Video Games and Digital Civil Disobedience

I began using the computer when I was 3-4. One day I came home from school and my dad had brought home a Macintosh, of a model I cannot remember. My earliest memories of this are not using it, but watching other people use it. I used to watch my dad play Tetris and my mom play Myst. My first experience using the computer myself was to play Civilization II and Oregon Trail. For a long time I only used the computer to play games because I didn’t have a consul system and I didn’t need it for school. In fact, because I had watched my brother and mom play all the games I played, I played them before I could read. I can manipulate the menus and game environment by symbols and not words. I mastered the Civilization map editor before I could read and built elaborate worlds to play in.

My first use of the Internet is closely linked to gaming. My parents friend who took care of me and my older brother when by parents needed a babysitter let us play games on her computers. She played EverQuest, a fantasy world MMORPG that pre-dates games like World of Warcraft and Eve Online. She had several accounts in the game and so me and and my brother could make characters while she still played. While I was too young to really understand the larger world of the game, the visual environment was totally immersive and just exploring was as much fun as completing quests or jobs the game was designed around.

While I remember Ask Jeeves as an early search engine, I don’t remember when I would have used it. I don’t think I used to the computer for school work until fifth grade at which point I used Google. Until then I did all my research and projects from books and encyclopedias. Related to school I mostly used the computer to play Runescape with my friends. It was more fun than single-player games and just-text IM clients.

Through middle and high school I continued playing games. I spent 4 years from 7th-10th grade playing World of Warcraft. While I played WoW my avatar was my gender (male) and filled a masculine combat role. When I quit I started following professional e-sports, especially Starcraft II and Team Fortress II. I had good friends who I met at summer camp and school who now play in semi-professional leagues in both SC2 and TF2 and have won prize money and they keep me interested in these worlds.

Just before that, the same time I discovered Wikipedia in the sixth grade. My brother had been involved with forum communities of people who make a hobby of constructed languages. I first heard about it from him because he used it for its entries on grammar. I ignored the language learning potential and stayed exclusively with the English Wikipedia, devouring all the knowledge I could. With this database at hand, I taught myself large chunks of European and American history, helping to develop my personal understanding of the world and of politics.

This Western-centric focus has almost certainly helped steer me towards valuing liberal democratic values of freedom of speech, press, and assembly. I only hear about the ultra-nationalist propaganda available on the Russian and Chinese-language nets, I do not encounter it myself. In fact, while I consider myself to be relatively far-left, I am still a statist and believe in a struggle between State Democracy and State Authoritarianism. I attempt to protest and subvert online, but from my upbringing I view as living proof that there is a fundamental and superior good at the heart of even America’s faults.

I never had an IM client, but I did have Facebook for a number of years. Over January break last year I deleted that account because of what I believe to be both the unhealthy social expectations and norms of sharing it breeds, and concerns about privacy. I was never ashamed of anything I put on Facebook, and I did not change my name to hide when applying to college, but I objected to the commercialization and corporatization of my personal data as violating my anti-corporate and anti-capitalist leanings.

I now attempt to use the Internet to subvert what I view as an indefensible economic system. I pirate movies and music, and promote it and distribute it to my friends. I have been party to Bitcoin cryptocurrency transactions to buy things online that may or may not be federally controlled.

I now view the Internet as a critical part of any movement of subvert unfair and undemocratic structures of control and exploitation. If you know where to go, there are no limits to how the Internet can be used to enact change and protest. For all my protest, I am grateful for the free access to information and the Internet afforded by the US. I believe uncensored and unfettered access to the web is a developing human right.

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