As of May 2018, my thesis is still in its beginning stages as far as research, but I feel it is in a very good place as far as focus.  This semester, I have done a lot of adding, removing, and re-adding to my thesis idea, and I am pretty certain I have found exactly what I want to say and research.  Replacing my section on civic imagination with a section on potential mental health benefits seems to have been a good choice, as I am finding unexpected niches into which my research may wiggle nicely.  I will admit, I am nervous about writing to and about a field in which I have no formal training (art therapy), but I am trying not to think about that too much yet.  As of right now, I’m just reading what I can, and trying to make myself as knowledgeable as possible.  I have finally got a grasp, however slippery, on my research methods, and some of them (field observations, interviews, gathering community demographics) I can actually start on during the summer.  The contents of this post reflect what I have done so far, but they are not a full representation of everything I have.  For example, there are several resources I have obtained, either physically or digitally, which have not made their way into the annotated bibliography yet, or which do not have annotations at the moment.  I have also amassed a large collection of artifacts from my communities of study in the form of screenshots; most of these are not ready to be posted to the public because I have not yet altered them for subject anonymity.  I have made my professor aware of these resources and artifacts, and if any readers are extremely interested they can contact me for more information on them.


Beans, Parasites, and Chicken Feet: Examining Participatory and Therapeutic Potential in DeviantArt’s Closed Species Communities

Introduction (WIP):

It was the summer before my senior year of undergrad that I acquired my magical parasite.  Tongue lolling, a razor spade smile shining outward, he beckoned playfully from the Internet.  I adopted him from an enterprising art student for the fee of thirty-five dollars; I named him Alo, after a hair loss disease. It was not long before I started developing Alo’s character, making art, and writing about him. Using the DeviantArt platform, I began to share art of Alo and connect with others who owned a member of his species.  Three years later, he is still a huge part of my life. I owe a lot to Alo, for It was through him that I entered the world of closed species communities.

Digital drawing of Alo by Me; CCCat species and design by WellHidden@DeviantArt 

In recent years, the virtual communities that have developed around closed species (fictional animal or humanoid species created by non-corporate, independent artists and/or writers) have become notable subcultures of the DeviantArt online gallery and community.  Following in the footsteps of new media theorists like Henry Jenkins and Mizuko Ito, I will examine three of DeviantArt’s closed species communities as participatory cultures using methods such as discourse and rhetorical analyses of community artifacts, interviews, and field observations. By sharing my findings on the unique economic, diplomatic, and therapeutic features of these communities, I aim to show that participation in DeviantArt’s closed species communities holds the potential to positively influence the community members’ offline lives.  My research aims to expand upon the existing research on networked participatory cultures, and to fill in some gaps in existing art therapy research.


Closed Species Defined


In order to understand closed species communities, one must first understand the concept of 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 closed species characters then produce creative works in a variety of mediums, either independently or collaboratively, and submit them to species-specific community galleries. Each submission to a community gallery serves to expand and enrich the ongoing narrative of its associated species; the gallery itself becomes a multimodal bricolage that allows users to experience and participate in the story of the fictional creatures and their world. 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.

An open species is a species with no, or very few, creation or ownership requirements.  Anyone can create an open species 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 (CS) 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 decided to focus my research on closed species because the communities that develop around them tend to be more active, organized, complex, and dedicated than those that surround open or semi-open species.  I chose to specifically examine the closed species communities on DeviantArt because DeviantArt (DA) is the “largest online art gallery and community,” and I have observed the most active closed species communities on the platform.  It is also worth noting that DeviantArt’s closed species communities have found innovative ways to operate within the constraints of the platform, often repurposing DeviantArt’s formatting, structures, and features to create unexpectedly complex gaming elements.


Communities of Focus  


The research I have conducted focuses on three particular closed species communities on the DeviantArt platform: GremCorps, Griffia, and CCCats.  These communities were selected based on their longevity, activity level, number of members, professed values and missions, significance/depth of member activities, and variety of participation methods.  Each of these communities demonstrates the unique economic, diplomatic, and therapeutic features that make CS communities fascinating and relevant subjects of study.

Digital drawing of Gaudi (Grem2) and character design by Me; Grem2 species by MrGremble@DeviantArt

Digital drawing of Elias (Kryptox, a Griffia species) by me; Kryptox species by griffsnuff@DeviantArt;design by Kandy-Cube@DeviantArt

Working Outline: 

(I have included screenshots because this text editor keeps messing up my formatting, and it gets really confusing without it.)

Annotated Bibliography (WIP)

Jones, B. L. (2015). Collective learning resources: Connecting social-learning practices in deviantART to art education. Studies in Art Education, 56(4), 341-354. Retrieved from


This article focuses specifically on the DeviantART platform and its educational benefits.  It also gives an overview of DeviantART’s history, practices, and values. It will be useful for me as a model of research methodologies that have previously been applied to the study of DeviantART.  I will also be able to cite descriptions and definitions, which will lend more weight and officiality to my own descriptions of DeviantART. Finally, many of the benefits listed in the article apply to the participatory nature of the platform, so I will have a springboard to begin discussing the benefits and participatory practices of my specific DeviantART subcommunities.


Ferullo, D. (2006). CREATIVE COMMONS. Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter, 10(4), 3-4. Retrieved from


This article describes Creative Commons, how they work, and some of their impacts.  It will be useful for me when I relate the different kinds of original species to the different Creative Commons licenses.  It will also give me information to work with when describing the ways that closed species economies differ from other distribution and publication practices.


deviantART and wacom promote art community participation. (2009, May 06). PR Newswire Retrieved from


This article is another source that describes the DeviantART platform and how it operates.  It will be useful to cite when I am describing DeviantART. It also specifically addresses DeviantART’s participatory characteristics and possibilities.


Investopedia stock analysis: inks a $36 million deal for DeviantArt (2017). . Chatham: Newstex. Retrieved from


This article is only valuable to me in a superficial way.  I will be using it simply to state that DeviantART is worth 36 million dollars, and to describe the way that DeviantART has grown to be worth that amount through purely grass-roots means, without any official advertising.  


Zontea, A. (2010). ONLINE PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE NEW GENERATION OF ARTISTS: A SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF VIRTUAL ART GALLERIES. Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai, 55(2), 117-140. Retrieved from


This article is useful for explaining and contextualizing the basic dynamics of online art galleries like DeviantArt.  A lot of the research for the article was actually conducted on DeviantArt; this is a model for potential methodologies I could use (interviews, analysis of comments, etc.). I could also imitate the structure.


Bang, C. L. (2015). Promoting mental health and community participation: A study on participatory arts practice, creativity and play in the city of buenos aires, argentina. Health, Culture and Society, 8(1), 58-68. doi:


This article describes how mental health professionals in Buenos Aires, Argentina are using community and networked art projects to help patients achieve and maintain good mental health.  If such activities are beneficial to the mental health of those Argentine patients, then participating in a CS community, an activity that shares many of the same aspects/features, could also be beneficial to participants’ mental health.


Edwards, L. H., PhD. (2012). Transmedia storytelling, corporate synergy, and audience expression. Global Media Journal, 12(20), 1-12. Retrieved from


This article is useful because it provides an opposition critical viewpoint about participatory cultures and transmedia storytelling. This article claims that it’s all still a pawn of the mass media corporate game, and fans in the online communities are exploited.  I get to say “no, CS communities are an example of completely independent transmedia storytelling that is centered on the fans (fans actually build the canon) and monetized responsibly and ethically (“purified consumerism”)”

The article also includes a definition by Jenkins of transmedia storytelling and the features a fictional world must have in order to successfully implement participatory transmedia storytelling.  The article seems to suggest that only corporatized mass media universes have this potential (Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc.) I get to refute that with examples of CS worlds Palleth and Griffia, which are completely independent.  I can assert that Harry Potter, Star Wars etc. may be the corporate, regular economy versions of transmedia storytelling/participatory cultures that can be monetized, but CS communities are the artisan economy versions of transmedia storytelling/participatory cultures that can be monetized.  There is still room in this niche/concept for independent artists, producers, and consumers (prosumers) to be empowered and have an alternative to mass media creative brands. CS communities are closer to Jenkins’s ideal of what transmedia storytelling and participatory culture can be.


Berry, N., Lobban, F., Emsley, R., & Bucci, S. (2016). Acceptability of Interventions Delivered Online and Through Mobile Phones for People Who Experience Severe Mental Health Problems: A Systematic Review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 18(5), e121.


A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.


Mare Knibbe, Marten de Vries, Klasien Horstman; Engaging cultural resources to promote mental health in Dutch LSES neighborhoods: study of a community-based participatory media project, Health Promotion International, Volume 32, Issue 3, 1 June 2017, Pages 567–576,


Jayne C. Lammers (2013) Fangirls as teachers: examining pedagogic discourse in an online fan site, Learning, Media and Technology, 38:4, 368-386, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2013.764895

Black, Rebecca W. “Online Fan Fiction, Global Identities, and Imagination.” Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 43, no. 4, 2009, pp. 397–425.,


Russo, A. , Watkins, J. , Kelly, L. and Chan, S. (2008), Participatory Communication with Social Media. Curator: The Museum Journal, 51: 21-31. doi:10.1111/j.2151-6952.2008.tb00292.x


Spurgeon, C. (2015). PARTICIPATORY MEDIA AND ‘CO-CREATIVE’ STORYTELLING. Media International Australia (8/1/07-Current), (154), 132-138.


Ahn, J. (2011), The effect of social network sites on adolescents’ social and academic development: Current theories and controversies. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci., 62: 1435-1445. doi:10.1002/asi.21540


Berry, N., Bucci, S., & Lobban, F. (2017). Use of the Internet and Mobile Phones for Self-Management of Severe Mental Health Problems: Qualitative Study of Staff Views. JMIR Mental Health, 4(4), e52.


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