Something New to Puke About

Well, following the recommendation of my boss in the Writing Center, I just submitted a proposal for the PCACA 2018 National Conference. My proposed paper/presentation would be a truncated version of my thesis that covers the same topics, but less extensively than I intend for the thesis.  I’m feeling sick with anxiety right now, and I’m not even sure why.  I think my proposal was reasonably well-written, and I obviously have faith in my topic if I’m devoting my whole thesis to it…  I think I’m nervous because this makes my thesis real.  It’s not just an idea limited to class and a handful of social media contacts anymore.  Now there’s a record of it at some big academic-y warehouse of smart stuff curated by smart people who are smarter than me, and they’re going to see right through me to the fact that I know nothing.  Never have I felt more like that Golden Retriever in the lab coat.

Deep breaths…

I’m afraid that they’ll reject and laugh at my proposal.  On the other hand, I’m equally afraid of getting accepted; then I’ll have to have a full mini-thesis done by March!  What if I fuck up?  What if I can’t meet that deadline, or I get to the conference and just freeze.  Or collapse into a shuddering pile of “Yeah, it’s like, you know, and stuff”?

I know this was a step toward my goals for this research, and that’s good.  That’s huge!  But it just makes me feel so vulnerable, small, and stupid…  I’ve never even felt this way when submitting fiction to journals or lit mags.  Yes, there’s always the fear of judgment and failure, but this is somehow five times worse and more intense.  Am I not cut out for academia?  What if I fail so miserably that I become a meme?

Okay, academia.  Is this what you wanted?!  I’m gonna go hug myself in a corner now.

Purified Consumerism in the GremCorps Community: A Mini Discourse Analysis

Gaudi Baker Badass 9

Art and character by me

Grem2 species by MrGremble on DeviantArt

Last semester I coined the term “purified consumerism” to describe some of the buying/selling/trading practices I had noticed in CS communities.  “Purified consumerism” refers to an informal agreement between a seller and buyer that the product, in this case a pre-made Grem2 character design, is to be used and appreciated for its intended creative purpose, and not for its perceived value.  The role of purified consumerism in the GremCorps community came to mind as I was re-reading chapter 3 of Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart.  I came across the portion of the chapter entitled “Footprints and Profiles: How You Look to Others… and Yourself,” particularly this statement on page 139: “One strong link between mindfulness and participation is the two-part question: What impression is my digital participation deliberately giving to others?  And what impression is my digital participation unintentionally giving off?”   The unofficial code of conduct imposed by purified consumerism can make things complicated when a user decides that they want to sell, trade, or swap a character design in the GremCorps community.  Within the community, there is a definite stigma associated with selling or trading one’s Grem2 characters too often; it makes one seem to be breaking the contract of purified consumerism.  The rules of conduct for the GremCorps community even state that “Grems obtained via new-owner-only auctions and raffles cannot be traded until a period of 2 weeks has passed since the time of purchase.”  Not everyone who wants to trade or sell a character design does so heartlessly, however.  So, how do members of this community balance their desire to trade/sell a character design with their desire to not be seen as a greedy or irresponsible?

Animal Rescue Language

Firstly, and emphasizing the purified consumerism mindset, is the use of language commonly associated with animal rescue and adoption.  One journal post advertising the sale of two character designs states “This wont be first come first serve as i would prefer these go to loyal homes with people who will care for them!” This particular journal is also notable because of the large amount of money at stake (well over $300).  The fact that the seller would take the time and energy to screen their buyers, much like an animal rescue agency screens prospective adopters, is not something one usually encounters in the sale of secondhand items.  I know I’ve never seen anything like that in a Treasure Hunt. Another member says in a trading journal that they are “hoping someone out there can give [their Grem2s] the love they deserve.”  Several other trading/selling journals use the terms “permanent home” or “forever home” to describe what they would like to provide for traded designs.  By using this kind of animal rescue language, members could be trying to communicate the respect they have for the designs and their intended purpose.  After all, animal adoption and surrender is a uniquely emotional transaction of property in which money is generally a secondary concern.  They could also be trying to distance themselves from business-like language, which might be seen as cold or materialistic within the community.

Explanations Involving the Creative Process 

Another way that members of the GremCorps community protect their reputations in trading/selling journals is by providing short narratives involving their creative process surrounding the character design, and why they wish to trade or sell it.  One member provides the following explanation narrative in their trading journal: “So this is slightly shameful as this Grem used to be my dreamy and when I got him I was like YAAAS FINALLY.  And to be honest I still do love his colors like a LOT, but after having him for a while I’ve realized I really dislike his trait combo and it isn’t very pleasing to draw for me.  I’ve thought about/attempted to change his traits to something that I like more, but the way his markings are (especially the neck fur) it just kind of works with what he has now so I feel dirty trying to mess it up.”  This explanation acknowledges the negative stigma associated with trading too quickly by saying their desire is “slightly shameful” and letting readers know that they have had the design for “a while.”  The explanation also shows that the member did attempt to use the design for its intended purpose while it was in their possession, and that they had a deep appreciation for the design aesthetically and sentimentally.

Explanations Involving Real Life Stressors or Charity

A third way members of the GremCorps community justify trading or selling a design is by explaining real life situations that require such an action.  This could include emergencies like medical/dental expenses, veterinary bills, rent, car expenses, or required travel.  It could also include charitable situations, like needing money to buy a birthday gift for a friend/family member, or the desire to donate funds to another community member in need.  These explanations show respect to other community members by implying that real-life must always come first, something that any responsible member must acknowledge.




Grab Bag(bean?)

Hello, readers. I know I said I was going to talk about the economic features of CS (this is the abbreviation I’ll be using from here on out for “closed species”) communities in my next blog post, but I’m sorry to say that’s not going to happen today. I feel like I still need to do more research before I’ll have anything intelligent to say that’s over a couple paragraphs. Please bear with me; I know a lot about CS communities, but not so much about economics, so learning the relevant terms and methods of description is an ongoing challenge. After a phone meeting last Friday, my advisor has encouraged me to look at the similarities between Creative Commons and the open-, semi-open, and closed species categories, and how these models both support an economy that works for artists/creative professionals. He has also provided a number of useful resources about Creative Commons, which I am still reading. So, yes, I am still very much looking into these economic features, as they are going to be a big part of the civic imagination portion of my thesis; but no, I’m not going to talk about them today. It, unfortunately, may be a while before I am able to talk about them on more than a surface level.

Instead, today’s blog post is going to be a kind of grab bag of stuff I’ve observed and decided upon in my research this week. Some of the topics may be related; some may not. Like I said, it’s a grab bag; we’re gonna have Starbursts, plastic army men, and party poppers all mixed together in there.

Decisions, Decisions…

This week I made two major decisions regarding my thesis: one in regard to content, and the other in regard to structure. Content-wise, I have decided to primarily focus on two CS communities: GremCorps and the Griffia affiliated groups. I still intend to occasionally speak about other CS communities, but only to discuss features that aren’t as explicitly demonstrated in the primary two. I think this narrowing of scope will make things easier for readers, and also for myself as I continue my research. Additionally, these two CS communities are both highly active, deeply developed, and well-run, but they operate in different ways. The Griffia groups follow an ARPG (Art Role Playing Game) model, in which users complete art, writing, or socially-based quests to earn things for themselves or their characters. GremCorps follows a less structured, but no less immersive or inspiring, model where users can choose to follow prompts or do whatever they want with their characters (as long as it fits within the species rules and lore).

In regard to structure, I have decided to remove the “CS as E-lit” section from my thesis to focus on “CS Communities as Participatory Culture” and “CS Communities as Civic Imagination.” Including the E-Lit section would make the paper far too large, and it would require a lot of research that would not really apply to the other sections. Perhaps some day down the road I’ll write another paper about CS and E-Lit, as it really is a fascinating aspect of these virtual communities, but not in my thesis. This decision renders some of the sources and research I’ve already found/done unusable, but that’s okay.


With my decision to focus on the Griffia community as one of my primary subjects, I amped up my participation in one of its groups. For months, I have been a casual lurker in this community with some awareness of what they had to offer; this week I took the plunge and became a full participant. I have already discovered a lot of things I didn’t realize before. For instance, the Griffia community has a number of Twitter accounts: one is for main community info, and the others are accounts belonging to characters in the species universe. I followed four of these Griffia accounts with my own Twitter, so now I can see the way the community uses a social media platform other than DeviantArt to communicate and expand the story of their species.

Griffia 101

Before I continue, I’d better explain a little about Griffia, as the community does not just focus on one closed species, and is actually three groups united into one larger group. Griffia refers to a fictional universe populated by a number of closed species, each of them with a different role and status. Many, but not all, of the species in Griffia were originally created by a DeviantArt user called griffsnuff, who has received awards from DeviantArt itself for being such an influential and prolific member of the site. Griffsnuff teamed up with other species creators and users to flesh out the Griffia universe, delegating the primary development and governing of some species, and their associated continents in the Griffia universe, to different creators, artists, writers, and moderators. As of right now, Griffia has four dominant species: Bagbeans, Kryptoxes, Perfaunts, and Fornlee. There are also Casters and Guardians, which seem to have many of the same rights and privileges as the primary four, but I am not sure yet if they’re considered a dominant species or not. Much about the Fornlee is still in development, but Bagbeans, Kryptoxes, and Perfaunts all have a designated continent and group. The Bagbean group is just called Bagbeans, and the Bagbean continent is Beania. The Bagbean group is also the main Griffia group, and it provides information and resources applicable to all the affiliated groups. The Kryptox group is called FluffleTales, and the Kryptox continent is Fluffia. The Perfaunt group is Anubian Empire, and the Perfaunt continent is Capria. Other species live on each of these continents as well, but there are too many to name here. Instead, see this list for a complete index of species and their statuses in Griffia. The term “Griffian” is used to refer to any species living in the Griffia universe.

Art Streams: Entertainment, Learning, Socializing, Buying

This weekend, I participated in my first Griffia Art Stream. It took place on Picarto, but an announcement about the stream and a link to it was posted on DeviantArt. In this live video stream, one of the Griffia creators was broadcasting their artistic process as they worked on Griffian pre-made character designs. They showed a live feed of their computer screen, with one window open to their preferred digital art program, and another window on the side playing movies. Because they used the Picarto platform, there was a chat box to the side of the video feed, where everyone who had come to watch the stream, and the creator themselves, could communicate via text.

Kryptox Stream Confidential

Screenshot of the art stream in which I participated.  I have blocked out all screennames/avatars and monetary information to protect the privacy of community members.

Viewers, myself included, watched as this particular creator took character designs from rough sketch through lining, coloring, and detailing. Being able to see an artist’s entire art process is not only interesting for hobbyists, but a wonderful learning opportunity for those pursuing a visual arts education. The opportunity to speak to the artist and ask questions at the same time enhances the educational value even more.

After completing some artwork, the creator put four custom character design slots up for sale via the chat window. This was an exclusive opportunity for people in the stream, and I was among the four users who grabbed a slot. I had been trying to obtain a Griffian character for awhile without success because pre-made designs/slots either sold out too quickly, were too expensive, or were not designs that appealed to me/for which I felt I could develop a character. The creator provided their PayPal (although Griffian currency, earned by doing prompts, making art, participating in events, etc., can usually be used to purchase the slots as well, this time was real money only) information to the users who had claimed slots, confirmed their payments, and then asked the users the theme and gender they wanted for their custom character. Some users decided to pay extra in order to request special features and mutations for their design. Everyone who purchased a slot got to see their new character created before their eyes during the stream, something which I found pretty magical, and which made me feel even more connected to the design. After completion of a character design, the user who had commissioned it thanked and usually complimented the creator. The creator then assigned a registration number to the design and uploaded it to the community at large. As the creator worked on one user’s design, the other users demonstrated patience and a sense of camaraderie. They congratulated those who had bought slots on their new characters and commented about features of the new characters that they found cute or beautiful. Some suggested their existing character becoming friends with a user’s new character, or helped the user come up with a name for their new character. No one complained about not getting a slot or acted jealously toward the users who did.

Some other notable things occurred on the social level during the art stream. Firstly, I was surprised to see how diverse the group of users chatting was. I can confirm that there were users from at least three different continents (North America, Europe, and Australia) in the stream. The range in ages was also pretty great. Some users in the chat revealed themselves to be high school students, college students, grad students, or working professionals. A user complaining about homework commiserated with a user complaining about audit reports, while both commented on the color palette the creator had chosen for a character’s hair. I was surprised to read a certain user, who had revealed themselves to be a high school student procrastinating on an essay, say that they “[hated] writing” because I knew this user and their creative work; they had developed very in-depth stories for their CS characters. The disconnect between a love of storytelling and a hatred for writing was a bit jarring to me, but it showed me how participation in a CS community can provide a creative outlet and a safe place to practice literacy skills for adolescents with similar inclinations. Some other users and I offered the first user some writing tips and empathy, both of which can also be very useful in helping an adolescent develop traditional literacy skills. During the stream, I also got to witness the way this community deals with conflict. An anonymous user, who used a screenname which profanely mocked the streaming creator’s screenname, tried to enter the chat and insult the creator and the community. Community members did not respond to the malicious user, aside from expressions of shock (“WTF?” “o_o” etc.), and the creator quickly acted to ban the malicious user. Throughout the stream, the malicious user tried to re-enter the chat several times using different, but similar screennames, and each time the process was the same. Users did not engage and they waited for the creator to ban the malicious user. After the malicious user was gone, some community members made comments like “It’s sad that some people have nothing better to do,” but none of them responded to the malicious user’s insults with more insults. This struck me as a uniquely civil method of conflict resolution. I’m not sure if users had previously agreed on such a protocol in other streams in which I hadn’t participated, or if this protocol just emerged spontaneously.

I also found it fascinating that the creator included a window with movies playing during the stream. While I participated, the stream played either three or four (I lost track) horror movies and two episodes of TV shows. Users in the chat sometimes discussed the movies/shows, and it seems as if they were meant as an extra bit of entertainment for those participating in the stream. Sometimes the discussions about the movies took on added depth as users discussed genre conventions, reviewed the visuals or story of a given film, or shared personal experiences related to a given film.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in the Griffia art stream. I also feel like my observations have provided a lot of data for me to work with. This does raise some questions, though. Am I allowed to use personal observations like those I wrote about in this blog post in my thesis? How would I cite a live video stream? Do I need to know the usernames of every person involved and get their permission to talk about what occurred during the stream? Have I already broken the rules by talking about it in my blog?  Do I need to delete this post?

Closed Species 101

I have come to the realization (with Prof. Levine’s help!) that my readers might need some fundamental, background information on closed species communities in order to get the most out of this blog.  This post will be an introduction to the concept.  A large portion of what’s written here will be a repeat of information I originally wrote in my blog for the Networked Narratives class I took last Spring.  It was during that class that I first began toying around with the idea of studying closed species communities.

Overview: What are Closed Species? 

Closed species are a type of original species. An original species is a fictional species created by a non-corporate, independent artist, writer, or team of such, that usually has lore and a world built around it.  The creator(s) of the original species provides information about the species’s morphology (usually in the form of pre-made character designs and guide sheets), social habits, intelligence level, etc. If others are interested in the species, they can create, buy, or otherwise obtain a species character. Owners of original species characters produce creative works, either independently or collaboratively, that serve to expand the ongoing narrative of the species.  Original species most commonly arise in online art communities, though they can sometimes be found in other online communities, notably those dedicated to virtual pet, video game, animation, furry, science fiction, horror, and fantasy fandoms.   There are three kinds of original species, their types dictated by the rules of character creation and ownership: open, semi-open, and closed.


Fig. 1: Example of an original species guide sheet. Provides basic (not complete) info about the species, its anatomy, and its features.  Usually intended to pique interest in a species or aid in character creation.

Art and Grem2 species by MrGremble on DeviantArt

An open species is a species of which anyone can create a character at any time without contacting the creator.  This includes making and selling character designs.  A semi-open species is a species that allows users to create their own character for personal use, but they must contact the creator and have the creator approve their character design.  Other users are not allowed to make and sell designs of a semi-open species.

closed species is a species for which one must have explicit creator permission to obtain a character.  Often this involves the exchange of actual or digital currency to buy a pre-made character design or a MYO (make your own) slot.  Other methods of obtaining a closed species character include: raffles, trading of services (art, design, or writing commissions), trading of real-life goods, DTA (draw to adopt) or WTA (write to adopt) contests, and trading character designs of other species.  This may seem exclusionary, but most closed species communities do offer ways for people who don’t own a design to participate.  These include mascot characters or NPCs (non-player characters), who are free for anyone to draw or write about, and the option to create art or writing of other users’ characters as gift art.  Many times, closed species communities make use of some kind of rewards system; if a user creates enough gift art/writing for other users in the community, they can earn a MYO slot.  Most closed species creators tend to be art students or emerging artists, and some of them even make a living entirely off of their closed species.  Because these species are a sort of business for their creators, there are usually records kept of users who own designs, and which designs they own.  If someone who doesn’t officially own a design tries to steal another user’s design and claim it as their own, the species creator or administrators react to reprimand or ban the dishonest user.  A handful of closed species creators have even trademarked their species.  

I have decided to focus my thesis on closed species because the communities that develop around them tend to be more active, organized, complex, and dedicated.  Perhaps people become more invested in closed species than other types of original species because of the rules and requirements associated with them.  I would definitely classify closed species communities as participatory cultures, however, because the barriers to entry are still quite low, especially when alternative methods of participation (using NPCs, making gift art, entering contests, etc.) are taken into account.  In terms of location, I chose to look at closed species communities on DeviantArt because it is the “largest online art gallery and community,” and I am already familiar with it as a platform, which makes conducting research easier.

GremCorps: An Exemplary Closed Species Community

For an example of a closed species community that demonstrates most of the concepts I’ve just discussed, I’d like to direct my readers to the GremCorps community. On the main group page, users can find access to all facets of the community. Notably, there are links to: the Master List, where all Grem owners and their characters are catalogued; the Rules of the Grem2 species and the community; the Creative Prompt for the current month; and the Gallery where all categories of creative works by community members are curated and accessed.  Intragroup communication journals, such as buying/selling/trading journals, commission advertisement journals, and character relationship trackers, are also included in the Gallery. Additionally, this community, like many other closed species communities, has a Discord channel, where users can chat or RP (role-play, a kind of synchronous, collaborative storytelling), but interested users must request access information from a group adminstrator; it cannot be accessed from the main group page.

I encourage my readers to spend some time looking through the GremCorps Gallery.  The variety of mediums and genres GremCorps community members have used to tell the stories of their characters, and thus a piece of the story of the species, is humongous.  While one user may prefer writing short stories, another might make comics or illustrations.  Others may gravitate toward sculpture or crafts, while still others turn to industrial design and software programming.  Each submission to the GremCorps Gallery expands and enriches the fictional species, and the gallery itself is a multimodal bricolage that allows users to experience and create a unique story of the creatures known as Grem2s.

This post should provide enough information for readers to have, at least, a point of reference for my future posts.  In the coming days, I would like to talk a little bit more about the exchange of goods and services and consumption practices in closed species communities, as they differ in many ways from other communities and Western society’s norms.