Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

"The Hangout Was Serious Business": Leveraging Participation in an Online Space to Design Sims Fanfiction

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

"The Hangout Was Serious Business": Leveraging Participation in an Online Space to Design Sims Fanfiction

Article excerpt

By studying a novice writer in an online space, this article explores the convergence of factors shaping young people's networked writing and addresses recent critique of the New London Group's (1996) Designs of Meaning framework. A growing body of research examines the literacy practices involved when youth engage in technology-mediated content creation, doing important work to legitimize these practices (e.g., Chandler-Olcott & Mahar, 2003) and demonstrate how sharing writing in an online space connects youth to authentic writing identities (e.g., Black, 2005). However, much of this research relies on the experiences of youth who are the "exceptional case" (Black, 2008, p. 101)-expert teens who have a unique constellation of factors fueling their passion and engagement. Thus we have rich, inspiring cases, including Jack (Curwood, 2013), who created podcasts, blogs, and tutorials to support players of a popular Hunger Games alternate reality game, and Kate (Roozen, 2009), whose fanfiction writing informed her graduate English studies and vice versa. Less is known about the experiences of more typical youth who create and share in online spaces. This study addresses that gap by sharing the case of Angela, a novice participant in an online forum for writers.

Angela, described below, was an informant in a two-year ethnographic study I conducted within The Sims Writers' Hangout (SWH). SWH was an online affinity space (Gee, 2004; Lammers, Curwood, & Magnifico, 2012) whose members, primarily adolescents and young adults, used discussion forums for a variety of activities associated with writing stories using the life-simulation videogame The Sims. Many players of this game create Sims fanfiction, a fan literacy practice that produces multimodal (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001), hybrid (New London Group, 1996) texts combining screen shots from the game with written narratives to tell stories with Sims characters (see Lammers, 2012, for more explanation). Sims fanfiction, thus, arises from the intersection of videogame play, digital image editing, and writing (see Figure 1).

When writers share their work in online spaces like SWH, they place themselves "among the audience" (Lunsford & Ede, 2009), inviting immediate attention and input on their creations. Connecting with a wider online audience can motivate youth as they receive feedback from passionate readers (Curwood, Magnifico, & Lammers, 2013), but it also brings challenges as youth navigate competing expectations when trying to write both for and with that online audience (Magnifico, 2010). Thus, online spaces provide unique writing contexts, in which readers and writers collaboratively construct genre conventions and standards for quality. In such networked writing (Lammers & Marsh, 2015), writing and sharing are inextricably linked as engagement with the audience becomes inseparable from the act of writing. This rhetorical situation demands that writers attend to numerous factors, "from generic or situational constraints to ideologies that make some writerly choices seem obvious or 'natural,' while others are 'unnatural' or entirely hidden from view" (Lunsford & Ede, 2009, p. 48). While creativity may be rewarded, the audience will speak up if authors' writerly choices are too unnatural.

Past research exploring online fanfiction contexts has focused on writers' perspectives (Korobkova & Black, 2014; Stedman, 2012), structures and practices within the spaces (Black, 2007; Lammers, 2013), or the interactions between writers and audiences (Black, 2005; Lammers & Marsh, 2015; Magnifico, Curwood, & Lammers, 2015). In the present study, I focus my gaze on the intersection between the online affinity space (SWH), a novice writer, and her Designing work (New London Group, 1996), highlighting how Angela leverages her online participation to meet audience expectations as she creates and shares Sims fanfiction. I use the Designs of Meaning framework specifically because it recognizes conventions writers attend to while also shedding light on the Design work authors do to both transform and reproduce these conventions. …

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