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Wiki Article #1

In “Simulating Detroit, A City with Cars and Crime but No Races,” Mark Sample discusses and critiques the simulation of Detroit in the video game Micropolis. Micropolis is a city-building simulation video game where the player’s mission is to save his or her city from an imminent disaster. The player can choose from a collection of preset city scenarios (e.g., San Francisco, 1906; Tokyo, 1957; Rio de Janero, 2047). In one of the scenarios, Detroit, 1972, the player’s task is to repair the city’s falling automotive industry. Failure to do so results in exorbitant crime outbreaks and riots in the city due to a plummeting economy.

Originally designed by Will Wright and first released as SimCity in 1989, the game was very popular throughout the 90s and into the 2000s. In late 2007, Electronic Arts (EA) donated SimCity to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative so that the game could be freely distributed to each OLPC recipient. In accordance with OLPC guidelines, EA was required to also release the SimCity source code. EA therefore released Micropolis, the free and open-source version of SimCity in 2008.

Sample’s article is essentially a critique of the way developers chose to represent Detroit in the Micropolis/SimCity simulations. Sample argues that Micropolis Detroit is a misrepresentation of the real Detroit. According to Sample (and history), race and class struggles have shaped the essence of the real Detroit, particularly so in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. However, Micropolis Detroit does not capture these struggles. Instead, it portrays the city in its most popular light: As none other than the notorious Motor City, a place defined by the automotive industry and detached from race riots and warranted civil outbreak.

Sample uses excerpts from popular media to demonstrate this disparity. He begins by describing Detroit in terms of its Motor City identity, as if to be stating the facts and simply describing a nationally accepted status quo. He calls attention to Detroit’s perceived power in shaping the economy through its role in the automobile industry. He uses Clint Eastwood’s 2012 Chrysler Super Bowl commercial to showcase this popular image of Detroit. In the commercial, Eastwood consoles a recession-hit America, contending that Detroit, through its production of motor vehicles, is fighting once again to restore the economy and bring the USA back to its feet. Sample’s problem with this representation of Detroit is that it ignores Detroit’s fundamental roots and perpetuates an incomplete identity of the city.

In contrast with the Chrysler commercial and in an attempt to illustrate what he believes to be the real Detroit, Sample calls to a Time Magazine cover from August 1967. The cover, printed in light of the 1967 Twelfth Street race riots in Detroit, showed men, women, fighters, pedestrians, officials, and firemen situated around a chaotic street scene featuring fire and smoke. Sample argues that although this image of Detroit is dramatized, it nonetheless serves to capture the true elements of Detroit, such as grave and violent race problems, which are often ignored when Detroit is framed as the Motor City. Micropolis Detroit not only ignored the problems surrounding race, but also “whitewashed” the riots so that race was de-emphasized entirely.

Sample acknowledges that simulations, particularly video game simulations, can never be expected to capture a real-life scenario with full accuracy. He also acknowledges that simulations must “reduce complexity” by removing extraneous factors and focusing on the presentation of core, defining elements of the scenario. He therefore concludes that despite the challenges of virtually simulating a real environment, developers are responsible for identifying the “essence of the system being modeled.” He does not believe that the creators of Micropolis were successful in achieving this in their video game simulation of 1972 Detroit. Nonetheless, Sample ends by delegating responsibility to the user, noting that it is our job to fill in the sociocultural blanks in both virtual and concrete environments.

Commenters unanimously supported Sample's ideas, each lightly discussing the intricacies and difficulties surrounding video game simulation. They called attention to the difficulties faced by developers when attempting to simulate American society in a virtual world, including the challenge of choosing between sociocultural accuracy and game optimization. One commenter noted that each gamer brings his or her own background knowledge to the gaming scenario, more or less implying that sociocultural awareness is the player's responsibility and game optimization is the developer's responsibility. Another commenter noted that modeling race is a delicate and potentially problematic task, which has also been avoided in the development of other video games (e.g. Colonization). In my opinion, it is clear that technology has advanced to an extent where more accurate simulations are possible, but sociocultural and marketing concerns limit game developers from exercising this potential to its fullest.

Wiki Article #2

Several attempts have been made to minimize piracy and the economic impacts thereof. Among these efforts was the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a United States House bill proposed in 2011 to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to combat online copyright infringement and online trafficking in counterfeit goods. Although the bill failed to pass, provisions included the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites and to bar search engines from linking to infringing websites. Additionally, provisions also entailed the requesting of court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to infringing websites. The enactment of these provisions would fundamentally enable the government, together with private businesses, to establish an Internet blacklist of illegal websites (CALPIRG, 2013).

Also in 2011, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) was proposed, but never passed in the senate. The goal of PIPA is to give copyright holders stronger legal tools to go after sights that host unauthorized music, movies, software, or goods. More specifically, the bill targets “rogue websites dedicated to the sale of infringing or counterfeit goods,” particularly those registered outside the United States (CALPIRG, 2013). In comparison to SOPA, PIPA is comprised of less extreme provisions as it is limited to sites with no significant use other than the facilitation of copyright infringement. However, both proposed legislations would authorize a federal court to direct the suspension of services such as payment processing, advertising, and linking to rogue sites. Mark Elliot of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce explains that by “ripping off and reselling entertainment,” these sites undermine the ability of creative industries to create jobs. He compares rogue websites to concrete stores, arguing that if the sale of illegal goods is prohibited in the “brick-and-mortar world,” it should be banned online with comparable diligence. Elliot also notes that because “online criminals” abuse the Internet from beyond American borders and therefore beyond the reach of enforcement agencies, legislation enabling the internal banning of access to rogue sites is urgently needed (Elliot, 2011).

Anonymous is an initiative aimed at freeing knowledge from the constraints of copyright. Its members describe themselves as “hacktivists,” a term that combines hacking and activism, which refers to individuals who launch remote security attacks on computer systems in efforts to nonviolently protest against political or social phenomena (Schwartz, 2012). Anonymous became familiar to the public in 2008, and its members have continued to launch attacks on an international scale since. The movement’s mantra reads: “Knowledge is free. We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.” (Schwartz, 2012). Groups like Anonymous are influential players in efforts to protect intellectual property for several reasons. Primarily, they perpetuate hacking culture and frame hacking as an admirable or pro-social activity. Moreover, they encourage the notion of free knowledge and inspire Internet users across the world to participate in the unlawful acquisition of intellectual property. Combined, these influences serve to strengthen public disregard of IP laws and ultimately encourage piracy internationally.

Just as piracy is an Internet-bred concern that jeopardizes the IP rights of creators, surveillance has emerged relatively recently as a practice that jeopardizes users’ rights to privacy. Because Edward Snowden called the world’s attention to the flow of information between businesses, government agencies, and public records, he inspired a global movement aimed at putting an end to the abuse of private information. TechDirt’s Glyn Moody (2014) suggests that without net neutrality, it will be hard to win the fight against “blanket surveillance.” Luckily, the FCC is working to find effective ways of enforcing net neutrality, which refers to the idea of a free and open Internet. Moody (2014) explains that net neutrality restricts tiering, a common practice of ISPs that allows the companies to deliver different data speeds to different customers, depending on how much the customers pay for their services. ISPs also limit data speeds to slow illegal downloads. With net neutrality, and thereby open and unlimited access to data speeds, data subscribers will be better equipped to support illegal downloads and the war against piracy may become all the more difficult to conquer.

References

Elliot, M. (2011). Rogue websites: A threat to the US economy. The Hill. Retrieved from http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/technology/199367-rogue-websites-a-threat-to-the-us-economy

Moody, G. (2014). Another reason for defending net neutrality: NSA surveillance. Retrieved from https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140721/06280227950/another-reason-defending-net-neutrality-nsa-surveillance.shtml

Schwartz, M. (2012). Who is anonymous: 10 key facts. Retrieved from http://www.darkreading.com/attacks-and-breaches/who-is-anonymous-10-key-facts/d/d-id/1102672?

SOPA & PIPA Resource Page. (2013). CALPIRG. Retrieved from http://www.calpirg.org/resources/cap/sopa-pipa-resource-page