PhD candidates from the University of Vienna shine light on social media
How do teens navigate the complexities of social media? The Singapore campus of James Cook University collaborates with visiting scholars from the University of Vienna to find out.
(A team of PhD candidates from the University of Vienna; from left: Ms Barbara Göbl, Ms Suzana Jovicic, and Ms Dayana Hristova)
It’s not unthinkable to believe that social media dominates everyday life. This is particularly true among youths – look around and you might find tech-savvy teens glued to their phones, making use of various social media platforms to connect to their friends and the world around them. These technologies have a huge impact on behaviour, so how do adolescents navigate this complex landscape?
An interdisciplinary team of PhD candidates from the University of Vienna – comprising of Ms Barbara Göbl (Computer Science), Ms Dayana Hristova (Cognitive Science), and Ms Suzana Jovicic (Cultural and Social Anthropology) – is investigating this subject through a doctoral project focussing on the persuasive, gamified design of social media platforms.
James Cook University (JCU) in Singapore recognises the importance of this study, and is currently hosting the team on campus as they collaborate with Dr Roberto Dillon, Associate Professor of Information Technology at James Cook University in Singapore, on their research.
This visit to the Singapore campus of James Cook University was fully funded and supported by a DOC team scholarship from the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The scholarship assembles groups of highly-qualified doctoral students from the humanities, social and cultural sciences, who collectively tackle a problem that can only be solved across different fields of study.
(Ms Dayana Hristova (second from left) with Associate Professor Roberto Dillon (third from left) and James Cook University’s students at the renewed JCU Museum of Video and Computer Games)
Ms Jovicic said, “In addition to the fruitful exchange and collaboration with Associate Professor Roberto Dillon and other JCU colleagues, we are particularly excited about the culturally diverse and inclusive environment of JCU in Singapore. This is reflected in the conversations with both colleagues and students, in the food stalls, as well as in the visible appreciation and celebrations of different religious festivities.”
She added, “We were also delighted by Associate Professor Dillon's invitation to co-host the JCU Games Museum during our visit.” Additionally, the team had the opportunity to check out the Game Jam entries during the 5th Retro Inspired.
(Ms Barbara Göbl and Ms Suzana Jovicic with students at the 5th Retro Inspired Game Jam)
Building upon extensive literature research, qualitative interviews and workshops, one of the objectives of the doctoral project is to develop a video game in collaboration with adolescents. During participatory design sessions, adolescents help inform the design of the game as well as its story.
Ms Jovicic shared, “Whether they actively discuss digital media or not, adolescents hold rich ideas, opinions and aspirations. Once you enable a dialogue on equal terms, you can comprehend their knowledge and experience that is oftentimes left out of the discourses about social media. Involving adolescents in the conversations and the creative game design process, instead of adopting a top-down approach, has been the most rewarding part of our research so far.”
The result is a game that will be built for mobile devices, featuring short levels that last a maximum of 5-10 minutes.
Explaining the game’s story, Ms Göbl said, “After the player's companion heedlessly agrees to the terms and conditions of a newly installed app, both the player character and his companion get sucked into a digital world representing the insides of a smartphone. Players will then be introduced to the game's map, consisting of several little villages, each representing a separate game level. All villages have to be visited to reach the final level, which holds the key to escape the smartphone.”
She added, “Each village represents one learning topic and several social media related gamification and user tracking techniques will be implemented and displayed along the way. By completing the levels, the player will gain both knowledge as well as in-game items to access and play through the final level, which sums up and reveals previously applied techniques.”
Reflecting on both practical and scientific angles, the team aims to answer complex questions such as how to portray problematic gamification approaches in a game while developing and applying ethical design principles.
Drawing upon his knowledge of game design and development, Associate Professor Dillon is supporting the project by taking a closer look at the intricacies of the game’s design and research in the field of meta-gaming.
Moreover, the three visiting researchers are also collaborating with Associate Professor Dillon on other research projects, including a cyber-security study aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of different password policies.
As technology and social media become more prevalent, these studies are important because they consider how such issues can impact our lives.