By Dan Reeves
This week, I had the pleasure of conducting a digital immersion exercise. During the time I was participating in this exercise, I chose to play video games. Specifically, I was playing the newest installment of the Assassin’s Creed series, Odyssey. It is a game that takes place during the Peloponnesian war in which the protagonist is a Spartan warrior attempting to battle his way through the war and find out his family secrets. In all, I spent five hours on a Sunday in the mid-afternoon. During this time, I was also active on my cell phone, replying to text messages, yet my main focus was on the game. In fact, I found myself delaying my responses to texts because I was focused on the game. In the game, I noticed several aspects of play that made the experience more immersive that other comparable games.
First, I noticed that there is an excessive amount of violence throughout the gameplay. This is a theme in many immersive games in the sense that violence is captivating as a form of entertainment. Since the time of the gladiators, to action films, to modern video games, people have been fascinated with watching violence because it offers an escape from normalcy in a spectacular fashion. It is captivating because it is different from the norm of relative peace that we find in our day-to-day lives. In this sense, I was intrigued and completely immersed in the role-play of the game and interested in a well written story which seemed familiar because it drew upon references from movies such as 300, Troy, and The Odyssey.
Another thing that I found to be immersive was the multifaceted nature of the gameplay. In the game, there are several different types of currency that can be used for different items that can assist in gameplay. Also, there are a multitude of different menus and screens in the game that all pertain to different tasks that must be accomplished and some are optional. This level of depth to the game made me feel more involved and invested in the story and pleased with my experience, as I began to feel a sense of mastery over the game. This sense of accomplishment felt good, even though I had accomplished nothing in actuality. I stopped playing when my roommates came home and we decided to clean up our apartment. However, until that point, I only left the couch in order to use the bathroom and grab a bag of chips. Ultimately, the short term feeling of accomplishment was outweighed by the stress of what I had not done all day.
By Gracie Goldy & Timmy Schmelzinger
While it may be no surprise that digital culture is an incredibly prominent part of modern-day civilization, understanding how and why it affects society are challenging yet necessary questions to consider. Type ‘Fortnite’ into Google and within .47 seconds, about 304,000,000 results will immediately appear. Fortnite, the online multiplayer video game, is becoming one of the most popular video games even though it has only been released for a year. Individuals of all ages around the world tightly grasp their gaming controllers, put their headphones on, and shut out the real world for this virtual fight to victory. This game can be accessed from various technological platforms like an Xbox, PlayStation, and is even accessible on phones and laptops. This game represents a dystopian society similar to the Hunger Games in which players must eliminate each other until there is just one standing. The effects of Fortnite extend beyond just the gaming world, the video game has grown to influence various aspects of modern reality.
Timmy and Gracie each spent about five hours immersed in the video game Fortnite on the Xbox One and watching streamers play online. Timmy played in his room with no distractions with a notepad by his side jotting down every idea that came to him. He took notes on all aspects of the game. He focused on his personal experience and observed everything that was going on including the culture of the game, the digital society it has become, and and how he interacted with other players. During the time he was gaming he tried to be a sociologist and look at the different sociology theories and see if they relate to Fortnite.
The digital society of Fortnite has turned into its very own community. While I was watching Ninja play, who is the most famous Fortnite player in the world, I realized it has become much more than a video game, it has become a way of life for some people. Ninja streams himself on the website called Twitch.com, which allows people to subscribe to him and get notifications every time he is on. Millions of people tune in to watch him play everyday. While I was Watching Ninja play I could see all the comments people were posting on his page, saying how grateful they were for him and how entertaining he was. Ninja, Through the video game Fortnite has created a online Network Society for people to interact. A Network Society is “a society whose social structure is made of networks powered by microelectronics-based information and communication technologies” (Lindgreen 2017:97). Ninja has created a community for people to socialize online without having to meet physically.
Various theoretical perspectives can be used to analyze Fortnite and explain how the game influences not only users but viewers as well. Specifically, when engaging in the experience, we noticed that most of the players are boys who range from the ages 8-19 years old. The interesting aspect of their age is that it holds no importance once they log on. An 8-year-old boy can play against a college student and society is none the wiser about this dangerous component of the digital interaction. There is a “‘wraithlike’ nature to digital communication, which tends to make hostility escalate much faster online than in face-to-face situations” (Lindgren 2017: 132) and with chatting streams, young boys become exposed to conversations which exceed their maturity level. This is problematic because it normalizes the behavior they are viewing along with explicit language and violent actions much earlier than it would be expressed in real life.
The flames of digital communication, which are forms of aggression, insults, and hatred towards other users, impact young players drastically and influence their future behavior. The more frequently that these boys play, the more they believe that acting aggressively and speaking with provocative language is not only allowed, but somewhat expected of them. Socially experienced players, who are generally older members of the online world, will influence the innocent who will then “conform to norms of flaming” and begin to adopt the use of profanity along with inappropriate actions (Lindgren 2017: 133). These flames of the online world of Fortnite are dangerous because now the age at which boys are exposed to mature content is becoming younger and more normalized.
In consideration of both social presence and self-presentation, players have the ability and expectation to mask who they are in real life. While our social presence is often different from reality, our actions and personality become “distorted by the ‘mask’ that we are wearing in the presence of others (Lindgren 2017: 36),” even when the presence is not physical but virtual. A player’s physical appearance, insecurities, and individual mannerisms are not evident in the virtual world. More specifically, this provides the opportunity to “leave their physical bodies behind and can freely choose to construct their online identities” and become the character of their dreams (Lindgren 2017: 72). This character may be stronger and more physically defined, may run faster, perform better, and be better than the real player sitting behind the screen. They can convince themselves that, at least for the duration of the game, their identity has become the character who they are playing as. Obtaining self-acceptance now has the ability to be postponed and even avoided by unrealistically created online characters to hind behind.
When one’s individuality has been compromised by the character of a game, their interactions are also altered and ultimately can affect the group’s overall identity. More specifically, in relation to the wisdom of the crowd, these players form a community and their individual actions become representational of the group. When observing my friends play Fortnite, I noticed that their general engagement and interest was much more apparent than it would be in relation to anything academic. Their collective intelligence was incredibly apparent and none of them passed the opportunity to share their knowledge of Fortnite. James Surowiecki argued that “insights, solutions, and decision will always be better if we are thinking and acting collectively” (Lindgren 2017: 58) and in relation to Fortnite, player performance increased when others were giving input. The individual playing may not have seen the opponent rushing towards them, but the friend who told him to “look out” helped save his life in the battle and improved the group’s gaming intelligence.
While the wisdom of the crowd is beneficial, in terms of Fortnite and online gaming, it is not entirely useful or progressive wisdom for the real world. It was interesting to observe that these boys were not ashamed to express their knowledge of the game but would then later diminish their success in an academic situation. Sometimes being intellectually intelligent is not valued by a group of young boys but being well informed about a particular video game can increase their social status. So, for the wisdom of the Fortnite crowd, when suggestions are offered to increase player performance, it encourages other members of the group to speak up and also provide their individual input. This mutual engagement and group-think represents how “collective thinking will always give better results than individual thinking” (Lindgren 2017: 58). Their combination of game strategies often lead to battle victories which then encourages further collective thinking and engagement for the next game. These players are stronger when they integrate their thoughts and become even more connected to the virtual world than before.
While these connections create a perceived sense of community, the Fortnite world consists of networked individualism. Rather than players “relying on tight connections to a relatively small number of core associates,” they “meet their needs by tapping into sparsely knit networks of diverse associates” and just scratch the surface of obtaining strong connections (Lindgren 2017: 101). These Fortnite users focus on playing against 99 other individuals, chat frequently throughout the game, and get wrapped up in the online world. They may fail to acknowledge those in close physical proximity to them when they play, by putting headphones on and actively disengaging from any conversations not related to the game.
While Fortnite may be a fun video game to play, this component of digital culture expresses how dangerous engaging in a virtual world can truly become. Self-identity is compromised in efforts to be the best player possible and these individuals begin to forget who they truly are without the controller in their hands. The aggressive nature of the game promotes behavior similar to what they view during the battles and normalizes it. While groupthink and the wisdom of the crowd may be apparent in the world of Fortnite, it may not be productive wisdom for anything related to the real world. Boys around the world spend their days and nights playing Fortnite, isolating themselves from reality and further suggest how digital culture may not be as glamorous or progressive as we make it out to be.
By Kristy Cheyne
As a young woman, Instagram shapes how I view myself and how I want to portray myself to my followers. In my opinion, Instagram has many negative psychological effects. When I scroll through my news feed, I constantly compare myself to other women and think negatively about myself. Although, the issue is that women are constantly comparing themselves to unattainable ideals. Typically, pictures are edited and photoshopped to create a tall, athletically built woman with long legs, big butt, skinny waist, flat stomach, and a gorgeous and unblemished symmetrical face. Idolizing this unrealistic ideal of a woman causes individuals to lose self-confidence and become overly obsessed with taking the “perfect” picture. Women have created methods and tips for photographing a “skinny arm” or “thigh gap”. Users edit their pictures and true identities to please others and gain more followers, comments, and likes. Social media users have become part of a system in which causes us to question our own beliefs and instincts.
On Instagram, likes are a form of approval. When we get a lot of likes on a post, we have a psychological reaction of achievement and become addicted to getting more. The majority of social media users are obsessed with achieving perfection. Only in this process do we lose ourselves and create an image or profile that portrays something we are not. This further deteriorates people’s self-confidence because even when they get dressed up and ready for the day, when they look in the mirror, they will never see what they want. They will never see the edited version of themselves because it’s fake and physically impossible. Although, it’s difficult to resist the overwhelming urge to fall under the strict utopian gender norms of digital culture.