Design Labor: Time, Money, and a Lot of Glitter

While the game’s maturation has depended in part on the support of major conferences in the field of rhetoric and composition (the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the Computers & Writing conference most notably) as well as publisher support, C’s the Day depends heavily on the many hours of volunteer labor that goes into the continued design and release of the game. As the C’s the Day website outlines, the game is supported by a series of four committees led by a president and vice-president responsible for overseeing the game in conjunction with CCCC organizations and sponsors. The four permanent committees include one on game design, one charged with coordinating logistics and social media integration onsite, one on prizes (creators of the sparkleponies given out as prizes during each year’s C’s the Day), and one on graphic design. Without the commitment of the volunteers as well as the support of the CCCC, C’s the Day would likely not exist.

Scott Reed, one of the cofounders of the game, talked with us about the immense labor that goes into making the game happen each year. First, he noted, each year the process has been different; as the game has evolved, the process has evolved alongside it. Three components make up the labor of the game: designing the game, building the game, and communicating with the other C’s the Day creators. Conceptualizing the experience for players takes a great deal of time:

We try to ask questions about what experiences we want players to have, and then we have to work on taking those experiences and translating them into game mechanics, into concrete things that players have to do in the game. There have to be rules, rewards, something for the game to be working as a game.

Reed on Planning (Transcript available here.)

Reed also explained that the cofounders chose to license the game under a Creative Commons license, meaning that others could then use the basis of the game to create new versions, to evolve, and to “be bigger than us . . . something that the community can continue to use and get something out of.” One institution that has used C’s the Day as the basis for its own professional development is the University of South Florida (USF), which offers FYC’s the Day to its incoming instructors for the first-year composition program:
At the 2011 C’s, Kyle Stedman played his heart out and won both a small and large sparkle-pony. Then he told everyone all about it. So when it came time to plan USF’s FYC orientation, it seemed natural to imbue these two weeks with the same spirit of fun and ruthless competition. Plus, it even inspires people to do stuff that, well, they ought to do anyway. (“Credit Where Credit is Due,” n.d.)

Though Stedman has since graduated and moved on to a tenure-track position elsewhere, Joe Moxley confirmed to us that FYC’s the Day still runs during USF’s first-year orientation (personal communication, 18 July 2014). Georgia Gwinnett College similarly used C’s the Day as the basis for its ISIS program (The Intersections’ Student Interactivity System), an augmented reality game (ARG) that runs during the Annual Intersections Interdisciplinary Conference on Gender and Sexuality (“Intersections at GGC,” 2013).

Choosing to license the game under a Creative Commons license means that other institutions and organizations can adopt the C’s the Day structure and make their own versions—for orientations, conferences, instructor training, classroom use, etc. At the 2015 Computers & Writing conference, Lydia Wilkes presented “¡Te Amo, Sparklecow! A Game for the Enterprising Writer.” This modified version of the original C's the Day game offered small sparklecows as prizes for students who completed tasks ranging from visiting office hours to working on their writing or contributing significantly to class discussion for a month.

Lydia Wilkes' Sparklecows from Te Amo, Sparklecow
Two sparklecows from ¡Te Amo, Sparklecow! by Lydia Wilkes

When asked to describe a C’s the Day success story, Wendi Sierra explained that to her, Stedman’s ability to win the game, publish a co-authored piece in Kairos about the game, and then institute a version of the game in a different context was a success story. (Transcript available here.)

Sierra on Success

When we asked Reed to quantify the labor of C’s the Day, he floundered: “I don’t even…I can’t begin to tell you.” (Transcript available here.)

Reed on Time

We were amazed to hear some of the numbers that go into making the game happen each year:

And along with time, there is the monetary investment required to make the game run, around $1,400 per year according to Wendi Sierra: “The trading cards and the booklets are physical objects that are not inexpensive, and publisher funding has really been our only option . . . We would happily drop publisher funding if we had another option [but] the fact remains: things must be paid for.”

As a game with physical objects, virtual environments, and real-life game play spaces, C’s the Day is truly a multimodal composition. And as such, much of the labor that goes into it is invisible. Anyone who has ever made a compilation or a remix video, for example, knows that for every minute of the final product that appears, many more minutes—hours, days—of work went into making that video happen. Along with the eliding of time, the financial needs of the game are made invisible to most who learn about the game. Some participants in the social media thread about the game expressed their displeasure that Cengage financially supported C’s the Day; such comments discount the fact that, as Sierra notes, the support must come from somewhere. Critiquing the game founders for accepting volunteer support while simultaneously critiquing the game founders for accepting publisher support places them in a Sisyphean position. And as Reed explained, the game creators are also concerned about sustainable funding and are working toward that goal, but C’s the Day has always operated on the foundation of a gift economy—where creating the game “is giving a gift to the community.” (Transcript available here.)

Reed on Costs

Much of the work of the field relies on volunteerism: Running special interest groups, reviewing academic manuscripts, publishing academic work in smaller journals, meeting with incoming graduate students to welcome them to one’s program, sitting on committees sponsored by CCCC are all important aspects of the work we do. All of these things and more help the field continue to evolve, but most of them are unpaid. One could argue that some of them, like sitting on committees, are paid in the sense that they can be counted as service on a CV for a paid faculty position. But the same argument then can be made for C’s the Day founders and volunteers, all of whom can count their work as service to the field. If C’s the Day should not rely on the volunteer labor of participants who feel strongly about the game’s goals, and if C’s the Day should not rely on the generous support of publishers who are willing to financially back a project that is not connected to any textbook in their catalogue, then how exactly will C’s the Day survive? The fact of the matter is that it won’t.