Disclaimer: This piece is written for my Writing For Digital Media class in college.
The term “writing”, and especially “digital media”, are common to see in today’s day and age, but what do they mean, and what does it mean to write for digital media? Can writing mean more than just words in a script or in an article, like you’re reading now? In this piece, I aim to answer these questions. Without further ado, let’s begin broadly…
What is Writing?
While most people, myself included, think of pen and paper when they hear the word “writing”, the term is most accurately described as the process of putting an idea into a shareable, more permanent format. For example, take the image above. By studying the characters, can you think of a story being told? I can – the knight is shielding the princess from the crowd. She is sad, while he is protective. Did she do something to anger her subjects? Is he upholding his duty to protect the aristocracy of the kingdom?
These are all ideas being conveyed to the audience, and yet there’s not a single word in sight. Thus, we start to see how the definition of writing is not bound by the limitations of written text. Instead, the term “writing” encapsulates all the different ways that we can display our ideas to others.
What is Digital Media?
The term “digital media” is more intimidating than “writing”, but for the most part, media and writing are the same thing. Media is the plural form of medium, which is what writing essentially is: a medium with which we convey ideas. The more difficult part of defining digital media comes with the word “digital”.
For something to be digital, it has to be two things: convertible and accessible. By “convertible”, I mean able to be broken down and rearranged – writer of the book Digital Writer, Sean Morey, refers to digital as meaning “larger wholes that can be broken into discrete parts and rearranged elsewhere”. Today, though, to be digital also means to be accessible. A piece of media needs to transcend physical boundaries in order to be considered digital; currently, the most common way this is accomplished is through the internet. With the power the internet offers, people can see a piece of media in minutes with little difficulty. This is in contrast to, say, a written letter, which may take days or even weeks to arrive at the intended destination. Anne Wysocki put it nicely in her discussion on the topic: “I’m focusing on issues of not just production, but also circulation and distribution and consumption.”
So, what’s an example of a piece of digital media? My personal favorite type of digital media is video games, and one of my favorites of these right now is Overwatch. Here are the three reasons why Overwatch, and all video games, is considered digital media:
1: Overwatch conveys an idea to an audience, which makes it a piece of media/writing. Specifically, the “idea” is to work together with your teammates to complete objectives against the other players. This is just one of many ideas that all video games are centered around.
2: The game is accessible; you can download it online after purchasing it, and you’ll be ready to play within an hour or two (depending on your internet speed).
3: It is convertible. While you can’t play the game if you delete its files, the files themselves are compressed while not playing and then opened while you are, which means that they can be changed and work properly. You can also save clips of your gameplay in-game and then use those clips outside of the game client, showing how it can be broken down to some extent.
What Are The Different Ways Writing Can Be Applied?
Now that we have an idea of what writing is and what digital media is, it’s a good idea to quickly go over the different types of writing that exist. These different types are visual, linguistic, aural, spatial, and gestural. Here are a few examples of each type:
Visual pieces of media, like these screenshots I took in the game Fallout 4, convey ideas by creating things for us to look at. Each picture here has a different feel and meaning.
Linguistic pieces of media, such as the very text you’re reading right now, convey ideas by using written language.
Aural pieces of media, such as this music from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, convey ideas through sound. This piece in particular represents the heroic final trial for the game’s hero, Link, after a long and perilous journey.
Spatial pieces of media refers to how things are spaced out between each other, and how things use space. An example of this would be how I’ve broken text into paragraphs in this article, or the different types of font sizes I’ve used.
Gestural pieces of media convey ideas through body language or hand signals. This clip from the famous film The Shining is defined by both the aggressive, violent demeanor of the character Jack Torrance, and the terrified, paralyzed shock of his wife, Wendy.
Compositions typically feature several of these types of media, especially linguistic, visual, and aural ones. Often times, but not always, pieces of writing use them in conjunction with each other in order to complete the final product.
Armed with all the information we now know, we can finally explain what it means to be a writer for digital media. Writing for digital media means that you have the ability to translate your ideas into one of the five modes of communication listed above, in a way that allows your idea and the writing that conveys it to exist digitally.
“Digital Writer” by Sean Morey