IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 82

BOOK REVIEWS

(continued from page 14)

mysterious, technoscientific ways,
leave people in seemingly impossible
binds. But a clever Adventure player
can use the tools of the game to
break out of the confines of the
source code. Using the command
prompt interface that the source code
has provided, the player can find
sticks of dynamite lying around the
source code and blast their way through
to the outside world.
Milburn identifies this theme of
using pieces of a game to hack out
of tricky situations in Portal. In
this game, the player, acting as

Milburn argues that video games
teach players to fight against
obstinate systems with the very
tools those systems provide.
a test subject for Aperture Science,
tests out the company's new "portal
gun." By solving increasingly difficult puzzles as part of Aperture
Science's experiments, the player
becomes fluent in the mechanics of
the portal gun. Once the testing has
finished, GLaDOS, the rogue AI controlling Aperture Science, decides to
incinerate the player. To survive and
win the game, the player must use
the portal gun to navigate the guts
of Aperture Science, find GLaDOS,
and destroy her.
Milburn then turns his attention
to the real world, arguing that Portal
had a key role in the development of
Anonymous and their Chanology
operation. Milburn highlights the
way that references to Portal gave
Anonymous' hacktivism game-like
qualities, ultimately suggesting that
Portal had some role in training
members of Anonymous to fight

82

against Scientology. The correlations
he identifies, however, are nothing
more than correlations. There's
nothing to suggest that playing Portal actually teaches anyone to fight
against powerful organizations in
the real world. All that's clear is that
Internet-based activists (a population likely to play a lot of video
games) enjoy referencing Portal.
That's not to say that he's wrong
about the game's function as a cultural touchstone for an online group of
starry-eyed, anonymous activists.
Respawn accurately describes how
video games broadly define
online cultures and communities, such as in the case of
the Sony PlayStation Network
(PSN), the infrastructure that
connects PlayStations gamers with other online gamers for multiplayer games.
Following legal action taken
by Sony against amateur
hackers trying to modify
their PlayStations, in 2011
Anonymous infiltrated the
PSN and stole personally identifiable information of the network's 77
million users. In response, Sony voluntarily took the PSN offline to keep
the hack from expanding. Milburn
draws on various online forum
posts to highlight that while the PSN
outage was ultimately rooted in
hacktivism for device ownership
rights, most PlayStation gamers
really only cared about being able
to play their games. Online, PlayStation gamers criticized Anonymous
for dragging them into a battle they
never agreed to fight, and bonded
over their collective realization that
gaming on the PSN had been a
defining piece of their identities.
When the PSN came back online
a few weeks later, PlayStation gamers began to refer to themselves as
"zombies" who had been "resurrected" in a new post-PSN-hacking era.
Enthralled by this zombie metaphor,
IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

Milburn claims that these gamers
had tapped into what it meant to
live in in a time when "boundaries
between corporate interests and
technoscientific experiments, serious business and silly games, are
still being hotly negotiated... To be
a zombie in this high-tech zone is to
accept the risks, the indistinctions...
To have a life and to make a life in a
world of endless speculation, precarity, and uncertainty."
However, Milburn falls short of
realizing the full implication of this
zombie metaphor. His exploration of
the condition is mostly limited to discussing the lives of gamers. But in
today's technological world, uncertainty and precarity carry much more
serious risks than not being able to
play games. This naivety shows in the
book's discussion of the hacking of
the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) in response to the
death of Aaron Swartz. In 2011,
Swartz was arrested for hiding a laptop on M.I.T.'s campus that was configured to systematically download
academic publications through the
university's JSTOR subscription. Facing up to 50 years of imprisonment
and as much as $1 million in fines,
Swartz killed himself in 2013 at the
age of 26. Anonymous was outraged
with the severity of the threatened
sentence, which they believed contributed to Swartz's decision to end
his life. In response, they hijacked
the USSC website, turning the page
into a directory of repositories where
visitors could download encrypted
packages of what Anonymous
claimed was highly sensitive information stolen from U.S. government
agencies. Anonymous wanted general reform of the U.S. judicial system,
and threatened to release the keys
necessary to unencrypt the packaged information if their poorlydefined demands were not met.
When reformation of the U.S.
judicial system had somehow not
∕

DECEMBER 2019



IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019

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