Social Gaming – Interacting in the online world

Social gaming is one of my favourite past times, particularly in recent times in the Online world of Grand Theft Auto. Together with two of my good pals I am the president of the Hells Harambe’s Motorcycle Club. We grow pot, we cut coke and we manufacture meth in a large scale operation which takes the tender loving care of all three of us (and sometimes some ring ins).

Running a shady criminal empire probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun as it sounds without having a couple of mates on the other end of a headset to share a laugh and some strategic murdering with. Waddell & Peng (2014) explored this subject in their research paper Does it matter with whom you slay? The effects of competition, cooperation and relationship type among video game players and found that “cooperative game play was found to predict increased cooperative behaviours and trust in their partner” Personally I am inclined to agree with them on this as I have complete trust in my second, both in virtual reality and in real life where we are good friends, however I don’t know that this extends to makeshift alliances. Often if we allow an outsider into our clubs inner sanctum it will only be for a short while – and afterwards they will be “let go” as they are nothing more than fodder and would only be called upon if need be. After all, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? (And then shoot the cow in the head).

But social gaming to me means so much more than online shooters or fantasy roleplaying. Roleplaying, in the traditional sense of words on paper, has been a part of my life for the best part of the last 10 years in one form or another and I have loved it since I first encountered it. It is somewhat disheartening then as a long time “competitive writer” as some may call it to see that our art is not even thought of in the new media society where social gaming seems to have replaced old fashioned communities with fast, money grabbing apps on social platforms like candy crush. The subject of the evolution of traditional roleplaying was explored in this previously published case study.

Visual Communities and Social Imaging

As a society we seem to be desperate to find motivation and/or inspiration wherever we turn. What was once the noble art of photography has become something of a hobby for anyone with an iPhone and there are more photos of peoples pub meals online now than there are pubs in the world (probably). When I first started reading up on the subject the first thing that instantly came to mind was an image I had seen on Facebook many times (but for the life of me cannot find now!)

Promoting individualism and the idea that we are all special it is  simple stock photo of a single white flower amongst a sea of red poppies with a caption to the effect of “why fit in when you were born to stand out”. Sure, some may find this inspirational or motivating – however – it loses its sheen somewhat when you see it on loop, as it is, copy and pasted hundreds of times only with different names and profile images next to it.

Yes, photography is a different beast today than it was when you would round up the family in their Sunday bests and meet with a photographer or an afternoon of snaps – nowadays if you see something, you have your phone out and it is captured and online before you could even spell photographer. This was made no more clearer to me than when I reached that magical age where, well I’ll let the Skyhooks explain:

Weddings used to be all about the fanfare and the pomp and ceremony with photographers and videographers running around making memories that would last forever – which has now become a thing of the past, seemingly with apps like WedPics which allow guests to log in to the wedding album and take as many photos as they like, which can then be accessed in high definition clarity and remembered for years to come. The cost of this is considerably cheaper as well compared to the traditional photographer – not saying that their time and effort is not worth the money – but to put it in perspective my wife and I will have been married 2 years in June and we still haven’t been able to afford to pay off the last part of our album!

Fortunately it’s not all doom and gloom on the selfie front thanks to one of my favourite photosharing apps – Snapchat. Unlike the rest the images don’t last for very long and you can make some hilarious changes with filters and the ability to draw on pictures. Snapchat is one of the best additions to social media in recent times, in my humble opinion, because it lets you connect with people without being constantly in contact with them – and whatever you show them disappears after a while so there’s no monthly cleanse of your downloads to remove 2GB of images and stupid videos of cats (thanks to all my WhatsApp group chat pals for that). The only downside to Snapchat is, well, ghosts…

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Trolling and Social Media Conflict

For the purpose of this blog post I will be looking at trolling and social media conflict from the perspective of anonymous comments, random attacks and spontaneous posting. Systematic bullying of a known subject is wrong, it is heartless and nobody deserves to be the subject of such victimisation – be it cyber or otherwise.

One of the most fascinating things I found to come out of this topic of conversation is the apparent double standards with regards to how social media and the use of social media is viewed. On one hand there is the perspective that cyber bullying is a real and prevalent issue in our society – which it is, to an extent – that cannot be stopped without writing laws, making changes to legislation and re-commissioning the cyberpolice (assuming they weren’t just made up by this guy).

On the other is the belief that we are living in an online fantasy world where we present ourselves in a certain way, as an online persona if you will, to show off the life we want people to think that we have (TED-ed, 2013). Instagram photos of fancy things. Facebook check-in’s at lavish places. Reblogging the latest fitness craze to show how healthy and spiritual we are on Tumblr.

So which is it?

In the world of social media if we are so isolated and disconnected from reality, presenting to the worlds our ideal self, how then can our ‘reality’ be defined by something that should, in essence, not matter to us at all? An attack on an entity that doesn’t exist, or only exists within the confines of the world wide web? To this end it seems to be a case of having your cake and eating it too, depending on your own personal circumstances.

Sticks and Stones may break our bones but as society progresses and finds new ways to interact words seem to be getting more and more powerful. Why? The only logical explanation, based on the theory explored here, is that the only thing worse than being bullied outside by ‘real’ people is having the idea of the ‘perfect you’ belittled by someone (who you probably don’t even know) online. The sad reality of this situation is that some people don’t know how to disconnect and, whether they realise they are doing it or not, give in to the pressure – or “feed the trolls” for want of a better phrase. Each individual person is entitled to their own beliefs and their own opinions and I respect that as much as the next person – and want to reiterate that I do not condone bullying in any form – however, if you ask me there is one very simple way to avoid cyber bullying and/or trolling – and it’s got Paul Anaka’s guarantee (guarantee void in Tennessee)

References

TED-Ed 2013, Connected, but alone?- Sherry Turkle, 19 April, viewed 2 February 2017,

 

Activism or Slacktivism – Digital Communities in times of protest

The role  that social media and digital communities play in aiding activism & protesting has evolved rapidly with the rise of social media culture. Given the sheer enormity of the online world it is impossible not to see the benefits of utilising this medium – which is precisely why it has become the target of many a viral protesters campaign. An early example of this digital activism renaissance can be seen in the infamous Kony 2012 documentary which brought the medium of digital activism to the forefront.

While the digital community is the ideal way to spread a message to a mass audience it would be foolish to think that it can in anyway make a real difference without substantially backing from;

  • Accredited not for profit bodies
  • Government assistance
  • Substantial funding from independent backers

What it can do, however, is create the spark which could ignite any of these three powder kegs into beginning significant action.

 

Perhaps the biggest downfall of promoting activism in this way is the ‘social justice warrior’. A casual observing, nonchalant member of the digital community (or slacktivist) who feels that by ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ superfluous articles to their friends they are making a difference to society as a whole – when really they are doing nothing more than justifying their own social beliefs to themselves in a thinly veiled attempt to appear up to date on current affairs. This is not to discredit their intentions but the manner in which they are conveyed is often irrational and this can be detrimental to the cause that they are trying to promote. An example of this can be seen in the irony of Anti-Trump supporters protesting, and promoting violence against their opposition, for fear of said opposition acting in the way that they are themselves. An irony which seems to be lost on many of these individuals.

Using the digital community as a means to promote change for activists is a wonderful tool that, when used effectively can encourage change, however this needs to be done thoughtfully and insightfully to avoid damaging the causes in the process.

Politics & Civic Cultures

The evolution of politics through social media has been a rapid one ever since the rise to power of US President Barack Obama. Employing one of the top heads at Facebook as his social media strategist (Dutta & Fraser 2008) Obama was able to command a legion of young, impressionable voters to the polling booths and take over the world – more or less. Given how successful he was it almost seems unfair to use him as the benchmark as it will be very difficult for any other politicians to reach that level of success. That hasn’t stopped them from trying though and since Obama’s breakthrough campaign then every politician and his dog has tried his hand at getting out there and getting noticed. From the good;

Picture1
It is well documented how Barack Obama utilised Social Media to run a campaign the likes of which had never been seen before.

To the not so good.

Picture2
The #AskTony didn’t quite work out for the Ex-Australian PM – although I would love to know how he would deal with a horse sized duck…

As society moves forward and the integration of social media into every day tasks – like checking in at your local spot or taking an Insta photo of your smashed avocado – it would seem that for politicians to succeed in winning the votes of the younger generations they will need to embrace social media and use it to drive forward into the future. This does not however mean that social media will become the be all and end all of politics. As a society we have seen many innovations drastically change life as we know it and then either be phased out for newer, better models (a good example of this is the digital video revolution (VHS > DVD > BluRay) or just left by the wayside. There is every chance that in 2 or 3 election cycles time that social media as we know it will be a distant memory – can anybody say MySpace? – as we continue to live our exorbitant overindulged lifestyle of use it up and throw it away and move on to the next crazy fad.

Perhaps the only saving grace for the social media revolution is the age of the population that is consuming it. As the years race forward ‘older’ candidates will have been born in the 60’s and 70’s – assuming full terms are served – in only 3 elections time it will be 2025. To say that platforms like Facebook and Twitter will still be relevant at such a distance would be near on impossible to predict and it is for this reason that rather than prophesise about what may happen politicians, and people in general, should embrace the powerful soapbox that they have been afforded the opportunity to stand on and shout at the top of their lungs to get their message across.

References

 Dutta, S, & Fraser, M 2008, Barack Obama and the Facebook Election, US News and World Report, 3 December 2016, <http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2008/11/19/barack-obama-and-the-facebook-election&gt;.

Obama Facebook screenshot, n.d, [image], viewed 11 December 2016, < http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-23WX2Z7-DbQ/VUhDnZ6LkWI/AAAAAAAAAJk/Dix6eIXmyYY/s1600/barack-obama-facebook.png&gt;

Horse Sized Duck Tweet, 2015, [image], viewed 11 December 2016, <http://resources2.news.com.au/images/2012/06/12/1226393/417417938-abbott-twitter.jpg&gt;

Digital Communities and Social Media – A prequel of sorts

Digital Communities and Social Media. Where to start? For anyone questioning the growing social media culture in which we live I can assure you in the time it has taken me to write these three lines I have closed Facebook and reopened it at least 6 times. What I am trying to determine now – and with the help of some of the theories I have covered – is, why?

Boyd (2012) believes that we as a society are ‘always on’. This term isn’t to be taken literally, though there are many from the older ‘back in my day…’ generation who will no doubt feel differently, but rather an acceptance that with the technology we have integrated into our every day lives we are closer to permanent connection than ever before. We might not actively seek out the internet, but if we need it, it is there with the touch of a finger.

To some extent I agree with Boyd – though I find myself in an interesting predicament that most others wouldn’t. Living the last three years between two countries I find that social media is an absolute godsend when it comes to keeping in contact with family and friends who are on opposite sides of the world at any given time. To this end I cannot dispute my online presences as ‘always on’ as if I am not conversing with locals on the same time zone by day I am talking to the others by night. Waking up to a hundred notifications is nothing uncommon – especially with the lads group chat on WhatsApp split between four countries.

Whether you agree with Boyd or not the integration of social networking into our every day lives and the ease at which we can now connect with our peers is astonishing given that 10 years ago you couldn’t use the phone and the internet at the same time without hearing some precursor to dubstep. Whether it is in digital communities like those of reddit or the closed network of a Facebook or LinkedIn or in more ambiguous social media platforms for public interaction like Twitter society has been empowered through these connections in a way that was never previously possible – and may have never even been dreamt of save for in science fiction.

As we continue to move rapidly through 2017 I look forward to being able to explore in further detail some more of the concepts and theories being looked at and hopefully gaining some more insight into both my own social media consumption and others. Hold that thought – I just got a notification, I’m off to check Facebook (again).

 

References

Boyd, D 2012, Participating in the Always On Lifestyle, in Mandiberg (ed) The Social Media Reader, NYU Press, pp. 71-76.

 

An Exploration of Social Gaming: Roleplaying Case Study

The purpose of this case study was to explore social changes in online activities and communities by observing the changes to the text based social game of fantasy wrestling over time – specifically coinciding the rise of social media culture. This subject was chosen as it is an underrepresented area in the social gaming sphere given that the majority of recognised social games nowadays are heavily backed financially and presented in an interactive environment. Using a series of both academic and non-academic sources it was determined that while this particular social game has been enhanced by social media it is not dictated by it as are many others.


The aim of this essay is to demonstrate an understanding of the social changes associated with online activities, communities, networks and social media publics by conducting a case study on social gaming. Broadly defined as a structured multiplayer activity with contextual rules through which users can engage with one another (O’Neill 2008) social gaming is often characterised, since the rise of new media, as being an embedded interactive experience within a social media platform. This has not always been the case and to narrow the scope of this case study the essay will focus on the progression of one particular style of social gaming – fantasy wrestling, more commonly referred to as “efedding” (a combination of e, as in electronic, and fedding, a contraction of federation) – and explore, with the help of academic and peer reviewed sources, it’s evolution over the last 40 years. The three key academic sources that will be used in the analysis of the chosen case study will include virtual communities and their characteristics (Siapera 2012), the rise of the always-on culture (Boyd 2012) and the introduction of constant social media connection (Wilken & McCosker 2014).

Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) are not always dependent on consoles and fast action in fantasy worlds set in far off galaxies. There are some who still prescribe to the old fashioned methods of text-based interactions. In an easily accessible corner of the Internet an entire universe exists filled with larger than life characters, evil geniuses and heroes who will always come to save the day. It’s not the WWE – the WWE has even gone as far as to send cease and desist notices to some of the creative individuals who borrow from their trademarks and likenesses – it is the world of efedding. Started in the 1980’s by real life wrestling magazines (Merritt n.d.) the grounding of the game has not changed for the best part of 4 decades. Writers create characters, give them personality traits and a level of in ring training, and they are pit against other players. Matches can be decided in a number of ways (a points system, dice rolls, computer simulation) but the most common is roleplaying – or competitive writing. Two (or more) authors publish a piece, which is judged by their peers, and the best piece wins. Much like the real world of professional wrestling the best characters are rewarded with high profile bouts and championships. From humble beginnings with mail order competition the 90’s saw the rise of the Internet and with it the game was able to launch itself into the future. As the popularity of real life wrestling grew, and the stories became increasingly grounded in reality, so too did the world of the efed. Hosting sites such as Invision and ProBoards became the “fedheads” – a common term for the owner of an efederation – best friend and they were able to manage community interaction, distribution of information and keep records all in one place (ICWF 2017). To keep things above board each federation would have a set of rules and guidelines set out by the fedhead on their forum of behaviours that would be tolerated both in and out of character (GEW 2014). Generally the rules are made uniform throughout the many companies in existence, which keeps things easy to understand across the board and makes participating simple from forum to forum. (De Zwart & Humphreys 2014)

As the times changed so to did the prerogative of the competitors. The contests became more about collaboration and story telling as opposed to direct competition and alternatives to roleplaying battles – such as predetermined, or “angle feds” – began to grow in popularity. With the push towards developing interaction many character handlers moved their in character social interactions from lengthy novellas to the 140 character world of Twitter where on any given day at any given time you can find a plethora of fictional wrestlers discussing all things from real life football matches to the results of fictional wrestling shows (AlohaAdamAlpha 2017). The evolution of this game would not have been possible without the mainstream shift in online culture and the rise of social media. The emergence of social media in the roleplaying subculture has allowed participants a new medium in which to express themselves and provides an interesting perspective on the Always-On theory discussed by Boyd (2012). As Boyd explains how individuals who use mobile devices to manage their social media are constantly connected to those in their network, in the example of the case study, In Character Tweeting allows writers and collaborators to connect on a level that was not previously possible – and at a constant. Where as in days gone by writers would have had to arrange for a time or place to get together, in person or through an Instant Messaging service, to flesh out ideas and build stories together now they need only check their mobile device. From creating complex personal lives, friendship circles, annoying habits and anything in between writers are now able to control the lives of their characters down to the most minute of details in 140 characters while simultaneously participating in a global conversation with other likeminded individuals who are choosing to do the same (Waddell & Peng 2014). In doing so these individuals are prescribing to Boyd’s Always-On ideals twofold – both in and out of character.

When examining the manner in which social media is used within this specific community in terms of the theories discussed by Wilken & McCosker (2014) – who raise concerns of diminishing privacy and social media encouraging increasingly public levels of self-disclosure or exposure (Wilken & McCosker 2014, p.292) – its use can be explored on two levels. On one level there is the actual user, working behind their character, in a location that they may or may not choose to disclose. Considering this then, for all the fanciful tools of the GPS, the geo-locational data gathered from their activities is essentially redundant as it bears no relevance to the content of the postings. Geographic information linked to the actions of the account are stored and disclosed to others but their content is false – therefor nullifying them for any further use (Wilken & McCosker 2014, p. 294). On the other hand there is the characters themselves – whose lives are on display for all to see when exploring down the communities rabbit hole – discussing topics/visiting places which are often in different cities, states and even countries to the handler behind the screen. Again this demonstrates how, despite all of the advancements in technology and fanciful ways to interpret data, the data is redundant if the information it reads is not true (Wilken & McCosker 2014).

Looking at the game on a large scale the efed community has grown significantly and prospered with the rise of social media and now allows global collaboration and multi-point contact between all of its members. This is of considerable difference to the single point contact that was initially available in the game between players and a magazine writer or Webmaster. The freedom to communicate allows for more robust and dynamic story telling and also a greater appreciation of peers and peer reviewed content. (Siapera 2012) The game itself is social gaming at its most basic – characterised by regular social interaction (Rheingold 2012) without need for paying subscriptions or substantial financial investment. By meeting these criteria it becomes the perfect medium for social interaction as anybody with a computer and an internet connection can take part – knowledge of wrestling isn’t even essential as there are so many experienced “fedders” willing to help and even specifically designed promotions to develop new talent and train those with no experience (SCCW 2017).

From this case study on fantasy wrestling it can be seen that social media platforms and advertising do not solely define the realm of social gaming. In the context of fantasy wrestling the shift towards the social media network has enhanced the overall experience of the game by allowing players to come together in a state of constancy that was not previously available. This can be seen to differ from most other social games as its dedicated members run it as a solely not for profit community. Considering this it can be declared that ultimately those who are in it define the social gaming sphere and, when those individuals come together to form a digital community, they can use social media rather than letting social media use them.

 

References 

AlohaAdamAlpha 2017, Atlanta Falcons Playoff Discussion, 22 January, viewed 6 February 2017 <https://twitter.com/AlohaAdamAlpha/status/823289830440337408>

Boyd, D 2012, Participating in the Always On Lifestyle, in Mandiberg (ed) The Social Media Reader, NYU Press, pp. 71-76

de Zwart, M & Humphreys, S 2014,’ The Lawless Frontier of Deep Space: Code as Law in EVE Online’, Cultural Studies Review, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 77-99.

ICWF 2017, Impact Championship Wrestling Federation, jcink.net, viewed 6 February 2017, < http://icwf.jcink.net/index.php?&gt;

GEW 2014, The Rules of GEW, invisionfree.com, April 30, viewed 5 February 2017, <http://z11.invisionfree.com/GEW/index.php?showtopic=9227&gt;

Merritt, C n.d., Where Did FW Come From?, fwrestling.com, viewed 3 February 2017, <http://fwrestling.com/whatis/EpEVupFpppUVXRNrTx.shtml>

O’Neill, N 2008, What Exactly Are Social Games?, adweek.com, July 31, viewed 3 February 2017, <http://www.adweek.com/digital/social-games/&gt;

Rheingold, H 2012, Virtual Community, Britannica.com, 2 February, viewed 5 February 2017, <https://www.britannica.com/topic/virtual-community>

SCCW 2017, Sussex County Championship Wrestling, ProBoards.com, viewed 6 February 2017, <http://sccw.boards.net/&gt;

Siapera, E 2012, ‘Socialities and Social Media’, in Introduction to New Media, Sage, London, pp. 191-208.

Waddell, J & Peng, W 2014, ‘Does it matter with whom you slay? The effects of competition, cooperation and relationship type among video game players’, Computers in Human Behaviour, vol. 38, pp. 331-338.

Wilken, R & McCosker, A 2014, ‘Social Selves‘, in Cunningham & Turnbull (eds), The Media & Communications in Australia, Allen and Unwin pp. 291-295.