Girls Write Now’s digital media program was established with guidance from the MacArthur Foundation-funded Hive Learning Network, with support from the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund at the New York Community Trust and the Edmund de Rothschild Foundation, in partnership with Parsons the New School for Design.
Saturday mornings at Parsons have a sleepy energy. Students sit on low couches, shielding their screens from the sunlight coming in through the large windows; others run in and out for quick meetings, large coffee in hand feeding them energy like the laptop chargers plugged in along every wall.
In one room on the 12th floor, the attention feels a little more focused: eight mentees and their mentors will be arriving in half an hour, so laptops are charging on eight white tables arranged casually around the room, and a Dorkshop run-through is under way. The mix of Parsons grad students and GWN Youth Board members and staff go over the last few details of the day’s curriculum while someone troubleshoots a wireless Internet connection. Someone else peels opens the tub of cream cheese. Café DorkShop is open for business.
Now in the second season, Dorkshops have evolved from a small pilot program last spring to a more concrete vision for the ways in which digital media can interact with writing — and how GWN mentees can access those skills. The spotlight this fall on Interactive Gaming meant breaking video games down into basic steps: how does a game function? What is a QR code? What is the best way to tag posts on WordPress?
Beyond that lay the question of how to transfer a story into the step-by-step structure of a game. If a player has to make a choice at every level, how does each potential choice affect the ending? How does the traditional arc of a story unfold when a player has the control, not the author? Does our relationship to characters change when they can make so many different decisions? Mentors and mentees worked hard to build out structure, character development, and conflict in a way that kept their stories exciting both to read and play.
The challenge for leaders and pairs alike was building a different understanding of why and how we write when we are storytelling through an interactive framework. Exploring that difference was central to DorkShop activities, whether creating branching narrative diagrams to map out the different conclusions of a story, adding multimedia to blog posts, or analyzing clips of decisive moments from The Hunger Games or Dragon Age 2.
The focus on digital media is always present: Youth Board members snap pictures on an iPad. The Dorkshop leader walks around with a video camera, and Tweets fly off every few minutes from all sides of the room, recording the events of the day in real time. The girls submitted their games as Video Game Design Concepts to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and along the way they posted their game developments as blog posts on gwnremix.org. From Zombie invasions to South African time-travel to sea turtles searching for a new home, Dorkshop games follow their own rules — and as a continuously developing project, DorkShops do too.