"The Ping, the Pong and the Flyswatter" (2015)

Interactive Installation & Multi-player game (text-based)

 

Final Year Project

Skills/ Software involved: Python (Integrated with Kivy for app development), Projection mapping, Basic woodwork

The project is awarded "Wong Kam Fu Outstanding Innovation Award" for an outstanding performance in the final year project with an innovative idea/ concept or production formation which could lead to the betterment of the community. 


As a Chinese born and raised in Hong Kong, I have not been limited by any obvious censorship. Yet when I was in resident in Europe, I was constantly questioned by foreigners with regards to the censorship situations in Hong Kong and China. While there is no apparent online censorship in Hong Kong, the outbreak of the "Umbrella Movement" at the time inspired me to further investigate the censorship situation in China, which I feared would be influencing Hong Kong in the near future. With the concern regarding freedom of speech in mind, I have started to rethink the operative logic of the process of censorship, as well as the possibilities to bypass censorship.

Censorship over networks has never been a transparent control process; it is a blackbox that operates based on its own logic. Yet instead of simplifying such control process as manipulation, it is rather a modulation. It is not preventing the network itself from accessing to other networks for information exchange and communication; such censorship over network is rather aiming for preserving the effectiveness of the network yet avoiding the overspread of certain information that can be intimidating. Therefore such control is operating over the network, and it can be seen as oversight.

 

Censorship can be seen as an oversight control.

Censorship can be seen as an oversight control.

In China’s case, such modulating control is necessary to its governing party. With the need of economic reform and foreign investors, the communist party of China has eventually given up on completely blocking information exchange between its subjects and others since the 80s, yet it still cannot tolerate anything that will intimidate its absolute ruling power. In fact Deng Xiaoping once said that “If you open up the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.” Therefore “flies-swatting” of intimidating ideologies and comments that might threaten the party has been regulating since then. As network is one of the essential tools for supporting the economy, the communist party has allowed the growth of internet while maintaining its right to oversee and exercise modulating control over the network as a whole.

Oversight control is obvious in the network of China. Exchange of sensitive information that might threaten the party’s ruling power is nearly impossible under regulated control. Users are banned from using certain websites where too much free speech from all over the world is happening, they are also banned from the search of certain sensitive wordings on search engines. On the other hand if their own posts online contain any sort of sensitive wording, their own posts will also be removed from the internet. However different users have also come up with various methods to bypass censorship by various measures such as altering configuration of networks or use of wordplay.

 

Users can now make various attempts to bypass censorship and spread messages with sensitive wordings to other users of the network.

Users can now make various attempts to bypass censorship and spread messages with sensitive wordings to other users of the network.

"The Ping, the Pong and the Flyswatter" investigates the nature of censorship, the information flow within the network and possible methods in bypassing censorship through participation in multiple perspectives. The work implements three mobile devices in a setting that is similar to the form of a table tennis table. The game of ping-pong and flies-swatting begins as the participants are ready under the network represented by the three devices. Two participants take the role of normal users and communicate with each other under a censored network, while the participant who takes the role of censor will be empowered to oversee the network and filter political sensitive messages for the Chinese government.

The text-based game is constructed with a library of sensitive wordings that have actually censored or watched by the Chinese government within the Chinese network. Through participation, the participants will experience a simulated censorship in China from various perspectives. They will be offered an opportunity to explore the possibilities to bypass censorship, as well as to investigate the operative logic behind the censorship happening in China. Eventually, If the users are communicating wisely and if the censor is not responding to sensitive message swiftly, it may lead to spread of sensitive messages within a manual censored network.

The screenshots below explain the flow of the game in details. Please place your mouse over the screenshot to check the description and click on the right arrow for the next screenshot with explanation.

A lot of participants who played the game found it interesting and inspiring. They especially enjoyed the role of the censor as it provided a new perspective for them to understand and inspect the operative logic behind censorship. It is hoped that the participants would be enlightened and started to think more about censorship on their own after playing the game.

Simulation of the multiplayer game