New Avenues for Grief

Death, especially of a loved one or a public figure, has always been difficult for people to deal with, and always will be.  Living in this world and surviving to old age means a person will see their grandparents, their parents, beloved pets, idols and role models all die, and such losses usually require a grieving process.  Everybody copes from their own traumas in their own ways, but technology has opened a door to a vastly more public sphere of mourning than almost ever before.

The death of loved ones, while traditionally a private affair that would be told to those who were close enough to the individual to need or deserve to know, is now often shared like a family newsletter.  On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, there are countless posts mourning the loss of loved ones.  Would you want such a public display of the event of your death? Shared to thousands of people, many of which you probably don’t know?  That isn’t a very appealing thought to me, but there are some benefits of this novel and nuanced grief platform.  There is a sense in which Facebook and other social media sites make your mourning, your call for support, more immediate than even an email or a letter.  In sharing with everyone at once, we intentionally, if subconsciously, abuse people’s Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO).  This usually leads to a greater influx of messages of condolences, which have some comfort to add that is, importantly, very easy to give.

But as we know, the internet is also filled with people who dedicate themselves to antagonizing other people, even over such sensitive topics.  We all know what trolls are, but where do they come from?  Why is grief trolling worth anybody’s time?  Phillips mentions a troll she met in her research who says that a “standard response to criticism of trolling is an emphatic HEY GUYS THE POWER BUTTON IS RIGHT THERE.”  Yes, a solution to avoid trolls is not entering the public spaces where they have some rights to say what they want.  But grief and mourning pages on Facebook and other relatively, for lack of a better phrase, family-friendly platforms seem like the wrong hill to take your stand for free speech on.  Do these trolls and their motivations say something about our society?  Are we just becoming less empathetic?  I don’t think we know enough yet about the situation to say, but there is clearly a big shift happening in the way we experience loss as a culture, especially the way we express our feelings and share our condolences.

Private vs Public Personas, Trolls and Otherwise

Obviously I can’t say if this is true for everyone, but the cultivation of social media profiles involves the selection of specific images, phrases, and the aspects of one’s personality that they want to present to the world. The goal isn’t to present your whole self but a public self. Troll profiles are in an odd space between public and private in that the identities behind those profiles are anonymous even though the profiles themselves are highly public. The profiles may voice extreme versions of the troll’s ideals, or they may just say the most controversial possible thing. Phillips describes how trolls distance themselves from their profiles, referencing things the author wrote on their troll profile as if a separate, real person ran that profile. I wonder if the cultivation of social media profiles, especially when the viewer doesn’t know the person behind the profile, provide an extra sort of justification for trolls. The troll knows that one-sided profiles exist because the troll himself exists, and if the troll views social media as fake showboating, why should the troll believe in a genuine emotional response being expressed on that page? Everything posted by a certain profile contributes to a persona. Trolling evokes an emotional response that breaks that persona a bit using the trolled person’s anger.

Death: The Final Frontier

The articles read for this Wednesday’s class designated the phenomenon of technological grieving, and its responses like grief trolling, in binaries. Male/female, white/non-white, strong/weak, communal/isolated, and traditional/new feature here, not to mention the obvious digital/analog and dead/alive. Though these simplifications are often faulty, they remind of a more, for lack of a better word, primal framework.

Entering a new situation makes one aware of their vulnerabilities. Further, they must adapt toward function in order to survive or thrive there. While these changes could and often have been physical, like expansion of human civilizations, they also include abstract developments– like the internet and social media. So, too, death exists as a change that we fear (or at least think about) nearly universally often because we cannot adapt to, as far as history’s and the current world go.

So, as humans feel we have become comfortable and safe in the digital world, we use it as a tool to mitigate the effects of that other challenge, death. Megan Garber in particular wrote about the ancientness of our tendency to gather when faced with the death of someone. For millennia, versions of funerals and wakes have prompted communing to cope with death.

The digitization of those rites has made them less visceral and therefore less threatening. Too, death in a modern, American context of course still looms, but lacks the constancy it might otherwise. So, people begin to respond, or are perceived by others to respond, to death in a superficial and ultimately meaningless way nowadays. Throwing together a social media post, much less commenting on or liking one, takes less time, energy, and effort than organizing or participating in an analog memorial. The nature of social media emphasizes the performance aspect of grieving– I’m also reminded of the draconian dress and behavior codes for mourning Victorians–and in doing so clouds the motivation of mourners. Is that person posting out of real sadness, or to show off how sad they are? (The answers interconnect, as per the previously-mentioned instincts of humanity to seek out each other for comfort, but can be construed as immoral).

Thus, grief trolls emerge. I find their premise and actions abhorrent, but believe their motivation may stem from a distrust of the changing, vulnerability-inducing landscape of dealing with death.

Eight Year Gap: Similarities and Differences in Memorial/Grief Pages

After reading the two articles for Wednesday’s class, I was immediately reminded of an incident that I followed closely this past summer. On July 18, 2018 Mollie Tibbetts went missing from her small town in Iowa after she was last seen on a run. From the time I saw the news notification about her disappearance until the day that her body was found on August 21st, I was constantly checking the news and the facebook page created to help find Mollie for updates.

After reading about the Chelsea King incident in Whitney Phillip’s article, LOLing at Tragedy, I began to notice both differences and similarities in their incidents. They were both young women who disappeared on a run and were unfortunately not found until they were already dead. Both young women also had Facebook pages made for them to help authorities, friends, and family help find them after their disappearances.

As we can see the basic facts remain similar, however, the specific use of facebook for each case differs vastly because of the eight year gap of their disappearances. As explained in the article, Chelsea King’s online presence after her death was extremely problematic as the emergence of “Facebook Trolls” arose. These incidents were insensitive towards her family and those who cared about her, even if they were just intended to be light hearted like the “I Bet This Pickle Can Get More Fans than Chelsea King” page.

Eight Years later, Mollie’s internet presence was much more dignified with a lack of “Facebook Trolls” exploiting her death for funny or demeaning comments. However, her death was exploited instead by politicians. When it was discovered that Mollie’s killer is an undocumented immigrant, politicians such as President Trump began to use her death as a platform to advance their anti-immigration platform. Mollie’s father was outraged and publicly shamed the politicians for using his daughter’s death for their political agenda.

Therefore, I believe that facebook trolls are not as prevalent on online memorial/remembrance pages as they were eight years ago around the time of Chelsea King. Instead, I think that the “trolling” has moved into politics and current events where people are using tragic deaths to advance their own personal motives and agendas.

Additionally, I also think that it is interesting to compare celebrities and non-celebrities memorial/grief pages. Megan Garber’s article illuminates what occurred online when David Bowie died, however, I think it would be interesting to do a direct comparison of how people react to a celebrity and a non-celebrity death online.

Map Quest

Remediation is quite common in video games today, especially in horror games: points-of-view from camcorders, necessitating the use of torches to light dark spaces, requiring the player to find and listen to old cassette tape recordings to put together the story, etc.  However, one of the most common applications of remediation we see in games is the use of maps.  More specifically, games in which the map has to be unlocked by segment.  Maps are a major avenue for remediation in almost every story-based game, particularly in the horror/survival genre.  Usually, the player has to adventure out into the more dangerous sections of the map in order to unlock the radio tower, to climb to the top of the tallest cliff and survey the area, or to find scraps of map in chests just beyond bosses.  This form of remediation helps greatly with immersion into the game and its environment, which in turn tends to increase the quality of the game and the player’s enjoyment upon playing.

In games such as Left 4 Dead, the map, though still accessible through a push of a button on the controller, begins as a blue or black or white sheet, sometimes with the boundaries of the in-game world drawn on, sometimes with no information whatsoever.  Normally, to progress in the story line, the player will be drawn far from the original zone of the game, usually the easiest zone, on an adventure to find someone or something.  However, before you can even delve into the details of the story events, you usually have to search through chests, backpacks, desk drawers, cabinets, and sometimes even the corpses you have laid in your wake.  In other games, like Legend of Zelda, the player has to climb great towers, with enemies and obstacles around the base and sometimes even going up the tower itself.  Once at these vantage points, a piece of your map can be cleared off, stitched together, or otherwise added to your collection so that you can actually see where to go and what will be between you and your destination.

This type of directional security is something my generation has grown very accustomed to- whenever a person in their twenties is going somewhere new, what do we do?  We pull out our phones or our GPS devices to produce a comforting voice and continuous directions, even accounting for traffic and total travel time.  However, in these horror-survival games, the use of older style maps and remediation serves to entrench the player in their environment.  It is easy to look down at a map every two minutes to ensure you’re on the right course.  It is much harder to have to find a visual waypoint in your field of view, track it through the environment, and struggle to find your way in a new and usually monster-ridden environment.  That a player has to find map segments or scraps makes that player identify just that much more closely with the character they are playing.  In this way, remediation is an effective tool to boost appeal, interest, and thereby sales in video games, particularly in the survival-horror genre.

Seeing the Game

One point that really stuck with me from this article is the idea about hypermediacy. Transforming the viewpoint and visual structure in which a story is shown and told really transforms how it is perceived. For example, look at 5 Nights at Freddy’s. The player controls their own viewpoint the entire time. They start in an office and they read a note telling them to keep an eye on the animatronics because strange things happen at night. Creepy, the player is already nervous. To add on to this nervousness it is also very dark and the game is entirely first person. The player can rotate between different rooms by selecting various security cameras in those rooms. When they are viewing a room any animatronic in said room is unable to move. When the player isn’t watching they are slowly progressing towards the player’s office. Once they reach the office the player can use some of his/her’s limited power supply to light up the hallways on either side of them to check for the monsters, and if the monster is there they can use even more power to shut the door temporarily on them.

Here is a video of someone playing the game, a little corny but it gets the point of the game across well. This forced perspective and constant feeling of uneasiness is a classic horror trope. Videogames allow this trope to be expanded upon though because they give control back to the player. No longer can you yell at the TV for the clueless horror victim to, “JUST TURN AROUND!” because now you are that clueless horror victim. As mentioned in the article and as seen in the game survival aspects make your experience harder. Having unlimited power would make it so the doors could always be shut around you and the threat therefore non-existant. This would ruin the suspense and take away from the constant sense of impending animatronic fluffy animal doom that the player is suppose to feel.

Audience Perspective in Until Dawn

Horror often relies on what the camera and therefore the audience does not immediately see to increase suspense and set up scenes like jump scares. Video game creators accomplish this not just through near-constant darkness but also through the limited perspective of the “camera.” In games like “Until Dawn,” in which action scenes are interspersed with dialogue options and relationship-building, the player does not control the angle of the camera. This allows the camera to focus on a character’s facial expressions or point out a detail in the scene, moving the story forward while keeping the player more engaged than a cutscene would. For instance, when Ashley, Josh, and Chris use the spirit board to communicate with what they believe is the spirit of Josh’s sister, we get several close-ups of Ashley’s face as we choose her dialogue and then of Josh and Chris as they react to whatever she says. In this case, the visible tension between the characters is what builds suspense, as the player knows that every choice they make will affect the story.

This character-focused perspective also hides information. When we discover that Josh was playing a prank on his friends, the audience has to wonder how he set up aspects of the prank, like the spirit board. Upon review, we can’t quite see how the pointer flies off the table or what Josh’s hands were doing. The obfuscation of reality heightens tension in the scene and leaves us as confused and scared as Ashley and Chris.

Lights, Camera, (Hypermedi)action

In class, we have discussed the meaning and the role that hypermediation plays in different contemporary horror and non-horror examples. For example, we discussed hypermediation in A Head Full of Ghosts, the Office, Deadpool, and more. In all of these examples, the main characters draw attention to the medium that is being used to view their current scene. This makes us as a viewer conscious of our role in the story and evokes a sense of immediacy since we recognize our relation to the scene and the characters acknowledge it as well.

In the article we read for class today by Ewan Kirkland, he explores the role of hypermediation and immediacy in horror video games. While he emphasizes the difference between hypermediation and immediacy, to me they seem to both achieve the same goal of drawing in the audience and making their experience feel real and immediate. However, I do understand the difference of the two, as Kirkland unveils that hypermediacy is more technical and achieves a different reflective outcome.

Kirkland uses a specific example of hypermediacy in horror video games: the use of CCTV as a lens in the game. He explains the use of CCTV as “camera reality” because it narrates the game in a surveillance lens rather than a lens as if you are the actual character in the video game and fighting your own battle. Kirkland gives a variety of examples of “camera reality”, and they all remove the audience from the actual character in the video game. This creates a “big brother” like situation where the video game player is more aware that they are an actual outsider and not actually a video game character.

The examples Kirkland offers also showcases technology’s role in the video game itself. I think that technology is used to give the audience just enough of an insight into the game while still remaining removed and detached from the actual player itself, which will alter the player’s behaviors and actions while playing the game.

What We Want: Violence in Media

Our recent readings and discussions have all linked death in media with violence, which does seem the rule in genres like horror or action. However, this same prevalence indicates that humans want to watch or experience violence rather than death. Why?

I’m reminded especially of a scene from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, in which the then-established pattern of audience directing the story through making choices becomes disrupted by the presentation of essentially a single option:

The therapist character, in a position of authority or at least supposed wisdom for both the protagonist and for the audience, introduces that mere exposition or conversation is boring in media. Viewers then respond to the query “do you want more action?” by selecting either “Yeah” or “F*** Yeah”. At least one of these choices prompts a surreally elaborate fight scene, something that would (presumably) never happen in reality.

Movies, books, and so have received criticism for unrealisticity, but here draw attention to the notion that that may be their ultimate appeal. We want to experience things that we do not or cannot experience realistically. Living things are rationally, instinctually against ourselves dying to the extent that we want to avoid it happening to even semblances of us. We’re fine with killing others or watching them die, but it’s difficult to think of media in which the protagonist or audience stand-in dies without somehow resurrecting (aka “real death”). Violence– or for that matter, love, invention, and so on in certain cases–, though, allow us to explore possibilities and fantasies physically inaccessible. We cannot attend Hogwarts, but we can read and watch Harry Potter do so while speculating what may happen to ourselves in the same universe. We can, however, have a conversation with another person, as protagonist Stefan does at first in the Bandersnatch scene. So, Black Mirror anticipates that “F*** yeah,” we do want more action.

Mediated Vision & The Camcorder in Red Barrel’s “Outlast”

Outlast is a massively popular survival horror game that debuted in 2013. As the player, you take on the role of a journalist investigating the infamous Mount Massive asylym. Unfortunately for you, the place is crawling with violent and disfigured patients – and you’ve only got a dinky camcorder to your name.

While reading Kirkland’s piece, I immediately thought back to when I first watched my favorite Let’s Players cover the game. At the time, Outlast put an intriguing spin on the traditional survival-horror genre by not giving the player any sort of weapon to defend themselves with. Thus, the game operates on a “run and hide” system, wherein you are forced to face your own vulnerability and tailor your moves carefully to avoid confrontation. The camcorder (equipped with a limited night-vision feature) fits into this system by giving you the ability to see what horrors might be ahead in the dark asylym, and plan accordingly.

(10:30-12:30 to see how the camcorder works)

This mechanic is a great example of what Kirkland calls the “issues of vision and power” in regards to analogue technologies in digital media (120). By remediating the camcorder and imposing the arbitrary rules –

1) The player/protagonist is stripped of power – you have no means of defense

2) You must use the old camcorder to proceed

3) The night-vision function only has limited power and you must constantly be looking for batteries, or else you’ll be wondering around blind

– the game is able to effectively utilize both immediacy (at the beginning of the game) and hypermediacy (once you’ve figured out the ‘rules’ of the camcorder).

This kind of vulnerable vision proved quite popular with players, and has been adopted in later entries to the Outlast series.