Monday, July 11, 2005
by Eileen Kramer
The hurricane moved in this afternoon. Its name is Dennis and it rained and blew
and made lots of surface water everywhere. This apartment is full of wet carpet from an air conditioner leak and wet clothes from me being out in the rain and a wet purse and a wet backpack. Through all of this, my cell phone has stayed dry.
We are not having work tomorrow on account of the hurricane. I am glad for the day off. I can sleep in. That is my favorite sport. I can also work on getting ready for my trip to Grenada and clean up this apartment. I did some of that tonight. I threw out two boxes of college/grad school paperwork. I hated doing that but they had gotten soggy from the air conditioner leak and were probably a mouldy mess. Sometimes you have to do stuff like that.
The light in the T-hall in the middle of this apartment is fixed and the ants in the cupboard that has my honey and nut butters are vanquished. It was like watching an ant farm Saturday night, quite entertaining, but considering that they were crawling all over my honey and nut butter jars, it was a bit gross.
I managed to vaccum as much of the apartment as I could get to. The wet spots put some of the place off limits. It is going to take drays for the floor to dry. I will try to get int ocuh with Herb, the Super, on Monday about the leak and the fact that my air conditioner is not working 100%.
OK, that is/was the news from real life. Now let's switch to Neopets. If you want to see the letter I wrote them you can look here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. I suspct I may lose my account over this. In Neopian parlance it is called getting frozen. So be it. I have decided to stop playing by the rules.
It surprises me that I have played under them for as long as I have. Outside role playing boards and one role playing guild have broken the spell. I am awake now and there is no going back.
Neopets is probalby one of the most fascinating and effective examples of social control in the whole history of humankind and that is not hyperbole. It is fascinating because they ensnared me at least for a time. Now of course I know how it works. Let's start with the basics.
Neopets wants its users/members to be compliant consumers/workers. It does not want them to compete with the messages displayed by sponsors who provide revenue for the site and it does not want them to create alternate messages that may be more intresting and engaging than the games, some of which are sponsor provided.
Neopets prevents competition and encourages compliant work by providing only scant space for personal expression within the sites. The few boards (a dozen boards for hundreds of thousands of users) move so fast that a message left up there is buried in less than an hour. Neomail storage is limited to a hundred letters and the size of each letter is limited. Pet pages and user pages are doled out by the character rather than the kb. The Neoadventures are buried in an obscure corner of the site.
This makes communication and creativity difficult.
On the other hand, Neopets glorifies wealth. If you want your pet, petpet, Neohome etc... to win a spotlight, it had better be expensive and you had better have spent a lot of Neopoints on it. That means you had better either have played a lot of games or else managed to resell goods at inflated prices to your fellow Neopians.
The Neopian news never has articles on how to live on less. It always glorifies
new ways to get and spend.
Then we have the Neorules. You can not: discuss politics or religion in any form (not just no proselytizing), use outside links any where on the site including in email, or discuss sex or have romance (Is this getting to sound like 1984). These rules forbid among other things, discussing most topics in the news, discussing all manner of social issues and problems including adolesccent pregnancy women's health etc..., do not let you run a historical Medieval role play (You can't include the Catholic church!), talk about going to religious services or celebrating religious holidays, making a prayer request etc... You can not tell a fellow user where to find midi files, song lyrics, software to remove spyware etc...
All this is backed up by a system of graduated and real threats. Those disobeying the Neorules receive an official warning, and repeat offenders get their accounts frozen. What this means is they lose their pets, neopoints, and possessions. They are free to return with a fresh account.
This last is very important. It enables Neopets to use its ultimate penalty quite freely. It is not uncommon to come back after a few weeks and see several Neofriends have had their accounts frozen. It is not uncommon for users to have several accounts over their lifetime with Neopets. Allowing users back after kicking them out, prevents a community of disgruntled exNeopians from developing outside the walls and making bad publicity. Twenty percent of Neopets users as of 2002 were and are over the age of eighteen.
Of course no system of social control works unless those controlled internalize the rules. When asked about the rules, compliant Neopians will say "they have to have all these rules because they have all these people." These happy campers have forgotten there are many other ways to keep order. MSN Groups, Geocities, and other very large community sites have nothing akin to the Neorules. Grassroots, a supposedly childsafe MOO grappled with child safe restrictions, but had no rules prohibiting the discussion of current events or religion.
Neopets also claims the rules are necessary for child safety. They are a clean well ligghted space for children. This is a case of the big lie that is easily believed because it is repeated so often. Also Neopets appeals bold facedly to children by giving away little toys in Happy Meals at Mcdonalds.
Neopets is NOT child safe any more than Saturday morning cartoons are. Immersive advertising is one issue. A child on Neopets is bombarded with ads for McDonalds, Pepsi, presweetened cereals, deoderents, and overprixed clothes at the Limtied Too. Why are these messages safer than a discussion of an upcomign election or a prayer request?
Neopets also features some of the most unwholesome gambling around. At the Wheel of Excitement Neopians of all ages can risk their pets' health to occasionally win a few Neopoints. The Snowager cave is another example.
Neopets does little to encourage good pet care. Users can regularly overextendt hemselves with five accounts of four pets a piece. It is OK to let your pets starve on Neopets. There is no penalty. The pets do not even die. This is hardly the kind of values one would expect a safe site to teach.
So how does Neopets get away with all this? First, Neopets is a big clean, busy, place on the net. That makes it attractive. It brings users in and keeps them with nty to do. There is always just aenough novelty to be interesting and you can find what is interesting for you and play a varieyt of ways. This keeps users playing and once users have played for awhile they amass wealth and have a stake in protecting their accounts.
Second, Neopets is allied with big cororations people trust: McDonalds, the Limited Too, and several other stores. Big corproations have public relations to worry about and would hardly sully themselves by getting involved with something that is not aboave board. This appeal to external authority works with parents who never join themselves to see what is going on inside the walls.
Third, most of the people who lose accounts on Neopets are children and children don't have the social status of adults. If a kid's account is frozen his/her parents will most likely ask: "what did you do to get kicked out?" There is little chance, especially if a parent has internalized the Neorules of a parent complaining. Also junior can get right back on Neopets again with a fresh account.
Neopets comes complete with a mechanism for minimizing the number of disgruntled users. Allowing users with frozen accounts to return means that those who wish to continue playing but who have made a mistake can come back. They do not remain outside the walls telling tales of how bitter and unfair Neopets was to them. And truley disgruntled users usually just abandone their accounts. If they get sick of havig to constantly play the same games over and over again, if they chafe under the censorship rules, no one is keeping them at Neopets. They go somewhere else and no hard feelings.
Finally, if all else fails, Neopets can insist it is a private organization. Private clubs can have wahatever rules they like and if you don't like it go elsewhere. This is another lie. Neopets is private, but it also accepts advertising by government agencies and even had/has one with a sponsored game. That means my tax dollars go to Neopets. Neopets, is also not private in the same way as Brainstorms, Ladies of the Heart, or any other of a vast number of net groups. It is too large and way too unselective to fit that description. Neopets more resembles the shopping malls that in many towns have replaced the public street corner. Sometimes towns make rules to allow political speakers and leafleters back ito the malls. Sometimes the malls become zones where private property overtakes freedom of expression. Neopets is certainly large enough that it deserves scrutiny and public criticism. I guess this is my crack at it.
And I still can't believe Neopets had me ensnared with its rules. It is amazing what I put up with to protect six hundred thousand Neopoints.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
by Eileen Kramer
We had a candidate to interview at work today. I'm not on the search committee but I don't talk much about work on this blog and I'm not going to start now. We took her out to dinner at Tavern on the Square which is pricey and good. Unfortunately, I am sick of restaurant food and my guts are all bound up which leaves me bloated and antsy.
I got the cat sitter to confirm dates with me about watching Lysistrata and Hertzel. I need to get my keys duplicated and need to find out when Herb, the landlord's super will fix the lock on my door or if he has other plans. The lock works. I'd just as soon he waits until after I come back from Grenada. At this point, I am totally in denial that this trip is going to happen. It just feels like a series of tasks. Getting in touch with Groom's Shuttle for a seat on the 4am (Yes that's right, 4am) to Atlanta.
An alternative to this is Intercity Shuttle, formerly Columbus Shuttle. Their first shuttle out is 5am and I can walk to their office. That would get me to Atlanta at 6:30am barring no major mishaps. My flight is 8:26am and it is international (sort of). The first leg goes to Miami. I'm not sure how early I have to arrive.
This flight, or actually series of flights is like a complicated Greyhound itinerary with no free reissues. One wrong move and the connection smaps with major consequences. There is way too much wiggle room in Miami. It's making that first link of the trip, Columbus to Atlanta, tha tmakes me nervous. I also fear the sleep deprivation. Seep deprivation is a proven way to fuck up a trip. I may have to resort to caffeine. Looking for some kind of sleeping lounge in Miami's airport may also be a good idea. Saying a prayer in the chapel that nothing bad happens to me despite my state of zombie like exhaustion will also help. Remember I have a five hour layover in Miami on the way down.
I want to learn what sorts of foods the natives in Grenada eat. There are a few Caribbean restaurants here in Columbus. I could also look for a book or scan RecipeSource. My Fodors is not all that helpful. The food section says you can get all kinds of American things to eat. Gee thanks.... That's not why I'm spending all this money and traveling all this distance and going abroad.
Wow, I can hear those cicadas outside my window. They are so noisey. It is a soothing natural sound. Some people find them nervewracking. I don't. I can hear them over the air conditioning. That means they must be very loud. I'm glad of that.
Well I joined a role playing guild on Neopets and a new role playing board that does high school for the gifted. Like most boards, it has top down architecture. I can see the advantages of it because peole see where the story is going and don't have to think as hard. On the other hand, it stifles initiative. Gav and Peloso built from the bottom up as does Sir Toby's to some extent though he uses qualified builders to start things on a good footing. Ghostletters is bottom up as is Bruno's Cafe at ZOID. Most adult trdition fiction sites are bottom up. The teen tradition is the opposite. Adults often share plot and characters. On Ghostletters where characters and plot are more sacrosanct, limited prodding is allowed and a fair amount of back ploting and joint writing occurs. I've fallen into the teen tradition and I can't say I care for it all that much. The teens know nothing of the adult fiction board/list/site tradition though there are teens who play on adult boards.
Well I'm going to see about bookmarking the new board and finish with my email and such. Thadea still has to score her Golden Elite team. This is going to be a long night and I have to see the shrink in the morning.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
by Eileen Kramer
There is stuff -- real life stuff -- I want to write about today but I don't think it is a good idea. I have to self censor on this blog for a lot of reasons. This time I have a pretty good reason, and no this is not the police matter. This is something else entirely.
It has been a long day because I had a breakfast meeting with a fellow LOTHling. I had to get up early
and walk three miles to the restaurant. After hat I stopped by Helga's gifts to chit and chat and to buy a box of Pommpadour tea. I don't know how Helga's makes a living. I saw the most darling German children's books in her shop. There must be a big German minority here in Columbus due to the miltitary. I wish there were more Italians, but one can't be choosey about such things.
I came in to work and managed to make an appointment to put the little pictures on the marquee and make sure I have the graphics size right. I may actually get the animaged marquee graphics manual written some day.
I managed to work on PHATCH at YupYupYup.Haldis also finally made a new front page for herself. It was easier than we both thought because her graphics were relatively clean and we have both gotten good at cleaning graphics. Haldis picked out a team at the Webleagues and rejoined. I am not sure the page will fly. If it doesn't Haldis can raise a very just stink. The Webleagues pretty much takes any one with two heads or one. Yes, they even take them with two heads.
We had a tornado warning at owrk and had to sit in the bsement for half an hour. The tornado actually touched down somewhere in Columbus. That is unusual. Usually they put us in the basement for nothing.
I had four hours desk this evneing and four hours sleep if that last night. I am really dragging. I don't care if I wash out as far as spirit contact is concerned. Maybe if it is a nice quiet night, I'll pay my bills and clean litter pans tomorrow. Friday Thadea and I both have comeptitions to set up and she has one to take down as well.
I don't think I'll go to Atlanta this weekend even though it is scheduled because I am going to Grenada next weekend. Say that three times fast. I forgot to call the cat sitter today. I'll call her tomorrow right after I get into work. I don't want to wake her. I'll also have to talk with Herb, our super, to see about when he wants to put on a new lock because I need to have a new key made for Sandra. Sandra is my cat sitter. Talking to Herb is not always easy. He can be patronizing and nasty or both at the same time.
At least it cooled off enough so that the apartment is reasonably cool. Maybe I'll seep better tonight.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
by Eileen Kramer
It is about time I started writing blog again. The reason I stopped for a while had very little to do with vengance or my lack of devotion to that goal. It had a lot more to do with stuff I can't talk about here. I can't talk about it because it is a police matter and no I'm not the perpetrator. I'm one of the victims. Sometimes my life just gets too exciting for this blog.
Anyway, I took a blog survey today at MIT and realized I hadn't blogged in ages. It is bad to fall off the blogging wagon. Self expression is the most important thing there is, more important than status or social capital. I love to write and when I write I feel that God is looking over my shoulder, not judging me, but reading what I write. It is great to always have an audience.
OK, let us start with a mast head. It was WORTH IT to be kicked out of Brainstorms. It was worth it and still is to be who I am and do what I do. I just came off the Third Rail my hard core Play Pretend Brainstorms Board and my Play Pretend Brainstorms is a hundred times better than the original. It does need some revisions and it will probably get them this week.
OK, now for the other thing that kept me away from this blog. About a week and a half ago Creating Stories went down, taking some very good creative work with it. I realized that I liked Creating Stories a lot better than Ghostletters so I went out and got
an ivisionfree.com board of my own and am busy writing away. I may even set up a virtual pet site there to use instead of Neopets. Face it, there is only so much you can do with a Neopet before you are playing the same mindless games over and over again to earn currency that is worthless outside the site. I mean if you don't get promoted what is the point of working. I already have a job and don't need a second and the censorship on Neopets expletive deleteds.
Anyway, those two projects did a job on this blog big time. Now for other news. I am planning (Already made reservations) a trip to Grenada. I am leaving July 16th so you won't hear much from me for a few days. Hopefully I'll get back to blogging here every day before that so this blog will spring back to life. I am already reviving a lot of my patterage on my Play Pretend Brainstorms so that is a good thing. I need to keep my edge. The day may come when I face those Brainstormers in a place of my own choosing where the issue will be something other than me.
Who knows. I may even change my mind and go back to Life Journey at Cafe Utne. What can they do to me. I have my Life Journey right here in the open on this blog. A blog is a great place beacuase I can write whatever I want and no one tells me to shut up.