A little while ago I stated that I wanted to start writing ‘proper’ blog post articles about a variety of gaming related topics; anything from eSports to health and gaming. So I was trying to think of a fitting first post to go with, and given that this is a game photography blog, I knew I wanted to start in this sphere. However, there are many other game photography articles, spanning from the ‘history of it’ to ‘getting better at it’, that at first I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to make mine original, and as interesting as what others have published.
Starting with an idea
Then I had a little thought: I am currently a student, studying towards my PhD in Web Science (basically the study of how the web has impacted on society, a bit like data science), so why don’t I do this from a kind of Web Science point of view. I also knew from the start that I wanted to use Twitter, somehow. Twitter is just one platform where I post my pictures, but it is probably the main place where I communicate with others within the same community (other game photographers or Gametographers as many of us like to be called), others just generally interested in gaming and/or photography, developers, content creators, even Playstation has a weekly game photography contest. At some point it would be nice to gather data from say Flickr or even Facebook (although I have disabled my account on there), but Twitter is a good start just because of its reach, and for me personally, it’s probably at the centre of my social media platforms (being the one I use the most).
But what would I be looking at on Twitter? Again, the answer seemed simple; hashtags. I would argue that hashtags are a crucial element to a tweet, not only do they embody the hypertext aspect of the web, but it is how you can be found on Twitter. Ok, there are going to be exceptions, but when you want your work to get noticed, a few well used hashtags can do this pretty well. They are also used for competitions, taking the example above from Playstation: to be considered as a ‘share of the week’, you have to use the hashtags; #PS4Share and #PSBlog.
Interestingly, the nature of hashtags has been a topic well investigated by those in the academic field (and I’m sure also by those who are not), but from a little reading around the topic, hashtags are far more than just a simple way of tagging a tweet. Yang et al’s article, We Know What @You #Tag: Does the Dual Role Affect Hashtag Adoption? (footnote 1) discusses the adoption and dual role of hashtags within communities, and they conclude that “…a hashtag serves as both a tag of content and a symbol of membership of a community.” (p. 270).
Although this post is not going to go quite as in-depth as the authors do in the above article, the question of the role of the hashtag, especially within communities, is a compelling one;
“…a hashtag plays the role of a social bookmark: annotating the content, being shared to other users, and assembling the folksonomy. [But] Is this the only role of a hashtag? Sociologists, media observers, and computer scientists have all noticed another role. Beyond a bookmark of content, a hashtag serves as the symbol of a community. Indeed, a hashtag enables users to identify and participate in online chats designated by the tag. Birds of a feather can be easily found and connected by tracking a particular hashtag…To this end, a hashtag defines a virtual community of users with the same background (e.g., “#Umich”), the same interest (e.g., “#iPhone”), or involved in the same conversation or task (e.g., “#www2012”, “#VoteForObama”). A user joins such a community by simply including that hashtag in her own tweets.” (Yang et al, 2012, p. 261)
Game photography hashtags
Now, for game photography there are a few that can be used to highlight your image as an in-game photo, some being (and these are by no means all of them);
You also have the console specific ones; #PS4Share and #Xboxshare
And then you can hashtag the name of the game and/or the developers. For example, below I use hashtags for the name of the game, the developers/makers, some game photography ones and which console I played and took the picture on;
I will usually use four game photography hashtags, because I personally have considered them to be the ones that have the most reach, these being; #virtualphotography, #gamephotography, #gametography and #VGPUnite. Because, at the end of the day, I want my tweets to be seen. But am I right in this assumption? Am I using the best ones? And given this idea of the dual role of hashtags, have I been adopting these hashtags over others, somewhat without realising it, purely to be included and welcomed into a specific community and to let others know that ‘I’m here too’?
I feel that this is actually slightly subjective, I don’t have to use hashtags after all, but from these thoughts I wanted to take a look at these hashtags a bit more closely. What is interesting (to me anyways), is not only how different people use different ones, but how these hashtags span and branch out into others, and why some are adopted over others. Future research could look into this question of why people use specific hashtags, and more into the adoption of newly created ones, because that must be slightly different for everyone, but that’s not for now. For now, I just wanted to do a little (and I want to emphasise this) investigation into a handful of hashtags used by those within a community, try and find out which ones were used more, which perhaps less, and anything else that might be surprising.
Gathering the data
To do this, I asked for the help from my mate and fellow student, Nick (you can find his Twitter here), who is much better at coding than me, (in fact I can’t really code at all). I told him what I was kind of thinking, and he helped me with gathering the data from Twitter. More details about what was collected and how can be found at the bottom of this post (footnote 2). Once the data was collected, it was nicely imported into four CSV files for me to have a look at and try and ‘clean’ as best as I could (footnotes 3 and 4).
The initial numbers were quite interesting (footnote 5 for key);
Basically, what this tells me is that we love to retweet! But what surprised me the most was the fact that #gamephotography came in last. I’m not sure why, but in my mind I had thought that #virtualphotography and #gamephotography would have the highest counts (which was true for #virtualphotography), because I felt that they were more ‘established’ hashtags. Which would mean #gametography and #VGPUnite would have less. But actually #VGPUnite came in second, and I’m happy to see #gametography in third place (I’m biased but this is a great hashtag!). Which I guess goes to show how strong the support from a community can be!
After this I still wanted to find out a bit more about the hashtags, and for this I used NVivo (footnote 6). Firstly, I set it up to take a look at the top 100 words. This included Twitter usernames so I excluded those (hopefully). As you can also see in the word cloud below #mentalhealthawarenessweek had fallen within the dates of the data, and I believe the ONRUSH game had its open beta out…and not forgetting God of War. So, there is some interesting things there that if I were to do the same process again, on a weekly basis, I would get slightly different results (of course).
The below graph shows the top 50 hashtags;
From the one above, we are getting to see what games people are playing; Assassins Creed Origins, God of War, ONRUSH, Bound, No Man’s Sky (or NMS), Bloodbourne, Mad Max…to name a few. There is also a mention of #starwars. Further investigation could include looking at specific games (via their hashtags) to see, just as an example, the most popular game being photographed or indeed even how much it declines after an initial release as people slowly move onto other games again.
Again, from this data I took the top ten hashtags, and below shows the actual count (how many times the word was found within the data) and the weight (the percentage) of each.
Ignoring all the others, the four game photography hashtags I wanted to look at looked like this:
#virtualphotography = 6.50%
#VGPUnite = 4.47%
#gametography = 2.45%
#gamephotography = 1.32%
Hashtags are a really great way of allowing you to ‘tag’ (categorise) your tweet with information that can be found easily by others, or indeed so that you can click on them and see what you can find. I use them to try to get my work noticed, no shame in that! And although I don’t want to become too obsessed with finding the ‘perfect’ hashtag to use that reaches out to as many people as possible for them to see my photos (I mean due to the nature of social media that is never going to happen anyways), I just wanted to have a little look at which ones, out of the four that I mainly use, were actually more popular. Twitter, as it’s famous for, only allows 280 characters per tweet, which is such an improvement from the 140, but it still means you have to be selective on what you write, and what you can therefore tag. So maybe #gamephotography isn’t so popular because it is taking up 16 characters (including the hashtag) of the 280 available? But then #virtualphotography is 19. Or maybe it’s simply the choice of the masses and as people join the community and see specific hashtags being used they are therefore more likely to use them;
“Because of the conversation nature of Twitter, the social interactions in Twitter communities are far more frequent than those in other social media. In other words, a Twitter community started by hashtags has much richer inner-community communications, compared to a flat set of people who happen to use the same bookmark.” (Yang et al, 2012, p. 262)
Everything that I have written so far is probably really obvious but I think it is a good start (one of many) at looking at the game photography community. A unique community of gamers and creatives. Moving forward, asking the why questions would gain more depth into the role of hashtags as signposts of community, but which also requires more research. It would be really great to actually ask people their thoughts about the use of certain hashtags. But for right now, I’m happy with the ones that I use already.
Finally a huge thank you goes to Nick, for doing the coding for me. And also to my fellow gametographers Catsandbolts and AgentMorganCreed for proof reading this article for me! PLEASE check out their Twitter accounts (linked) for some awesome virtual photography.
- Yang, L., Sun, T., Zhang, M. & Mei, Q. (2012). We Know What @You #Tag: Does the Dual Role Affect Hashtag Adoption? Proceedings of the 21st international conference on World Wide Web. April 16-20, p. 261-270.
- Disclaimer time. First of, I didn’t really give Nick much notice, so he worked off some scripts he had already written for his own work, but with more time we could have sat down and worked out perhaps a better way to do this. Therefore, I can’t say the data is perfect – but then when is it I guess? We also have to work with what Twitter can actually give us, using its API only allows for a certain number of tweets, from a certain number of days and even then Twitter might not allow us to gather all the tweets. So the tweet data we collected was from the time period of the 15th of May to the 24th May, collected on the 24th. This was done by doing a search on the four hashtags mentioned above, all separately. The data collected included; username, handle, tweet text (this is where the hashtag would have been found), timestamp, retweet count, profile location and geolocation (although no tweets had this information, as I said Nick used a script he had used before). I would also like to point out here that I don’t want to share anyones personal data, and that includes publishing data that I might find interesting but that others could easily point to and say ‘oh, that’s so and so’s tweet! I recognise it!’ – so I have tried my very best to keep it as anonymous as possible.
- Again, I don’t actually have to do this for my PhD, so there might be better more reliable ways of doing this, but what I did was basically delete all the tweets that were retweets, unfortunately there might still be some overlap.
- So people might wonder why four separate files, well a few reasons; one because people use different hashtags, and I wanted to see how popular these particular four were and secondly, I basically wanted to count how many times each hashtag was used (with the data collected from a week long period). We did do a search for ‘all’ the hashtags, from tweets that had used all four hashtags at the same time, but it didn’t give us much data. So although some of the tweets might overlap, the instances of each of the four hashtags have been counted as separate.
- KEY: Started with – is the amount of tweets that were harvested. Cleaned – how many were left after I deleted the RTs. Accounts – number of single accounts the tweets came from. Total RTs – number of collective retweets!
- NVivo is a handy data analysis software that can do many things, including the word clouds above. I imported all the CSV spreadsheet (as Excel spreadsheets) and from that NVivo can query the data.