudrillard rears his old dead head and I think of mummies suffering the decay of human curiosity, the slow rotting carcass of mystery as we seek to turn over every rock, wreck, tomb, treatise, and tryst. I am torn about such things. My own curiosity runs hungry and deep, but it is in part the incompleteness of history that makes it so alluring. Still, I am assured in the conviction we shall never discover everything. What use, then, for the eager and starving mind?

Video Games:

Dragon Age: Inquisition
via PS4

Those of you who know me are like, again????
Yes, again. After reading the first article from today's Digest, I felt compelled to play something grounded in emotional connectivity, which I find in most of Bioware's games. Mass Effect 3 left me emotionally gutted; I can't even finish a playthrough now. DA:I is the only Bioware game I have for PS4, so that's what I played. It's also giant and sprawling and excellent and, yes, emotional. 

And, since I finished my homework already, I'd say it's time for some more....

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