Writing ePortfolio Corner
Today’s Writing ePortfolio Corner isn’t so much about eportfolios as about the possible future of interactive spaces for reflection (which eportfolios are).
I’m talking about the “Twitch Plays Pokemon” phenomenon that is taking the web by storm this week. Full disclosure: I know nothing about Pokemon. I never played it. This is a pleasure that passed my generation by–well, some of my generation will yell that’s untrue, but we had to go back and reclaim that pleasure, with our children probably. I’ve reclaimed some gaming pleasure, but not this one. But everyone knows that Pokemon is a major shaper of childhood experience. (Or it was–our current students refer to it as “old school.”)
“Twitch Plays Pokemon” is a channel on Twitch.TV
, which is a live streaming channel for video gamers. It is best known as a channel where people can watch other people playing games 24/7. This is done for both education (people watch to learn how to play the games) and entertainment. TPP is very popular–the site has recorded over 300,000 unique visitors in the week since its launch– but few gaming streams have caught the imagination of academics so quickly. Perhaps it was only a matter of time, in this year of discussions of MOOCing and the ascendancy of online education, that a crowdsourced embeddable gaming platform would be an object of intense fascination to the public and to academia.
The game channel describes it as “a stream that lets you play Pokemon with a lot of other people by typing commands into chat. It was created as an experiment to test the viability of this format, the way people interact with the input system and the way they interact socially with each other.” On the side frame of the channel itself, there is a scrolling chat log of participants’ comments. The comments generally are of the nature of “ANARCHY!” or “bird Jesus lives,” both references to the gameplay (which is a sprawling narrative of a political and religious nature, so the comments aren’t just random silliness). The creator of “Twitch Plays Pokemon” has been feverishly sought out by gaming newsblogs such as Joystic
, but he (only gender confirmed) is protective of identity, preferring to be referred to as “The Trainer.”
There have been quite a few blog posts reporting on (Kotaku”
in particular has been buzzing), analyzing, or reflecting on this event and almost all of them actually embed the game itself, which can be shared like a YouTube video, in the blog post. That means that anyone reading one of these blog posts has nearly instant access to jumping into the game and playing. “The Trainer” has provided an FAQ on the channel page explaining how to do just that.
I’m fascinated by the idea of bringing actual shared interactive experiences into a personal website, like an ePortfolio or a blog. It’s something that we can do more and more, and it changes the nature of writing in a direction that began with hyperlinking. The nature of summary and analysis of texts, whether strictly verbal or multimodal, changes when readers can click on a link and check the text themselves. This can be compared to the Protestant Reformation when, after printing made the Bible available and literacy expanded to a great portion of the population, members of a religious community could offer their own interpretations of the preacher’s text references without having to go through channels. Access is easier and, if not instant, nearly so.
Some may question if this is the proper use of an ePortfolio, which should be the showcase of an individual. However, many of our students are producing interactive media, if not in their Writing courses, in other courses (such as the Game Design course taught by Lori Scarlatos in Tech and Society at Stony Brook University
). I would love to see my students create an interactive live stream such as this and embed it into their ePortfolio along with analysis, research, and reflection–and if they don’t create it themselves, follow in the footsteps of bloggers like Xav de Matos
who embed the work of others and provide the metacommentary. That metacommentary then becomes another potentially ground for interactivity, for conversation, in the blog comments. Those commenters can then check out the game and play it.
The beauty of this is that there are so many way to approach metacommentary. Some bloggers comment on the programming and the access, some on the mythology of the game, some on the sociology involved in choosing a democratic or anarchic style of play or the building of community. All are rich conversations to have, and can lead to deeper consideration and research.
Experiments like this stretch our concept of audience as well. Audience has a dual role, possibly: one as participant in the original event embedded in the site and one more traditional role as audience of the metacommentary. Prepare for this audience to be less under your spell as a writer, more easily distracted by his or her own experiences, more challenging of one’s comments. The attraction of participation is also competition for one’s words.
There are additional logistical things to watch out for, of course, such as increased flow of traffic to the server. Also, the platform has to allow for embedding of the live feed (in this case, a Flash object that would have required an account upgrade prevented a direct embedding. You can visit an example in my WordPress blog.
Digication currently does not support the embedding of Flash objects, but other kinds of live streams are supported, such as Ustream
.) However, if a student’s ePortfolio is set to semi-public access, only those with a local account will be able to access that page. There’s a good chance that the student’s ePortfolio may become very popular–especially if it’s set to Public access.