And NOW I'm really excited to get another Digital Writing course. I would love to teach a segment on vine (or other social media) and identity. Thank you for these resources and for the great ideas!
You make a great point about college students' online identities, and I think of this in terms Susan D. Blum outlines in her book My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture, Cornell University, 2009. She sees today's college student as adept at performing many selves, and one of those is, as you point out, this sort of broad entertainer-identity associated with social media. Blum brings Sherry Turkle into the discussion with Turkle's question that I think is important to our conversation here: "Do our real-life selves learn lessons from our virtual personae?" ( Turkle qt. in Blum 79) This would make a great starting point for a critical assignment that engages students with something like Vine—which is just plain so much fun to work with. So, for example, instead of qualitatively evaluating a Vine according to its entertainment value, create the opportunity for students to think about the different ways they present themselves in different parts of their lives, and perhaps challenging them to bring those identities into new places—?
Chvonne, I think Tumblr is an interesting site to bring up in the context of this conversation. The format lends itself to more reflective narratives and tumblr posts can capitalize on digital affordances to create narratives that are non-linear and associative—layers of knowledges. So, it is kind of on its way to dialog. But I still wonder if the social networking part of Tumblr is not just the same old "like" culture of instant non-substantive and disembodied response. I guess I am wondering if social networks can/should become more engaged, or if some other aspect of digital space will evolve to take up that banner—perhaps through annotation, which Marc Andreeson of Rap Genius sees as potentially an internet-wide way of revealing "layers of knowledge" in everything!
Fascinating questions, and I found your discussion of Etsy and Pinterest particularly interesting as spaces of "cupcake feminism."
In regard to your point about identity, I teach general education composition courses, and I can't help but think of college students and the way they enter social media spaces and engage with them — the way they utilize them to construct and publish a "college kid" identity on media like Vine. For example, Gawker, a popular news/gossip site, posted this blog featuring one particular college student's vine videos: http://gawker.com/i-cant-stop-watching-this-college-kids-hilarious-vine-1464304136.
First of all, the vines reviewed here are pretty hilarious, but your piece had me considering some of the implications behind Gawker's review. Because social media sites are often used by celebrities (comedians, actors, football players), does there seem to be an impulse to entertain an audience as much as there is to inform (perhaps more)? If so, it appears that the narratives presented on social media sites are often rated by the level of entertainment they provide. In this Gawker blog, the writer evaluates the level of entertainment in these vines (as well as the character of the student who created them), and many comments on the blog follow suit. While Vine may not offer a reflective space for this kind of evaluation, other supportive social media (like blogs), offer an opportunity to assess narratives (and narrators) and point viewers to the next big thing in social media entertainment.
I remember reading The Arabian Nights: Tales Of 1001 Nights and drawing the same parallels as the students mentioned above. For me, Shahrazad was Jasmine and King Shahriyar was the villainous Jafar figure. As a student, I overlooked the subversive nature of her narratives. It was taught to me as a glimpse into "Arabian" culture and not as "subversive proto-feminism." The connection between cultural narrative, social media, and engagement with dominant narratives immediately made me think of the Arab Spring (the use of social media to protest, share experiences, and in some cases, overthrow governments). This lead me to think of other areas/times (hip hop in the 70s/80s) where narrative was meant to enact social change, engage dominant narratives, and gain social position. How these narratives transfer into cyberspace, I'm not sure. Tumblr's microblogging and social networking nature may lending itself for a space where narratives can be crafted and shared with multimedia.
After reading about Heavy Rain, I noticed one interesting feature is that the game will continue regardless of whether the player hits all of the correct button prompts (Lebowitz & Klug, 2011), with the following events changing depending on this success or failure. This could apparently eliminate the development of a character, so I wonder how this would play out in the narrative. In traditional narratives like the Choose Your Own Adventure books, if the character you are "playing" dies, then that would be your ending- however, in this game, the game continues with or without that character. I would think this type of game continuation would make it more difficult for players to figure out what was the "right" or "wrong" choice for their character, enriching player experience tremendously by making it feel much like the real world. When we are faced with moral dilemmas (though hopefully nothing like murder or drinking poison, like in Heavy Rain), we don't always know what the right answer is, but the world continues despite our choices. Though the characters' choices are limited by fixed situations, which is unlike the real world, I still think this quality allows games like Heavy Rain to create richer narrative experiences than those available in traditional media forms by allowing them to imagine themselves in scenarios where their specific characters are not always the center of the gaming world.
Lebowitz, J., & Klug, C. (2011). Interactive storytelling for video games: A player-centered approach to creating memorable characters and stories. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.
There is a key difference between a computational narrative system and the Choose Your Own Adventure books - procedurality and as a consequence, in the player agency.
While not all computational systems make use of this affordance to the same degree - for example Storyspace, the authoring tool used for Afternoon, A Story offers limited procedural functions in the form of "guard fields" that hide certain links until some conditions are met, while ASAPS offers tracking functions, global variables, timers, a random function and an inventory system; the exact procedural functionality in Walking Dead is not known, but most likely includes tracking function and maybe some level of AI.
More concretely, this means ASAPS has state memory and can track prior decision by a user and make them count in the form of delayed consequences. ASAPS narratives often have 6 or more different endings, and many branches are determined by condition checking functions that are based on the current state and prior decisions and are invisible to the user. In this way, a user's earlier decisions can influence later ones and/or have delayed consequences, just like in real life where we see the result of our decisions only much later. Ultimately, this improves the player's feeling of agency in the player as she starts to realized that earlier decisions are meaningful and accumulative. Choose Your Own Adventure books as a printed media form cannot remember earlier decisions, thus agency only exist over the direct branching decisions, and not over the slow development of a character.
Procedurality also has a big influence on the authoring side as not all branches have to be developed in a discreet manner, but instead can be distinguished programmatically by the procedural system, which removes at least some of the concerns regarding the manageability of larger branching systems.
At the same time we should be careful not to focus on the difference in outcome only - the interesting part in many narratives might be what happens along the way, and not only in the ending. Interactive digital narrative might be particularly suited to also explore such narratives.
I took a quick look at ASPAS and saw the obvious similarities between Imprisoned and a game like The Walking Dead. I suppose what I find the most interesting about both is the ways in which, while the narrative is interactive, there are still only very limited outcomes. At the end of The Walking Dead, for instance, our choices change some of the events that happen, but not the ultimate conclusion. I wonder if part of that isn't the amount of labor that must be put into multiple alternative endings, and the chance at sequels (The Walking Dead has to end a certain way for The Walking Dead 2 to continue a certain character's story). In that respect, more text based medias, like Choose Your Own Adventure Books or a hyperlinked text like Afternoon, A Story is better able to accommodate interactive narratives as described here.
I agree with Matt about the separation of identifying with a character, yet also recognizing them as a creation of someone else, and using a digital space to express ourselves in new ways. I think another interesting example in the creation of Facebook characters is the newly identified trend of "catfishing," or creating a Facebook character that is a false representation of the self, and often used to trick another into an online relationship with who they claim to be. This space allows the profile author to not only create a character, but to also get to live out an experience as that character, combining the identification with self and recognition of other. When someone creates a fake Facebook profile, though they may use the image of another "real" person as the profile avatar, it is still merely a representation of that other, possibly someone that the creator wants to be (or be like).
This new type of character is like the traditional narrative character in that the profile creator becomes like the narrative author, by creating a new character in hopes that a "reader" or potential partner will identify with the created character, but now the author actually gets to merge "someone else" with "themselves" in order to act out that persona in a digital space, rather than just on the pages of a book. I think this goes along with what Pedro says about the digital space being more malleable- this is an example of having more than two choices, because it is at once a representation of who the creator wants to be, mixed with some aspects of who they actually are, and again combined with facets of someone else (the 'them' they use as their catfish avatar).
You ask a lot of great questions that I am in no way qualified to answer. I do think the technology is coming that will help us to do some of the analysis you mention. NVivo is one that we are fortunate to have in one of our grad labs, that allows you to annotate video and audio files. Overall, though, when we write about it, we end up converting that content into text. It is not good at the quantified research you're looking at as well. Perhaps this is a good way to think about the values of collaborative research. I think trying to usefully use bigger data and archival work is going to create a shift towards collaborative work in the humanities.