Emergent Griefing

I enjoy "griefing", which is when people use aspects of a system that make that system less fun for others. It's a term normally used in multiplayer video games. As gamification spreads game-like interactions to everyday experiences this also spreads the anti-social behaviors of games.

My first experience with gamification was the Army. The Army wouldn't call it that, but it uses game elements (badges, rules, opponents, win conditions) to motivate troop behavior. Initially I was ill-suited to the rigid command structure of the military but as I learned the complex system of Army life I found ways to play with the rules.

The stereo-typical Army sergeant yells as the stereo-typical Army private to "Drop and give me twenty!" after some minor infraction. The Army does not call this punishment. The Army calls this "corrective action". I found myself receiving this corrective action often. After being late to formation I completed my twenty pushups and instead of getting up I remained in the pushup position and said, "Request permission to do another twenty." I can only assume my sergeant was beaming with pride as he thought I had so internalized this "corrective action" that I was inflicting more upon myself as I had seen the error of my ways. He granted me permission.

After completing another twenty I remained in the pushup position and said, "Request permission to do another ten." There was a snicker in the ranks and my sergeant suspiciously agreed. After doing ten more pushups I asked for another ten and the snickers turned to chuckles. My sergeant was a bit flummoxed. He was losing control and he did not like it. He denied my request.

So I shifted tactics, "Five more for country?". No American soldier could possibly object to a request to do pushups for one's country! He agreed. "Four more for the MP Corps?" Yes. "Three more for 3rd Battalion?" Yes. "Two more for God?" and finally "One for my Mother?" I had mocked the idea of corrective action and totally undermined his authority and got some good laughs (and quite a work out).This was the beginning of a social exploit I called "Over-Enthusiastic Soldier". The Army is a system of rules and ranks and cultural practices and Over-Enthusiastic Soldier worked to exploit all of these against each other. It was griefing in real life.

The best of true griefing is Team Roomba. They are the New York Yankees of griefing, creating an almost artful exploration of frustration. 

Combining glitches and the creative properties of "bad game play" creates a cultural violation that ruins the game for most players, but is immensely satisfying to the griefer. When a product introduces gamification (badges, points, virtual currency, leaderboards, prizes, etc.) they are adding a layer of artificial incentives to get the users to take actions that are good for the product, but aren't rewarding for the user. The more game-like the system becomes the easier it is to grief.

No one is griefing Facebook better than Facebook. Feeds are drowned in linkbait articles from Buzzfeed and Upworthy because  users are rewarded with likes for pictures of cute puppies. And Facebook has destroyed the meaning of friendship by encouraging "friending" more and more people. What was once a meaningful social space is now a flood of useless posts about dogs, babies, politics, and Kickstarters. Facebook utilized the social and game-like elements of the system to make Facebook less fun.

As our world becomes both gamified and socially integrated we're adding the culture of multi-player online games to our products. The mainstreaming of these processes has graduated griefing from a subculture of online games to an emergent property of complex systems. 

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Kosovo land swap could end conflict - or restart war

Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case

Image: SRF
Strange Maps
  • The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
  • Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
  • A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict

The death of Old Yugoslavia

Image: public domain

United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

After the wars

Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it never was: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Kosovo is of extreme historical and symbolic significance for Serbians. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

Kosovo divides the world

Image: public domain

In red: states that have recognised the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that continue to recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it has a lot of international support for that position (2). Not just from its historical protector Russia, but also from other states that face separatist movements (e.g. Spain and India).

Despite their current conflict, Kosovo and Serbia have the same long-term objective: membership of the European Union. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.

Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.

Land for peace?

Image: BBC

Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this simmering conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by no less than Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

If others can do it...

Image: Ruland Kolen

Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

Sceptics - and more than a few locals - warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

Western powers, which sponsored Kosovo's independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

Borders are the Holy Grail of modern nationhood. Countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging. Nevertheless, land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the River Meuse (3). But those bits of land were tiny and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders pack a lot more baggage in the Balkans.

Keep reading Show less

Scientists claim the Bible is written in code that predicts future events

The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

Michael Drosnin
Surprising Science
  • Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
  • The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
  • Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
Keep reading Show less
  • Facebook and Google began as companies with supposedly noble purposes.
  • Creating a more connected world and indexing the world's information: what could be better than that?
  • But pressure to return value to shareholders came at the expense of their own users.
Keep reading Show less