Friday, April 07, 2006

Whack Job

A recent story in the Washington Post, "Whacky Politics," describes online game experiments being analyzed at Stanford University that are based on the news organ's survey using the popular "whack-a-mole" arcade-style game in which online visitors can bash political figureheads of the leading parties and also historical dictators who are long dead. Users can also take out their aggressions on celebrities like Michael Jackson. Apparently, netizens are more likely to pummel celebrities or dictators than their elected officials, although the difference doesn't look that statistically significant. Not surprisingly, the overall results indicate that people with particular political affiliations are disproportionately likely to whack politicians of the opposing party. The whacking behavior of Independents seems to mediate between the two ideological poles, since they whack politicians from both parties. Some participants reported that the game produced a cathartic effect that lowered the level of their political hostility, although it seems that this particular form of disinhibition could also foster civic discontent.

It is interesting that the survey's designers omitted George W. Bush, the most Photoshopped Chief Executive in history and still the most common virtual victim of Internet button pushers (although The Washington Post included his online counterpart Hillary Clinton).

If you are feeling particularly patriotic, you can also visit Whack a Mole at the national Spy Museum in Washington D.C. and "whack some commie moles."

The issues raised by these political theatres of cruelty, which are designed for audiences across the political spectrum, are worth examining beyond a simple knee-jerk critique of violence. What need for political interactivity do they represent?



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