The following is a guest post from Jillian Scharr:
Jillian Scharr is a recent graduate of Vassar College and a lifelong daydreamer. She floats between jobs and cafes in the greater NYC area, writing about videogames and computers and fictional characters.
1984’s Big Brother. Brave New World’s Mustapha Mond. The Matrix’s Architect. Always our dystopian future overlords are overwhelmingly male. If feminine imagery shows up at all in these ravaged political landscapes, it’s as an agent of chaos that operates in reaction to the masculine hegemony.
That’s why I was particularly interested in Mind of Man, a quirky and frankly creepy smartphone app. It’s sort of a game, and sort of a really well-designed Twitter aggregator, so it’s a little hard to talk about. There is a narrative and a game world; tweets are presented as the primary means by which an entity called MOM (Mind Of Man) enforces social control. The aesthetic is a 50s-style blend of wry and kitschy: cracked cement walls, posters with block letters and solid colors, and propaganda scrawled over every digital surface.
Basically, what it does is read public Twitter feeds and perform something called “sentiment analysis.” It rates users’ tweets based on a variety of factors and then synthesizes a “MindPrint,” your personal equivalent of an ID number in MOM’s surveillance regime.
By making the means of our oppression a personalized emotion-based MindPrint instead of a number or an invasive procedure, Mind of Man’s feminine overlord does incorporate some of the traditional tropes of the gender it presents. However, it completely avoids the trope of making a powerful woman’s sexuality the seat of her authority. MOM does not have a body–MOM is never referred to by a gender-specific pronoun. For an otherwise extremely Orwellian app, Mind of Man completely lacks the gendered power play that defined 1984 and its Big Brother figure.
All in all, is this a big deal? Probably not. Mind of Man is a little app, and what attention it’s received is due not to its narrative of maternal overlordship, but rather to the A.I. that powers it. An article on Gamasutra a few weeks ago, for example, discussed the ways that Mind of Man’s complex moral spectrum algorithms could bring more nuanced and personalized choices to traditional RPGs.
Still, I liked the app’s tongue-in-cheek presentation of the omniscient and ominously benevolent MOM. It got me started on thinking about presentations of dystopia, and how they usually come in a paternal or fraternal vessel instead of a maternal one. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on MOM–and I know MOM will be keeping an eye on me.