After a childhood steeped in creative literature – much of it science fiction – and a talent for composing his own poetry and prose, Sandy Baldwin grew up and took a job writing technical manuals for a software company.

There he witnessed with fascination the rapid evolution of the Internet, the rise of personal computing, online computer gaming, social media and hundreds of technology and software advances that accelerated story-telling avenues for creative minds.

His experience, traditional interests, creative inclinations and observations led him to reexamine his career and ask: “Why not put it all together?”

Today, Dr. Sandy Baldwin is an associate professor of English and director of the Center for Literary Computing at West Virginia University, and he is set to begin 2013 with a pair of ambitious new projects that will span continents and elevate WVU’s growing international reputation as a focal point for new media studies.

New media has been defined as cultural products that use computer technology to reach audiences: think websites like YouTube and Facebook, on-line video games, computer multimedia, Blu-ray disks and similar innovations. Baldwin notes that new media has increased communication among people on a global basis and enabled millions to express themselves through online gaming, blogs, websites, pictures, and other user-generated media.

Click below to hear WVUToday radio story on Baldwin's research.

One particular new media product dominates the field and is the topic of one of Baldwin’s upcoming research efforts: online massive multi-player video gaming. It’s an activity that attracts players all over the world to gaming sites where they create role-playing characters and interact in animated scenarios by the hour. Baldwin said the games have a staggering presence in the everyday lives of millions of people all over the planet and could provide cultural insights and behavioral data of use to an evolving world.

“Students in other countries may not all watch the same movies or listen to the same music, but they are playing the same video games,” Baldwin said “That provides an important window for researchers interested in learning more about how the games and the decisions players make reflect a sense of who we are and how we relate to other cultures.”

Baldwin is the principal investigator on a new project funded through a $76,000 grant from the British Council – the United Kingdom’s version of America’s National Endowment for the Humanities. Working with teams of Ph.D. students at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi India and Bangor University in Wales, Baldwin’s project aims to examine the phenomenon of online massive multi-player video games and how they serve to reflect and define global cultures.

The project, according to Baldwin, will take a close look at the way people across the world play the online games in a data-collection process that will bring graduate students from India and the U.K. to Morgantown and provide the opportunity for WVU Ph.D. students to visit those countries as well. In between the research visits and public forums that will be held in each partner location, the research teams will meet and work frequently online.

The project’s results could have implications for people in scores of countries. Baldwin noted that China is home to the most online game players in the world with the U.S. close behind. That means at any one time in an online computer game, Americans and Chinese players are creatively interacting in a space where cultures, habits and traditions are mixed and mingled in outcome-driven scenarios that are a relatively new influence in international relations.

Baldwin said the project is an ideal exercise in understanding effective education tools that has the additional attraction of providing WVU Ph.D. students with the opportunity to gain global insight through travel and online interaction.

When the research is finished, the results will not only appear in international scholarly journals, they will also serve as the core for a set of education tools that the project will make available on the Internet to curriculum developers who will advance the banner of new media education in colleges and universities around the world.

The British Council project complements an earlier project based at the University of Bergen, Norway, and includes WVU, Temple University and the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

In that project, Baldwin will collaborate with Scott Rettberg, associate professor of digital culture and the principal investigator on a three-year research project. The project will enable student and faculty exchanges, and pilot a joint course by all the partners on the topic of collaborative creativity in new media.

WVU’s Center for Literary Computing, under Baldwin’s direction, is internationally recognized for research and programming involving creative new media. He credits the leadership of the Department of English and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences for its support and devotion to global initiatives and innovative education for his center’s success.

Baldwin is well known in the field. He serves on the board of directors of the MIT-based Electronic Literature Organization, an organization established to promote and facilitate the writing, publishing and reading of electronic literature that has helped writers and publishers bring literary works to a global readership and provided an infrastructure for constant interaction.

He is executive editor of Electronic Book Review, one of the longest-running peer reviewed web journals of cultural and art, and also editor of the book series “Computing Literature.” Both the journal and book series are hosted at WVU and developed in collaboration with students. Baldwin’s experiments with text, sound, image, and collaborative performance are widely published in many media, and performed all over the world at conferences, reading series, radio shows, and rock concerts.”

Twenty-five years ago, text messages, online gaming, e-readers, smart phones, YouTube and Facebook were words and phrases that had no meaning. Today, they define communication and culture.

Baldwin said he believes the future will continue to deliver great changes in the way people of the world learn, communicate and interact. He wants WVU to continue to be a focal point for capturing a thorough understanding of the implications of the changes as they unfold.


By Gerrill Griffith
WVU Research Corp.


CONTACT: Sandy Baldwin, Center for Literary Computing

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