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.
A 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.