Counter Arts
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Counter Arts

Follower Game

Everybody is talking about the South Korean and Netflix-produced show Squid Game lately, a brilliant and engaging series that is a mix of Battle Royale, Saw, and The Hunt with a contemporary twist. But I am not here to write about Squid Game per se, as after watching its 55 minutes 9 episodes in just two days, I started thinking about the social commentary the show exposes. I am not going to argue about the class inequality present in its argument; instead, I thought of it as an analogy of what is happening today with social media.

Welcome to Follower Game.

Follower Game. Squid Game screenshot and social media logos collage created by myself

Content creation has become the most demanded profession nowadays, something that didn’t even exist a few years ago. Creatives, artists, video editors, and writers are living a golden age if they know how to play the game, with TikTok being the kingdom in which to gain fame and fortune. The premise is simple, just as in Squid Game: enter the game and follow the rules to earn the juicy prize. Of course, no killing is required. We don’t live in a dystopia —yet. But the competition is fierce, and the battle for followers to raise you to glory is mentally exhausting and extremely demanding, as having your voice heard in a sea of dances and challenges can seem like an impossible task.

In Follower Game, the rules are often confusing and changing without warning in the shape of the algorithm. Everyone fears it. And the powerful minds who control it — and, therefore, control us — rejoice at our confusion and will to keep playing the game however more complicated it becomes. Sometimes, because we are so immersed in Follower Game, we fail to realize that we are just puppets, pieces of the overall capitalist game that serves to enrich the powerful who have no shame in keeping us hooked with the false promise of success. As if they would let us be part of their golden world.

It should come as no surprise that, if the premise of the game is founded on a lie, the playground in which the game is carried out is based on falseness and a kind of ruthlessness created to increase competition between the players. Everything is allowed — cheating, copying, insulting, harming. The game’s owners know it and let it happen, as we have recently learned. Whatever it takes. Cruelty emanates in its purest form, and you are left wondering whether this is who human beings are destined to be in what looks like a horrible, individualistic future.

The whole structure of this cruel game was created to allow that kind of behavior through anonymity. Some players take advantage of fake identities or even the lack of authenticity of who they are in real life to be their worst selves, allowed by the game’s rules. The madness builds up, hate spreads, and the fight becomes personal, even though players don’t really know each other. The more fighting develops within the game, the better. More activity, more cash and fame. That’s what the game is about, right?

There is no doubt that social media has changed our lives dramatically fast in the last ten years. It has brought positive aspects to our existence, the possibility of connection through a virtual reality when physical contact is nearly impossible. But Follower Game plays on the false illusion of authentic relationships, knowing very well that humans — most of the time — have a tendency to help each other, even though that usually happens to benefit from it one way or another, hence competition. So, as a player, you can never be sure of the connections made with other players within the game, as the cloud of suspicion flies over all of us.

We invest so much effort in Follower Game that sometimes we end up losing track of the reasons why we entered the game in the first place. As a photographer, I “willingly” participate so I can showcase my work to the world, with the hope that one day, thanks to all this effort to follow the rules, I could live off my passion and my art. However, because of the immense competition, noise, trolls, and absurd rules, it feels that I, as a player, might not be good enough. Eventually, the excitement to play turns into a lack of motivation to continue even with the reason that made me join the game, decreasing my already fragile self-esteem and weakening my confidence in my own skills.

Follower Game is now a new form of validation, and it feeds itself with our hunger to be recognized for who we are and what we have to offer as human beings. That’s the ultimate prize. And it feels that participation in the game is the only way to achieve it so, unfortunately; there is no option, there is no escape. Like the capitalist game, it is thought —because we want to believe it — that we have freedom of choice, that we have so many options available to us that we voluntarily participate in the game. And that is a false premise. If you don’t participate, you die. There is no freedom of choice when the alternative puts your own survival at risk. This is true for social media as well. If you are not in the game, you don’t exist. You would experience a social death. You will never be recognized. You will never be validated. So you keep trying, obey the rules, play the game. And that’s how the powerful benefit at your expense.

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Whacky, countercultural, and the only 1 Stop for Nonfiction on Medium.. Who cares what the algorithm says?

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Ana F. Martín

Ana F. Martín

Photographer, writer, and artist trying to understand the world

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