Long Live Play: The PlayStation Network and Technogenic Life
Launched in 2006, the Sony PlayStation Network (PSN) is an online network platform that connects millions of videogame consoles, handheld devices, and media servers around the world. It enables gamers to link up for multiplayer adventures, facilitating shared experiences of exploration, puzzle solving, and combat in computational gamespace. It also enables gamers to socialize and recreate in the virtual world of PlayStation Home, to purchase games and other media through the PlayStation Store, and to access a vast range of entertainment services offered by Sony and its affiliates. At the same time, it has been used as an experimental platform for biochemistry research, providing a tremendous source of computational capacity for the Stanford University Folding@home project. Today, the network is a site of pleasure and devotion for upwards of eighty million gamers. But these gamers now also experience the network as a site of inherent risk. In 2011, the PSN became a battleground between corporate IP policies and the global hacker community, resulting in a massive hacker attack on the Sony databases that compromised the personal data of many millions of PSN users. It also rendered the PSN inoperative for a month, triggering a surge of anger, anxiety, distress, and woe among gamers worldwide. This talk will examine the various gamer narratives that spontaneously emerged to make sense of the network outage. These narratives effectively served as a vernacular form of risk management, addressing the dangers of technological uncertainty, corporate ideology, and personal threat through modes of humor and irony. As a mechanism that redistributes fun as well as capital, knowledge as well as risk, the PlayStation Network reveals the extent to which media technologies are constituted in and by history, contingent and finite. For even as it presents itself as the fulfillment of multiple cultural, corporate, and scientific desires—“It Only Does Everything”—the PlayStation Network is also now shadowed by the production of loss and precarity, the risk of epic fail.
Colin Milburn is Gary Snyder Chair in Science and the Humanities and Professor of English, Science and Technology Studies, and Cinema and Technocultural Studies at the University of California, Davis. His research focuses on the relations of literature, science, and technology. He is the author of Nanovision: Engineering the Future (2008) and Mondo Nano: Fun and Games in the World of Digital Matter (2015), as well as numerous articles on science fiction, the history of biology, the history of physics, nanotechnology, video games, and the digital humanities. Since 2008, he has been serving as the director of the UC Davis ModLab, an experimental laboratory for new media and video game research.