BBC Radio 4: Digital Human (Series 6:2014: Episode 3: Abandon) #DigiHuman


3/6: Abandon

What happens when we abandon a place? And why is it so difficult for us to leave these places behind?

In this episode, Aleks explores abandon both on and offline. We tell the story of the only permanent resident of Fukushima’s radiation exclusion zone. Naoto Matsura stayed in Tomioka while everyone around him fled. He’s now the unofficial caretaker of this abandoned town.

Aleks contrasts this with a remarkable example of digital abandon. Meridian 59 was the first massively multiplayer online game. When newer competitors arrived on the scene, many players left. The game has been abandoned and restarted several times over since. Aleks hears from the hardcore community of players who refuse to let the game disappear entirely.

  • What are the threads that draw us into the abandoned? We want to understand what has gone before?
  • In physical environments (e.g. post Tsunami), if there’s no one left, someone may stay, in order to provide for the other creatures.
  • These abandoned places, we are provoked to think about our relationship to place. Love of nature built into our evolution? We need place to survive and sustain?
  • Why are we not seeking comfort, refuge – rather than places that have been abandoned?
  • Post-religious societies – have fascination for unearthly places … our version of spiritual experience? Mystery, ghostly, re-imagination of imagination in a doubting age. Often ‘moral landscapes’ – can be places of redemption where people can start again. Often destroyed by an act of ‘human arrogance’ or greed. Do we repopulate as penance?
  • Hearing about the development of online gaming. The importance of being able to see when Meridian 59 players came online = a cohesive platform. Has kept the group together whilst much bigger games continue to develop.
  • As the game was closing down – 100s of players were actively online, saying goodbye – (the world felt like a real world – people got married, etc. – to have it taken away felt like a violation).
  • In the digital world – it’s much easier to ‘click away’, and no one really knows how to build a healthy (engineered) a society? Still very new. How engineer a social experience that people will keep with a platform? Underestimate the amount of time that people invest in something, so they are less likely to abandon a platform.
  • Abandonment indicates movement… so is there a similar pull as towards physical spaces? Places of redemption, more than spaces of sin and guilt – without dust, could be rebuilt.
  • 2006/7 – Second Life was huge – but unlike physical – don’t get over-growth, etc. but as game not designed to last 20+ years, bits of code do collapse, etc.
  • When we say ‘abandoned’, we are talking about ourselves as a species.
  • EMOTIONAL AND SPIRITUAL CONNECTION TO GAME AND TO EACH OTHER = RESCUED FOR DIGITAL ABANDONMENT – now been released as open-source for players to develop as they wish.
  • Debate as to whether to ‘start over’ – Meridian 59 – decided not to reboot as all that pre-existing gameplay, etc. is part of the game’s history. If revisit after 5 years, it’s not changed – unlike if physically disappear after 5 years, friends and place will both have changed.
  • The novelty of a new place that can be imagined.
  • If there are people, things don’t get completely abandoned …

By Digital Fingerprint

Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture  in the third sector (especially faith). Author of 'Raising Children in a Digital Age', regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.

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