Monday, January 18, 2021

The Toxicity in Video Games and Cyberpunk 2077

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Vaishnavi Krishna Mohan

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The Toxicity in Video Games and Cyberpunk 2077

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

January 18, 2021

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A still from Cyberpunk 2077

A still from Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077, the most awaited video game was released on consoles and PC on 10th of December, 2020. The game went under 10 years of build-up and had kept gamers waiting for over 8 years. Cyberpunk 2077 is inspired by a cult-favourite tabletop roleplaying game. The video game was designed by well-known Polish studio, CD Projekt Red. Cyberpunk was the studio’s first big console game since The Witcher 3: Wild hunt which was an extraordinarily triumphant game that won numerous awards after its launch in 2015.

The popular video game, when released, faced backlash from the gaming community and non-gamers for several reasons. To many observers and gamers, Cyberpunk 2077 even proved to be an absolute failure. Several gamers called out the game developers for the promotion of sexiest ideologies and transphobia. However, the reviews weren’t well received by the fans. Cyberpunk 2077 fans responded with unacceptable abuses, harrasing and hateful messages and even rape and death threats.

Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 released ample previews, trailers, motion pictures and marketing material. Aside from this, the appearence of popular Canadian actor, Keanu Reeves as a character in the game carved the expectations of gamers and promised a sexy and kinky world of futuristic and revolutionary action. CD Projekt Red, one of Europe’s most successful video game company announced Cyberpunk 2077 project in 2012 and released the first trailer in 2013

The game is set in an alternate timeline in the city of California. The streets in the game are owned by tyrannical corporations. Everyone in the game modifies their body with illegal technology. Much of the state in the video game setting is said to be suffering from the impacts of a major nuclear attack which happened years ago. Every player gets to be a cyber-enhanced human who has to fight against physical and psychological threats to their survival. The game character of Keanu Reeves comes in as your sidekick.

In 2018, the developers insisted and had assured the gamers that Cyberpunk 2077 would not include in game purchases. CD Projekt Red did not want to lock any content behind a paywall. The studio was also insistent that the game would come out only when it was completely “ready”. They announced that the release would take place in April 2020 but it was delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other quality problems that the game was facing. When it was finally released in December 2020, gamers expected their experience of the game to be “worth the wait”. However, the video game wasn’t well revived by all. In spite of several months of work that went into making and developing the game, the game was launched with several technical issues. Players on both PC and consoles were having terrible experiences. As a result of multiple glitches and technical problems, the characters’ faces were obscured and the game would reset randomly. Some of the environments or areas of the game map was unappealing. The game even caused consoles to crash repeatedly and sometimes sacrificed players’ progress. One glitch led to characters’ breasts and penises being exposed. The characters’ genitals would poke out of their clothes. CD Projeckt Red offered refunds to players who were disappointed with the product. In fact, they updated a self-review discouraging gamers from playing the game on console until the game was fixed and improved.

Cyberpunk 2077 was roundly criticized by reviewers, game designers, industry insiders and other gamers across the gaming community. The wait and hype for the game had already created a fanbase which turned toxic by harassing reviewers who criticised the game.

There is another reason why the game wasn’t well received. Cyberpunk 2077 transphobia was apparent in the game contradicting the fact that the developers had claimed that the game was ahead of its time. The game has an incredibly detailed character creation menu. The players can control several aspects of their character’s appearance including the shapes and size of the genitals. The game even allows players to decline the option of including genitals to their characters. However, this isn’t the problem and is in fact appreciable. The idea of not determining gender by the character’s genitals in fact made many trans players happy. But this soon turned into disbelief and disappointment. The gamers realised that the game actually assigned the gender to the characters not based on their genitals but rather by the voice. Characters with higher-pitched voices were identified as females and characters with deep-voiced characters were assigned male pronouns. This purports the toxic idea that people’s gender can be determined by certain traits. A non-sexist video game would determine the gender of a player’s character based on an independent choice made by players themselves. This is uninfluenced by other physical traits or qualities.

Several reviewers called out Cyberpunk 2077 for promoting sexist ideologies. Unfortunately, toxic fans harassed the reviewers. “You just KNOW when you're going to get harassed. If the game with all the hype has anything wrong with it, and you're honest about that, or even just want to provide any context outside of ‘it's fun’, you're going to get harassed. It's a given.” These were precisely what Susan Arendt, a podcast host quoted. She even second guessed herself whether sharing her true opinions was worth the hateful, threatening and harassing messages that she received.

Controversial Tweet by Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter Handle

In the early days of arcade, gaming was a family activity. The popular male dominance and stereotype that only boys or men are good at video games were perpetuated in the past three decades. We observe this change due to sexualisation of video games. Today, most video games aren’t family friendly as they include explicit and sexual content. This, in fact, is a marketing tactic used by developers to target the male population. In 2018, a Cyberpunk 2077 fan who was awaiting the game at that point of time tweeted that the user wanted to see more from the “guys” at CDPR. In response to this tweet, CD Projekt Red tweeted, “Did you just assume their gender?!”. On the look of it, the tweet seems innocent but it is a joke at the expense of the trans community. After receiving backlash to the tweet, CDPR took it down and issued an apology staying sorry to “all those offended”. The apology seems like another targeted mockery and CDPR did no right by not taking responsibility for its actions.

Not only is Cyberpunk2077 transphobic and sexist, it is non user friendly as well. The game has several epilepsy triggers without any warnings about it. There are several instances and situations in the game where the effects and the graphics are brighter, louder and flashing. This is a general trigger for seizures. Liana Rupert, a player of Cyberpunk 2077 suffered a major seizure and at several moments felt that she was close to another one. After bringing this to the notice of CD Projekt Red, the company agreed to add trigger warnings wherever necessary.  

The gaming industry has definitely taken a few steps forward in terms of inclusivity of all genders but has also taken a few steps backward. While all genders are welcome, they still face harassment and judgement for simply existing in the community and need a lot more improvement.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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