How ethical is netprov?

One of the most interesting aspects of Wittig’s netprov which is “situated at the intersection of literature, drama, mass media, games, and new media” is the latter component, that of “new media”. The opening act, the “time-travel game,” is a “micro-work of imaginative fiction on the spot,” and Wittig aptly surmises that “had [they] all done this in text messages or in Twitter [they’d] have been doing netprov.” The way in which netprov is inextricably tied to social media networks strikes me as somewhat precarious in our current political climate. Summoning back to McIntyre’s warnings of living in a “post-truth” society, a form of play that relies on false narratives, on the moments “of vertigo where people don’t quite know whether it’s real or not” seems to me a slippery slope, especially since netprov and and “fake news” share hostile platforms like Twitter. Mark Marino’s game “Los Wikiless Timespedia” is a good example of a potentially dangerous form of netprov. The game “imagines the Los Angeles Times going completely to an online wiki format and then getting derailed;” considering the contemporary upsurge of “fake news” articles that circulate the web, a game that intentionally uses the template of a news organization seems to be transgressing the ethical boundaries of netprov.

Even more troubling is Wittig’s “idea for a netprov that could be done in conjunction with the Presidential election in the U.S. in the Fall 2012.” Although he is presumably “joking around” in this instant, and that “netprov is usually parodic and satirical” there needs to be careful consideration when crafting netprov or other sorts of alternate reality games. Jane McIntyre warns that “some facts matter more than others” in an era in which individuals interpret truth through their feelings rather than through objectivity (McIntyre 10). Such a netprov may have only comedic and fun-inducing intentions, and yet the outcomes may include political turmoil and chaos.

Despite this skepticism towards certain examples of netprov, other elements of the format are very appealing. For instance, Wittig says that “even though most of the story was carried in Twitter, for “Grace, Wit and Charm” we actually had two nights of live theater at Teatro Zuccone in Duluth.” This idea of translocating a story–from the cerebral, creative, literary realm to that of the real, physical, palpable world–through play is highly appealing, especially since I personally think altering the world through literature is extremely fun: think of Harry Potter World, for instance. Additionally, netprov can, in this way, keep the spirit of literature alive in an increasingly digitized world; in using platforms like Twitter to tell stories, social media no longer caters solely to the “clout” generation.

8 thoughts on “How ethical is netprov?

  1. Where do you think the line between fake news and netprov lies? Like, I’ve seen Onion articles (or other sites of that sort) that, because of its news site format, convince people who don’t look too deeply at the source of the article or who don’t know that the Onion is a comedy site. The Onion and platforms like it aren’t a game per se, but I think the question of the morality of such jokes/games also applies to netprov. How many people do you have to convince before it’s not fun and games anymore? Can such a thing even be measured? It seems like something that can only be viscerally measured and not defined by words.

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  2. I think the point you make about the potential netprovs have to be problematic is a very important one, and one that bears keeping in mind, particularly if one is thinking about designing netprovs or ARGs. What do you think a game designer can do in order to minimize the dangers associated with a netprov? How could someone design a game that balances the “This is Not a Game” aesthetic with minimizing the chance that players could misinterpret the game as reality in a potentially dangerous way. I think one very useful tool for this is signaling. ARGs never explicitly acknowledge their game-ness, but they can implicitly hint at being a game in many ways, such as by incorporating narrative elements that signal unreality, such as fantastical or science fictional elements, or by using mechanics that are uncommon in real life, such as codes and puzzles. Even so, it’s hard, I would almost say impossible, to remove the danger completely. I’m curious about what all of you make of this. Can netprovs and ARGs be worth the risk?

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  3. I appreciate your caution about the possibly effects and interweavings of netprovs in the post-truth era. I always look back at my own experience within a netprov, which included a lot of priming beforehand and then discussion afterwards. By priming, I mean that we received various instructions on how to participate and create our personas, and then we had the ability to leave the experience if we needed to. Afterwards, we could also discuss the events that happened in a way that reminds me of how we come down from LARPing in another identity for hours. I’m not sure if these would also help with some of the concerns you mention. The above mentioning of signaling – before, during, and after – the netprov also seems helpful.

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  4. I found your analysis of netprovs within post-truth and “fake news” to be well thought out and you brought forth several examples detailing how the use of netprovs in such a time can prove a slippery slope indeed. More often than not, people are very quick to read striking headlines and perpetuate false narratives through media.l I liked that you ended your response showing netprovs in a positive light and highlighting appealing elements that make them quite a unique approach.

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  5. I think you are right to point out that there is an ethical dilemma in netprovs at the height of “fake news” and post-truth movements. I also think of Professor Jagoda’s question in class about how much danger should we allow in designing these. I think we can set aside a bound for danger when we consider the message we put into our games. In other words, if people are going to believe things based off of a post-truth era, then why not try to spread something good through that frame. Maybe it’s okay to provide no facts to convince someone that they shouldn’t be bigoted.

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  6. I think that your idea about using netprov to keep the spirit of literature alive in the modern world is very compelling, as this spirit does appear to continue to die out as time passes. I wonder if netprov could really have truly significant effects on modern society’s relationship with and attraction to literature? Could this have the possibility of inspiring artists to create more multimedia products that use different platforms to lure and hold on to bigger audiences?

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  7. I think this is an interesting question because there’s no entirely sure way to remove all danger and make it completely “safe”, which then turns it into a question of how much risk is worth it. At what point is something too close to “fake news” rather than play, and how do you decide that when the boundaries are different for different people? I think its also interesting to consider the ethics depending on what message its sending out because, while I do see that point, it brings up the question of who gets to decide which messages are good or at least harmless and which are not.

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  8. This is a good question that I think needs to be kept in mind, but I’m having a little difficulty thinking of any potential real-world cases where netprov would really cause problems. Improv by its nature is kind of required to take things to a logical extreme, and logical extremes seem to be the point of most of the netprov examples Wittig gives. While I could see netprov reaching “fake news” territory, the key to preventing that from being a problem would be keeping netprov limited to a certain source that people understand as fictional, like for example The Onion as Jay suggested.

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