Please Don’t Hack My Fridge

With the rise of technology, came the rise of hacking. Hacking can be defined as “the act of compromising digital devices and networks through unauthorized access to an account or computer system.” [1] While it is synonymous with the development of the internet, the act of hacking began long before the introduction of personal computing. In the 1920’s, the Enigma Machine was an encryption machine used for German Military communications. The members of the allied forces were tasked with decoding the messages this machine produced, in order to keep an eye on their enemies communications. As a result, the allies were able to predict the movements of the German forces, which meant that “the war was won before it even started”. [2]

As technology developed over time and has increasingly become more ingrained in normal societal practices, the meaning of ‘hacking’ changed. In the 1960’s and 70’s, the phenomenon of Phone Phreaking marked the beginning of what we know as the modern history of hacking. So-called ‘Phone Phreakers’ were able to access the switchboards of telephone companies by playing a unique, high-pitched frequency, which gave them the ability to make long-distance and international calls for free, and helped establish the core ideals of the hacking subculture; anti-establishment and the freedom of information.

Image: PCMag

Then as personal computing became more prominent, the hacking subculture was able to contribute to the birth of cyberspace through Bulletin Board Systems. These systems were created for the purposes of sharing and posting information outside of government control [2], and serve as the blueprint for the development of the World Wide Web. The irony of this is, while they are portrayed as the menaces of the internet, the internet is how it is today because of hackers.

There are several different kinds of hacking. Firstly, there’s hacking for the purposes of criminal activity; often by distributing phishing scams and malware that steals information from users, which can be used for identity theft or fraud. This can be done through the use of ‘botnets’, which invade a computer’s software and can perform tasks without the user even knowing. Botnets can look for the vulnerabilities in a system, spread Trojan Horses, and distribute spam that can trick unsuspecting users into revealing personal information or financial details. [3] Botnets can also be used for cyberwarfare, which are “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purpose of causing damage or disruption.”, as defined in the novel, Cyber War. [4] While certain cyberwarfare strategies could be confused for just regular ‘hacking’, the reason for committing these acts is different. Cyberwarfare is typically for the purposes of surveillance and subversion. [3]

Image: The Guardian

There’s also activism performed through hacking, more commonly known as ‘hacktivism’. Depending on the nature of the movement, certain phenomenon’s that the internet has popularised are able to serve ‘hacktivists’. One of these functions is Meme Warfare. Described by Jeff Giesea as “a ‘digital native’ version of psychological warfare, more commonly known as propaganda” [5], meme warfare has similar tropes to hacking subculture; such as the focus on globalisation, decentralised networks, and freedom of information. Ironically, it was the desire for the freedom of information that resulted in the meme warfare strategies of the CIA being uncovered by WikiLeaks (one of the most well-known cases of government hacking). Memetic warfare being analysed by government agencies indicates the legitimacy of memes as a military strategy.

Another tactic relevant to both cyberwarfare and hacktivism is ‘Sock Puppets’, which are fake online identities that give the illusion of human interactivity. ‘Sock puppet’ accounts are found on social media platforms and can be used in a variety of ways depending on the perpetrator. However, the goal of these bots remains the same, which is to manipulate public perception. “When we enter into relationships with an entity like Facebook (or Google, or Apple, or . . .) we still have the basic expectation that we are entering into a vaguely symmetric, human, relationship.” [6] When we see these accounts it isn’t always easy to distinguish between fake accounts and real people. As time progresses and AI technology improves, in the future it will be harder to determine which online movements or businesses have used ‘sock puppets’ to falsify support. 

Image: Fox Business

While new forms of processing have not been explicitly connected to hackers, they often are a result of similar ideologies to hacking subculture. We have seen blockchains such as Bitcoin and Ethereum form as a result of “an all-out rebellion against central banking and fiat currency.” [7] Another core trope of hacking subculture, anonymity, is deeply ingrained in the development of Bitcoin. The group/individual that created Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, is an anonymous developer, and all transactions on Bitcoin are designed to also remain anonymous. The blockchain of Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer network, meaning that the network is completely distributed and doesn’t need a ‘trusted third-party’ to oversee transactions. It’s also possible that botnets can be used to mine for this cryptocurrency, which could jeopardise the future of the institution.

Image: Hummingbird Networks

Perhaps one of the most significant ways hacking can impact the future of the internet is through ‘The Internet of Things’. “The IoT stands for the connection of usually trivial material objects to the internet – ranging from tooth brushes, to shoes or umbrellas.” [8] It is becoming normalised to have these objects in the home or on our person, with smartwatches and smartphones being almost a necessity, and Google Homes and Alexa’s becoming more popular. At the moment, this makes up a relatively small percentage of our owned objects, but this won’t be the case forever. It’s reasonable to think that the future contains millions of households filled with IoT objects to create ‘Smart Homes’. If our future is filled with household objects being connected to the internet, what does this mean in terms of cyber security? Most of these items have access to some form of our private information, whether it be bank/card details, medical information, household bills, or confidential business documents. If hackers obtained this information, it could have devastating effects on both individuals and corporations. [9] Additionally, as these objects are tasked to perform specific actions in your home, it’s possible that hackers can override these instructions and gain physical control over a large number of households at once, not dissimilar to any futuristic film centred around AI. 

As long as technology exists, hackers will always be around. The internet was built on the ideologies of hackers and this will continue to be a focus of many groups as the internet evolves. With technology further embedding itself in society, the question remains; how devastating of an effect could hackers have on our everyday lives?

References:

[1] CyberGlossary, What is Hacking?, Fortinet, viewed 17 October 2021

[2] Mitew, T 2020, Anonymous resistance: hackers, lulz and whistleblowers, online lecture, BCM206, University of Wollongong, delivered 11 October, viewed 17 October 2021

[3] Mitew, T 2020, Dark Fiber: exploits, botnets, cyberwar, online lecture, BCM206, University of Wollongong, delivered 21 October, viewed 17 October 2021

[4] Greenberg, A 2019, The WIRED Guide to Cyberwar, WIRED, 23 August, viewed 19 October 2021

[5] Mitew, T 2020, Networked insurgencies: social media revolutions and meme warfare, online lecture, BCM206, University of Wollongong, delivered 22 September, viewed 16 October 2021

[6] Hall, J 2018, What is the problem with social media?, Medium, 24 March, viewed 19 October 2021

[7] Mitew, T 2021, Blockchains and decentralised everything, online lecture, BCM206, University of Wollongong, delivered 17 October, viewed 18 October 2021

[8] Mitew, T 2014, ‘Do Objects Dream of an Internet of Things?’, Fibreculture Journal, 2014 (23), p. 5

[9] McIntosh, A 2020, The dangers of IoT and AI, TechRadar, 20 January, viewed 15 October 2021

Social Media Has Indeed Changed Animal Crossing: New Horizons

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about the impact of social media on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I discussed the great aspects of the game, the lack of recent content updates, and the passionate fan base that feels pressure from the creativity of the community. If you want to check it out, I have a link here!

At the end of this blog post, I mentioned that Nintendo had announced an Animal Crossing Direct with the promise of new free content and I speculated that perhaps it will revive love for the game within former players. The teaser for this event hinted the a beloved character, Brewster, returning to the series, so it’s safe to say that fans would be somewhat pleased with this direct. Well, this much anticipated Animal Crossing: New Horizons direct aired on October 15th, and wow, did it deliver!

The direct showed an incredible lineup of new, free content coming to the game. All of which was highly requested by players. These being beloved NPC’s returning to the game with permanent locations, upgraded storage with different access points, island ordinances, new villagers, cooking, and many more! Some of these features are completely new to the series, while some are returning features from previous games. Player’s have often compared New Horizons to the previous game, New Leaf, which has a ton of content not currently present in New Horizons. It seems that the creators have listened to these discussions and brought back some of the greatest aspects of New Leaf, and adapted them to suit the style of this game.

Image: Games Radar

Additionally, while they mentioned that this would be the last major free content update, they announced the release of the first paid DLC: Happy Home Paradise. Unlike Happy Home Designer, which was a standalone piece in the Animal Crossing series, Happy Home Paradise serves as an extension for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, where the content is integrated into the main game. This paid DLC also brings particular features that have been highly requested by fans, such as the ability to remodel villagers’ homes on your own island. All of this new content is being added to the game on November 5th.

Image: Venture Beat

Admittedly, I was wary of this direct announcement. I was ready to be disappointed with the supposed content overhaul, only expecting the announcement of Brewster and maybe a few ‘quality of life’ fixes. However, all of the campaigning for new content has indeed paid off. It makes me happy to know that Nintendo has been taking feedback on board and truly cares about making their customers happy, especially after it seemed like the game and its fans were being neglected. I am beyond satisfied by this direct and I’m so excited for all of this content!

I know I’m not the only one who hasn’t played in a while, but is ready to dust off the old switch and get back into the game. If you’re currently playing or haven’t played in a while, what are your thoughts on the update?

Has Social Media Changed Stardew Valley?

Image: Nintendo News

Stardew Valley is a farming simulator that was developed by Eric Barone (a.k.a ConcernedApe) and released in 2016. While there are many farming simulators that are popular in the gaming community, and the developer has stated that this game is influenced by Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley has managed to set itself apart from similar farming games. Stardew’s animation style and quirky cast of characters has a distinct charm that makes it feel unique in a genre that can feel all too similar at times. So much so that often when new games in the ‘farming genre’ are released, they are often compared to Stardew Valley (whether this is warranted or not).

Over the years, Stardew Valley has built up a passionate fan base. The game is available on a variety of platforms, including PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Playstation, and even iOS; this contributes to making the player base much larger. There are many players on Youtube and Twitch who have uploaded/streamed playthroughs of the game and shared their tips and tricks for optimising your gameplay. This, along with an extensive wiki page that details every aspect of the game, has made the game a lot easier for players to navigate, as the nuance of gameplay can get overwhelming at times. 

One of the many helpful guides that exist on YouTube.

Over the course of the game’s timeline, four major game updates have been released that give players a substantial amount of new gameplay features. There have also been consistent updates, released every few months or so, for the purposes of fixing bugs and adding ‘quality of life’ features. And with such a large fanbase, it’s not too out of the box to think that this online presence would have an influence on the game’s trajectory. As this game was developed by one man, I often wondered if he utilised this fanbase to gain feedback and suggestions on future content. 

When I asked reddit users if they think that social media has changed the game, one user stated that social media has been used by the creator to directly change certain aspects of the game. This user replied with links to twitter polls that the developer posted in 2016 and 2020. These polls asked twitter users to vote on which male and female characters should be added to the list of marriage candidates, as part of the game’s first major update. The poll in 2020 was posted prior to the game’s most recent major update, asking players which fruit tree should be added to the game. Social media also acts as a consistent feedback tool, which can notify the developer of certain bugs and ‘quality of life’ suggestions, which most likely contribute to the many updates that the game has had over the course of its life. 

On the other hand, it’s not just the game itself that has been influenced by the community on social media, but also the player’s experience. Whether it’s because of the community made wiki, the playthroughs on Youtube and Twitch that add entertaining commentary, or posts of incredibly designed farm layouts to draw inspiration from; social media has made the game so much more enjoyable for me. I returned to reddit to ask if players had similar experiences with this community.

Image: A farm tour by sapphic farmer on YouTube

One player gave quite a heart-warming response; 

“The detailed information is invaluable, but I greatly appreciate everyone here sharing their experiences. 

If the community wasn’t as large or active, I think we’d mostly see gorgeous farms or incredible challenge runs. We already get new players who feel overwhelmed, or that they’re doing a bad job, but there’s a large community ready to tell them “you’re doing fine!”

This, to me, truly sums up the Stardew Valley community. There is something for everyone, no matter what you’re looking for, and people are always around to offer help and support. 

Not all players feel a strong connection to the online community, as there are many people that solely play the game without immersing themselves in online content. I was one of these players for a long time, with the exception of googling a question any time I got stuck. However, even these players get to reap the benefits that have been provided to us by the fanbase. After all, we wouldn’t have the wiki if it weren’t for the online community!

All of this to say, whether it’s because it has directly impacted gameplay, or it gives players a community to share their love for the game; social media has been an incredibly beneficial tool in improving the players’ experience.

What do you think? If you’re a Stardew Valley player (on social media or not), what has your experience of the game been like? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Road So Far: It got beta

This project is a continuation of my DA from last semester, where I wrote a 3-part blog series about the culture of social media and its impact on the future of the film industry. I wanted to continue this project because I saw specific fandoms and online communities using social media to express their disappointment with certain aspects of their favourite games or TV shows, and I wondered if the creators were actually listening to their audience. I wanted to explore this by deep diving into specific TV shows and games, asking those audiences what they think of this issue, and bring these opinions to the forefront of this conversation by showcasing them in my blog posts.

You can check out my blog posts here: The Sims 4, Pretty Little Liars & Animal Crossing

And my ‘research’ reddit posts here: The Sims 4, Pretty Little Liars & Animal Crossing (1 & 2)

Initially I thought, “no feedback is feedback,” right? Maybe I should scrap this DA idea and move on to something else, or at least alter it in a way that might be more engaging?

However, the reason I wasn’t getting feedback was because I wasn’t promoting my blogs in the right places. I was just releasing them into the world and hoping that someone would come across them. Using these subreddits to promote my blog posts has greatly benefitted my project. Honestly, I’m in my final year, I have no idea why I didn’t take advantage of reddit sooner, but better late than never, right?

You can find these promotional posts here: The Sims 4, Pretty Little Liars & Animal Crossing (1 & 2)

The concept of my project has not changed since my pitch; however, I have discovered different ways I could approach the topic based on feedback I have received from my reddit posts. After posting my first post on the Animal Crossing: New Horizons subreddit (my third subject in the series), most of the responses focused on how social media has impacted the players experience of the game, rather than changing the game itself. After incorporating these user responses in my blog post, this became one of the standout points of my article. Users felt validated by this perspective.

One user stated, “I think it’s great you made the distinction that the game hasn’t changed but people’s experience has.”

As a result, this gives me a new perspective that I hadn’t considered discussing in future blog posts, and potentially broadens the scope of my project in regards to the topics I can talk about. While there are several cases of popular media that have changed as a result of social media, this doesn’t always occur. It will be interesting to see if more people relate to their experience of certain popular media being affected by communities on social media.

As the above user stated, these are interesting discussions. I think my blog posts allow people to consider the positives and negatives of social media’s impact on popular media. Whether they agree or disagree, my posts provide a forum to discuss and explore these issues within a particular community. Perhaps they also bring up ideas that my audience hasn’t considered before, and will take into account when continuing to post to these communities on social media.

Has Social Media Changed Animal Crossing: New Horizons?

Image: Nintendo

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the latest installment in the Animal Crossing series, released exclusively on the Nintendo Switch in March 2020. As it was released at the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, it became the comfort game for millions of people around the globe, with the laid-back island lifestyle helping people cope and giving them something fun to focus on. Players were able to show off their islands and their creative uses of the design slots on social media. They also used social media to connect with other players, sharing tips and even inviting others to their islands to share resources. New Horizons became a way for people to connect with friends, family, and even strangers, at a time when we were physically isolated from the world.

As the game has been out for a year and a half now and we have not seen any significant update for several months, people have used social media to share their grievances about the game. While the game has improved significantly in some areas, other features feel like they lack compared to the previous installments. Some of the most common complaints include missing NPC’s, not enough buildings, and a lack of ‘endgame’ content. Another thing that players have discussed is the change in villager personalities. Crossing Channel on YouTube shows examples of how the villagers have changed in their video, ‘Are Animal Crossing’s Villagers Too Nice Now?’. It’s clear that the villagers in previous games had far more aggressive and ‘rude’ dialogue initially, but would warm up as you get to know them. While the villager’s being a lot nicer is a good idea in theory, in practice it feels like the villagers lack the nuance that they used to bring to the game. 

Social media has been an accessible tool for players to voice their desires for the game. There has been a steady demand for quality of life updates, as players have recognised the limitations of certain gameplay features. Many of these demands have yet to be brought to the game, but there have been some patch updates that are direct responses to these requests; such as more design slots.

While I don’t think that social media has had a substantial impact on the game itself, it has certainly impacted players’ experiences of the game. After asking reddit users for their opinions, one of the most common responses I received was that many players feeling disappointed with their own islands because of this huge presence that Animal Crossing has on social media. While it’s amazing to see the creativity of the people posting their islands to social media, many players can’t help but compare their islands to others on social media. Players feel pressured to make their island elaborate and within a certain theme. One user brought up an interesting point, stating: “I have learned a lot of things from YouTube that I wouldn’t have otherwise known, and other players have helped me, too. But there are so many “professional” streamers and talented island developers out there that I notice some people have become obsessed with measuring up or with acquiring items extremely quickly. I think that really takes away from just enjoying the PROCESS of playing the game.” 

On the other hand, users have said that seeing other players’ island’s on social media has inspired them to be more creative and adventurous with their own islands. Another user stated that “It kind of stresses me out from seeing how others play via social media but it also really inspires me to keep playing or to try different things with my island.” 

Now that an Animal Crossing Direct has been announced, and big updates with highly anticipated content are set to be released in the next coming months, it will be interesting to see if any of these opinions will change. What do you think?

Did Social Media Change Pretty Little Liars?

Pretty Little Liars was a teen drama show that aired from 2010-2017. Based on a popular series of novels, this show had an incredible hold on the minds of teens everywhere, including myself. Each week millions of viewers would tune in to see if the writers would finally reveal the identity of the elusive ‘A’ character, as well as follow the antics ensued by the four main characters; Aria, Emily, Spencer, and Hanna.

Pretty Little Liars began airing around the same time new social media platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr, were becoming more widely used amongst the general public. Fans of the show would flock to these platforms to share their theories and general opinions on plot points and characters, and also express their support for certain relationships. As a result, these opinions and theories would become incredibly popular, and I have often thought about whether this has impacted the overall trajectory of the show. 

I asked reddit users if they felt the same way. Most agreed that social media had certainly had an impact on the show. This was mostly in the form of fan servicing, one user directly stating that, “this show pandered to fan service instead of making logical plot choices.” Fans had strong opinions about which characters and relationships they loved. Most users agreed that this resulted in the show taking a significant turn from the books. Particular characters and romantic relationships that did not survive in the books were given more of a storyline in the show, which often resulted in significant changes to the plot.

Image: Some of the relationships that were added/altered for the TV show

However, some didn’t think that social media impacted the show in all ways I speculated. While it’s true that fan theories were popular throughout the run of the show, some thought that these popular fan theories didn’t influence the writer’s overall plans for the show. This isn’t a consensus amongst the fandom, as there are sources that suggest otherwise (CAUTION: LINK CONTAINS SPOILERS). As there is no way of knowing the writer’s intentions without direct confirmation, this is purely up for interpretation.

In fact, one commenter stated that they wished social media had more of an impact on the show in this way. The issue is that there is such variety in the fans’ wishes for the show, and while it’s possible for some fans to feel satisfied with plot points and characters, there’s no way that everyone’s going to agree. 

I also think that social media has changed our perception of the show over time. As the show has been off the air for quite some time now, some of the content has not aged well. More recently, people have used social media platforms to analyse how the show handled certain sensitive topics, such as eating disorders, drug abuse, and PTSD. As well, one of the most prominent relationships featured in the show was that of Aria and Ezra, a high school student and her English teacher. As time has gone on and most of the shows main demographic during it’s time on the air are now in their 20’s, a lot of us are just now realising how disturbing this relationship was and how poorly it was portrayed.

Personally, I think it’s hard to argue that social media didn’t change the show, as you can directly see the changes between the TV series and the source material. While social media influence on a TV show isn’t always a bad thing, as it’s important for shows to have positive reception from audiences in order to continue airing, I think that in this case it often resulted in poorly executed relationships and storylines.  

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know your thoughts!

From Dots & Dashes to Information Overload

Feedback loops have been a key element in the evolution of technology, and how we experience the internet today. A feedback loop is a process in which “some portion (or all) of the system’s output is used as input for future operations.” [1] If the feedback loop detects an issue in the system, it will find ways to get it back on course, otherwise the loop will keep working continuously. We have been using feedback loops to develop and build on previous technological advancements, and they have also been integrated into the structure of technology itself.

Samuel Morse (1791-1872) essentially used his own feedback loop to generate the first workable telegraph. After receiving news of his wife’s illness and travelling home to find that she had already passed, Morse was inspired to invent a fast mode of communication. The telegraph had already been invented; however, it was complicated to use. Morse came up with the dot-dash code, now more commonly referred to as Morse Code, which was essentially a whole new alphabet, with dots and dashes representing characters. This code was far easier to decode and operate, allowing for significantly faster and less complicated communication through the telegraph. It also became the catalyst for global communication using technology, from the first working transatlantic cable in 1866, to the invention of the radio in 1895. From here, the scope of technological advancements kept building, and more feedback loops were generated as a result of the rapid ideation of technology, which was accelerated by military demand. As always, military application of technology and the associated feedback loops, is at the forefront of driving rapid change.

One military strategy that informed the basis of technological and fast network structures was the OODA loop. Conceptualised by John Boyd (1927-1997) “after his experiences dogfighting in the Korean War” [2], OODA describes a model for decision-making, comprising four stages: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. This model was mainly used for rapid decision-making during combat, although now it can be used in many different parts of our life. It’s now often used in business, but it can also be a tool to enhance the overall quality of your life. Even though OODA did not formally exist at the time, it could be said that Morse used this approach to solve his complex problem. The reason this model is held in high regard is because of the ‘orient’ stage [3]. This stage serves as the key to adapting to certain environments, allowing for accurate and more successful results. Although the OODA loop strategy is still used today, machines have enhanced the speed at which we can implement calculations and process information, without the possibility of human error. 

Image: Visual Paradigm Online

With the development of ‘thinking machines’ [4], starting with ‘the analytical engine’ invented by Charles Babbage and ‘The Turing Machine’ by Alan Turing, the feedback loops of these machines were able to process information more rapidly and efficiently than a human brain. The feedback loops associated with the development of these machines resulted in a continuous simplification of access and use of the machines. Thus giving rise to the invention and wide use of personal computers.

Before there was the internet, there was ARPAnet. In this case, the four nodes (or data points in a network) used for its invention were all created equal and could communicate with each other, rather than having to go through a central node. Due to the anarchic nature of its design, “Researchers were using ARPANET to collaborate on projects, to trade notes on work, and eventually, to downright gossip and schmooze.” [5] As a result, programs were designed specifically to cater to these personal activities. It’s this technology that formed the basis of the internet, or the World Wide Web, established in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee. [6] With the internet, and the now increasing availability of personal computing, came an entirely new social economy. Cyber-liberty developed as a trope of the early internet as it was a ‘place’ that valued equality and freedom from regulation and authority. [7] However, over time nodes have become increasingly less equal with the rise of the attention economy and walled gardens. 

Image: camilo jimenez on Unsplash

The attention economy is the idea that “since there is a surplus of information, more information flowing through our society than any of us could ever hope to process or understand, the new bottleneck on our economy is attention.” [8] As a result, algorithms play a huge role in the content we choose to consume. This is a long way from the simple dots and dashes consumed by very few people in Morse’s world. Algorithms are essentially a form of feedback loop. Being recommended content based on past content that we have consumed, enjoyed, and provided direct feedback on (through liking and commenting), it’s easy for these algorithms to hold our attention. When websites and content creators have monetary incentives, our attention is incredibly valuable.

With the attention economy, we find ourselves spending a majority of our time on a few specific websites/apps. These websites/apps can be described as “walled gardens”. The corporations that own these websites/apps essentially have their own private corners of the internet. We give these companies our own personal information in order to gain access, and from there they are able to use this information to curate the content they think we want to consume. [9] “This creates a feedback loop, where the output of the algorithm becomes part of its input. As expected, recommendations similar to the choice that was made are shown.” [10] Each time we click we provide more behavioural data to these corporations, and in turn they keep recommending the content we want to see, making us click more. We are participating in the feedback loop that keeps us in a never-ending cycle of us being the commodity, based on the behavioural data we provide, not just the consumer. 

Image: Setupad

This attention and behavioural data we provide is valuable to these companies. It’s pretty obvious that our devices are listening. I know I’m not the only one who’s been creeped out by seeing an ad for a product that I mentioned to a friend. Advertisements are automatically recommended based on our online activity.

Feedback loops are an integral part of the functioning of technology. From Morse and his need to make technology work for him to today where technology needs us to make it work, these feedback loops continue to spin and create a tighter and tighter connected world, the question might soon become, are we still in control of the spinning. They are how we gather information in order to improve. As the world around us becomes more automated, and various forms of AI are being integrated into our lives, feedback loops are more important than ever. 

References:

[1] Fitzgibbons, L 2019, What is feedback loop?, SearchITChannel TechTarget, viewed 29 August 2021

[2] Luft, A 2020, The OODA Loop and the Half-Beat, The Strategy Bridge, 17 March, viewed 29 August 2021 

[3] The Science of Success 2019, OODA Loop: Your Tool to Thrive in Uncertainty and Chaos Part 1, online video, 20 August, The Science of Success, viewed 29 August 2021

[4] Science Clarified 2010, The First Thinking Machines, Science Clarified, viewed 30 August 2021

[5] Sterling, B 1993, ‘A Short History of the Internet’, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

[6] Navarria, G 2016, How the Internet was born: from ARPAnet to the Internet, The Conversation, 3 November, viewed 2 September 2021

[7] Mitew, T 2020, Civilisation of the mind: understanding the network society paradigm, online lecture, BCM206, University of Wollongong, delivered 14 August, viewed 2 September 2021

[8] Manson, M 2014 ‘In the future, our attention will be sold’ Mark Manson, 4 December, viewed 31 August 2021

[9] Mitew, T 2020, Feudalism 2.0: living in the information stack, online lecture, BCM206, University of Wollongong, delivered 15 September, viewed 2 September 2021

[10] Sadagopan, S 2019, Feedback loops and echo-chambers: How algorithms amplify viewpoints, The Conversation, 5 February, viewed 2 September 2021

Other Sources:

Mitew, T 2020, A Global Nervous System: from the telegraph to cyberspace, online lecture, BCM206, University of Wollongong, delivered 7 August, viewed 29 August 2021

Mitew, T 2020, The chronic task of sorting: information flows and liquid labour, online lecture, BCM206, University of Wollongong, delivered 23 August, viewed 29 August 2021

Mitew, T 2020, The attention economy and the long tail effect, online lecture, BCM206, University of Wollongong, delivered 8 September, viewed 31 August 2021

Has Social Media Changed The Sims 4?

Image: The Sims 4 Screenshot Tips

In 2014, the fourth installment in The Sims Franchise was released to an eager audience. As a long time fan of The Sims series, I hold the previous games in high regard because they were a big part of my childhood. However, it was clear that The Sims 4 was different. The game was seemingly unfinished upon release, as it was missing several components that were included in the base games of the previous two installments (i.e. toddlers, pools, ghosts, etc.) Missing content aside, something felt..off. The game just felt shallow, the Sims themselves didn’t feel unique and the gameplay didn’t feel very meaningful. We all kept waiting for this to improve over time with expansion packs and patch updates, but almost 7 years later, has it improved?

Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of the game that are far superior to its predecessors. The ‘build mode’ and ‘Create-A-Sim’ features are incredibly detailed, so much so that they were two of the big selling points when the game was initially being promoted. It’s far easier in this game to build nice looking houses, filled with clutter and personality, and have good looking sims to live inside. I personally prefer the overall design of this game. These features make the older games difficult to go back to at times.

Over time, it was clear that I wasn’t the only one feeling that something was amiss from the game. The Sims Franchise has a strong online community, with many YouTube Channels, subreddits, and Twitter accounts dedicated to discussing their love of the games. However, they have also discussed their grievances. Ever since release of the game there has been a steady stream of demand on social media for “missing” content to be added. A lot of this content has been added over time; pools and ghosts taking months, toddlers and bunk beds taking years. Some populars demands still haven’t made it to the game; cars, more traits and a memory system to name a few.

Image: Sims Community

All of this brings me to question: would the game look like it does now if it werent for social media?

I took to reddit to gain some direct feedback on the matter. I asked users if they thought social media has changed the game, for better or for worse. Most agreed that the feedback from social media has generally improved the game. Players talking about the features they want is helpful for the creators as it helps them make a game that the players will enjoy. This is certainly true with the addition of improved skin tones, as well as the latest release of the Cottage Living expansion pack, as farming is a feature that players have been requesting for several years. 

Image: Twinfinite.net

Social media also helps enhance the overall experience of playing the game, as players can engage with their peers and discuss gameplay features and “find hidden gems”, as one reddit user put it. The addition of “EA Game Changers” on YouTube has enhanced the game significantly, as they are able to provide valuable feedback to the creators, and their builds have been featured in some of the more recent expansion packs which improves the overall quality of the new worlds.

This is Plumbella, one of the many EA Game Changers

One user commented: “[Social Media] has increased the awareness of bug-fixing and gameplay enhancing mods. On the other hand, knowing that social media will provide this feedback and mods will help things out, may lead to processes getting more lax in providing a high quality, bug-free game.” This is a good point, why go above and beyond to bring certain features to the game when modders will go out of their way to pick up the slack? Or it could have the reverse effect, where creators will strive to out-perform modders and exceed players expectations. Obviously this is just speculation, but it is an interesting idea nonetheless.

Overall, as I mentioned in my reddit post, I probably wouldn’t play The Sims 4 if it weren’t for the community pushing for certain content to be added. The game has certainly improved over time, and I’m not sure if it would be the same game as it is now if it weren’t for the strong feedback from players. In some ways, the game is still lacking, and as the years have gone on I’ve lost hope that we will see the improvement of gameplay features that made the previous games so special. At least I can still go and play those games while we wait.

Do you guys agree? Let me know what you think!

You Thought It Was Over?: BCM206 DA Pitch

Last semester in BCM325, we were asked to consider the future of a certain topic. I chose to examine how the culture of social media could progress and impact the content we consume, focusing on the film industry and the impact of social media on production and storytelling (You can find parts 1, 2, & 3 here).

Over the course of this DA, while I covered a lot of information, I often felt that there were many contributing factors I wanted to include in my blog posts but couldn’t because of the constraints I had set for my blog series. 

Additionally, as I am also a fan of many video games, TV shows, and films, I’ve observed many fellow users voice their opinions on the content that I enjoy. I have often found myself wondering if the creators of this content are actually listening. How are they incorporating the collective opinions of their consumers? And what would this content look like if the creators didn’t have to please these online communities? Which brings me to wonder, has social media changed the media I consume today?

Thus, for BCM206, I will be diving further into this topic by continuing my blog series and simplifying it by adapting it to the F.I.S.T. principle. 

This is how:

Fast – The blog posts will be shorter and more focused, meaning I can produce them more quickly and frequently.

Inexpensive – Cost effective with both time and money, as I have already conducted a lot of research for this topic.

Simple – Focusing on one TV Show/Game/Movie at a time will allow me to keep my posts more focused and not overwhelmed with an overall topic.

Tiny – Blogs posted on one platform, and being promoted on one platform (I have a higher following on Twitter).

I aim to produce one or two blog posts a week, depending on my workload. This will give me time to curate information based on my own research and audience feedback. If you have any ideas or suggestions, let me know here or on Twitter!

I will see you in the next post!

‘This Is The End’: Digital Artefact Contextual Report

DA Access Links

Concept

My concept focused on the impact that social media is having on the film industry in terms of production and storytelling. I chose to present my DA as a blog series consisting of three posts, as this felt like the best medium to articulate my thoughts. My goal was to gather as much information as I could on social media’s recent past to gain some reasonable insight into possible futures. There isn’t a lot of published research surrounding the future of the film industry in terms of culture. I had to draw my own conclusions based on the knowledge I gained from popular media and my own understanding of the current culture on social media. 

Methodology & Background Research

As I was a young teen immersed in social media during the early 2010’s, I mostly pulled from my own memory and researched articles from popular media sites to back up my thoughts, while also gaining some new knowledge from these sites. I chose to focus my approach to the DA challenge on the short and medium term future from now until 2030, with a brief mentioning of the long term future in 2050. My projections were based on the current culture we experience today and my observations of the recent past. 

Some of my research:

Relive 2020 Through Jokes

  • Description: Provides a calendar of the most popular memes in 2020
  • How it was used: I used this to demonstrate the fast paced nature of social media. Jokes can become incredibly popular one month and be forgotten the next, we are constantly moving to the next thing.

Twitter Shows Influence of Buzz on Movies

  • Description: Data analysis on how word-of-mouth on social media impacts the box office revenue of films.
  • How it was used: The film industry has a monetary incentive to listen to the opinions of social media users, as they are the ones who have the most influence on the projected box office revenue.

Kelly Marie Tran Breaks Her Silence

  • Description: An article about the abuse that Kelly Marie Tran experienced on social media following the debut of her character in the Star Wars franchise.
  • How it was used: Social media has allowed fandoms to have a direct line of contact with the actors in their favourite films. I used this to give some context into the toxicity that social media sometimes produces.

Beyond Creepy Teeth

  • Description: Details the Sonic The Hedgehog (2019) controversy and the work to redesign the character.
  • How it was used: The most relevant and defining example of social media impacting film production.

James Dean, who died in 1955, just landed a new movie role

  • Description: Covers the rise of CGI actors, notably James Dean, being used in films to depict actors who have passed on.
  • How it was used: Helped me to consider the future of CGI in films and how it could be used more frequently and extensively.

Donald Glover: Fear of ‘getting cancelled’ makes entertainment ‘boring

  • Description: Reports on Donald Glover’s tweets about his opinions on the negative impact ‘’cancel culture’ is having on the quality of entertainment media
  • How it was used: To demonstrate that even those who are in the entertainment industry think that media is being negatively affected by our current culture, and if we continue in this manner then content will become more lackluster.

Lecture content

Cyberculture

Cyberculture of Social Media: Identity as Trash of Information

  • “Cyberculture on one hand provides emotional satisfaction to users of social media, on the other hand creates a new culture that is completely different from the reality of the formal environment.” (Hakim & Quroatun ‘Uyun 2020, pg. 136)
  • Helped me gain a deeper understanding of cyberculture and how it is impacting identity and communication.
  • Formed the basis of my thinking around how the ‘rules’ of social media and cyberculture have impacted the film industry over time and how they will do so in the future.

Multiple Futures

Making People Responsible – Wendell Bell

  • “Many social scientists do not respond to such a challenge because they remain in the grip of the widespread belief that making value judgements objectively is impossible” (Bell 1997, pg. 332)
    • I found it difficult to comment on the ‘preferred’ future of social media culture, as cultural values are subjective. While the patterns of societal values can be speculated upon, it’s difficult to make sound predictions based on scientific reasoning and methodology.
  • “Futurists also attempt to forecast the most probable futures given specific situations, sets of circumstances, and particular alternative courses of action.” (Bell 1997, pg. 328)
    • These were the main strategies that I used to give my thoughts on how the future of the film industry could evolve in various ways.

Feedback & Iterations

I received several peer comments on my Beta presentation that gave valuable feedback on the structure of my posts. I had already posted all three of my blog posts prior to receiving this feedback, so I chose to edit the blog posts to incorporate some of their suggestions. This comment by Kara suggested that I include sub-headings to break up some of the text. This also felt helpful for the parts of my blog posts that didn’t contain as many images, as it was difficult to find relatable images.

I also adjusted some of the points in my blog posts to include more notes about ‘toxic fandoms’, as the comments from Bronte and Kara had briefly mentioned the impact of social media fandoms on entertainment media. While their comments suggested discussing how fandoms impact the trajectory of television shows, my main focus was on the film industry. I adapted these suggestions to better fit my core focus and my prior research.

I didn’t receive any feedback from my audience. As a result, I looked to friends and family for their thoughts on topics I could discuss. Some of the ideas I incorporate into my blogs were:

  • CGI Actors – eg. James Dean
  • Reboots and remakes – eg. another Batman recast
  • Chris Rock comments on ‘cancel culture’

Audience & Utility

With each blog post, I posted an accompanying tweet to notify my audience. These tweets received a lot of views, yet didn’t receive much engagement. Most of the views on my blog posts came directly from WordPress. I also received several WordPress likes on these posts. I targeted my BCM325 audience on social media, but I received more of a film audience on my blog posts. In hindsight, I could have used additional hashtags and the polling option on twitter to increase engagement. I utilised several hashtags on WordPress to broaden my audience.

My goal with my Digital Artefact was to explore the power that social media users have in changing culture. I wanted to showcase that the film industry is aware of the demands of their audiences through online platforms. By recognising the potential power of social media, users have a chance to utilise social media to their advantage to create the future that they would like to experience. The social utility of my project can best be summarised by Bell’s quote, “Futurists aim to help people become more confident, effective, and responsible actors, both in their personal lives and in their organizational and societal roles.” (Bell 1997, pg. 328)

Conclusion 

The lack of research in this area limited my ability to present data that could accurately indicate the impact of social media on the film industry. However, I believe the connections I made between current cultural standards and films being released is a foundation for examining this notion. I think this digital artefact would benefit from the podcast platform, as there is a lot of discussion to be had about the nature of social media and the film industry. As we saw with the peer comments, there are a lot of topics that could be incorporated into this discussion, particularly in the realm of fandoms and the television industry.

References:

Alexander, J 2019 “James Dean, who died in 1955, just landed a new movie role, thanks to CGI” The Verge, weblog post, 6 November, viewed 16 May 2021 <https://www.theverge.com/2019/11/6/20951485/james-dean-new-movie-cgi-recreation-finding-jack 

Bell, W 1998 ‘Making People Responsible: The Possible, the Probable, and the Preferable’ American Behaviour Scientist, Vol 42(3), Nov-Dec 1998, Special Issue: Futures Studies in Higher Education, p. 323-339

Eagan, O 2017 “Twitter Shows Influence of Buzz on Movies” International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330015918_Twitter_Shows_Influence_of_Buzz_on_Movies 

Hakim, L & Quroatun ‘Uyun, Z 2020 “CYBERCULTURE ON SOCIAL MEDIA: IDENTITY AS TRASH OF INFORMATION” Orasi: Jurnal Dakwah dan Komunikasi Vol. 11, No. 1, pg. 136-143 <https://www.academia.edu/44908201/CYBERCULTURE_ON_SOCIAL_MEDIA_IDENTITY_AS_TRASH_OF_INFORMATION 

Lee, C 2020 “Beyond the Creepy Teeth: How Sonic the Hedgehog Saved Itself” Vulture, weblog post, 14 February, viewed 16 May 2021 <https://www.vulture.com/2020/02/the-sonic-the-hedgehog-controversy-and-redesign-explained.html 

MacBeth, C 2020 ‘Relive 2020 through jokes: A meme calendar you need to see’ Film Daily, weblog post, 29 December, viewed 4 May 2021 <https://filmdaily.co/memes/2020-memes-recap/ 

Sparks, H 2021 “Donald Glover: Fear of ‘getting cancelled’ makes entertainment ‘boring’” New York Post, weblog post, 11 May, viewed 21 May 2021 <https://nypost.com/2021/05/11/donald-glover-cancel-culture-makes-boring-tv-and-movies/