October 16, 2017

Reflections on Youth Efficacy in the Twist Fate Challenge

Categories: Connected Learning, Digital Citizenship
Cover of Twist Fate book repeated in tiles

I think the Twist Fate Challenge is AMAZING….It gives young writers a chance to expand their imaginations. (Simone)* 

Sometimes the only thing separating a hero from a villain is a curious twist of fate. An unexpected turn of events — a chance encounter, a hasty decision, an unexpected detour, a best intention — can spark a chain reaction that upends our expectations of familiar fantasy tropes and storylines. In Spring of 2016, young writers and artists were invited to conceptualize their own hypothetical hero/villain twist of fate in the “Twist Fate Challenge.” Together with DeviantArt (DA) and Wattpad (WP), 13- to 17-year-old artists submitted an alternate scenario depicting a famous hero as the villain, or an infamous villain as the hero. Submissions took the form of their favorite artistic modes and mediums, including pictures, written stories, comic panels, illustrations, etc. In total, the Twist Fate Challenge received more than 2,000 submissions! After the competition, I interviewed a sample of the participants to get a sense of: a) their motivations to participate and b) their perceptions of how participation in the challenge has impacted them. Altogether, the Twist Fate Challenge was overwhelmingly loved by the teens and all of the participants expressed that participation in the challenge has strengthened their sense of community and camaraderie in these online networks, inspired them to produce the best material they could, and promoted an empowering sense of creative efficacy.

Average DA and WP User Bios

The average participant joined DA or WP about 2.5 years prior to the contest and learned about the competition through friend networks, teachers, or personally through the DA and WP sites. Most users are daily site visitors, and access the sites via their smartphones (WP) or tablets (DA). Most participants made distinctions between “loose” and “close” network ties on the sites. Participating in the DA and WP networks strengthened bonds for pre-existing “close” friendships. In addition, participation exposed users to larger networks of “loose” ties that were consequently positive for their production of art/writing:

“I’ve met a lot of people who’ve given me critiques and stuff that are really helpful for each individual piece.” (Anais)

Participation also led apprehensive/shy users to interact with others in the community:

“I’m not one to break out of my shell when I don’t need to, but DA has helped me out little by little over the years.” (Drago)

Finally, participatory bonds also encouraged them to remain active/committed to their communities:

“I love writing, but knowing there are people out there — complete strangers who have never met me — who enjoy my writing, encourages me to continue writing.” (Ester)

Motivations to Participate

Overall, users were highly motivated by the unique theme of the challenge: “The idea of turning good to evil and vice versa was quite attractive” (Juaquin). Specifically, participants noted that their ability to expose the darker side of a classic tale or explore the “imperfection” of the lived experience through fantasy was exciting, as reflected in the following quotes from challenge participants:

“I thought the idea of the Twist Fate Challenge was really refreshing and original. The idea of changing something that was basically already ‘set in stone’ was very intriguing, and it encouraged me to enter [the contest].” (Ester)

“I liked the dark twist about it [the contest].” (Brit)

“I’d love to inspire people or see something in a different light and that life isn’t perfect…even if it is sad, there could still be a happy ending in some sort of way.” (Victoria)

Participants also reported that the opportunity to see their name in print was motivating:

“Knowing the chances of us getting published or anything of the sort are incredibly low….But opportunities like Twist Fate Challenge completely changed [this] perspective…It’s incredible how this gives teenagers a chance to prosper in the writing world, and it’s so fun and encouraging.” (Simone)

A sense of shared interests, an esprit de corps, and a culture of reciprocal positive feedback, vis-à-vis commenting on and sharing others’ work, was also noted as a motivating structure for the talented and enthusiastic artists to participate in the challenge and in the networks, more broadly:

“I feel like I’m a part of a community where we all have the same interests…Or close to the same interests. We like to make things.” (Xander)

“Honestly people help me when they’re just supportive in general….Just seeing how nice people are to me is such a powerful and inspiring weapon. And same the other way around. I try to be kind and encouraging, especially when giving advice, as I often do, when I help others. I think spreading love and kindness is the most effective form help I can provide.” (Simone)

Outcomes of Participation

The teens expressed a host of benefits from participation in the Twist Fate Challenge and in their participation in the online networks. The artists universally reported that the community culture of reciprocal positive feedback or sharing “liked” art was an incredible confidence boost:

“I mean…people happen upon their art, and it’s just like, oh, wow, this is really cool. I’m going to go share this with my friends, and then they’re like, wow, this is really cool. Then it just kind of builds from there.” (Xander)

“It’s kind of flattering I guess because it’s just like, putting this content out there, and you don’t know how people are going to take it, or when people are like asking, you know, write more, write more. It just sort of like, makes you feel… it boosts your ego a little bit.” (Sora)

These positive exchanges, where artists shared feedback, and motivated each other -— even seemed to surprise the participants, themselves, with their own abilities, and in turn inspired some of the youth to spread this positivity outside of the online networks:

“I guess the number one thing that stood out about it [posted content in the challenge], is when I did it, I got a lot of good feedback about the drawing and how people thought it was really cool.  I guess just the coolest thing was that I surprised myself with what I could do when I pushed myself.” (Danica)

“…If I’m going to be the supporting person online, it really helps me become a supporting person in real life to other people.” (Danica)

Interviewees were also eager to talk about how the challenge and the associated online networks promoted a sense of egalitarianism, reduced discrimination, and galvanized loose bonds across international lines:

“…It’s that instant connection that’s funny, we don’t speak the same language, yet we like the same things.” (Cher)

“It’s sort of cool…this person liked my book, and they’re from Australia…” (Sora)

“I think art really transcends language…It helps me connect with people that I would normally never talk to… …  or interact with.” (Anais)

[The WP community is] A whole community free of racism, purely connected by their love for stories. (Helena)

Artists also reported that participation in the challenge and the online communities directly improved their work:

“I’ve actually started writing more regularly [because of participation in the contest]. It really helped me improve my vocabulary and grammar. The more I write, the easier it gets. I’ve learned a lot of different ways to write stories, which is also pretty cool.” (Cher)

Many noted that their writing and English language skills had improved as a consequence of participation:

“I wrote some things when I was younger, like 10 and 12, but they never seemed really good. Then I started [writing] more English [on WP] and trying to get the hang of the language more and more, and then it just kind of slowly moved into a story.  Because I don’t like to write in my own language.  I only write in English [on WP].” (Brit)

Finally, participants expressed that they saw connections between their participation in the Twist Fate Challenge and the online communities in relation to their future professional aspirations:

“I knew I wanted to write, but I was never like, oh, I want to be a writer. Now I really am… trying to make that dream come true because I really want to sell books and make people happy with my stories.” (Brit)

“I want to be a character designer. So having DeviantArt there and knowing that there’s people waiting for a new upload…really motivates me to keep practicing.” (Amy)

“I’ve always considered a career in writing, and if I become successful on Wattpad, it may give me that push to pursue a career in writing.” (Esther)

In all, the Twist Fate Challenge and participation in online networks is a direct mechanism for youth to build community with peers who share the same passions and interests. The communities create the infrastructure for youth to share their work, and the supportive culture provides the necessary backdrop against which these burgeoning artists cultivate their own voice and style and have fun while doing it!

Pseudonyms have been used to anonymize the artists’ identities.