In your hands (or on your screen) is an unprecedented experiment in connecting across stories, platforms, and generations. We challenged teens aged 13-17 to “Pick a story and character, and create an alternative scenario where a famous hero is the villain, or an infamous villain, the hero.” And we invited them to submit their entries to DeviantArt and Wattpad, homes to some of the most vibrant youth creative communities on the net. In these pages, you’ll find a phantasmagoric teen neverland, often delightful, sometimes dark, and always surprising. You’ll see characters varying from Snow White, to Harry Potter, to Jarvis (the A.I. in Ironman), all transformed in ways both familiar and unexpectedly strange.
Our partners at the National Writing Project and the Young Adult Library Services Association helped shape the challenge and spread the word to educators. More than 2,000 teens submitted stories and artwork. Boosted by the keen editorial eye of an all-star cast of professional creators — Antero Garcia, Lauren Kate, Brian Kesinger, and Sara Ryan — the team at Wattpad and DeviantArt curated a selection of finalists whose work appears in this book. Although contests are a common feature of these communities, this challenge represents four firsts:
- The first challenge shared across Wattpad and DeviantArt.
- The first teen-only challenge that either platform has sponsored.
- The first collaboration these platforms have had with networks of educators.
- The first challenge to be documented as a book and to be distributed through public libraries across the United States.
The path to this unique challenge was itself an oddly twisty one. I’m a cultural anthropologist who has studied youth internet culture for decades, ever since college kids started killing orcs together in text-based online games. Trough the years, I’ve marveled at the creativity, literacy, and learning that have blossomed online as young people have created, shared, mobilized, and connected with one another in networked communities. As more and more of our culture circulates in digital networks, young people have been at the forefront of sharing, remixing, and repurposing visual and popular media as part of their everyday self-expression and peer communication. More recently, I’ve been mulling over how parents and educators might better appreciate, embrace, and elevate the learning that the teens are doing in their online groups.
This challenge grew out of my puzzling over this problem and more than a decade of work by academics, educators, and designers who are seeking to leverage new technologies to better support youth and interest-driven learning. There’s actually a ton of research and theory behind why the learning and creativity in platforms such as DeviantArt and Wattpad are so important and life changing. When young people create and learn with others who share their interests and passions, and are able to share and be recognized for this, it is much more powerful than the kind of learning that young people do in most of their schooling. We call this kind of learning “connected learning” — learning that connects peer culture, personal interests, and recognition in the wider world.
The Connected Learning Alliance, the host of this challenge, is a network of educators, researchers, designers, and technologists who are working at the intersection of education, youth culture, and digital media. When we had the opportunity to collaborate with the leadership at Wattpad and DeviantArt, we jumped at it, building new connections between teen online communities and the world of education. This challenge is an effort to connect and recognize the abundant creativity and learning that teens are engaged in through Wattpad and DeviantArt, showcasing how these sites are platforms for powerful new forms of learning to educators, parents, and others who might not already be tapped into this neverland.
The Connected Learning Alliance supports the expansion and influence of a network of educators, experts, and youth-serving organizations, mobilizing new technology in the service of equity, access, and opportunity for all young people. The Alliance is coordinated by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub at UC Irvine. Learn more at clalliance.org.
Wattpad, the global multiplatform entertainment company for original stories, transforms how the world discovers, creates, and engages with stories. Since 2006, it has offered a completely social experience in which people everywhere can participate and collaborate on content through comments, messages, and multimedia. Today, Wattpad connects a community of more than 45 million people around the world through serialized stories about the things they love. As home to millions of fresh voices and fans who share culturally relevant stories based on local trends and current events, Wattpad has unique pop culture insights in virtually every market around the world. Wattpad Studios coproduces stories for film, television, digital, and print to radically transform the way the entertainment industry sources and produces content. Wattpad Brand Solutions offers new and integrated ways for brands to build deep engagement with consumers. The company is proudly based in Toronto, Canada. Learn more at wattpad.com.
Founded in 2000, DeviantArt is an online social network for artists and art enthusiasts and a platform for emerging and established artists to exhibit, promote, and share their works with an enthusiastic, art-centric community. It has more than 40 million registered members and attracts more than 60 million unique visitors per month. Members — known as deviants — upload more than 100,000 original works of art and literature daily, everything from painting and sculpture to digital art, pixel art, films, anime, and poetry. Learn more at deviantart.com.
The Young Adult Library Services Association is a national association of librarians, library workers, and advocates with a mission to expand and strengthen library services for teens. YALSA brings together key stakeholders from the areas of libraries, education, research, out-of-school time, youth development, and more to develop and deliver resources to libraries that expand their capacity to support teen learning and enrichment and to foster healthy communities. Learn more at ala.org/yalsa.
The National Writing Project is a network of sites anchored at colleges and universities and serving teachers across disciplines and at all levels, early childhood through university. NWP provides professional development, develops resources, generates research, and acts on knowledge to improve the teaching of writing and learning in schools and communities. Learn more at nwp.org.
The curation and publication of this book were made possible by the teams at the Connected Learning Alliance at UC Irvine, DeviantArt, Wattpad, National Writing Project, and the Young Adult Library Services Association. We want to thank Antero Garcia, Brian Kesinger, Lauren Kate, and Sara Ryan for curating the teens’ stories and artwork that appear in this book. A special thanks to Mimi Ito, who spearheaded the project. We couldn’t have done it without the awesome people behind the scenes, including Alessandra Ferreri, Candace Mack, Christina Cantrill, Claudia Caro Sullivan, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Jeff Brazil, Jing Jing Tan, Josh Wattles, Maddy Wojdak, Mimi Ko Cruz, and Todd Boxer, who collaborated and executed the Twist Fate Challenge; Jason Frohlichstein, who beautifully designed this book and the website, showcasing the Twist Fate Challenge finalists; and Alex Cho and Karen Bleske, who provided editorial support.