playing by the (foursquare) rules

Some of my fellow CRDMers and I have been experimenting with Foursquare. I am a firm believer that academics should spend time using/playing/working with the technologies they study. Since some of the folks in our program study mobile locative media (and games), a group of us regularly experiments with applications or programs that either seem interesting or seem to be catching on. This time around it's Foursquare. I won't provide a review or detail our experience, but I will say that that we're having a good time. And unlike some of the other applications we've tried (I'm looking at you, loopt), I actually see (at least marginal) value in using it. It was with great interest, she said hyperbolically, that I read a recent LA Times blog post on Foursquare cheating. You see, we had just had a discussion about this last week, except for us it was pranking and not cheating. Users can create and check into locations willy-nilly, so what's to stop me from checking into a friend's home when he leaves a rousing game of Dominion to get in a little late-night studying. You know, just for example. The subject of the blog post took it even further, going so far as to create bots to grab mayorships in something like 120 Starbucks locations. In describing his antics, he bemoaned Foursquare's lax security. He seems concerned that the game has no rules.

Oddly, this reminds of the two projects I'm working on currently, two projects that send me in two lines of flight as I write. And that causes me to think that they're more closely related than I've realized. I won't touch on both here, but I will address one briefly, primarily because it's an idea that I've been working through lately, and the subject of my Carolina Rhetoric Conference presentation on Saturday. You see, there are rules that govern Foursquare, just as there are rules that govern all communication. Sure, you can do lots of things on Foursquare--create joke locations, become the mayor of the busstop--that aren't sanctioned by the game. But what makes it okay in my circle to check-in at home when we wake up in the morning, but makes us feel bad for checking in to a friend's house when he's not at home? I think it's because we've decided (somehow) on what is appropriate, and I think that appropriateness is determined by how we are choosing to use this game. Although it's fun to check the leaderboard to see who's winning that week, we actually seem to be more interested in keeping tabs on one another. Perhaps that terminology is a bit too sinister, but it allows us to know where people are. Whenever someone cheats (or pranks) the system by checking in where she's not, then that function's value is diminished for us. So, like so many (rhetorical) situations, what is at stake here is the question of appropriateness, or decorum.