screenshots as digital tools and media objects

Now that I’ve had a chance to properly experiment with the open source social network overview and exploration tool, NodeXL, I’m finally finding some traction. I’d  tinkered with the plugin in the past and more recently managed to spend some time acquitting myself with a little graph theory and social network analysis methodology. Together with an updated version of the software and the Hansen, Schneiderman, and Smith’s (2011) Analyzing Social Modeia Networks with NodeXL, I was ready to explore the use of screenshots in social media.

The approach in my postdoctoral study of ‘indie’ and independent cultures of games production in Australia has, until now, featured a purely ethnographic methodology; interviews, participation, observations and combinations of the three. It was quickly made obvious by the research participants, however, that one of the long term effects of the global financial crisis on the games industry is the intensification of the role of social media in games development at three distinct levels: as means for communicating with a diverse audience populations (an evolution of the more traditional marketing/broadcast model modified for social media); as tools for facilitating actual game development remotely (using Skype, Google Docs, Facebook,Twitter, etc); and as processes and practices for the knitting together of a global games community of developers, artists, players, etc that spans the mainstream, that provides indie and independent with a powerful (but not equal) means for gaining attention to their games. It is this last feature of social media technologies and their uses that contributes to changing conversation about play and games, and has even produced a few global celebrities, like Minecraft developer Notch.

The well established ties to the global console ports, movie tie-ins, mobile- and web-based games markets were already jeopardised prior to the GFC with the rising Australian dollar which made local development more costly. A series of major studio closures from 2010 meant the turn to the iOS and Android platforms for Australian developers was inevitable. In part as a reaction to the convergence of web and mobile markets through smartphone and tablet devices and also in part a reaction to the new digital and social tools available to developers. The new generation of young graduates from specialised games development courses have emerged to start competing with much more established studios and major IOS Australia studio success like Halfbrick and the Voxel Agents.

Although it’s only speculation at this point there are signs that the rise of the indie developer and the growth of the small independent studio developers means an overdue shift in the industry’s entrenched problem of diversification, with women being underrepresented in the Australian industry. One of the data sets I intend to look as part of this research is the recent use of Twitter hastag #1reasonwhy that has been increasing attention to the conditions women face working in the industry (if they can get hired in the first place). It is clear through observing the highly profitable and expanding market in games paratexts (including websites and merchandise, YouTube channels, blogs and podcasts) that we already seeing a significant change with many more women’s opinions, perspective and thoughts on games and games culture being seen and heard, and not just from so-called ‘gamer girls’ or Booth Babes at the latest convention.

As social media takes hold at all levels of games culture the digital literacies involved for the humanities researcher attempting to understand these changes takes on higher stakes at the level of cultural production of media objects, such as screenshots. Learning to use NodeXL means having to correct a number of deficiencies in my repertoire, including a lack of knowledge and expertise in using Excel, and coming to terms with the discourses and terminology of social network analysis and graph theory. By no means have I achieved an expert status, but I feel confident graduating from padawan, especially as I begin to dig into the analysis of the use of screenshots in social media. This research intersects with a personal hobby and helps me expand on the analysis of the digital objects (like virtual hats and game screenshots) that are used as a means for building a mediated online persona. By persona I don’t mean avatars or individual profiles, but a collective and identifiable online presence, one that is often text based – blogs, profiles,Steam and Xbox Live – with important visual components and aesthetics captured on PCs, mobile phones, laptops and tablets and shared via sites like Flickr and Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube.

I’ve put together a Flickr set for the purpose of demonstrating NodeXL here and will be updating the blog with results and discussion as I progress further.  Below is a graph of my core Flickr user network, grouped by relevant cluster, you can see my two accounts Crypticommonicon (for game screenshots) and Moorenet (the family photo album) and you can see the links to close friends and family in the boxes on the left then move across to contacts I have added to my follow list but who have not added me in return.

NodeXL Flickr User Network Map
This graph represents connections (contacts and comments) in my Flickr user network, as plotted by NodeXL, using the Harel-Koren Fast Multiscale algorithm. The layout is arranged with the group by cluster function according to the Girvan-Newman clustering algorithm. Duplicate edges are merged,  Edge Width and Visibility are mapped to Edge Weight. NodeXL Version 1.0.1.229

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