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Saturday, May 09, 2015

Sacrifice and punish 



In the wake of an unexpected election result, three of our political leaders have resigned, sacrificing themselves in order to shoulder what must be seen as collective failure. Resignation from public office has a respectable history as a ritual, and it is one in which the individual takes responsibility for collective failure. It could be read as an extension of the techno-politics of punishment, a condition in which an individual must ultimately and symbolically be held accountable. In this morning's newspaper the report sits cheek by jowl with the story of a public execution. The execution in Guild Wars 2 of the avatar of a player who had been guilty of cheating. DarkSide, the avatar in question, was executed in front of an audience of 325,000, symbolically punished by AreaNet to underline that cheats will not be tolerated (perhaps also to attract interest in Guild Wars 2). In a mediascape in which more alarming videos of real-world execution have been circulating the intermingling of real, virtual and symbolic acts of punishment and sacrifice is uncanny. Uncanny because of their multistability - the individual accepts, or is forced to accept responsibility, but the crime and the authority to punish is ambiguous. Throughout history the techno-politics of punishment are in part a spectator sport. We feel a certain sense of closure when an ineffectual leader falls on his sword, a sense of outrage when an innocent journalist is executed by militants, and maybe we are unsure what to feel about DarkSide.

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