‘Baba-WHO?’: Understanding the reception of The Babadook (2014)

The typical Australian reaction to an Australian film is “yeh – nah!”. It seems that films with overseas acceptance, recognition and exposure tend to do much better locally as we are generally a ‘following’ market. As a result, Hollywood films take up a majority of the cinema space while Australian films have fallen victim to poor distribution policies [5]. The local promotion of these films is often uninspiring and low budget, with little understanding of their target audience. However, the emergence of social media has shown that it isn’t always necessary to rely on traditional forms of marketing in order to build interest and robust discussions around a film. 

One film that perfectly demonstrates these issues with the Australian film market is The Babadook.

Source: Flickr

Released in 2014, The Babadook centres around a mother’s turmoil as she struggles with the grief of losing her husband, and paranoia surrounding an omnipresent fictional being that seems to be taunting her and her son. The titular creature is well established among researchers as a manifestation of the mother, Amelia’s, grief. 

Source: Flickr

Initially, this film was not well known amongst Australian audiences due to lack of distribution and general negative discussions around Australian content at the time. The film was produced for a low budget of $2 million, receiving most of their funding from government agencies such as Screen Australia and the South Australian Film Corporation. An additional $30,000 needed to be raised through Kickstarter for set production [8]. The film didn’t receive much funding for distribution due to its small advertising budget, higher market interest in Hollywood blockbusters, and “a perception that horror films don’t perform well in ­Australia…” [9]. It was also considered too art-house for mainstream cinemas and as a result, it only played in 13 cinemas across the country. It wasn’t until it was released internationally that it started gaining recognition and acclaim. In the UK the film was more widely distributed, leading to it earning almost one million pounds at the box office. The film saw similar success in the US: “The per-cinema income of [The Babadook] on its opening weekend ranked it fourth in North America, one above Penguins of Madagascar which opened on 3,764 screens.” [4].

Part of the film’s success could be attributed to the fact that, while it is an Australian film, it doesn’t represent any particular aspects of Australian culture. Other than the cast members having Australian accents, there’s nothing about the film’s message or scenery that gives a distinct Australian feel, allowing it to resonate with an international audience. This is significant, as it breaks from the idea that Australian films, as they are government funded, need to include profound messages about our national identity.

Source: @melongifts

However, what is particularly interesting about The Babadook is that it received a second wave of widespread recognition when online discussions curiously identified the creature as an icon for the LGBTQ+ community. What started as almost a tongue-in-cheek fan theory on Tumblr escalated when in December of 2016, the film was categorised as ‘LGBT interest’ on Netflix [1]. The film gained more traction as it entered public discourse while it simultaneously became easier for audiences to access. Netflix’s motivations behind this categorisation are unclear. “While it is possible that this was a genuine error (and equally plausible that it was a fan generated hoax), this event solidified fan speculation that the Babadook was indeed gay…” [6 p. 6-7].

From there, The Babadook was truly immortalised as an icon for the queer community as it made its way through internet culture. The socially influenced viral market of this demographic created a self-perpetuating interest in the film. Users created memes and content depicting the character in all kinds of Pride attire and creative catchy slogans containing common vernacular among the LGBTQ+ community. These discussions created a forum for people to express their heartfelt connections to the film. A Drag performer named Shane Kaminski, who performed as The Babadook at the 2017 LA Pride Parade, shared his interpretation: “He refuses to be suppressed, no matter how hard people around him try.” [7].

Users who didn’t necessarily agree with this stance also joined the discussion and participated in the meme by pointing out the sheer humour of the situation.

Whether viewers agreed with these opinions or not, this sudden social media attention allowed the film to gain far more reach than it had initially. The strong online discourse generated a large audience through accelerated word-of-mouth, essentially giving the film a whole new life several years after its release. No amount of initial funding could have created the response that social media created, but it does emphasise the importance of proper distribution. Audiences need to know about the film in order to build discussion online, and Australian audiences simply weren’t aware of the film. 

Additionally, the positive reception of The Babadook internationally demonstrates that Australian films aren’t doomed to live and die among local audiences. Kristen Ceyton, producer of The Babadook, credits the festival run for the film’s overall success. “She says…that launch in Sundance and the following film festivals helped build buzz and create a passionate international fanbase. And in the end, The Babadook made 48 times its Australian box office overseas.” [2]. To reiterate this sentiment, actor Anthony LaPaglia suggests that it would be more beneficial for Australian films to be released to international audiences prior to a local release, recognising that “Australian audiences, by and large, dismiss Australian films unless they’ve been recognised overseas first… If an American or European audience acknowledges the film, then it must be good.” [3].

What happened with The Babadook is an anomaly. No one who worked on the film would have guessed that it would become recognised as a symbol for the queer community, as this was not the films initial intention. It seems silly to hope for the internet to come up with some ‘out of left field’ interpretation in order for a film to become popular. However, this does set an example for marketing teams to use more creative methods on social media to build their audience and spread through word-of-mouth. Additionally, the local failure and international success of The Babadook highlights the importance of proper distribution when determining the success of a film. The Babadook proves that Australian films have a chance of succeeding on the world stage, all they need is the exposure. Once established, audiences will take care of the rest. 

References

[1] Abad-Santos, A 2017, ‘How the Babadook became the LGBTQ icon we didn’t know we needed’, Vox, 25 June, viewed 25 March 2022

[2] Bizzaca, C 2019, ‘The Babadook to The Nightingale: Festival Release Strategies’, Screen Australia, 11 June, viewed 31 March 2022

[3] Dow, S 2014, ‘What’s wrong with Australian cinema?’, The Guardian, weblog post, 26 October, viewed 29 March 2022

[4] Hardie, G 2014, ‘Why was ‘The Babadook’ kept from Australians?’, The New Daily, 3 December, viewed 29 March 2022

[5] Harris, L 2013, ‘The horror at the heart of Australian cinema’, The Conversation, 14 November, viewed 30 March 2022 

[6] Middlemost, R 2019, ‘Babashook: The Babadook, gay iconography, and Internet cultures’ The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 8, issue 1, p. 2-12

[7] Rodriguez, M 2017, ‘What makes the Babadook a gay icon? Pridegoers who dressed as the monster explain.’ Mic, 26 June, viewed 25 March 2022

[8] Swift, B 2012, ‘The Babadook successfully raises $30K through crowdfunding – just’, IF Magazine, 27 September, viewed 30 March 2022

[9] White, D 2015, ‘The Babadook has horror run at home, thrills overseas’, Australian Financial Review, 17 January, viewed 31 March 2022

Images

Ashleigh, C 2014, An image from the book in “The Babadook,” illustrated by Alex Juhasz, image, The New York Times, viewed 2 April 2022

Broderick, R 2017, my new favorite Tumblr meme is insisting The Babadook is gay, Twitter, viewed 31 March 2022

canburak (2012), Karabasan_3, image, Flickr, viewed 2 April 2022

canburak (2012), Karabasan_12, image, Flickr, viewed 2 April 2022

melongifts (2017), The Babadook holding a pride flag, image, Twitter, viewed 1 April 2022

Orozco, P 2017, Come thru Babadook, image, Instagram, viewed 2 April 2022

The Babadook 2014, motion picture, Screen Australia and Causeway Films, Australia, written & directed by Jennifer Kent

The Real Monster: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Camp, gore, and complex female friendships; Jennifer’s Body has it all. While it was heavily criticised at the time of release, recently it has emerged as a cult classic that is being recognised for its commentary on societal views of women and sexuality, doing so through the metaphor of monsters.

Released in 2009, Jennifer’s Body follows the close friendship between Anita ‘Needy’ Lesnicki and the titular Jennifer Check. After attending a gig at the only bar in town, Jennifer is used by the punk rock band, Low Shoulder, for a satanic ritual that they perform with the intention of gaining world-wide fame. The ritual required a virgin sacrifice, and because Jennifer lied about her virginity, the ritual failed. As a result, Jennifer is possessed by a demon and gains supernatural abilities. The demon that possesses Jennifer is known as a Succubus; “a demonic, female, sexual predator who seduces human males to feed on their flesh, blood, and soul in order to survive and nourish her strength.” (Jennifer’s Body Wiki 2012). These feedings occur on a monthly cycle, with her only needing to feed once during this time. Jennifer experiences a significant decline in her abilities and physical appearance during this ‘time of the month’, which is when she knows it’s time to plan her next ‘meal’. The supernatural abilities that Jennifer obtains include strength, levitation, regeneration, etc.  

Source: Pinterest

Jennifer begins targeting the young men of the fictional town Devil’s Kettle in order to seduce them and consume their flesh. The town is unsure why these young men are being murdered, but Needy becomes suspicious of Jennifer and begins to uncover the true nature of these killings. Jennifer is not suspected to be behind these attacks due to her overt femininity and the underestimation of her strength. Her victims do not perceive her as a threat, which is what leads to their demise.

The way that the Succubus is presented in this film can represent particular cultural anxieties around women and femininity. Many aspects of Jennifer’s newfound supernatural abilities serve as metaphors for female experiences. For example, “these monsters’ hunger, voracious, insatiable, and unrestrained, speaks to the social demand for female bodies to be disciplined, cautious, and restrained in their desires…” (Willis & Roberts 2017, p. 6). Prior to her attack, Jennifer’s promiscuous reputation was placed on her due to her physical appearance and overt femininity. It wasn’t until her attack that she embraced this label and used it to her advantage. Her allure being used to commit these murders can be interpreted as society having negative views on female sexual desire. It disrupts the idea that only men can be the aggressors and highlights that “a woman can be violent, ruthless, and powerful, and this is threatening.” (Chusna & Mahmudah 2018, p. 12).

Her monthly feeding cycle and how her cravings, moods, and physical appearance fluctuate during this time is a direct reflection of the menstruation cycle (Willis & Roberts 2017). This echoes the way society views menstruation, specifically the idea that women turn into a “monster” during their menstrual cycle.

However, Jennifer’s monstrosity doesn’t just stem from her sudden demonic abilities. It has been apparent in her behaviour towards Needy from the beginning of their relationship, as well as the way she judges her peers. She perfectly fits the archetype of a common film trope, the ‘mean girl’. Caitlin Egan explores this idea in her thesis ‘Hell is a Teenage Girl’, stating that, “Jennifer is monstrous because of her treatment and othering of all students who do not live up to her standards.” (2017, p. 45). Jennifer’s unique perspective on her demonic experience only emphasises her narcissism, as it often seems like her priorities are skewed. In her lowest moments Jennifer states that she feels like a “normal girl”, as if that’s the worst thing she could possibly become (Egan 2017). Demonstrating that “Jennifer is miserable not because she is hungry, but because her perfect appearance is flawed.” (Egan 2017, p. 51).

All of that being said, this film also raises questions about who can be considered the true monster. Villainy and victimhood aren’t portrayed as black at white in most cases. While Jennifer engages in some heinous acts, this is the result of her being the victim of assault and attempted murder. On the other hand, while the townspeople have experienced great loss and are seemingly under attack, they also demonstrate antagonistic qualities towards the main characters. The people of Devil’s Kettle are portrayed as ignorant and naive as they blindly support the men who attacked and attempted to murder Jennifer, even going so far as to berate Needy as she attempts to warn them about their dangerous, egotistical behaviour. 

The only characters who seem to fit neatly into the category of ‘villain’ are the antagonists, Low Shoulder. While Low Shoulder doesn’t take centre stage during a majority of the film’s run time, their presence is consistently felt in the background as they gain national recognition. Needy feels taunted by them as their single is frequently played on the radio and sung by the town as an anthem for their loss. 

Similar to Jennifer’s ‘mean girl’ monstrosity, the men of Low Shoulder demonstrate pure narcissism. They have no remorse for their actions and bask in the glory of the town’s worship. They have no qualms about taking advantage of their audience’s ignorance for personal gain. Needy is the only one aware of their true nature.

During the final battle between Needy and Jennifer, Needy is bitten by Jennifer, which results in her absorbing some of the demon’s abilities. Plagued by the trauma of her friendship and loss of her boyfriend, these abilities help her release her own ‘monstrous’ side and realise that they might not be entirely detrimental. Her newfound power helps drive Needy to track down Low Shoulder to enact revenge by murdering them in their hotel room. 

This film presents multiple complex ideas about what it means to be considered a ‘monster’ in society. While Jennifer is certainly a monster in many aspects, both pre and post transformation, these qualities almost act as a red herring. A woman embracing her horrific nature and sexual desire is shown to be the obvious monster of this film, but it’s Low Shoulder that exhibits monstrous qualities without being supernatural. Proving that the true monsters aren’t always the ones planted right in front of our faces.

References:

Booth 2019, Jennifer Hall Scene, image, Anatomy of a Scream, viewed 30 March 2022

Chusna, A & Mahmudah, S 2018, ‘Female Monsters: A Figuring Female Transgression in Jennifer’s Body (2009) and The Witch (2013)’, Humaniora, Vol. 30, No. 1, pg. 11-14

Egan, C 2017, ‘“Hell is a Teenage Girl”: Monstrous [Im]Perfection in Contemporary Horror’, Master’s Thesis, California State University, San Marcos

Grady, C 2018, ‘How Jennifer’s Body went from a flop in 2009 to a feminist cult classic today’, Vox, 31 October, viewed 26 March 2022

jamieleecvrtis, Jennifer’s Body (2009), gif, Tumblr Gallery, viewed 30 March 2022

Jennifer’s Body 2009, motion picture, Twentieth Century Fox, Los Angeles, California

Jennifer’s Body Wiki, 2012, Succubus, Fandom, viewed 23 March 2022

Mmkayhanner 2010, Indie Band, image, Blogspot, viewed 30 March 2022

NuraBy 2016, Jennifer’s Body HD Wallpaper, image, Wallpaper Abyss, viewed 30 March 2022

Steph, Jennifer’s eyes changing, gif, Pinterest, viewed 30 March 2022

Willis, D & Roberts, T 2017, ‘Desiring Monsters: Femininity, Radical Incontinence, and Monstrous Appetite in Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body, and Deadgirl’, Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, Vol. 17, Issue 2, pg. 3-10

“Has Social Media Changed…?”: My DA Reflection

My Digital Artefact is a blog series titled, “Has Social Media Changed…?”, where I focus on a particular TV show or video game and analyse how social media has had an impact on this content. I came to this idea after noticing how online fan communities express their love and/or disappointment towards their favourite media, and seeing the different ways the creators respond to audience feedback. They respond in ways that directly address the audience’s desires or make them feel like they aren’t heard; either response could help or hurt their product. My project aims to showcase the different ways that social media and creator responses have impacted their product. By focusing on this question, my blogs stayed contained and not overwhelmed with content.

A lot of people consume and enjoy media without participating in the online fandoms. I specifically wanted to target those who are a part of these online communities, as it seems like they are the most affected by these issues.

I’d have an idea of what to discuss based on my own opinions on the topic, then I would conduct research based on these opinions. I would then post on the subreddits of the particular TV show or game and ask fans for their opinions on this topic. The feedback I received would be incorporated into my blog post. It took around two days to accumulate the feedback and research for each blog, and subsequently took me a few hours to write. I already had knowledge on these topics, so this process was inexpensive with my time.

The goal of my project was to consolidate the discussions that are already taking place in these communities. In theory, this would perpetuate these discussions and give them further potential to create the change that audiences are craving.

Additionally, I wanted to give fans a focused space to discuss these issues and express their thoughts. By having my own thoughts and the opinions of others showcased in a blog post, I wanted fans who share these opinions to read it and have their feelings validated by these perspectives. If people disagree or have a different take on the issue, this was also a place for them to share these thoughts directly.

My background research and opinions for the first three posts were formulated based on YouTube videos from fans that have discussed the issues with specific games and TV shows. There are several articles that I also used to give more background on the specific details I discussed. Here’s some of the research I used:

Based on this research, and feedback I received from my reddit posts, I wrote my blogs for The Sims 4, Pretty Little Liars and Animal Crossing: New Horizons

After not receiving feedback on either of these posts when promoting them on Twitter, I changed my promotional tactic. I submitted follow up posts on the respective subreddits for each blog. Here, I was able to receive direct feedback on each post, and the reddit posts that didn’t receive any comments gained a decent amount of upvotes.

As a result, I gained over 30 views on each blog post on the day of promotion and have slowly accumulated more views over time. I received several positive comments that perfectly reflected the goal of my social utility. They praised the blogs and provided more insight into the details I discussed. This feedback allowed me to see the impact of social media in terms of players’ experience of the game, rather than changing the game itself. I aimed to lean into this perspective when researching future blog posts.

However, my blog series reached a few roadblocks after I posted my beta. I posted in the subreddits of the games Life is Strange and Stardew Valley to gain feedback for my next blog posts. My submissions on the LIS subreddits didn’t receive many responses that I felt I could use, so I decided that my next blog would focus on the game, Stardew Valley. When posting my research post, I received some comments, however in terms of upvotes, the post did not do as well as previous posts. Based on the feedback from my past blogs, I chose to post another submission to the Stardew Valley subreddit, this time asking users if the online community has had an impact on their experience of the game. This post performed much better than the previous one, and I received more comments that I could use in my blog.

While I received a similar number of views on this blog after posting the link to reddit, the reddit post also didn’t perform well. This helped me reflect on my social utility. I realised that while social media has had an impact on many forms of media, not all audiences would respond in a similar way. Perhaps insinuating that social media has changed beloved content evokes negative connotations, no matter how positive the experience. I also suspected that I misread the self-promotion rules on the Stardew Valley subreddit. While it didn’t explicitly state that I couldn’t promote my writing, some users might not have appreciated me promoting my work in the subreddit.

I decided to use this lack of feedback to come up with a different approach for my next blog post. As I received many positive comments on my Animal Crossing blog, I chose to write a follow up blog focusing on the new content announcement. Nintendo showcased a ton of new content that players had been asking for since the game’s release. This was evidence to me that social media has certainly had an impact on the game. This blog did not require an initial research post, as I used my research from the previous Animal Crossing blog and cited the Animal Crossing Direct

Again, this post received the same amount of views as the others, yet this post also did not do so well in terms of the promotional posts. The promotional posts received few upvotes and several downvotes. While I feel that this blog sums up the topic perfectly, the comment I received on one promotional post indicates that not all players feel satisfied with this update. Therefore, the message of my blog doesn’t resonate with every player.

Overall, I’m happy with my achievements throughout this blog series. Although not all blogs received positive feedback, I think journey has helped me strengthen my writing and find a new love for the content that I enjoy through involving myself in the online communities. The social utility of my project may not have been consistently well-received, but I’m glad I got to engage thought-provoking discussions in these communities and analyse the different ways social media impacts content.

Sources:

The Sims 4, Pretty Little Liars, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons (1 & 2) research reddit posts.

The Sims 4, Pretty Little Liars, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons tweets.

Peel, J 2014, EA address fan upset over The Sims 4’s missing pools and toddlers, PCGames(N), 8 July, viewed 25 August 2021

Kent, E 2020, The Sims 4 update adds over 100 new skin tones, Eurogamer, 8 December, viewed 25 August 2021

Idika, N 2017, ‘Pretty Little Liars’ Had The Wildest Ending All Because Of An Internet Fan Theory, PopBuzz, 29 June, viewed 21 September 2021

Marinaalexis 2021, How Pretty Little Liars Mishandled Sensitive Subjects, online video, 6 March, marinaalexis, viewed 20 September 2021

Crossing Channel 2020, Are Animal Crossing’s Villagers Too Nice Now?, online video, 7 January, Crossing Channel, viewed 26 September 2021

u/VOIDYOUTH 2020, Animal Crossing desperately needs MORE content, r/NintendoSwitch, Reddit, 23 June, viewed 26 September 2021 

Nintendo 2021, Animal Crossing: New Horizons Direct 10.15.2021, online video, 16 October, Nintendo, viewed 16 October 2021

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