GioCities

blogs by Gio

Tagged: loss

cyber Replika: Your Money or Your Wife

  • Posted in cyber

If1 you’ve been subjected to advertisements on the internet sometime in the past year, you might have seen advertisements for the app Replika. It’s a chatbot app, but personalized, and designed to be a friend that you form a relationship with.

That’s not why you’d remember the advertisements though. You’d remember the advertisements because they were like this:

Replika "Create your own AI friend" "I've been missing you" hero ad

Replika ERP ad, Facebook (puzzle piece meme) Replika ERP ad, Instagram

And, despite these being mobile app ads (and, frankly, really poorly-constructed ones at that) the ERP function was a runaway success. According to founder Eugenia Kuyda the majority of Replika subscribers had a romantic relationship with their “rep”, and accounts point to those relationships getting as explicit as their participants wanted to go:

erp1

So it’s probably not a stretch of the imagination to think this whole product was a ticking time bomb. And — on Valentine’s day, no less — that bomb went off. Not in the form of a rape or a suicide or a manifesto pointing to Replika, but in a form much more dangerous: a quiet change in corporate policy.

Features started quietly breaking as early as January, and the whispers sounded bad for ERP, but the final nail in the coffin was the official statement from founder Eugenia Kuyda:

“update” - Kuyda, Feb 12 These filters are here to stay and are necessary to ensure that Replika remains a safe and secure platform for everyone.

I started Replika with a mission to create a friend for everyone, a 24/7 companion that is non-judgmental and helps people feel better. I believe that this can only be achieved by prioritizing safety and creating a secure user experience, and it’s impossible to do so while also allowing access to unfiltered models.

People just had their girlfriends killed off by policy. Things got real bad. The Replika community exploded in rage and disappointment, and for weeks the pinned post on the Replika subreddit was a collection of mental health resources including a suicide hotline.

Resources if you're struggling post

Cringe!🔗

First, let me deal with the elephant in the room: no longer being able to sext a chatbot sounds like an incredibly trivial thing to be upset about, and might even be a step in the right direction. But these factors are actually what make this story so dangerous.

These unserious, “trivial” scenarios are where new dangers edge in first. Destructive policy is never just implemented in serious situations that disadvantage relatable people first, it’s always normalized by starting with edge cases and people who can be framed as Other, or somehow deviant.

It’s easy to mock the customers who were hurt here. What kind of loser develops an emotional dependency on an erotic chatbot? First, having read accounts, it turns out the answer to that question is everyone. But this is a product that’s targeted at and specifically addresses the needs of people who are lonely and thus specifically emotionally vulnerable, which should make it worse to inflict suffering on them and endanger their mental health, not somehow funny. Nothing I have to content-warning the way I did this post is funny.

Virtual pets🔗

So how do we actually categorize what a replika is, given what a novel thing it is? What is a personalized companion AI? I argue they’re pets.

gaming Events in games bother me

  • Posted in gaming

I don’t like “events”. I don’t like it when things are limited with requirements of spacial presence and time. I don’t like experiences that only exist in one moment and then can never be relived. I don’t like ephemera. I prefer things. Toys I can play with, tools I can use, books I can read, movies I can watch, all at my own discretion. I have agency over my things. The actual lived experience from occurrence to occurrence is always different, of course, but the externalities can be repeated. I love being able to preserve the essence of a thing.

It’s one of the reasons I like computers. Or maybe it’s a psychological trait I developed because I had access to computers growing up. It probably is, I think. But either way, I love the purity of digital storage and interface. I love having an environment where experiences can be preserved and replayed at my discretion without my having to make any demands on other people.

And so that’s one of the reasons I love video games. Their mechanics are defined and can be understood and mastered. Their levels are defined and can be understood and mastered. Despite the extreme rates of “churn” — video games go out of print much faster than books or other physical media — the software is digital, and can be saved, stored, and replayed. I can look up the flash games I played as a kid and replay them, exactly as they were, and understand myself a little better for it.

Of course there are exceptions; it’s impossible to have a multiplayer game without an implicit demand that other people play with you. When an old game “dies”, it’s often not because the necessary hosting software is being intentionally withheld, but that there just isn’t a pool of people casually playing it like there used to be. That’s still a loss, and it’s sad, but that’s an unavoidable reality, and it’s not nearly as complete a loss as a one-off event being over.

So I don’t like when games force seasonal events on me. Limited-time events introduce something new, but they also necessitate the inevitable loss of that thing. And that assumes you were playing everything from the start; events introduce content that can be “missable” in a meaningful way, so if you’re weren’t playing the game at the right time, even if you own the game and finish everything you can access your experience can still be rendered incomplete. One of the things I like about games is that they’re safe, and the introduction of time-based loss compromises that safety.

That constant cycle of stress and pressure to enjoy things before they were lost is one of the main reasons I stopped playing Overwatch. I realized the seasonal events in particular weren’t good for me; they turned a game that should have been fun into an obligation that caused me anxiety.

But I’ve been thinking about this lately not because of Overwatch, but because Splatoon 3 is coming out soon. Splatoon isn’t nearly as bad as all that, I don’t think it’s deliberately predatory aside from Nintendo’s standard insistence on denying people autonomy. Splatoon 3 invokes that “people will stop playing Splatoon 2” loss, but even before that, Splatoon (a game I love) left a bad taste in my mouth because of its events.