Final comments “Black Mirror”

Let’s gamify this thread a little. How many layers are in “Playtest” S3:E2 of “Black Mirror”? Count them and describe them and comment on them in light of any readings covered thus far this term.

Now consider this quote from a review of “Hated in the Nation” (Black Mirror – S3:E6):

“That’s the central conceit of ‘Hated in the Nation’; what happens if hyperbolic postings on social media are taken literally? Such reams of vitriol – no matter how lightly posted – inevitably have an effect on the target, and Brooker takes that to the extreme here, with the most hated person under the #DeathTo hashtag at the end of each day literally being killed.”

What is your take on this episode? Connect your answer to any class readings discussed this term. Also, use this opportunity to connect your answer to any episodes of the show we discussed as a group or that you might have watched on your own.

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7 thoughts on “Final comments “Black Mirror”

  1. I think there are 3 most important layers in this narrative:
    1. Coopers Internal Turmoil – Cooper leaves home without telling his mother, he travels the world heavily burdened by the lack of connection he feels with her after his father’s death from early onset Alzheimer’s. This is a very dark and complex layer full of grief and anxiety.

    2. Cooper’s External Interactions – Meets Sonja in London stays with her after his cards are compromised. Since he can’t get back to America he takes a one off testing job with a video game company Saito Gemu. Sonja who works as a tech journalist informs him this is a huge highly secretive company working on something groundbreaking. In this layer Cooper initially comes of as carefree but quickly we realize he is thrill seeking to compensate for the overwhelming grief he feels in regard to his family.

    3. Cooper’s Virtual Reality within the Games- After the first successful test of VR whack a mole Cooper is asked to join testing for another VR technology, he agrees. This is testing for a game designed for the ultimate adrenaline junkie a virtual horror that uses ones own mind to manifest memories and fears to scare them. The game is meant to be just audiovisual but is felt also physically by Cooper. The episode plays out the horror intensifies and Cooper wants out. The plot twist at the end is that all of this was only seconds, Cooper’s phone had rang and interfered with the signals essentially frying his brain after 4 seconds. Cooper died screaming “Mom”. When Cooper enters the estate the feeling is one of futuristic productivity many people working but only Katie acknowledging him. Next Cooper enters the stark white testing room which had an eerie hospital feel (perhaps foreshadowing perhaps just in hindsight) then when Cooper enters the horror portion the building is dark, haunting a typical horror setup. In this layer all previous layers are incorporated to enhance the experience. This combination of layers gives a coherent feel to the episode.

    Mechanics: The mechanics describes the “hidden” part of the game.
    – The lack of information provided to cooper about the “procedure” were symbolic of the lack of understanding on Coopers’ end. Then the apology from Shou Saito about the data tendrils going too far into his brain causing memory loss.
    Dynamics: The dynamics is the part of the mechanics that player can actually see.
    – The implant “mushroom” inserted into Cooper’s neck
    – Gopher, moving objects, spiders that Cooper knows are part of the game. He runs his hand through them and they flicker.
    Aesthetics: The aesthetics describes the desirable emotional responses.
    – The game is intended to invoke intense fear.
    – Lack of control.
    – The afterglow and joy of being alive that is a result of the adrenaline rush from playing the game (not so much in this case).

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  2. 2017 Digital Life More Dystopian Than We Think

    Ever feel like you’re living in Black Mirror? The episode “Hated in the Nation” (Black Mirror S3:E6) is an example of a society where social media has gained control of peoples public branding or persona, forcing them to one ‘authentic’ identity, both on-line and in real life. In this way, each person is ‘known’ to everyone, both in their professional life, private life, digital life and physical life. Notice in the episode how people on the street recognize the reporter who has been shamed, even as she walks to her house. She is scorned to her face by a passer-by, because of whatever took place on-line that led to her public shaming. The dystopian TV society on Black Mirror is not as different from our society as we might think.

    This type of public recognition on the streets indicates that individuals in this imaginary society have nowhere to hide because there are no longer varieties of ‘self’. There are no lines between professional self, acquaintance self, neighbor self and with friends self. The only space that appears private is inside homes, although this becomes at risk due to AI bee surveillance practiced by the government, which leads to terrorist use of this information.

    Social media in 2017 is placing increasing demands on people to expose more and more of their personal lives online for all the world to see, then exploiting people’s information (likes, interests) through algorithms, resulting in personally targeted advertising. In class discussions, several of us expressed our increasing dissatisfaction with Facebook and how it has turned our ‘friends’ into constant sellers. We talked about how Facebook ‘herds’ users into ‘public’ settings on all private material by making it complicated to set ‘private’ options. We noted the lines of ‘self’ blurred between public and private when we heard of people getting fired for comments or pictures they posted, showing them in ‘compromised’ activities (including political activism in the form of protests).

    In the article “‘You have one identity’: performing the self on Facebook and LinkedIn”, Jose van Dijck helps us understand the link between harvesting information from users and the concept of one transparent identity, stating that “Facebook and other SNSs favour the idea of people having one transparent identity that they disclose online, releasing habitual behavioral data and personal information in the process of socializing” (p. 200). In other words, social media sites want people to have one ‘self’, (opposed to several ‘selves’), so that it is easier to harvest personal information for purposes of marketing, which rely heavily on behavioral data and personal information. The more data we reveal and the more stream-lined and uniform the systems of collection are, the easier it is to harvest said data. Van Dijck explains that the sites themselves promote uniformity by how the interfaces are constructed and the kinds of prompts that users are asked to participate in, “forcing users to encode their information homogeneously” (p. 206), which leads to algorithms ability to “automatic mining of personal and bahavioral data” (p. 202). In this way, Dijck makes it clear that data harvesting is made easier when our online persona is completely consistent, instead of varied between work self, private self, digital self and physical self.

    By exaggerating what is already happening to us in 2017, Black Mirror shows a society where digital media increasingly demands that ‘multiple selves’ be streamlined into ‘one transparent identity’. This self, when connected with actual persons who live and breath and move about amongst friends, coworkers, family and community, has no resistance to being mined, exploited and controlled. The show brilliantly makes this sinister dystopian society uncomfortably too close to home.

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  3. In playtest, it felt as though there were three levels to the episode. The main character leaves home to travel around the Europe, after a trying time of taking care of his father who developed early onset Alzheimers. He speaks to this woman he meets abroad about his close relationship with his dad and reveals that he does not know how to relate to his mother.

    He finds out about a new game from this company who extends our capability to bridge the real world virtual world gap. This company has created a game implant that is placed into the neck near the base of the skull. This chip is a learning chip and plays off his fears. This new tech as the book lover longs for cyber drama
    challenges the main characters concept of humanity.

    Layer one
    Throughout the entire episode, the character does not answer his mother’s phone call. Even when approached on the subject of answering his mother’s phone call he gives this whole talk on how he does not know how to relate to his mother. He continues to distance himself from this human to human contact with his mother by entering into the digital world.

    Layer two
    While in this digital world all of his senses are immersed, or so it seems. The first trial he does is somewhat menial mostly for adjustments. Then when you think that he is finished the fine tuning the episode seamlessly transports you with the character to a house on the compound of the game tech giant. Then this is where the total game immersion develops deeper. The character is taken to a house in the game, though he thinks that he is being transported physically, it is still in the game. The game design of the implant is for it to be adaptive and to evolve to the characters responses. The character is able to taste in the game and feel real live sensations. When he is attacked in the game and is stabbed by the woman he met that is when he questions if the implant is still a game or if it is real. This representation of her stabbing him is his fear to trust his genuine interaction with her. In the game, it shows that he does not trust her when she comes to tell him that he is in trouble and that he should come with her. Earlier on in the episode, he tries to withdraw money for a plane ticket home, and in the game, she makes mention of his belief that she tampered with his debit card and cloned it to go on shopping sprees.

    Layer 3
    His mistrust in his humanity is thrust into his lap when the game steals every memory from his mind and makes him like his father to the point that he did not even recognize himself. Though this was not really happening to him in real life again the game environment is so finely detailed that his mind believes everything that is happening. So when that game narrative of plays on your fears as Henry Jenkins points out, “Such works do not so much tell self-contained stories as draw upon our previously existing narrative,” (Jenkins 2002). This video game that the character is playing does just that by playing off his fears of being unable to relate to his mother, of not being able to trust the girl that he was with, to finally ending up like his father. At the root of his escape, he wanted to make as many memories as he could because he was afraid of ending up like his father.

    This enevitably leads him back to him needing to talk with his mother, but because he left his phone on the cross signal fried his brain so by the time he reached his mother to finally talk with her he was dead.

    Works cited
    Introduction: A Book Lover Longs for Cyberdrama

    Jenkins, H. (2002) . Game Design as a Narrative

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  4. Let’s gamify this thread a little. How many layers are in “Playtest” S3:E2 of “Black Mirror”? Count them and describe them and comment on them in light of any readings covered thus far this term.

    First of all, this episode blew my mind. Especially the ending how the whole episode Cooper was experimenting with technology and in the end technology is what killed him. So twisty! As for how many layers are in “Playtest” I believe there are either 3 or 4. It’s kind of hard to figure out how many layers there are completely, that’s why I’m unsure. The given layers are Coopers reality, his experience in the game (first in the creepy house & then when he is with his mother), and then when he is in the office with the CEO and the lady administering the game. My confusion comes when we look at Coopers reality in the white room where the game starts and ends and we tie that in with the “reality” of Cooper being in the CEO’s office. If he begins the game and ends the game in the white room, then how is the office scene considered reality and not another level of the test/game?

    I think the whole transmedia storytelling plot of this episode is to showcase how overcome people are with technology and how it can lead to our demise. Cooper is willing to let a game access his entire being without much hesitation and although the game doesn’t specifically kill him in the end, his phone (being technology) does. I think this can be brought back to what Innis says in our past readings when he discusses how society is obsessed with media and how it can be negative. In this episode Cooper is completely involved in this virtual reality world and lets it overcome him and his functioning motor skills and brain activity. It plays into what Innis says because society becomes to involved with social media that it can brainwash us and manipulate our lives if we don’t escape its constraints. The overall message of both this episode and Innis’s words point towards how technology can be destructive and have negative impacts/consequences on our lives if we aren’t careful and become too obsessed.

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  5. In the episode “Play Test”, I could find about 3, one could argue 4 even, distinct layers. The first being Cooper’s reality, his life with his mother, his travels and his life in London. The next I would say is during the game testing, and then after that would be the layer of Cooper thinking he is back from the game, and heads home. Towards the end of the episode we are brought back to the first layer, in which we discover that Cooper did not even make it to the game testing portion.
    This seems to really play into Henry Jenkins article “Game Design as Narrative Architecture”. As Jenkins discusses, the struggle of games to create immersive realities while dealing with the limitations of “classical constructs” (Jenkins 124) can leave gaps on either end of the game experience as a whole. There are many games that deal with theses issues in differing ways, The Sims for example, lets the player through “emergent narratives” (Jenkins 128) create their own stories within the parameters of the game, while other games are more linear and task oriented. The movement towards virtual reality and immersive gaming seems to blur the lines between story and reality. Cooper’s reality becomes merely a story, a game with set roles for him to play out. It is a terrifying though that we could become so lost to a narrative that the lines of reality become lost to us

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  6. There are two layers in this story: In the test, and out of the test. Cooper’s world, and the one simulated inside his brain. Each sublayer within the “playtest” is a part of the simulation. The main question I am stuck on is how did cooper see his mom calling him at the end? The simulation could not have predicted the call happening, and he would have been gone before he could experience the simulated scene of him seeing his mom call him. This question kept me from really enjoying the ending, even though I appreciated the irony that he did finally “call mom” in the end.

    I think this episode says a lot about video games, and how creating a virtual world has its dangers. Even though “Nothing can hurt” Cooper in the simulation, he met his demise due to a phone call in the real world, something that would be harmless in most circumstances. Enjoying an escape from reality can be exciting, but keeping tabs on the natural world is crucial to living a healthy life.

    Another part of this episode I found interesting was Katie’s communication with Cooper. Much like real video games, No matter how realistic the game might be, there are still functions that must be included. Loading screens, menus, and tutorials are all a part of the gaming experience, and while many of us have tuned them out, they still stop us from truly immersing ourselves within the game. Once Cooper loses communication with Katie, he begins to lose grasp on what is real or simulation. The fragility of his tether to reality is concerning, once it is gone. I think this is another point that the episode is trying to make: At the end of the day, you have to be able to distinguish between real and virtual. Once that line is blurred, it is hard to regain that separation.

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  7. “That’s the central conceit of ‘Hated in the Nation’; what happens if hyperbolic postings on social media are taken literally? Such reams of vitriol – no matter how lightly posted – inevitably have an effect on the target, and Brooker takes that to the extreme here, with the most hated person under the #DeathTo hashtag at the end of each day literally being killed.”

    In “Hated in the Nation” celebrities or other public figures are killed off, and the lucky losers are determined by who gets the most #DeathTo tags in a day. The people voting have no idea that their participation in this online slander fest is actually causing harm to a real person. This episode has elements of Suler’s work on The Online Disinhibition Effect. Having a sense of anonymity made people more likely to take part in adding names into the hashtag lottery because they didn’t have to accept any consequences that came from doing so. “Whatever they say or do can’t be directly linked to the rest of their lives” (Suler 2004). Closely linked to his findings on anonymity is the concept of invisibility online. In this case the user can simply be an observer, like the woman in the beginning, Jo, who goes online to view what the public is saying about her. Nobody really thinks that she might be reading what they’re saying, or that they could be hurting her feelings, but she is there like a fly on a virtual wall, silently watching everything they’re saying.

    The public uses their anonymity to say things about these people that they might not really say in face to face situations. Their anger and frustration can easily come out online where the barriers of social norms and courtesies don’t apply. They have allowed themselves to become “disinhibited”. Without immediate consequence to their actions it somehow becomes acceptable to insult somebody and even threaten their life, because without the consequences it doesn’t seem real. This asynchronicity (Suler 2004) really adds to the disinhibition effect as people learn from action-consequence/reward. So when the action doesn’t seem to have an immediate consequence the person is not going to relate the use of the hashtag with the death of an individual.

    I can also see a connection between the Disinhibition Effect and the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” where people get to plug in to a virtual reality where they get to go to this city and be whoever, and do whatever they want with no threat of consequences because they will ultimately log out and go back to their real life. The people in San Junipero can party all night, sleep around, be gay, or whatever they would like because none of it is physically real. Their physical body is not present so there is no consequence of physical harm. The lack of a real physical presence lets the people act in ways they most likely wouldn’t in face to face interactions. The virtual self that they get to create could be nothing like what they are in the non-virtual world but nobody will know because they get to hide and take advantage of the anonymous nature of a virtual self in a virtual world.

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