Interesting Findings from Free-to-play Games

During my leisure time, I often play some video games. I have a game console (Nintendo 3DS), but I like games on PCs and smartphones as well. Some games on PCs and smartphones are like games on other consoles such as PS4: if you want to play, you need to pay at a store and get the copy of these games. Although many games still have more contents which are available for purchasing, you can just enjoy most of the contents in these games. A typical example is the PC version of the popular video game, Grand Theft Auto 5. No matter what platform the games is on (game consoles, PCs or smartphones), if you want to play these games, you need to pay for the copy first. They are “pay-to-play” games on PCs and smartphones.


I think the many of these games are worth purchasing. However, these games are expensive. Pre-owned copies can be found in stores because they are much cheaper than new ones. Not everyone can afford to buy a lot of games—that will cost hundreds of dollars. So the amount of users is limited. In order to enlarge the group of players, some companies created another category of video games: “free-to-play” games. “Free-to-play” means you have the access to the play these games without paying and you will pay for some items (or contents) in these games. They are available on smartphones and PCs. With the expansion of the group of players, even if many players pay a little (even 1 dollar), these games can still generate much revenue. Now this sort of games have dominated the video games market in some countries like China: one of the main companies which offers many free-to-play games, Tencent, announced “net profit rose to 5.86 billion yuan ($937 million) from 3.91 billion yuan a year earlier” (Osawa par. 4). As for free-to-play games on smartphones, we can also find some successful examples. For instance, Supercell Studio’s very popular free-to-play game, Clash of Clans “raked in $892 million in revenue, and the app can bring in up to $5.15 million per day (in 2013)” (Tweedie par. 3).

I’m not a “hard core” game player (who usually have a large collection of various categories of video games), so free-to-play games seem like a good deal for me. I intended to have some fun without paying (although sometimes I paid for some pay-to-play games). When I was at home in China, I often played free-to-play games from the large company, Tencent (which I mentioned previously). I remembered my experience from playing one free-to-play game from Tencent. This game is called “Crossfire”. It was a game just like the famous FPS (first-person shooter game), Call of Duty. I enjoyed this game at the beginning when I opened an account. Although its definition was like the original version of another FPS called Counter-Strike (it’s not with high definition), the free FPS was not bad for me. But the situation gradually changed as the release of powerful items (of course, in a FPS, these items are guns). These new items were very expensive and powerful. You could win the game easily with more reliable and powerful weapons. And because of the release of these items, I thought that this game became a “pay-to-win” game. In fact, players who didn’t pay at all like me were not many. Many players paid a little, and they could enjoy this game. That was reasonable. But with the release of expensive and powerful items, “arm race” appeared. Players who could pay more to buy expensive items got advantages and won more games. In other words, people who could pay more money than the average could win games easily. Players were divided into different “social classes” based on how much they paid. I felt depressed and didn’t play Crossfire any more since then.

Some people may think free-to-play games are not worth playing at all just like what I felt when I played Crossfire. Nonetheless, not all games are like Crossfire. In some free-to-play games, paying more money is not the only option to have advantages. Last year, I started playing Hearthstone, a free-to-play collectible card game. I should say in some aspects, what I saw in Crossfire also exists in Hearthstone. Players will have some kind of advantage if they buy some rare cards. And they are randomly given when players buy card packs. So if a player can buy more card packs, they will have a higher chance to get more rare cards. But if you don’t want to pay much to buy a lot of card packs, Hearthstone offers other options for these players. They may “get 10 gold for every three games you win, up to a maximum of 100 gold per day” and “get a daily quest which is usually worth either 40 or 60 gold. You can save up to three daily quests at once, so you can complete all your daily quests even if you don’t have time to play every day. Expert packs cost 100 gold each.”(Friedman par. 12). Not bad. Players like me still have a chance to obtain rare cards. While I was playing, that was what I always did. Actually, I got some rare cards by finishing these quests. Although I still cannot be as strong as some players who paid a lot, I had an opportunity to beat more average players who paid little or didn’t pay. After all, not every players will pay a lot of money. But I didn’t think anyone could be masters without paying till I met some players during the spring break: I coincidently found that some players became masters without paying much. They built great card decks and won by their interesting strategies with very limited amount of rare cards. According to the amount of rare cards in their card decks, I was pretty sure that they were not players who paid much money. Obviously, limited number of rare cards meant less purchases, otherwise, they might have more rare cards than I saw in their card decks. A good deal, isn’t it? But… Wait a minute! In this case, in order to have more good cards, players need to spend more time on Hearthstone. If do so, Players don’t have to pay much money to win games. They spend much more time than average players. So I think free-to-play games like Hearthstone are still “pay-to-win” games somehow: the cost is not only money, but also time.

Now even free-to-play games like Hearthstone which offers other options for players who don’t want to pay much money do not seem good. If so, we wouldn’t see them in the market of the video games. Who will play games which are not worth playing? But the reality is opposite. Many companies developed this kind of games and earned a lot of money from them. The reality seems weird in facade: many people pay for free-to-play games. Why do many players pay money or spend more time in these games? What’s their motivation?

When I see the word “motivation”, I come up with another one, desire. People are driven by some kind of desire. So there must be something appealing in these free-to-play games. In order to find these appealing features, I think I should see what’s in the accounts first. In free-to-play games, each account represents a virtual avatar. Some items such as cards and golds in Hearthstone belongs to these avatar. The status of a personal account is determined by the personal skills, the amount of money paid, and time spent on games. Many people think they will enjoy these games if their accounts can have better statuses, in other words, be stronger avatars. So they continue to search for some methods to make these avatars better. That’s a common idea. A good avatar can bring satisfaction. Avatars could be a better representation of these players themselves. Here I want to quote something from another article, “Studying the Digital Self” to make further discussions.

In “Studying the Digital Self”, the key term “digital self” is very important. Actually, I think it’s the key to answer why people want to pay for these free-to-play games. “The self becomes a commodity to be packaged and brokered on media sites such as YouTube and on product-related sites” (Smith and Watson par. 7), and I think similar things happened in free-to-play games. Many people tend to think their accounts are very important and tried to make them better. Their accounts became their personal brands. If people can be masters in a game, no matter how they approach this level, they may be tagged by others with something like “having prowess in games”. I think no one doesn’t like the praise when others see the record in a game and say “wow, cool”. So one reason why many people want to pay for free-to-play games is clear now: people wants to be praised or at least complimented by others for their prowess in games, especially when they play a popular game. Free-to-play games make many people feel comfortable and satisfied when they think they can do better in games than others.

Another reason is also relevant to “Studying the Digital Self” and its key term “digital self”. I think people don’t only feel satisfied when they compare their avatars with others, but they also feel satisfied when they compare the avatars with themselves. In “Studying the Digital Self”, I found a sentence: “however malleable and interchangeable identities are online, they are qualified offline by the complexity of embodied social identities” (Smith and Watson par. 8). Indeed, no matter how a person wants to manipulate “digital self”, the “digital self” can still be a reflection of his or her social identities. People cannot avoid expressing their social identities even when they use their avatars. In free-to-play games, the situation is pretty similar. For instance, in many games, the masters will be professional players. Their skills reflect their identities in the society—professional players. “Identity ‘play’ cannot erase the intersecting, historically specific aspects of offline social identities” (Smith and Watson par. 8). It seems that according to these claims in “Studying the Digital Self”, the “digital selves” match social identities or classes of these players because the inevitable intersection between them. But I don’t want to interpret these claims in that way. Actually, I deem these claims in “Studying the Digital Self” as an explanation of the other reason why people pay for free-to-play games: the mismatch between status of avatars in games and social identities in the real world.

Indeed, “digital self” can be a reflection of social identities. So it seems that there’s a contradiction between what I said and claims in “Studying the Digital Self”. But that’s not what I mean. Just like what I said, these claims in “Studying the Digital Self” is an explanation of my argument. Now I want to make analysis about that.

In many free-to-play games, more money or time is the key to get a stronger avatar. People who pay much money or spend more time can have better statuses in these games, that’s what I described in the previous paragraphs. If evaluate the cost of these free-to-play games, I should say whether they are much or not depends on the criterion of the evaluation. For games, the cost is pretty high. Many people pay more money than “pay-to-play” games like Grand Theft Auto 5 in free-to-play games. And some others spend much time in finishing a lot of tasks with rewards. But when I replace the criterion by something in the real world, the costs become pretty low. Comparing with the cost to be at a higher social class in the real world, the cost to be powerful in free-to-play games is way too low. For example, if a person wants to be a successful CEO, he or she may need opportunities, money, specific social networks, diploma, knowledge, and so on. And in these free-to-play games, by paying money and “paying” time, many people have better avatars in these games with better statuses, and their “digital selves” may be at a higher “social class”. And if they think about their position in the real world, they may feel satisfied because their avatars have high classes in games (a virtual world) relative to their social classes in the real world. So now I can draw a conclusion: the most important reason why people want to pay for free-to-play games is the mismatch between the “digital self” and social identities (classes). And this phenomena reflects the social identities of many players—they are not as successful in the real world as they could be in these free-to-play games.

Work Cited:

  1. Osawa, Juro. “Tencent Earnings Rise on Games Business.” WSJ. The Wall Street Journal, 18 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
  2. Tweedie, Steven. “Why ‘Clash Of Clans’ Is So Incredibly Popular, According To A Guy Who Plays 16 Hours A Day.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 25 Sept. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
  3. Friedman, Daniel. “Is Hearthstone Pay-to-win? We Find out.” Polygon. Vox Media Inc., 09 May 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
  4. Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. “Studying the Digital Self.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 21 Apr. 2014. Web.27 Apr. 2015.

Research Questions

When I conceived the topic of the paper, at first I had no idea. And one day when I played a “free-to-play” card games called Hearthstone, I realized that maybe I could start with games like Hearthstone. I felt depressed during those days because I lost a lot of games. I met many players with “legendary cards” and they beat me easily even if I had the advantage at the beginning. “Legendary cards” were available if you paid much money. I was confused. I was told that it was “free-to-play” but the situation was different. So my first research question is relevant to the features of these “free-to-play” games: are they really “free-to-play” games? If not, what are they?

Then I retrospect my personal experience in Hearthstone. I got the answer. No, “free-to-play” games are not free at all. In fact, they should be called “pay-to-win” games. Want to win? Please pay much for your powerful items. One or two dollars won’t work. Just need a little bit more—more than the average. Otherwise, do not play. Indeed, this situation is what I saw before in some “free-to-play” games: the key to win in these games is paying more money than the average players. However, I noticed that in Hearthstone, it seemed that some players didn’t pay but they play well and they also have good cards. I felt confused. What happened to them? Is it possible to win without paying much money in some of “free-to-play” games? I tried to find the answer because I thought that should be in the argument and I opened Hearthstone. And I noticed that players could also get rewards by accomplish tasks which was called “quests” in this game. So the answer is obvious: even for players who don’t want to pay much money, they have alternatives instead of paying money. I mean, they need to spend more time than average players in accomplishing tasks and get rewards, otherwise, they will be beaten by players who pay much. So the definition of “pay” is not only paying money, but also spending more time. More money and time than average are the costs of playing “free-to-play” games. And if people want to be powerful, the cost should be more than the average.

Wait a minute. After I found answers to all these research questions mentioned above, I should get the conclusion: “free-to-play” games are not worth playing. However, the reality is opposite. Many players are willing to pay for their items. And some games in this category could easily get a huge amount of profit. Why do many people want to pay more than the average players for these “free-to-play” games even if this sort of game is only “free-to-play” in facade? What’s the motivation of paying in these games?


Well, these two questions aren’t easy to answer.  But when I wrote the outline of the paper, I got some inspiration. I realized that money and time created divisions in these “free-to-play” games, and obviously in these games something like social classes came into being. What do different divisions in “free-to-play” games reflect?

In order to answer this question, I made a comparison. It’s not easy to be a millionaire in the real world; but in these games, just by paying a little bit more money and time, people could be powerful and strong. In other words, they may be at a higher “social class” in games than they are in the society. For example, in some games, you may be at level 100. It’s pretty good, isn’t it? Very powerful. But in the real world, it’s way too hard to approach the same “level”. So there’s a mismatch between the level in games and the social class in the real world. That’s why many people are willing to pay more money and spend more time than the average players in these games: comparing with the social class and the level in games, it’s much easier to be a better person in games, isn’t it?

Our Class Archive

Time goes fast. There were almost no blog posts at the beginning of this semester, and now I think there are over 150 blog posts (estimated according to the number of the authors and how many blog posts posted per author). Everyone made contribution to this blog with great variety in topics. I really enjoyed reading this blog and also found something interesting.

I noticed something interesting in tags. Fifteen blog posts were tagged as “Alone Together”. Actually, “Alone Together” was the tag which contains the largest number of topics. I clicked this tag, and tried to find why it was popular. I found that many topics with this tag were related to social media. Others were a little bit different: these essays also mentioned “Digital Self”, robots and etc. No matter what these authors wrote, they focused on something about technologies. Why did this phenomenon appear? I glanced at my table, and saw my smartphones. I suddenly knew potential reasons. I realized that we live in a world with many technologies, and many of them have already become essential parts of the daily life. Technologies have never been as important as we can see nowadays. We know what “Alone Together” is and we know what “Digital Self” is. For example, in many topics, the application of social media was associated with “Alone Together”. We use social media every day, so we have such feelings. We live with technologies which allow us to communicate no matter where we are. But with the development of these technologies, we are alone. However, at that same time we still have an access to communicate by the social media. In a word, the most popular tag is a reflection of our daily life. Also, it’s a reflection of our generation—we are the generation who rely on technologies.

Back to the blog itself, it’s a medium designed for the collective creation. In this blog, we can write and share our thoughts. And I saw the power from concentration of various thoughts. Usually a single author can write a book which conveys his personal ideas. However, his ideas will be limited by his own experience. If we can create a blog with a topic, different thoughts will be collected in it. Although there are some differences between various blog posts, readers will get more information from this blog than a book wrote by one author. Readers will be able to see more aspects of a general topic. From my personal experience, sometimes when I read some blog posts, I felt amazing to see the completely new thoughts to me. Some authors came up with something I could not do. So I really enjoyed reading these new materials and learned more aspects about the same topic. It’s good to see a blog as a technology which can generate thoughts from different authors. We have our own “think tank”, and this “think tank” created much more interesting topics than a personal blog.

For each contributors of this blog, I think it helps a lot. As a great archive of thoughts and ideas, it contains thoughts in different time period. So when we tried to write an outline of the paper, it would be a convenient tool for everyone in this class. After all, this blog is a collection of various thoughts in this class, also a collection of personal archive. Every contributor of this blog can easily find their previous inspirations and apply them in their new essays or papers.

Essay Outline (About free-to-play games)


Nowadays many players spent much time on playing games which is called “free-to-play” games. However, they are not free at all. In fact, they are some sort of “pay-to-win” games. Players who paid more money will get more good items and others who spent much more time will also get these items if they can accomplish tasks and then get rewards. But in this situation, many people still enjoy these games although they are not fair as “pay-to-play” games (for example, games on Nintendo 3DS). Why do people continue playing “free-to-play” games?

In These Games: Players Are Intentionally Divided into Groups

In order to find some clear reasons, I think it’s necessary to see how these games are like. In these “free-to-play” games, players are divided into different groups with various statuses: players who paid more money than the average players; players who spent much more time than others and the average players who paid a little or did not pay at all. Just like the real world, even in these “free-to-play” games, something like “social status” appeared. “Richer” players will get more benefits and some players who spent much more time in accomplishing tasks with rewards will also get more benefits than the average players. In a word, in order to get more benefits as soon as possible, players have one option: paying more. And sometimes there will be another one: spending more time. But in some games, this option is not available, and the only way to be much stronger than the average players is paying more money.

The Examples from My Personal Experiences

One typical “free-to-play” game in the U.S. is Hearthstone. Hearthstone is a collectible card game which is available on PCs, Mac and tablets and maybe this category of card game is inherently created for the collection of more money once they were debuted. In Hearthstone, you need to collect better cards than what others have to win. Rare cards are always along with some powerful features. When I played this game, I met some players with rare cards including special features. Actually, for many times when I was about to win, one or two very rare cards in my opponents’ deck soon changed the situation and then I lost. Another situation is about “masters”. Sometimes I realized I met very smart players. Indeed, they had few rare cards, but they won by using good strategies. I thought they spent much time in Hearthstone than average players.

Another instance of “free-to-play” game is an online PC game from China, Crossfire. In China, due to some reasons which I cannot understand, the government had forbidden the sale of game consoles for many years. So game companies turned to create a new market about online PC games. And Tencent is one of these successful companies. Tencent introduced Crossfire into the market. It’s a game like Counter-Strike (the original version). And it’s “free-to-play”. At the beginning (in 2010), Crossfire was not bad, I enjoyed this game. But with the releases of expensive items, it soon became unfair for average players. If players bought an items (in this game, the primary items are guns), he or she will definitely have a better chance to kill opponents in the game. Their weapons can target more precisely. So I quitted several years ago. Last year, I logged in and was curious about what was going on in this game. Just like what I expected—this situation was still the same as what I saw several years ago.

Moreover, there are many other examples in Apple’s App Store or Google Play. For example, Clash of Clans. It’s “free-to-play”, but the first time when I opened it, I realized that, this kind of game on smartphones is also “pay-to-win”. For the constructions in Clash of Clans, if you want to finish quickly and get more advantages, just pay. Or, wait for a while, and others may surpass you while you are waiting.

Why to Play: the Mismatch of Status

“Free-to-play” means “pay-to-win” for these games. Why do many people still want to play this kind of game? I think people play “free-to-play” games just because of the lack of fairness. In other word, the existence of the “social classes” in games. In these games, each one may own at least one account. And they can have another version of themselves by using these accounts. In the society, it seems hard to change the social status (social classes). But “free-to-play” games offered an opportunity to change virtual social status by paying (money or time). Some people may not have an opportunity to be a millionaire in the real world, but they may pay more money than average players do (even just a little bit more) and be “richer” in the game. There is some kind of mismatch between the status of players and social status. Many people are very glad to see this situation. Comparing with the real world, it is way too easy to be in ‘upper class” in a games, isn’t it? If you can be stronger by paying money or spending much more time, why not do this? At least, in a virtual world, they may be better off easily.

Work Cited


Something I Found from Free-to-play Games

During the spring break, I found that it was a great opportunity for me to relax. And one day I clicked the icon of the free-to-play game called Hearthstone accidentally. At first, I heard of this game from some friends, and began to play it since last spring. However, I didn’t consider too much about this game. As a casual player, it was just a casual card game for me. This time, I clicked the icon and opened this game, just chose to play “rank mode” which was a new thing for me. I thought I was familiar with this game so it would be fine if I started to have a try for this more professional mode. I thought I had several cards and pretty balanced card decks. Then I started the game.

But things weren’t as fine as what I expected. I met many players who had orange cards, the best category among all the cards. I reviewed what cards I had and realized it was hard for me to beat them. I tended to think whether Hearthstone was fair. Then I suddenly came up with a thought: it’s free-to-play ostensibly, but in fact it’s not. It’s just like some games on PCs and smartphones. Another typical example is Clash of Clans, it’s free and you can “get” it from Apple’s App Store, but in order to get more resources in this game as soon as possible, obviously, you need to pay by dollars. Now many games in App Store or Google Play are just have the same strategy. Another option to get more resources in this kind of games is spending more time than other players. So in all, if you need to gain more resources free-to-play games, you need to pay more, or just spend much more time than the average. So in the community of players, differences between players appeared. Players who pay more are just like some very rich people in the real world; players who spend much more time in conceiving strategies and accomplishing some rewarding tasks are just like people who have PhD degrees. As for others, they may pay for a little amount or not pay at all, and they are the average players.

I realized that even in a free-to-play games, for some reasons, there are various “social classes”. So why do many people still want to try so-called free-to-play games which should be called “pay-to-win” games? I tried to retrospect my experience to find an answer, and found that I just had many related experiences when I was in China. In China, there is an online free-to-play PC game called “Crossfire”. It’s a game like Call of Duty without high definition (in order to make it compatible with many old PCs in China). I used to play it several years ago, but as the releases of powerful and expensive items which broke the balance of this game, I quitted. Many players had these items and who didn’t pay for these expensive virtual items (over 40 dollars each) can hardly win a game. For these player who bought these expensive items, they might be satisfied by winning games. Indeed, not everyone can be rich or powerful in the real world, but by paying more, at least many people could get strong “digital selves” in the virtual world. As for other free-to-play games which offer other options like rewarding tasks for players who will pay much time instead of much money, they are also satisfied by winning games because they can believe that they are talented masters in the game. Free-to-play games created some sort of virtual societies, and there are also some “social classes” in them. But not as Twitter (celebrities can be more influential than common people), players can be stronger just by paying more money (for all free-to-play games) or time (for some of free-to-play games). Digital self can mismatch with the true self easily, that’s why I think people are glad to pay something for this kind of games. Pay much, then get satisfaction from winning and be in a high “social class” in a virtual world, why not pay? As a casual player in Hearthstone (play just for fun), that’s my explanation from my personal experience.

Work Cited

Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. “Studying the Digital Self.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

Free to Play? Not Really

Nowadays, we can see a new kind of video games in the video games market: free-to-play video games. Maybe some people may wonder where they are if they usually play games on their consoles such as Xbox One or PS4. Others may come up with some examples like Hearthstone or “free” games on smartphones (e.g. Clash of Clans). Indeed, people in the U.S. get used to “pay-to-play” games. But companies in China and South Korea have designed a lot of games with “free to play” tag, and this mode is now more widely accepted in the U.S. than it was in the past. People don’t pay for the game itself. They pay for some items in these games. And it’s not fair for players who won’t pay or pay less. So some players argued that “free to play” is actually “pay to win”.

Let’s see whether these games are “pay to win” or not. One example is Hearthstone, a collectible card game made by Blizzard Entertainment. Recently I spent much time on it. As a collectable card game, there are various card sets. And better card sets may make advantages in the game, undoubtedly. I’m an amateur in this game and at this first day when I logged in, I found that some players had purchased some excellent “expert cards” and could beat me easily. On that day, I told myself: “it’s pretty common for an amateur so just calm down and get familiar with this game.” But in the next few days, although I had few expert cards by accomplishing some tasks (very hard to do that), it seemed that many players who seemed to pay for these great card sets can still easily beat me. I should acknowledge that I don’t think there’s no opportunity for me when I meet these players, but the difficulty for me to win is greater comparing with them. Sometimes some orange expert cards (the ultimate level card) can just beat me with one or two hits. However, I don’t want to give up because just as what I said, I still have a chance, although I have to design a card sets without orange cards and spend more time to accomplish some tasks in this game to get some expert cards. That’s a challenge for me and I think it will be fun (please don’t laugh at me…).

From my own experience and some comments from others, Hearthstone is not completely a “pay to win” game. People still have a chance to win without paying much for card sets. However, that’s another kind of “pay”—time. If a player don’t pay for good cards, they need to spend much more time in the game. They will not pay by money, and they will pay by their time instead. So in fact, Hearthstone is a “pay to win” game if we just account time as some kind of payment.

Now I want to make a summary here. Players who will be better in Hearthstone is who paid much for the game and who spend much time (they may also pay but not much). This situation is just like the society. Who will get more resources? The rich. And comparing with the people without a college degree, well-educated people have better life quality. Others will earn less than the other two groups. It’s just like what I saw in the game. Players who paid more will have more expert cards and it will be easier for them to win; players who pay a small amount or don’t pay may be better by spend more time in thinking and tasks; players without spending more time and money will be easily beaten. “Pay to win” design makes wider gaps between players.

Just as what I discussed above, “free to play” means paying by money or much more time, in other word, truly “pay to win”. It seems that this kind of game is not worth playing at all. Games on Xbox One or PS4 are better. Just pay once and then enjoy them. However, the reality is opposite: many people are still willing to pay for “free to play” games. If google how much money generated from Clash of Clans, I think some people may be surprised about that large amount. Why do these player want to pay for “pay to win” games? I think that will be interesting if make analysis about similarities and differences between these virtual world and the real world. For many people, it may be easier to win in the game if they spend some money on these games. They may get some satisfaction in this kind of game. This is more obvious in China: many people just want to pay a lot and have the advantage in some games where items paid will be better than others. In a word, who pay in the “free to play” games may feel better at least in games with a powerful “digital-self” by paying for something.


Twitter and People: the Interaction

Nowadays, we get used to hold our smartphones in hands and then open some kind of social networks or social media apps. We can hardly retrospect what life was like before we have these tiny things. Time goes fast: it’s been a long time since the first day when we created our accounts of these social networking services. As for the one I’m going to talk about, Twitter is nearly nine years old. And obviously, we have many interactions with Twitter. What are these interactions like?

I’m pretty sure that our life has changed a lot since Twitter appeared. Now it’s easier for us to create a new topic and share it with others quickly and conveniently by using Twitter. Just log in, then write a tweet, retweet or share the link. Others may see your tweets and leave messages. Maybe Twitter is one of the most convenient tools for communication ever. The latest hashtags could be older ones just in a day or even in several hours. People now can pursue the latest topics worldwide by using Twitter. We began to spend more and more time on social media such as Twitter because we want to stay “current”. We not only pursue the latest news, but also pursue what happened in another place. One of the most important employee of Twitter, Claire Diaz-Ortiz wrote this in her book Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time: “…I marveled that I was able to connect in real time with others half a world away (Diaz-Ortiz 1).” In all, Twitter plays an important role in our life as a useful way of communicating. We cannot go back to a world without Twitter and other social networks. That’s the most significant change which Twitter brought to us. It’s more convenient than how we communicate in the past and we also obtain a free “archive of feelings” (Cvetkovich 7). Now moments in your life can be recorded just by touching your screen for few times.

Twitter itself have changed a lot since 2006 as well. Now many people use it on their smartphones. Twitter becomes “mobile” with its app. Every day people will unlock their smartphones, click the icon of Twitter’s app and then read tweets or tweet something interesting. The interface is modern and concise now and even the word “Twitter” was removed from the logo (now when we log in we can only see the Twitter bird there). Some features made it easier to share some moments, such as the multiple options for a tweet: people can post short messages, short videos, images or hyperlinks. As for the scale, Twitter now have more users comparing with the record in the first year when it started service. Many celebrities tweet, and many reputable news media are running their official accounts now. It’s a worldwide service now. It goes beyond the boundary of the United States, and every day a huge amount of tweets are created. Twitter become one of the symbols in the social media and social networks. And in order to deal with some problem brought by unwelcome people like trolls, Twitter took many actions.

Is that all for the interactions? I don’t think so. And order to make deeper analysis, in the following paragraphs I will try to apply two examples to illustrate more aspects in these interactions between Twitter and people.

Just several days ago, there was a very interesting topic which was widely and quickly spread through many social media. I remembered what I found when I opened Twitter: it seemed that everyone was talking about “the dress”. On Feb 26, Caitlin McNeill posted a picture of a dress on Tumblr. Then this post was shared by many people soon. This post is about the controversy of the color of the dress. Is it blue and black, or white and gold? People just started talking and sharing their ideas. On Twitter, there were also many people talking about this post, including some celebrities. Tweets about this picture was retweeted for many times and on the next day this picture was still a hot topic. People around the world knew this picture. It was spread just like a “chain reaction”. One told his or her friend, then this friend told others, and this process continued. The result was just like what an article from the New York Times said: “Various theories were floated about why the dress looks different to different people.”(Mahler par.19)

“The Dress” isn’t something big at all. It’s just a topic which may appear in the daily life. However, with the Twitter and other social media, this dress became a very famous dress. When the image of the dress was posted initially, it soon became a typical example about how people interact on social media. From this example, I found that social media brought us some big changes. This change can be pointed out clearly by making comparison among how we communicated in different periods in the 20th and 21st century. In the mid-20th, when people couldn’t meet, they might share some topics by making a phone call. But only two people can talk to each other on the phone and at that time we didn’t have mobile phone so the space was limited—you need to find a phone around you. Then since the 80s, more people had mobile phones. The place where they can talk wasn’t restricted in some specific place any more. Wherever the network is available, they can talk. Nonetheless, still only two people can talk directly. In the early 90s, we have Internet, and we can use emails. It’s faster and convenient but you can’t talk to each other like what we can do on the phones because an email is just like a digital version of normal mails. Emails don’t mean instant communication. People need to wait for a reply and in many situations emails can be formal so the replied may be sent later. Fortunately, we had something like Skype later. Now people can start a chat between two persons. More important feature is the capability for group chats. Now people can talk to each other instantly at the same time with a small group. But the size of interest groups was still pretty small. Finally, we had some apps like Twitter. Just like what we can see from the example of the dress, the group of communication was enlarged to the whole world, and the message was spread very fast. People can share thoughts at the same time, instantly. Twitter actually represent the revolution in the method of communication. Now the communication is instant, people who can join the discussion is all over the world, and people can post what they think wherever the Internet access is available. Today, we can find the accesses to the Internet around the world so we almost have a method to communicate with each other no matter where we are.

Another example is about a special but common group, trolls. In August 2014, Robin Williams committed suicide. Many fans of him felt very sad when they heard his obituary. However, after his death, two Twitter users sent Zelda Williams (she is his daughter) malicious photos that appeared to be photoshopped pictures of her father, reports gossip blog Just Jared. (Frizell par.3) Zelda Williams was annoyed and then she decided to quit Twitter (Note: she was back to Twitter later). Twitter now also bring another change which may be bad for us: the increase of trolls.

I know what her feeling was like when she saw these trolls. Many people don’t like trolls at all, neither do I. Trolls are just say something very annoying without caring your feelings. They just try to make you feel uncomfortable. I doubt some of them may enjoy do that. Others may duplicate what they say in the daily life in the cyber space. Here I don’t want to try to explain the background of trolls which may drive them to do these bad behaviors. I mainly want to discuss the environment of Twitter and the relations between this environment and the existence of trolls. Twitter created a new kind of space and some people changed because some features of it.

I came up with something I’ve read to interpret how’s the environment of Twitter is like.  Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson said in the article Studying the Digital Self: “some users regard online identities as only virtual, a matter of choice and invention among avatars, roles, and subject positions (3).” Indeed, trolls aren’t afraid to be trolls. On the cyber space, there are less restrictions comparing with the society. In the society, people need to obey the laws and abide by the principles from commonly accepted ethics. However, these things don’t exist on Twitter. There’s only something similar to them but that’s weaker than laws and ethics. What is it? That’s something which was often ignored by users of Twitter and other social media or social networks: the terms and conditions. Twitter created a virtual society without the enforcement of some kind of “laws”. So trolls won’t lose because they don’t have to care too much about the terms and conditions. The cost of disobeying these terms and conditions is just the suspension of accounts. Trolls can sign a new one and continue their behaviors. So I think Twitter actually created an online community without enforcing laws like we can see in the society. That’s really a big change—the online version of community differs from the real one. With the interaction between Twitter and people, Twitter changed itself as well, and for trying to stop trolls, Twitter’s vice president said after Zelda Williams quitted: “We have suspended a number of accounts related to this issue for violating our rules and we are in the process of evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one (Gross par.2).”

What are the interactions between Twitter and people like—that’s all I’ve talked about. However, in the end I came up with some interesting questions. What I said above is about the current situation. So what will happen in the future? Will it be just like“Alone together” (Turkle 14) in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other? According to this description, we will get connected by our online identity but lack the communication face to face. But no matter what it will be like, I think some analysis above will still make sense. After all, we create and change technologies and they change us in opposite. We have interactions with technologies. This basic idea won’t be obsolete.

Works Cited:

  1. Diaz-Ortiz, Claire. Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.
  1. Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2003. Print.
  1. Mahler, Jonathan. “A White and Gold (No, Blue and Black!) Dress Melts the Internet.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

  1. Frizell, Sam. “Robin Williams’ Daughter Quits Social Media After Being Trolled.” Time. Time, 13 Aug. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

  1. Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. “Studying the Digital Self.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

  1. Gross, Doug. “Twitter Reviewing Policies after Robin Williams’ Daughter Harassed.” CNN. Cable News Network, 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

  1. Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.

Why Do Trolls Become Trolls?

Nowadays we often spend much time on websites or some kind of social media. We expect to relax for a while or get some useful information from them. Many websites and social media will offer some places which users can make comments there. We can see various people leave some interesting, boring or spam messages just at the bottom of the web pages or below the new posts. However, in addition to what I mentioned above, there’s a really disturbing sort of people existing in the cyber space. They just do whatever they want, say something very rude, dirty, obscene even about personal attacks. Sometimes they may say some repeated words through the whole page just like dumping  trash into a trash can—here the special “trash can” is somewhere in the cyber space. If others reply to them and become angry, they may even have some fun from the attention from others.

Why do trolls become trolls? I think the one of the important reason is about the background in the online virtual society. According to Studying the Digital Self by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, “some users regard online identities as only virtual, a matter of choice and invention among avatars, roles, and subject positions”(1). Obviously, trolls are just like what Smith and Watson said in the article, they deem cyber space as places which they do not need to obey, follow any rules or protocols. Nevertheless, there are some rules on the web. But these rules cannot provide enough restrictions to trolls. Here’s an example about Twitter. I noticed that the CEO of Twitter said “sucks at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform, and we’ve sucked at it for years” (2). We know that Twitter may delete some inappropriate tweets but they need some time to do that. They can’t do that instantly, so trolls still have a chance to say something which is “effective” to them on Twitter. And once their accounts were locked, they can just sign a new one and continue their identity as trolls. Some people can be trolls with very little cost even no cost at most of the time. So trolls haven’t been eliminated on Twitter yet. The CEO of Twitter said: “We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day” (2). The “free play” (1) on the Internet offers an environment that some people can be trolls only with a very limited restriction.

Another explanation is about the social identities. In the society, “power and access are asymmetrically distributed across differences of race, gender, ethnicity, class, and other variables.” (1) Although some celebrities with check marks are more confidential and there are some privileges which can be bought by money, most of the users are de facto equal when they want to make comments. So some people realized that they got more freedom then they were in the real life. They don’t have a chance to do what they can do as a troll in the real life because of the limits of their social identities. But now people can have two identities. One is the identity as a civilian in the society, and another one can be a celebrity at somewhere on the Internet. So it’s common to see a person is not troll in the real life and at the same time, he or she is in the chat room, social media or forums. But according to Studying the Digital Self, “identity ‘play’ cannot erase the intersecting, historically specific aspects of offline social identities.” (1) No matter what identities they may have online, these identities may reflect their social identities somehow. I don’t think that a well-educated, kind and respectful scholar will easily be an online troll. What he or she did on the Internet is a reflection of their social identities. By the using the same idea to infer the social identities of trolls, some trolls may have some failures recently or may be under too much pressure in their workplace. Some people may ask “is there any instinctive trolls?” I don’t know, but I tend to believe that most of the people are not bad even they are online trolls, and there must be some reasons or backgrounds which lead them to be trolls.

  1. Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. “Studying the Digital Self.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

  1. Hern, Alex. “Twitter CEO: We Suck at Dealing with Trolls and Abuse.” Twitter CEO: We Suck at Dealing with Trolls and Abuse | Technology | The Guardian. The, 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

Apple Changed Its Design Language in iOS 7: What Does It Mean?

Nowadays there are many sorts of electronic devices. And during recent years, the interfaces of electronic devices have changed a lot in order to offer better experience. For instance, the operation system of iPhones and iPads, iOS has been improving continuously since it was initially released in 2007. And the design of its interface gets a big change every two or three versions. The most recent significant improvement of iOS is iOS 7 (the successor of it, iOS 8 is based on the design of iOS 7 with many small modifications). If we compare iOS 7 with the previous version, iOS 6, we will find something interesting. The interface of iOS 7 looks very different from iOS 6. To explain this difference, I think we can see the various design languages: IOS 7 is based on the new design which is called “flat design”, and iOS 6 is based on another design language, skeuomorphism.

What does the change of design languages mean? By recalling the term “material metaphor” from Kathrine Hayles’ Writing Machines, I think there’s something worth discussing about the material metaphors inside the change of the design languages.

The material metaphor is about the implication of another medium which can be found in a medium, I think it shows some associations between two media. And the material metaphor can be easily found in iOS 6. The Icons and interfaces of iOS 6 remind me of many things in the real life. This design is based on skeuomorphism. For instance, while I was reading some kind of texts on some sort of background on the iPad with iOS 6, I remembered that the background of “notes” was just like a real page of a writing pad. Other icons were also similar to something which really exists. I think Apple just wants to make people feel comfortable when they are using their devices. People may say surprisingly when they find these designs: “Wow, it looks real”. People will easily get used to use their iOS devices soon because they can find many things they are familiar with. So I think that’s an important reason why iPhones and iPod are successful products. IOS 6 tried to be a skeuomorphic, and the material metaphor is just like what the “notes” shows. The “notes” actually has some features from the real writing pads.

But with the release of iOS 7, Apple started to use the flat design language. The interface isn’t based on the skeuomorphism anymore. Things in the iOS 7 give users limited material metaphors about traditional media such as notebooks. For example, with the flat designs, when people open the “reminder” in iOS 7, they will find that there’s nothing like a real page on the notebook except lines and the sequence of reading which is just like the paper notebooks. In addition, they can get another message from the design itself: you are now using an electronic device. IOS 7 has less material metaphors related to some other media like printed books. It becomes more independent as a medium with more features about itself.

By comparing iOS 6 with iOS 7, I find that many material metaphors on electronic device vanished. IOS 6 contains more material metaphors than iOS 7, in other words, the older version tried to emulate some traditional media like printed books somehow. And the newer iOS 7 tried to create an interface which emphasizes properties of electronic devices as new technologies, although there are many remaining aspects from traditional media such as the sequence of reading (that’s from printed books). I think electronic devices like iPhones will be likely to be a new kind of “traditional media” in the future. Now I can draw a short conclusion by the analysis of iOS: once a specific kind of medium owns more things about itself and less material metaphors about other media, especially some traditional media, it will be a truly independent category of media which is newly created by us.


  1. Hayles, Katherine. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.
  2. “Apple IOS 7 Review – CNET.” CNET. CNET, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.

Artifact Politics

During the Thanksgiving break, I watched the movie Interstellar. And I was impressed by a robot in the movie called “TARS”. TARS is just like a human being, it can talk, finish some work and move quickly. Of course, we haven’t seen a robot like TARS so far. However, the technology is approaching the functions which TARS has. For instance, when President Obama visited Japan in 2014, he met one of the most advanced robot in the world, Asimo. Asimo was designed by Honda several years ago and Honda is improving it continuously. It can run, dance just like us. President Obama said “too lifelike” to describe Asimo. Making robots which can move like a human being, that’s what people can make right now. But Asimo is too expensive for the mass production, it’s just a mark of the most advance technologies, not some kind of revolution in the industry. So actually most of the robots we can see in the assembly line are like arms or something else, not humanoid. And there are designed to finish one or some certain tasks and work according to the default programs. In some factories, there are only some robots in the assembly line, especially in the developed countries. Nonetheless, in many developing countries, people get lower income so although some products or parts which have to be produced precisely by robots, the assembly of some electronic devices and products which can be produced without high technologies will be finished by these workers. Now China is the main country who makes such kind productions. Robots are only used in the certain situation in China. But even in this case, robots have changed our life a lot. People get cheaper products with better quality especially if we compare some new electronic devices with many devices which were designed decades ago.

Although we haven’t seen Asimo all around but in the near future, that kind of robots may change the society in political dimensions. Now the trend can be seen from Foxconn from Taiwan, the huge supplier of Apple. Foxconn set up many big factories in China in order to use the advantage of the lower labor cost in China, and Foxconn itself is just like an authoritarian institution to these workers. They were taught and ordered to do the fixed procedures to produce something like iPhones. But during the recent years, workers in China can earn more money than they can before. So Foxconn shrank the workforce in order to cut costs recently. Some managers of Foxconn had to admit that the automation may be the key in the future to cut costs. As we can see from what Foxconn did, with the development of robots and the economy of many developing countries, robot may be cheaper when a manager wants to find labors decades in the future. Assembly line may be filled with various kinds of robots, humanoid and non-humanoid ones. Who will hire people then? Robots can do works better and seldom make mistakes. And there is no need to meet the standards set by unions. Robots won’t be tired. No 8-hour limit. No complaint about the situation of the workplace and salaries. Just tap the switch and the factory will run automatically. It seems that the authoritarianism in the assembly line as we can see in Foxconn and other factories in many developing countries right now will come to the end, but other problems may occur. In this situation, people who don’t have advanced skills or a higher education degree will lose jobs just like some workers in Foxconn. And as for politics, in democratic countries, politics may become more polarized than we can see today. We may never see the cooperation between different parties because they stand for the completely opposite groups in the society—people who have more knowledge and people who don’t. And in the countries without democracy, some new dictators may appear because their society is split into two parts as well. One stands for people in poverty and another one stands for people who still have their jobs.

Robots changed our life and set political arrangements just like steam engine in the industrial revolution, and in the future, the politics may be more deeply changed by the robots.


  1. Juliet Eilperin, “Obama finds Japanese robots ‘a little scary’”. The Washington Post. Apr 24, 2014.
  2. Michael Gold and Yimou Lee, “Exclusive: Apple supplier Foxconn to shrink workforce as sales growth stalls”. Reuters. Jan 27, 2015.
  3. The Image: American Honda Motor Co. Inc., “Meet Asimo”.