German dissidents are taking the time-honored tactic of gamification and applying it to vandalism. Camover 2013 is a competition unfolding across the country, in which teams attempt to destroy as many closed-circuit TV cameras as possible, protesting the recent rise of surveillance technology. The Guardian reports that bonus scores are given to the teams that display the most creativity in destruction. In the video invitation below you can see ski-masked “players” (self-described shoplifters, grafiti sprayers, homeless, and squatters) tearing the cameras down with ropes, smashing them out with hammers, and blacking them out with billowing clouds of spray paint. Teams are encouraged to upload their conquests to the Camover website.
The Guardian reports that bonus scores are given to the teams that display the most creativity in destruction. In the video invitation below you can see ski-masked “players” (self-described shoplifters, grafiti sprayers, homeless, and squatters) tearing the cameras down with ropes, smashing them out with hammers, and blacking them out with billowing clouds of spray paint. Teams are encouraged to upload their conquests to the Camover website.
The German debate about the use of surveillance in public spaces has come to the fore in recent years. While CCTV cameras have been in use in the country since the mid–1960s, last year’s Bonn bomb scare and a public midday murder in bustling Alexanderplatz lead the country’s Interior Minister to call for bringing the cameras out of the train stations and onto the street. The Ministry claims they have been shown to reduce crime by as much as 20 percent, although not all reports on the cameras’ effectiveness as a deterrent have been favorable.
The moral and legal concerns associated with the willful destruction of property in the real-world make this much more than a “game,” and the creators admit that it’s a serious matter. Camover’s anonymous founder tells The Guardian, “although we call it a game, we are quite serious about it: our aim is to destroy as many cameras as possible and to have an influence on video surveillance in our cities.”
Building on the writings of Michel Foucault, contemporary social critics often assert that technology has allowed for “disciplinary” society and the pervasive inclination to observe and normalise. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault invoked The Panopticon prison as a metaphor for an invisible disciplinary power.
The Panopticon is an ideal architectural figure of modern disciplinary power. The Panopticon creates a consciousness of permanent visibility as a form of power, where no bars, chains, and heavy locks are necessary for domination any more. Foucault proposes that not only prisons but all hierarchical structures like the army, schools, hospitals and factories have evolved through history to resemble Bentham’s Panopticon. The notoriety of the design today (although not its lasting influence in architectural realities) stems from Foucault’s famous analysis of it.
Prison Presidio Modelo, a “model prison” of Panopticon design, in Cuba
“On the whole, therefore, one can speak of the formation of a disciplinary society in this movement that stretches from the enclosed disciplines, a sort of social ‘quarantine’, to an indefinitely generalizable mechanism of ‘panopticism’.”
Surveillance by CCTV cameras in public spaces is an example of a technology that brings the gaze of a superior into the daily lives of the populace. Furthermore, a number of cities in the United Kingdom, including Middlesbrough, Bristol, Brighton and London have added loudspeakers to a number of their existing CCTV cameras. They can transmit the voice of a camera supervisor to issue audible messages to the public. Similarly, critical analyses of internet practice have suggested that the internet allows for a panopticon form of observation. ISPs are able to track users’ activities, while user-generated content means that daily social activity may be recorded and broadcast online.
Shoshana Zuboff used the metaphor of the panopticon in her 1988 book In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power to describe how computer technology makes work more visible. In 1991 Mohammad Kowsar used the metaphor in the title of his book “The Critical Panopticon: Essays in the Theatre and Contemporary Aesthetics” (American University Studies Series Xxvi Theatre Arts). Derrick Jensen and Gerge Draffan’s 2004 book Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control demonstrates how our society, by techniques like the use of biometric passports to identity chips in consumer goods, from nanoparticle weapons to body-enhancing and mind-altering drugs for soldiers, is being pushed towards a panopticon-like state.
The Camover Competition ends on 19 February, to coincide with the start of the European Police Congress. The prize, says Camover, is to be in the frontline of a protest that will take place three days earlier, on 16 February.