Monthly Archives: October 2012

Ben Eaton, a digital artist, and Kevin Macnish, from the University of Leeds, are exploring the ethics of contemporary warfare using game platforms.

Picture: Charles McCain, Creative Commons

Unmanned vehicles (drones) are rapidly becoming a regular feature of battle spaces, especially in the air.  In the last four years the US has massively increased its use of drones in warfare in and around Afghanistan and Yemen.  The UK recently announced its decision to double the size of its force from 5 to 10 drones.

The use of drones is attractive to those operating them.  When a drone is hit and downed no pilot or navigator is killed.  A lost drone is far cheaper than a lost aeroplane, not to mention the loss of expensively-trained pilots and navigators.  However, the ethical issues surrounding drones only begin there.  Drones are typically operated from a great distance by servicemen and women who get to go home at the end of each day.  Given their distance from the combat, are these servicemen and women at risk of treating their work like a computer game?  Certainly the screens interfacing with the drones closely resemble computer games, but is this because the interface tries to depersonalise the experience, or because games try to emulate the drone interfaces?  Drones also offer greater visibility of battle zones in high definition, bringing home to the operator the effects of a successful strike in far greater detail than has previously been available to those operating missiles or flying aircraft.  This could lead to more engagement with their targets rather than less.

At the same time, those targeted by drones suffer disproportionately.  With no means to defend themselves or fight back they can feel rendered impotent by the use of drones against them.  How will this affect their willingness to accept peace when the drones leave?  Furthermore, what does it say of a country that will enter a war but not risk the lives of its soldiers in fighting that war?

These are only a few of the ethical issues that arise around drone warfare, and do not begin to touch on questions of automation nor on the domestic use of drones for law enforcement.  Through developing a mod for an online role-playing game, we (Ben Eaton and Kevin Macnish) hope to create a scenario for players to engage with some of these ethical challenges.  Whether that be in the design of a drone or its operation we have yet to decide, but there is plenty of potential to develop scenarios using high quality gaming environments that will be engaging and, we hope, challenging.

In our exploration of storytelling services, apps and communities at the previous meeting, we were conscious that Simon’s research had begun with media archives related to the Miner’s Strike.

Rather than attempting to create a generic storytelling platform for all possible stories, we understood quickly that a boundary or constraint would surface more interesting possibilities and perspectives…

  • The recent publication of the Hillsborough report provided a set of perspectives, controversies, fractions and accounts that might make for interesting narratives to explore.
  • The breaking Jimmy Savile case also offered a landscape of current and historical narratives that coupled with archival material offer immediate evidence in criminal activity.

We eventually settled on the London Riots as a potent multi-dimensional set of narratives that could be explored in both time and space from multiple perspectives – rioters, police, victims, observers. Also, a rich range of public, social and civic data was readily available from multiple archives.

So, in a somewhat over-caffeinated state inside Mrs. Atha’s hipstery coffee shop, we began to explore stories from the Guardian’s Reading the Riots site to pick out interesting characters that might provide us with archetypal personas and scenarios for the design process.

We settled on four real personalities…

  • Zak, a cafe owner who lost his premises to rioters.
  • Carla, a musician who is still paying a mortgage on a residence destroyed in the riots.
  • Peter, a opportunistic rioter whom also wants to share the frustrations of young people.
  • Angela, a senior police officer deployed to Hackney to protect civilians and paramedics.

Using their real-world experiences during the riots, we began to hypothesise about their motivations for using our service; what would be the stories they needed to tell. From this we began to break down their journeys into tasks which would later inform the user flow and interactions.


Something we began to consider was whether the veracity of stories could be modelled – was truth something we needed to account for, or simply to offer the maximal range of voices and perspectives?

We discussed the possibilities, strengths and weaknesses of modelling an eBay-style reputation, where users in the same place, time or situation as each other could ‘vouch’ for a story’s veracity, commentary or other people’s recollections. This would translate into ‘currency’ that helped user’s ‘earn’ the right to contribute or comment elsewhere.

We also speculated about a ‘conversational’ first experience for new users. Answering simple dialogues such as where they live, their age, where were they, how were they affected could also help you earn currency, but also locate you within the archive’s media objects, temporally, conceptually and geographically.

Ben Eaton and Kevin Macnish

Ben Eaton, a digital artist, and Kevin Macnish, from the University of Leeds, are exploring the ethics of contemporary warfare using game platforms.

“We are looking at creating a practical sandbox-like environment within which to explore the applications of ethical questions as posed by the shifting nature of contemporary combat. At this early stage we are experimenting with creating custom mods for pre-existing 3D game platforms that can be employed in a teaching environment creating a networked interactive experience for multiple students and a session leader to simultaneously participate and enact various scenarios.”

Dave Lynch and Vlad Strukov

Vlad Strukov, a researcher from the University of Leeds, and Dave Lynch, an artist, are exploring the nature of data by using projections on clouds.

“The collaboration looks at the application and interpretation of images projected onto clouds.  The project concerns itself with the nature of data and the human ability to interpret, own and share data. Particularly, the project looks at the emotive as well as political potential of data in its ability to mobilise, create and translate meaning.”

Bloom and The Centre for Translation Studies

Bloom, a digital discovery agency, and the Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Leeds are working on improving collaborative translations.

“We are working together to model interactions between participants in collaborative translation, with a view to identifying opportunities to optimise workflow and to improve pedagogic scenarios for training students in higher education and continuing professional development contexts. In order to do this, we have built profiles of the social interactions among participants in four translation projects. We have also recorded evaluation data, with scores provided for each project by each member of the translation team involved, as well as the commissioners/users of the translation. Our evaluation framework provides parameters relating to aspects of the end product (the translation), as well as the collaborative processes through which it was produced.

The next step is to see whether we find correlations between the evaluation data and patterns in the interaction profile for each project.”

Simon Popple, Imran Ali, Tom Morgan and Dean Vipond

Simon Popple from the University of Leeds and Imran Ali, Tom Morgan and Dean Vipond are working on a collaboration around storytelling tools for large media archives; the team has chosen to use archive media from the London Riots as content for storytellers.

more details to be announced.

The week between the introductory briefings and our first group meeting allowed the team some time to lay down a few basic principles and share some of our respective influences and observations with each other.

We decided early on that with the composition of the group’s skills being largely design and product focussed, that we shouldn’t aim for a working prototype but orient our time around fully exploring the possibility and problem space and arriving at a proof-of-concept. A ‘concept car’ that would point the way towards future development.

Simon’s research interests in media archives and storytelling immediately aligned with the tastes and influences the rest of the group had been exploring in recent years, so we began to assemble these influences into reference points we could later deconstruct and remix.

These included…

By exploring archives, apps, styles and communities, we were confident we could synthesise a best-of-breed storytelling concept from this landscape…

So our first week ended somewhat excitedly North Bar, with a loose set of principles and language, beginning to coalesce into a starting point for the project.

Between metadata, scrapbooks, shoeboxes, climate, people, place, time, tags, narratives, dormant iTunes metadata, personal media archives, our own narrative was beginning to emerge!