Thermophiles in Love Reflection



There were a number of issues that arose during my period of participation in the “Thermophiles in Love” (TiL) improvised network narrative (netprov).  Firstly, because the characters were fictional bacteria with a unique sense of gender, I had to decide on the way I wanted to use gender neutral pronouns.  I decided on Rickter’s “xe” pronouns because they sounded the most otherworldly to me, and thus best suited to the science fiction/slipstream genre of the netprov.  TiL also influenced the way I interacted with some of my classmates in real life.  Being careful not to reveal our online identities, we had detailed discussions about characters and events on the netprov, both in person and via text message.  We even developed some specific lexis to describe things in the real world based on features from TiL.  The most significant issue, however, was the unexpected emotional distress that arose from the incongruities between my real-life self and my character.  I do a lot of creative writing, and I have written from the points-of-view of fictional characters countless times before (I’ve even written from the point of view of a parasitic worm!), but the layered aspect of communication on the netprov made things a lot more nerve-wracking.  Because I knew I was going to be interacting with my professor, classmates, and other scholars and academics in the career field I wish to enter, I still felt pressure to present myself well.  I worried that people would confuse my words and ideas with those of my character, and it would somehow come back to bite me.  

One outstanding incident occurred when another person’s character, Acido_EColi, began to argue with my character, hype_solium.  Due to the open-ended, uncertain nature of the relationship between the netprov’s universe and real-world microbiology, our characters had conflicting ideas about the relative societal and evolutionary positions of E. coli to Thermophiles.  I had imagined E. coli as less developed bacteria that Thermophiles kept as pets, almost like dogs.  The person writing Acido_EColi had actually imagined their character as an E. coli cell.  When hype_solium talked about xyr pet E. coli cells and the way that xe treated them, Acido_EColi was incredibly offended, and xe wrote about xyr feelings as a response to hype_solium’s thread.  At that point I became very anxious because in real-life I would have apologized profusely and done everything I could to avoid a conflict with another forum user, but hype_solium would not.  In accordance with the characteristics laid out by the netprov’s creators for xyr gender, my character would not listen to Acido_EColi’s point; xe would argue back.  So I argued back, risking appearing ignorant and confrontational to my professor, classmates, and contemporaries if they happened to figure out my online identity.  The anxiety it evoked was so distracting that I almost forgot to lock the door on the way out of the Writing Center, where I work as a tutor, that evening.  I also thought about the fictional argument for the duration of my commute, worrying obsessively about how Acido_EColi would take my character’s response, and planning possible comebacks in xyr voice.    

Thermophiles in Love

    
Thermophiles in Love


     When I learned that we were participating in the #NetProv Thermophiles in Love as part of our Elit group project, I was initially drawn to the idea and excited to participate. As part of a New Media Studies class, I got the chance to participate in my first #NetProv last spring. You can read my reflection on that experience here.

     The premise for Thermophiles in Love is a 5-gender thermophile dating site that utilizes matchmakers, or Mesos, to "hook up" sets of four thermophiles so that they can form a quadruple. Created by Samara Hayley Steele, Cathy Podeszwa, Rob Wittig, and Mark Marino, the game seeks to serve as a "creative exploration of contemporary gender fluidity viewed through a microscopic collaborative narrative".


https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=15&v=JzLBI7JEka8
     After reading the "How to Play" section of the site and watching the intro video, my first goal as a  participant was to get a gender assignment so that I could set up a profile. I was assigned to be a "Fac":

http://markcmarino.com/til/picker/allgenders.htmlption


     Yet, even after being assigned and reading about my gender's traits, I was still hesitant to create a profile. I felt unsure... What was going through my mind: What exactly is a thermophile?! (Now would be a good time to mention that I missed the "About" section of the website).

     I did a quick Google search and found myself on the Wikipedia page for Thermophile. Here I also read about Facultative thermophiles and discovered that they are considered "moderate" because they can survive at both high and lower temperatures.


     Leaving all of that "science-y" information behind, I moved forward in the #NetProv. In creating a profile, I tried to picture someone who would be comfortable in many different situations. Based on the suggested occupations for my gender, I  also imagined my thermophile as an adventurer.  @fac_Sulfie was born:

My Profile
     Initially, there were two ways to participate in forums: the user could chat within their own gender's forums, or the user could participate in the open "Hot Springs" forums. Throughout the week, I participated in 7 forums, including the Big Date at weeks end, and both post-experience reflections.
   
     Reflecting now on my participation with this #NetProv, I think that the subject made me feel a little distanced and reserved. I never felt truly comfortable and held back from participating in the way that I saw some other users interacting within the game. I will start by saying that I am not a science person (I know, I know... you didn't have to be a science person to play the game...). I just felt a certain level of distance from the subject matter (I am also not a dating site person) and could not immerse myself comfortably. Constantly running through my mind was the fear, "Am I doing this right? Am I thinking about this/ approaching this all wrong?" It was a road-block of sorts.

    I also felt that a user's level of interaction was sometimes limited by that of other users. For example, I was grouped with four other participants for "The Warm-Up Date" and "The Big Date", but I was the only person who posted in our forums. I could see that others were viewing the forums, but no one posted anything. No posts = no exchanges.


    Finally, I felt that the strict timeline for participation was a hindrance. This was likely a contributing factor in the lack of participation from my group. As a creative writer, I often feel that I need to write organically and not to a timeline.

    This #NetProv experience certainly made me think more deeply about the ways in which people interact in digital public spaces. There is a certain level of freedom that comes with anonymity. Some users were really able to jump into their character and let loose. I also believe that there is a different type of interaction and a different comfort level that occurs in small group interactions versus large forum participation. I think that some people may have felt more comfortable posting in the larger forums, while I felt the opposite.

   By participating in this experience, I also thought more critically about collaborative writing and  imagining. I felt unsure and a bit confused about my participation as my character. This feeling of disorientation with the subject matter made me pull back and feel hesitant.

   Finally, this adds a new level of understanding to my own research about online collaboration and participation within fan communities. I think that a certain level of comfort and understanding of the subject matter leads to more successful collective imagining. I also think that even in a anonymous setting, there needs to be a certain level of trust: you need to trust yourself and your comprehension of the experience, and you also need to trust others not to judge you and your mode of participation to harshly.

    

Thermophiles In Love

This unprecedented gathering of “thermophiles in love” an entertaining, although at times frustrating, adventure into role-playing and online “dating”. I would even go so far as to call it e-literature, due to the fact that the world was almost entirely built on the contributed writings of its participants. I took the name@acido_melioristicus.

As an acido, I tried to channel the alpha male “personality” attributed to my species. Upon reading other blogs and discussion threads by other acidos, the A-type personality often took the form of boasting and pumping up of their own attributes. I am guessing that was partly because this was the premise upon which we were asked to rest our character (magnetic, attractive, over-the-top).  Before jumping in, I checked out the “For Acidos Only” blog to see how other players approached it. What I found was that a lot of “acidos” opted for a more scientific edge, mining the language for terms that would fit their new chemical/bacterial forms. In addition, you had a bunch of people approaching it like a dating sight and “looking for love”, and also plenty of people promoting their acido-ship, even to the point of discriminating other forms of therms.

For example:

Acidooooooooooooos! Therms up to my homies. Who’s down for a party tonight? We got the vents going up on a Tuesday. Role through and DONT BRING ANY OBLIs
The last time I went volcano hunting, I ran into a hot ball of lava named Obli_5000. 5000 couldn’t keep the heat going. So. I took the molten rock, and threw it at his face.

To wade into the mix, I posted a message on discussion boards both for fellow acidos and on the general discussion board titled “Hot Springs”.  On the acido board, I tried an approach that I thought might have worked in a face-to-face social situation… seeking advice for lasting partnerships.

thermophileclip1

The result was less than spectacular. I got only the one message and less than a dozen views. In fact, the entire acido-only page only had three threads.  I thought there would be more. Looking at the other “only” blogs, it seems like in each case, one of the threads got all the views and comments (in one case over 100), while the others barely got looked at. My second attempt worked better – again, as I tried to draw out others’ creativity by asking them what they were “most likely” to be. I’m not even sure, looking back, what I meant by that, but the responses seemed to reflect the way others’ saw themselves in contrast to the other thermophiles, thereby helping define themselves.

thermo2

 

 

There was an interesting back and forth in preparing for the date and I was surprised that the Meso that set up my date actually defied the rules and put three “acidos” and one “fac” in the group – a direct violation of the “rules” of the game, which state that you should have one of each thermophile gender.  How did it go? Probably the same way you would expect a real date to go if you included multiple people with the same personality type. Sometimes we complimented each other and sometimes we clashed, although with somewhat comical results. We all worked to attribute activities and, in some cases, personalities to each other – particularly the “fac” which seemed to be thematically sidelined.  I thought it fascinating how we chose to role play. The first message from @acido_reflux showed the kind of reaction you might expect someone who is dealing with a social situation in which the rules are violated – some anger and frustration, both at the Meso in charge and at the other acidos. I did the same, targeting one of the acidos as a therm that would try to “one-up” his fellows (consistent with an A-type personality), but @acido_quiloniusA didn’t do that at all. Instead, he/she took a different direction, celebrating the combination of acidos, even arguing that @fac_krispyking was the best of the group – something I would not have expected. Looking back, I wish I had gone more in the inclusive direction, but I got caught up in trying to role play the hyper-self-possessed and obsessed thermophile, instead of exploring a different way to relate. In fact, when @fac_krispyking  blogged about the experience, and mentioned what seemed like a put-down from me, I actually felt disappointed, like I should have made more of a rhetorical effort to reach out to them. You can see the messages below.

thermo3

So…. once we got to the actual date, it was amazing to see that my fellow thermophiles appeared to also taken the lesson to heart and made attempts to be more inclusive. You can see that we each made efforts to celebrate our similarities and our common characteristics rather than emphasizing our differences. There seemed to be quite a lot of soul-searching in these blogs, reconsidering our earlier brash and aggressive behavior and searching for common ground. All the pretense of using scientific terminology and language seems to have gone out the window at this point, and everyone is actually trying to relate to one another, hold each other up and end the experience on a good note. Although there were only a handful of blogs exchanged, it felt as though my fellow thermophiles were trying to reach out to me, and I actually got a bit of a smile when I saw them mention “me” in a positive light. What an odd reaction when it comes to people I don’t know and a character I invented (and by that I mean picked a name and a bit of a back story) less than a week ago!!

thermo4

I began this NetProv with high expectations and at first, I was actually a little let down. I didn’t feel that there was a lot of participation, and I got a lot less feedback to my posts than I thought I would get. The “game” itself rests almost entirely on participation and it just didn’t seem that interesting. But as I wrote, I realized that by digging deeper, particularly into the writings and nuances of the blogs, I was able to see how our approach to our “date” and to each other changed even from blog to blog. We started to take responsibility for each other’s happiness, going out of our way to express positive feelings (even though it was difficult for any of us to completely shed the alpha personality we had been assigned at the outset). I felt that the game itself was stripped down in a way that allowed our characters to be developed entirely based on our interpretation of a tiny pre-prepared bio and our imagination. In addition, I was surprised at how one piece of writing in a digital space seemed to directly impact what followed, and not just as a direct response. The tone and approach seemed to be adjusted as we went along; when one seemed particularly harsh or aggressive, the next blog usually did some form of damage control, or dialing the overall tone back. Looking at other date groups, I seem to be one of the few that had a real interactive experience. Only six out of a few dozen discussion groups had more than one response, so it’s hard to judge whether others had the same experience I did. I saw that in the final assessment, much of the disappointment stemmed from people who simply didn’t play or respond. I don’t know that I developed any new digital literacies here, but I feel like I honed my abilities somewhat, seeing a more obvious interplay between the narratives perpetuated by the players (and that the tone and edge of a message impacted the way the response was written). As a digital experience, I think more involvement by other players would have made it more interesting, but I believe that I had the good fortune to experience a group that actually had something to say.

captureAcidos forever!!