Since we talked about netprov this week, and we’ll be talking about fan fiction next week, I figured this would be the perfect time to share a passion of mine, which kind of exists in the juncture between those two genres: original species. Original species communities tend to crop up in online visual art communities, most notably DeviantArt, but the generative literature they engender spans a variety of mediums. Just to clarify, when I use the term “generative” here, I am using it in the way for which electronic literature scholar Dr. Mia Zamora advocates: a collaborative, nonlinear sort of networked narrative. Although the computer is necessary to facilitate the community network, it is people who do the creating, not computers.
First off, I should probably explain what original species are. Basically, an artist creates a fictional species, usually with lore and a world built around them. The creator then provides information about the species’s morphology (usually in the form of pre-made character designs and features sheets), social habits, intelligence level, etc. If others are interested in the species, they can create, buy, or otherwise obtain a species character. This is where things get a little complicated.
A closed species is a species that people must obtain explicit permission to create a character of. 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), DTA (draw to adopt) or WTA (write to adopt) contests, and trading character designs of other species. 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. This may seem harsh and exclusionary, but most closed species communities do offer ways for people who don’t own a design to participate. These include mascot 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.
An open species is a species that anyone can create a character of 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.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to the species communities. The real magic of original species comes from the multifaceted worlds that users contribute to create. A wonderful example of this is the GremCorps community. The creator of the Grem2 species, who goes by the username MrGremble, started the Grem2 networked narrative with their own rich lore and art, as can be seen on the linked website. Members of the community build off this lore by creating their own characters, stories, relationships, artwork, and writing.
Artwork and species concept by MrGremble on DeviantArt
To facilitate the creation of art and literature, GremCorps provides its users with prompts. Like our class’s Daily Digital Alchemy, these prompts are interpreted by users in a variety of creative ways. Here is a sample of a prompt and the literature it generates:
Even though I have only provided links to writing and two-dimensional visual art, other responses to prompts have included: sculpture, video game/computer program design, crafts, and custom plush toys.
In addition to being networked by the fact that all Grem2 characters exist within the same species and world, some users specifically seek out other users’ characters to incorporate into their stories and art. This means finding friends, enemies, rivals, mates, etc. for their Grem2. This is often accomplished by advertising within the group with what is known as a “tracker.”
Finally, many original species communities have their own Skype or Discord groups where members can chat, share ideas, or RP(roleplay). RPing is very much like netprov in that two or more users write collaboratively on the fly. The term RP is a bit of a misnomer because users don’t actually assume the identities of their characters; instead they usually write in third person about the actions, words, etc. of one or more of their characters in response to the actions/words of the other user’s character or characters. Some communities also have ARPGs, which incorporate extra elements such as item collection, breeding, competitions, and more numerous prompts.
This post is by no means an exhaustive analysis of original species communities; there’s a lot of species, each with their own communities and quirks. Two other notable ones are Chittercida and Pillowings. Rather, this was intended as an introduction to the genre, and why I think it would be considered generative literature. I hope I’ve done a decent job explaining things. If I haven’t, though, or you have any further questions, feel free to ask in the comments!