Monday, May 27, 2013

Ethical Blogging, and other potential oxymorons

In case it wasn't clear, I was suffering from a bit of a wine headache for yesterday's post. Apparently, a bottle of wine followed by a half hour evening run ISN'T a good idea for a body a hair's away from 30. Who knew?  But it's another day, and another blogpost. For those keeping track at home, I'm now ten episodes into the current Arrested Development series. I'm holding off on judgment till the end, but for now, three observations:
1) It's starting to come together at this point, and it's becoming increasingly clear that, whatever else you want to say about the format, this season is one of the more ambitious feats of broadcast media ever attempted. (I was going to say "of television," but that's not quite the right word for a Netflix-only series, is it?)
2) As a direct consequence of form, it's also perhaps the most postmodern TV-ish sort of thing I've ever seen.
3) The individual character focus has its weaknesses, but there's been some positives too. The original show was always very "Michael" oriented, but shining the spotlight on the other characters has created some good moments, especially the catharses of sorts that Lindsey and Lucille come to.

On a different note entirely, I'm presenting a project I've been working on tomorrow. The presentation's no big deal--it's set to take ten minutes (I'll be lucky to fit that whole thing, to be honest). But one of the talking points I've come up with is something that probably warrants more elaboration than the ten minutes will allow, so I thought I'd talk about it here. I think I've mentioned before that I've been thinking more and more about digital scholarship and ethics recently, and it's starting to shape my approach to the project. The basic idea behind it is is that it compiles interesting pieces of game criticism online. But there's been a turn in game-related blogging recently toward combining critical analysis with direct, personal experience. I think that type of writing creates some very interesting juxtapositions, and highlights how games don't exist in a vacuum. And some of my writing on this very blog arguably goes into that sphere. I don't write in that mode myself very often, largely because I think of myself as a mostly uninteresting person in that regard. Yes, I *could* go on in more detail about what it's like to be a white guy playing videogames, but the account would largely be what you expect. What's more an issue here is whether it's ethical to take what someone's written on games in a personal blog and appropriate it for academic purposes. It's not so much a question as whether it's legal--generally speaking, as long as you adhere to basic libel laws, I think you're okay with things you take from a publicly accessible site--but whether it's morally acceptable to do so, to take someone else's potentially private words and take them into another context.

A more clear example is that it is not particularly ethical to take something someone said on Facebook, and cite it in a paper without telling them. Facebook is set up as a quasi-private place, despite all the ways your employers can spy on you, friends can misinterpret you, and industries can mine your data. Twitter is something else. Is it ethical to take something someone tweeted out of its original context? One difference between Twitter and Facebook is that Twitter is meant to be transient--to take someone's tweets down is preserving forever something they may have intended as so much dust in the wind. I've seen the argument that using something like Storify to preserve a twitter conversation is ethically inappropriate, and I think I might agree. Likewise, a message board forum, even a public one, is often home to a very specific community, where the members communicate in a shared understanding and trust that discussions will stay in that forum. (Or it's a place where the members communicate in common mistrust and backstabbing. Or both. Communities are complicated.)  and the ethical researcher should think twice before violating that trust. Ideally, a researcher should attempt to contact someone before using their work--but given the nature of a project, that may not be possible. You may be able to guarantee how YOU use the data, but how can you account for how the person using the result of your project will use it?

It's complicated. My approach, so far, has been to largely sidestep the issue. I take posts that are on, or linked to from, well-established game criticism sites or posts from authors I'm familiar with. And when necessary, I try to use my best judgment. It's not a perfect method, but it's the one I'm comfortable with now. Ethics are tricky. There is no right or wrong answer.
Actually, there are wrong answers. There are a LOT of wrong answers. Especially if your unversity has ethical guidelines. Then, there are very specific wrong answers. Like everything, it pays for the dedicated scholar to educate themselves.

Holy Smitty, this is day seven of the week of blogging!  I'm free!  Freeeeeeee~!

Later Days.

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