The time has come to do my end of year digital humanities assignment – to analyze any publicly available text using some visualization tools such as Voyant 2.0 or RAW. Mere hours before the deadline was spent procrastinating wondering what to do, I didn’t even know where to begin, so there I was wasting my life away as usual on 4chan’s infamous video game imageboard, ‘/v/’, when I thought myself, why not do a textual analysis on an average thread here, and so I did. I clicked in to a thread on Dark Souls 3, a recently released video game from a series famous in large part due to its frustrating difficulty and addicting gameplay, I chose this thread as it was one of the first threads I saw, it had hundreds of replies, and because Dark Souls is relevant right now – the thread began with “I can’t take this anymore – “I CAN’T F*CKING TAKE THIS ANYMORE”
I used Voyant-Tools a fantastic free online tool that lets you get a visual of the most used words in a block of text. What I did was copy 20 of the first replies in the thread and 20 of the latest, and these words above were most frequently used. The words don’t just reflect on the tough, infuriating nature of the game, but also on the community on /v/ – one that is known to be wonderfully toxic, and where anything goes. Two of the most used words are ‘F*cking’ and ‘F*ck’, the whole thread quickly became a thread about ‘PvP’ – Player Versus Player combat, hence the words ‘people’, ‘invasion’, ‘host’ etc. which reflects the competitive nature of users on /v/ The lack of anything really positive reflects /v/ users attitude on games, it is a community that largely comes across as extremely arrogant and nitpicky complaining about the game being difficult, telling them to ‘f*ck off’ and ‘git gud’. There appears to be no correlation between simple ‘fun’ and playing ‘games’ to the average /v/ user as my data visualization displays, as would any visit to the board.
But gamers online are notoriously toxic anyway, the most stereotypical view of a gamer, even within the gaming world, is that of an obnoxious 12 year old shouting racial slurs through his headset, so I thought I’d compare it to another website that has a very large video game board, reddit, specifically ‘r/games’, and once again I picked the first Dark Souls 3 thread I could find, copy and pasted a bunch of posts in to Voyant, and here are the results:
The difference is definitely interesting, but also just as I expected. The most used words reflect the game itself – ‘dark’, ‘bloodborne’, ‘game, and ‘souls’ referring to the games franchise itself, and you can see there’s proper general discussion going on about the game – from talking about ‘levels’, ‘knight’, ‘area’, ‘boss’ etc.
What is this difference down to? Despite the visual data and what I’ve discussed it may not simply just be that it’s a different community that happens to consist of more toxic people, in fact I know for a lot of users who overlap with both boards, especially when it comes to a game that originally began with a cult following like Dark Souls.
I think it genuinely comes down to anonymity overall. On reddit you make an account, everyone can see your username, what you comment, when and who you follow etc, and you’re there in the first place to have proper discussions, you may also risk the possibility of getting your account suspended or banned for various reasons. By contrast users, including ones from reddit, come to 4chan’s /v/ board and use it as an outlet as it offers anonymity, you can say anything you want and no one knows nor do they care who you are, you spout ridiculous crap, something deemed illogical, or an opinion that is unpopular, it’s a place to argue with strangers, complain about a game you wasted money on, or yell in to the empty void that is the board about how video games ruined your life and now don’t have any friends.
Ultimately visualizations like this can’t tell the full extent of what’s going on in large clumps of text, whether it’s movie scripts, books, or internet threads, however it certainly helps us understand what is happening at their core.