Digital Studies 101

A common resource for Digital Studies at UMW.

Tag: creativity

Beyond DIY: Critical Making

The Maker Movement evolved out of a DIY (or Do It Yourself) ethos, morphing into an approach to learning. From YouTube video how-to’s to hacking your electronics, the Maker Movement has reshaped how we interact with our physical environments, beyond software to hardware. But as this movement has evolved, particularly in higher education, we see the power of the Maker Movement to critically and consciously engage with our material world.


Suggested Readings

Tools and Resources


Interactive Fiction

“Will you read me a story?”
“Read you a story? What fun would that be? I’ve got a better idea: let’s tell a story together.”
— Adam Cadre, “Photopia”

Interactive Fiction is a genre of game or electronic literature where users participate in the generation or exploration of a story world. In the early 1980s, text adventures like Zork and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy invited players to interact with their computers to explore fictional game worlds. That tradition continues today with a diverse range of tools that make possible all sorts of literary interactivity. The links below will help you scratch the surface of the worlds upon worlds of interactive fiction.


  • Learn about the history and evolution of text adventures and interactive fiction
  • Explore the different affordances of the various platforms available for producing interactive fiction
  • Practice writing in an interactive format


Other Resources

Suggested Tasks

  • Make a story in whatever platform you like best
  • Adapt a scene from a literary work that you know well
  • Re-create a particularly vivid moment from your life
  • Tell the same story across multiple platforms at the same time

Adaptation, Remixes, and Mashups

Adaptations, remixes, and mashups are related in that they take existing materials and repurpose them. But technology and digital culture has opened up new and creative avenues to explore and experiment with these techniques. But questions of copyright, authorship, and originality, however, can make these kinds of projects fraught and complex.


  • Learn about the history and evolution of these concepts
  • Develop an understanding of issues of copyright and authorship
  • Understand the motivation behind these concepts and creative outputs


Suggested Tasks

  • Annotate a remix, adaptation, or mashup using a tool like Vidbolt
  • Create your own remix, adaptation or mashup using a tool like Twine (but really, any tool or platform or approach is fair game)

Weird Internet Stuff


To call any aesthetics “new” is, on the one hand, to assert an arbitrarily diachronic axiology onto cultural phenomenon. On the other hand, the phrase does provide a convenient shorthand for calling attention to certain, digitally-inflected patterns that give shape to everyday life. One popular phrase defines the New Aesthetic as the “eruption of the digital into the physical”, and it can best be explained through examples. In a recently re-blogged post, the author describes how Google+’s “AutoAwesome” algorithm created a photographic moment in history by combining favorable aspects from multiple images. An automated, digital process has created a reference to a moment that didn’t exist. The point isn’t that this is a bad thing, necessarily, but that that “new” moment now shapes how the participants in that event remember that event. This kind of influence happens all the time in many more obvious or subtle ways, but it’s a good example of the new aesthetic in action.


  • Learn about the history and uses of the term “new aesthetic”
  • Learn about Tumblr’s role as a platform that helps this term and others like it develop
  • Evaluate the current state and continuing evolution of the term


Suggested Tasks

  • Read and explore the history of the new aesthetic and its related terms
  • Consider: Is the new aesthetic still a meaningful and relevant term? Who gets to decide what makes something an example of a “new aesthetic”? Is there an alternative terminology available?
  • Create a Tumblr blog (individually or as a group) to curate and comment on material related to you inquiry. For example, blog and reblog material you think represents a new aesthetic, or find some critical inroad into or against the term.


— WOPR / Joshua, Wargames (1983)

Do you play video games? Of course you do!

Video games are an interactive medium capable of engaging their players with beautiful imagery, actively involving players in the creation of epic stories, or demonstrating complex ideas or philosophies. Games can also be massive wasters of time, they may promulgate sexist tropes and imagery, and game culture is poisoned by misogyny and sexism.

For good or ill, video games are ubiquitous digital media, and the tools for creating and sharing video games are getting easier and easier to use. In this module, explore the processes and tools of game design and game programming and produce your own game by the end of the two-week module.


  • Learn about game genres and platforms
  • Learn how background connects to key characteristics in games now
  • Learn fundamental concepts of game design
  • Work with game making tools
  • Produce and share a complete (short) video game



Suggested Tasks

  • Experiment with and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the many free tools for creating video games.
  • Learn about the history of key video game genres, their formal characteristics, and their applications
  • Learn about the video game industry and the current climate
  • Play and talk about video games which claim to have “a point” — art games, persuasive games, newsgames, etc.
  • Create a “mod” for a popular board game, changing its rules or “re-skinning” its look. Play your mod with your team.
  • Describe your game from the point of view of someone playing it, and sketch out the interface and/or structure of the game’s content.
  • Remake one of your old games. Use a different game maker or make it a different genre. Or, simply, fix it using the knowledge you have now as opposed to when you first made it.
  • Build your game iteratively: share your work in progress with your team, and tweak it based on their feedback.

Creative Coding

Code is. Poetry is code?
Code is poetry. Is code?
Code? Is poetry is? Code.

There are many reasons to write computer code. As we read from Nelson and Rushkoff (and plenty of others), learning how computers work and how to make them work is a fundamental competency of human existence. Yet putting it in those terms raises the stakes on what can also simply be used to create something interesting, something annoying, or something beautiful.

Ranging from one-purpose websites, to procedurally generated novels, to the rougher edges of or the diverse field of electronic literature, one can find many applications of computer code executed in support of some idea or simply for the heck of it.

Your job in this module is to learn about computer programming by exploring its creative uses and contributing your own.


  • Explore creative and playful uses of computer code
  • Make your own experiments and interventions into creative computing

Tools and Resources

Suggested Tasks

  • Learn some HTML and CSS from Codecademy
  • Create a web page that interprets — through design, typography, and layout — a poem or short story
  • Complete a course in one or more higher-level scripting languages (Javascript, Python, etc.) at
  • Read Nick Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge” and modify its code to make your own derivation
  • Write a program that generates poetry (follow a specific format like sonnet or haiku)
  • Write a program that interfaces with Wordnik to generate poetry
  • Learn about Twitter bots and make your own!

Art of the Animated GIF


The animated GIF is a form of digital image that is almost 30 years old, but recent years have seen its resurgence through popular use in social content sites like Tumblr and Reddit. In this module, students research the history of the animated GIF and learn how to produce their own.


  • learn about the design and history of the GIF format
  • learn about the technical specifications of a GIF file
  • explore cultural practices around GIFs and their uses in different communities
  • produce and share some animated GIFs

Resources and Bibliography

Suggested Tasks

1. Explore and discuss the resources and reading material

  • Who made the GIF format and why?
  • What is the current legal status of the GIF patent and how has that changed over the years?
  • Where did the very similar PNG image format come from and why?
  • Why are GIFs so popular again?
  • How are GIFs used on Tumblr, and what are the constraints there?
  • Are GIFs used differently on Tumblr vs, say, Twitter?
  • Which segments of the population are familiar with gifs? Is there a generation gap?

2. Learn about making animated GIFs

  • What are the best tools for making GIFs?
  • What constraints are imposed on GIFs uploaded to various sites (Tumblr? Imgur? others?)

3. Learn how to make your own animated GIFs

  • Make a simple, 12-frame animation
  • Make an animated GIF from a video clip
  • Make a perfectly-looping animated GIF
  • Make a cinemagraph-style animated GIF
  • Create a GIF for the ITCC media wall
  • Make a gif “meme”.
  • Make a GIF that means something