Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sesame Credit

I am both aghast and intrigued by this new Chinese national game system, known as Sesame Credit.

First, historical context: when Mao took over, he indoctrinated the populace into Communism using an easy to understand media for the masses - comic books. When Deng Xiaoping wanted to convert the nation to Capitalism, he used comics as well. Both instances were among the biggest examples of comics - normally a pop culture fixture - being used for something far larger scale than story telling. In this sense, China adopting game design to reinforce their national message is consistent with past mass education movements. They take what we treat as "fun" in the west and figure out how to use it in a more serious manner.

Second, personal reaction. Yeah, this is horrifying. It decentralizes oppression to the individual level. The centralization of the state's hold on people is always the greatest weakness - they simply can never be efficient enough to suppress everything. This eliminates that bottleneck and does so in a way consistent with Brave New World more than 1984. Instead of a single data stream being broadcast from the government, it turns individual citizens into mini-radio towers that broadcast and enforce the party line.

Third, and the scariest point: it could easily happen here. We have interconnected data mining on a mass scale, just like China, as well as at least two major online companies willing to work with the government on anything (Google and Facebook). We have a rising tide of people who want echo chamber hug boxes in their friend circles and a demand for exclusionary "safe spaces." It would be child's play for the government to sponsor a gamified site that ranked people based on adherence to being "environmentally friendly" or "socially just" or any of a dozen other dog whistle terms that all translate to "OBEY."

If they wanted to be more low key, have a private company do it, but receive under the table support from the government in choosing what constitutes "good" and "bad" points. They wouldn't have to pass a law saying it's mandatory: just shunt all the data in there whether you want it there or not and refuse to prosecute them. You will participate, even if you object.

I think I just envisioned Facebook 2.0.

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