Star Wars fandom and corporate citizen science

Eyewire is a “game” produced by Princeton in which players map actual neurons. Researchers select actual 3D visualizations of neurons which the “players” are to trace through a visual interface. The same neuron is sent out to multiple players and as each player completes the “puzzle” of mapping the neuron a composite image of their assessments is made, which is then double checked by more established players. The wikipedia page says “These players have the power to extend branches, remove erroneous segments (nicknamed ‘mergers’), and flag cubes for further review. This end result is volumetric reconstructions of complete neurons.”

I raise the example of Eyewire because it serves as an interesting metaphor to think through the project of Wookieepedia itself. In the history of the Star Wars EU the various competing efforts to map the continuity of the universe have all been on shaky footing. Paradigms emerge, like the canon hierarchy of Leland Chee’s Holocron continuity database, but these paradigms are themselves shakily established and short lived. Wookieepedia catalogues how Chee waffled on whether there was one Star Wars continuity, and after the sequels started Chee’s hierarchy for the canon was discarded altogether.
Because the franchise is in the end at the mercy of capital, at whatever the wealthy overlords decide to do with the IP, the cottage industry of Star Wars exegesis must settle for observing rather than casting judgement. Wookieepedia is like the connective white matter of the Star Wars universe, which allows the contradictory strains of the mythos to sit next to one another. But it is in fact this white matter which becomes the object of study for the owners of the IP. The producers of the media dip into the network of reception when creating new works (with profit of course being a selecting factor) and the dialectic continues.

In class I’d like us to consider both the formal features of this body of work and the material circumstances of its production to think through the differences between this kind of inward facing fandom, where the consumption of the work is itself a kind of alienated production, and the more outward facing fandom we’ve seen from sci-fi zines.

One thought on “Star Wars fandom and corporate citizen science”

  1. I want to follow up on your idea that Wookiepedia is “the white matter which becomes the object of study for the owners of the IP.” That’s so interesting—Wookiepedia as a moneymaker! How so? As Guynes suggests, the sprawl of the pre-NJO “EU created by the various transmedia licensees supplied one of the franchise’s most valuable assets” as an “IP farm.” Would be interested to think more in class about how crucial the “white matter” of Wookiepedia is for the profitability of that farm in 2020 and how that compares to past monetization of the EU.

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