(This is the second column in a three-part series on 2012's biggest technology stories. For the first part, Click here.)
Cyberbullying — The tech world showed its ugly side in October when 15-year-old Amanda Todd took her own life, just weeks after posting a video where she used flashcards to tell her story of being bullied and blackmailed online, and even physically assaulted at school.
While her parents and teachers knew something was up they had no idea how far it had gone, or how the Internet was used to ensure that Todd wouldn't know a moment of peace.
The people in Todd's life didn't have any clue about the "capper" world where young girls are approached in video chat rooms and convinced to show some skin — only to find out that the person on the other end had recorded it and was sharing it with the rest of the world, including the person's friends and classmates. These stills and snippets of footage are used as leverage for others to force girls to do worse things. And Todd was a victim of these predators, as well as the cruelty of her classmates who chose to view her as something other than a victim.
While it's too late to help Todd or her family, her death has become the rallying cry of a whole new, top-down approach to cyberbullying that includes enforcement, awareness, education and help for those who have been targeted. If the scope of the problem was a dirty secret before, it's now out in the open — and bullies themselves risk being exposed and attacked by a vengeful internet that is a lot like the real world; more good than bad, and full of concerned people willing to do anything to defend poor kids like Amanda Todd.
Kickstarter — Kickstarter really came into its own this year as this "crowdfunding" website achieved a level of success and credibility that is nothing short of incredible. When companies like Double Fine Productions and video game visionaries like Peter Molyneux are forgoing the usual financing routine in favour of Kickstarter then it's safe to say that what we're seeing is a significant groundshift in the way ideas are developed and the things we use are produced.
It works by essentially allowing you to vote with your dollars for whatever projects and plans interest you, sometimes receiving acknowledgement for your support, sometimes receiving a product or products when they're available (in the case of video games, a copy of the game when it's ready). There's no risk, as the money doesn't go through until the person or company with the idea raises enough money to make it a reality. And while there have been a few failures, most Kickstarter projects that succeed in getting funding do seem to get off the ground.
Dark Souls — While many people might question the inclusion of a single video game from late 2011 this high on this list, there's no denying that Dark Souls is an incredible story in a lot of ways. Released on consoles (PS3 and Xbox 360) with little fanfare, it quickly became a bestseller. Jealous PC gamers then started a petition to have the game ported to computers as well, which garnered over 70,000 signatures in the first week and over 93,000 by week two. The company complied and the PC game has been a huge seller.
Total sales of the game are probably around three million at this point, which is actually on the low side for blockbuster video games, but what makes the success of this game important is the game itself. It's really hard, really frustrating, the consequences of mistakes are huge, the multiplayer is insane (people can invade you in your game and kill your character!), the levels are devious and the range of things to do — like join covenants for player-versus-play and co-op action — make the game infinitely replayable. You can level up whatever you choose, or try to do the game as "Soul Level 1," the hardcore way, and replay the game over and over while the enemies and bosses get tougher every round.
As a result of this toughness, Dark Souls is being embraced as a return to hardcore gaming, like the old-school games where your health didn't automatically regenerate and if you died you either had to put in another quarter or start over. And the success of the game has no doubt noticed by other game developers that have actually been making their games subtly easier over the years, pandering to the most casual gamers out there with things like automatically regenerating health, invincible characters and linear gameplay.
ACDC gives up — Metallica gave up, The Beatles gave up, ACDC gave up this year and now there are only a few holdouts to iTunes/digital music remaining including, for some reason, country singer Garth Brooks. This is significant for a few reasons, including the fact that the music industry and musicians themselves are finally in agreement that there's no putting the digital genie back into the bottle — and that by not being available online, musicians and labels are passing up on sales.
Meanwhile, vinyl is making a huge comeback among musicians and music lovers — go figure.
To be continued next week.