In the wake of numerous events, growth emerged as an unwavering companion, its arrival foreshadowed by the events that happened in the previous months. While many of the city's original council members set forth on many paths away from LiTT City, a determined majority opted to stay within the city bounds, and new faces joined their ranks. Choosing to toil persistently, they embraced the responsibility of shaping the city's destiny from within. Motivated by a persistent sense of curiosity regarding the city's mysteries, their mission was propelled forward by an unending quest for answers. Throughout the uncertainty, one necessity emerged: for the city to accomplish the council's ambitious dreams, the creation of a foundational structure was crucial. The remaining council members initiated weekly meetings where they held discussions on strategies to establish the city for success. They delved into many concepts aimed at implementing systems to assist new members in navigating the intricacies of roleplay, equipping them with the tools to integrate them into the city with ease. This initiative was often referred to as Phase 1, marked by a spirit of innovation and collaboration.
Figure 2.1 Screenshot from a later LiTT Lab Collaborative meeting going over the many ideas that emerged throughout the semester. In this particular one, the team was discussing “LiTT U” (university) and its potential.
Phase 1 unfolded as a collaborative journey centered around the art of brainstorming, a fundamental approach that set the tone for the city's rapid evolution. During these dynamic sessions, members took turns posing questions, articulating doubts, and expressing concerns about the city's current state. This wasn't a passive exercise. It was an active pursuit of solutions to the many existing issues. In the first week, LiTT City members closed in on the prospect of reimagining the existing University of San Andreas, Los Santos (ULSA), located between Richman Street and Picture Perfect Drive.
Figure 2.2 Shot of ULSA, Los Santos (GTA V)
The goal was to shape it into a dynamic knowledge base, offering a diverse array of learning opportunities. A curious proposal took shape as Jade, one of LiTT City’s council members, vocalized the idea of hosting orientation meetings, designed to familiarize new members with the city's diverse rules, structures, and possibilities—an initiative echoing the orientation process for university students in the physical world. Additionally, the notion of conducting classes within the university materialized. Initially meant as a means to provide 'OOC' or 'Out of Character' tutorials on the city's operations in an immersive roleplay fashion. A prime example was the initiative to teach newcomers the art of 'speaking roleplay.'
In the world of roleplay, a unique and creative language is adopted by its participants. To ensure immersion, members refrain from referencing 'real-world' concepts when discussing in-game issues. For example, instead of saying 'Hold on, I'm lagging' during technical issues, players would creatively convey the same idea, by saying something like 'I'm having a headache,' symbolizing issues with their PC (computer), considered their character's brain. In roleplay, you embody the character which you are controlling, and any reference to the 'out-of-city' world is discouraged. Teaching this language is best accomplished through practical experience, rendering lessons outside the city very difficult if not useless. Thus, the council thought about the idea of hosting a Roleplay Language class, cleverly disguising it as a Language course in the city—similar to learning any other language in a traditional school setting. Similarly, music classes aimed to teach members how to play music in the city using the plugins made available by the developers, boomboxes, and other creative devices. Geography classes were dreamt to educate members on navigating and locating different areas in the city. Numerous other concepts were explored during the initial brainstorming sessions, reflecting the vast expanse of the city to be explored and understood. Overall, the objective was to blur the lines between roleplay and reality by integrating these tutorials into the university's curriculum.
Given the expansive nature of the task, the council encountered a considerable challenge in addressing it effectively, mainly due to a shortage of workforce at the time. This challenge spurred a wonderful idea: the potential use of media to promote and convey the same functions and lessons that the university’s curriculum had initially intended. LiTT City members, well-versed in the creation of media for expressing emotions, had a history of using it for storytelling. Notably, members like BBBonez had used media to narrate stories in the past, primarily as a tool for self-expression and creative direction. BBBonez believed that while roleplay could help us amplify our storytelling efforts, there were certain stories that could not be told effectively through improvisation, a key practice in roleplay. It is because of this (and a desire to create) that he began creating short films that he referred to as “cut scenes”. These had the intention of effectively telling the backstory of a roleplay scenario through a cinematic lens for the purpose of context, usually making use of cinematic visuals, narration, and thoughtful editing.
The council's shared interest in media, video editing, and storytelling took root during school breaks and holidays, with many members already experimenting with video editing and creating diverse and custom content. Bella, in fact, was entrusted with the initial creation of LiTT City's Historical Artifacts: a series of video documentaries. These documentary-style films aimed not only to introduce new viewers to the city but also to narrate its history and progress from the prior semester as well as the future as it unfolded before their very eyes.
Bella Lona’s “Act 1: The Beginning” provided an insider's view of the city. It granted new viewers the opportunity to witness the birth of LiTT City from behind the scenes, offering multiple unbiased perspectives of the city from the air, land, and sea. The documentary featured interviews with various members discussing a range of controversial and regular topics, allowing viewers to meet the individuals contributing to the city's betterment, all while ensuring a journalistic approach and showcasing both the good and the bad (equally unbiased). These cinematic events foreshadowed a series of upcoming occasions in which film, media, and storytelling would play crucial roles in both the city's progression and its enduring presence in the LiTT Lab’s archives.
Innovation Within The Digital Space (Birth of Democracy)
Embarking on a journey from the ground up isn't about erasing the past. It is about building a foundation for a brighter future and the LiTT City Council understood this truth deeply. Building a city from scratch would have been an unusual blessing, as the new city grappled with the burden of shedding Los Santos' tainted reputation—a metropolis that had haunted its inhabitants since its creation in 2004. Amidst the various tasks at hand, the city council faced an especially difficult task: how to guarantee the safety of its new citizens and establish security in a city where the existing police system displayed a troubling tendency to target the BIPOC community. Since the release of GTA V in 2013, many gamers had expressed concerns about the potential racial bias embedded in the game's AI. Videos, forum posts, and open discussions circulated, highlighting instances where NPCs (non-playable characters, or locals) or “locals” (i.e not real players!) who played police officers, seemed disproportionately aggressive towards characters of color in the base game. Because of the potential built-in biases in the base game, many roleplay servers, knowingly or not, ended up fostering environments where bigotry thrived. They often replicated problematic elements from the base game, making it common to see bigotry, racism, and exclusion of certain communities as core aspects. Police officers usually had an elevated status, with many servers having the server owner as the chief of police, reinforcing a sense of superiority. Moreover, a lot of servers didn't have clear rules against homophobia, transphobia, racism, or bigotry, making it difficult to challenge cis-heteronormative practices and ideologies.
This unease prompted the council to take action. It was during this crucial moment that Arturo posed a thought-provoking question: "What if we didn't have a police system?" This question ignited a journey of introspection for various members, despite the collective acknowledgment that the existing police system posed dangers and instilled fear among BIPOC members. Some struggled to conceive of an alternative, unable to imagine a world without a police system. The notion of abolishing the police system altogether proved to be a formidable challenge, giving rise to many questions. What would a world without a police department look like? How would law and order be maintained? What does genuine safety entail, and who enforces it? Does safety NEED to be enforced? These questions were merely the tip of the iceberg. Some suggested the city could be rebuilt to prioritize safety as an inherent right, a given, an environment where no one feels unsafe, regardless of where in the city they were. The vision of such a world seemed distant, yet the quest for its realization had begun.
These spirals of thought, persistent questions, and lingering doubts underscored the undeniable need for collective innovation in LiTT City's future. In response, a voting system was introduced for all future proceedings. To prevent anarchy, each council member could propose new ideas and potential systems, taking turns to address concerns in the moment. A nearly unanimous vote was mandated for the implementation of any new idea, ensuring the efficacy of the evolving system. The council's first order of business emerged from a member expressing concerns about characters featured in previous semesters. The proposal put forth emphasized the importance of maintaining a safe, like-minded community that actively chased its future goals. To achieve this, the city needed to be intentional about the characters that logically fit within its bounds.
While acknowledging that progress often involves conflict, the council unanimously declared that bigotry had no place in the day-to-day life of the city. The consensus was that any character intending to portray a villain, a bigot, or someone generally evil must have a purpose that educated or elevated the city in some way. Simply adopting such roles for amusement or without a substantial motive was declared counterproductive and prohibited. This motion received unanimous approval from the council, with each member signaling their agreement to this critical initiative. And so, LiTT City passed its first agreement with no opposing parties. This marked the start of a new and cooperative system where each council member was able to express their thoughts regarding any new law or practice.
At the core of LiTT City's essence is the seamless integration of learning and play. As our city continued to evolve across numerous departments, a motion emerged to infuse more playfulness into its learning structures. The drive for this motion was a noticeable sense of "disconnect" expressed by some members. Discussions began on how we could foster a sense of community, steering clear of cliques, and facilitating better interactions between the residents. Many went as far as confessing to not fully knowing or understanding the stories and backgrounds of their fellow characters due to a lack of interactions.
Enter the solution: Character Introductions. These bite-sized videos, aimed to illuminate each character's persona and backstory so we could better understand each other. Each council member was given full creative freedom regarding how they presented their characters to the rest of the council. Whether through humor, cinematics, vlog-style or a combination of anything in between. Simultaneously, the Party Planning Committee took shape—an assembly of volunteers committed to hosting frequent events that would strengthen community ties. On the virtual learning front, we continued adopting practices that involved co-creation, by rotating members across small groups. This tradition emerged in the beginning and is still one that remains today. Members found that group rotations supported the dynamic exchange of ideas, giving way to new concepts and the development of new learning tools.
Figure 2.6 A screenshot from a LiTT Collaborative team meeting, 2022.
After many discussions took place, the Party Planning Committee hosted its first community event—an immersive and engaging City Exploration. Members were encouraged to form small groups and explore every nook and cranny of interest within the city, and then sharing their observations and proposing changes during a council debrief. The discoveries made during this exploration period led to numerous eye opening realities about our city. This event was followed by another playful one: the Collective Car Race. In pairs, citizens navigated the city streets, reflecting on what could be noticed or overlooked from the speedy confines of a moving vehicle. It sparked discussions on potential improvements and concerns, such as the lack of driving skills among our citizens and how to better educate them.
Figures 2.7.8 Screenshot from the Collective Car Race & Screenshot from Mari Grey’s POV during checkpoint #3 of the race!
The talk of a LiTT City DMV surfaced as a potential solution to educate members on driving skills and the handling of different vehicles. As the LiTT City members continued to experiment and practice their driving skills, this idea was eventually scrapped as the members felt it wasn’t truly necessary anymore. Alas, some argue others never truly learned to drive. We all agreed to disagree. The evening concluded with a customary dance party, this time hosted on Pride Street—a symbol of year-round celebration of pride in our city. In contrast to practices in other cities where "pride streets" were often coded in strictly for the day of pride, LiTT City stands firm in its commitment to celebrating, promoting, and showcasing true pride every day. Pride Street remains a popular and enduring spot in our city, embodying our dedication to inclusivity and celebration.
Fihure 2.9 Screenshot from a Pride Dance Party in LiTT City
Fashion As Expression
As we continued to build our virtual space, fashion became a common concern among many members. The recurring sentiment of 'I have nothing to wear' emerged after months of relying on the same limited wardrobe (quite literally, the same 10 pieces). What started as a casual complaint turned into more serious discussions regarding the role of fashion in expressing our identities within the gaming space. We spent a good amount of time chatting about it, with experienced roleplayers in LiTT City guiding the conversation. We realized that character customization was about more than just looking good—it was a way of telling a story. Scars, monocles, hairstyles—each became a piece of our characters' stories. So, we all agreed that fashion was a crucial form of self-expression. But, things got a bit tricky when we tried to code these new fashion pieces into the city. Mariel Reyes Galvez, our lead programmer, gathered our collective fashion suggestions and began the task of coding each piece into our city one by one. No piece was rejected; it just took time to download, tweak, code, and sometimes fix bugs. As fashion found its place within the city, our characters' narratives started to drastically unfold. The choices we made in our attire sparked engaging conversations regarding our stories. At the same time, we couldn't overlook the limitations in GTA's fashion options. Male choices tended toward basic streetwear, lacking diversity, while female options were relatively constrained and lacked evolution.
This led to a broader reflection on the state of fashion in our city and the game’s customizable options as a whole. Questions arose about the representation of queer fashion and the lack of options for BIPOC members. Additionally, we reflected on the concept that players were confined to choosing between a male or female character, as it had been coded into the game. Consequently, we dove into the possibility of introducing a non-binary option, fostering greater inclusivity. As the team dove deeper into this idea, they encountered numerous challenges. This concept was largely uncharted territory, with very few, if any, having explored it before. Consequently, the team faced the daunting task of needing to build this feature from the ground up, as it required coding skills beyond our capabilities at the time. Recognizing the complexity of this goal, it was temporarily put on hold until such a time where we could enhance our coding skills. However, this goal remained a crucial and essential aspiration for inclusivity, ensuring that from the very moment one enters the city, everyone feels represented. As the city’s fashion scene continued to blossom even further, Mariel Reyes Galvez decided it was time to host a coding workshop to guide the team through a step by step guide on how to find, download, and code new pieces into the server, allowing ALL members of the city to have access to new clothing as they deemed fit. This helped the fashion department grow, introducing futuristic options, masculine, femme, and androgynous styles, including wigs, nails, and makeup for characters of all kinds. This important evolution spurred significant changes within our fashion department, sparking conversations about a new roleplay storyline regarding a fashion empire within LiTT City, inspired by pop-culture moments such as “The Devil Wears Prada”.
The Power of Storytelling
As highlighted earlier, storytelling became a crucial asset within LiTT City and the broader LiTT Lab community. Members dove into the concept, integrating it into many individual tasks. One major project unfolded through a collaboration between The LiTT Lab and the Youth Empowerment Broadcasting Organization (YEBO). This community-based organization, situated in Denver, operates both within and beyond classrooms to empower youth in utilizing media and media production for critical civic practices. The collaboration was birthed over the summer and it resulted in the creation of "YEBO News," a podcast and news show broadcasted live on Twitch. This innovative project aimed to blur the lines between reality and roleplay, employing content creation, journalism, video editing, and featuring students as the faces of the project with full creative direction. The first episode of the second season dove into the city's history, theorizing about its impact on the future, incorporating live events such as real-time interviews with prominent characters within LiTT City. The episode also hosted an entertainment segment, questioning controversial members about their character choices. BBBonez, portraying Bethany Bonez at the time, used this opportunity to discuss Bethany's controversial actions during the previous semester's election, contributing to the ongoing narrative of conflict within the community-driven utopian goal.
Figure 2.10 A still from YEBO News Episode 1.
The success of this new season’s episode gave way to discussions on further blurring the lines between the virtual and reality, by broadcasting from LiTT City itself. This led to the re-emergence of the once-neglected news station, Weasel News, now under the guidance of Rosario Rios, Vale & Bella. A new chapter for journalism within and beyond LiTT City was born.
The Rockstar Editor rose as a fundamental tool for LiTT City members in crafting visual storytelling pieces. BBBonez, a frequent user of this tool, assumed a leadership role by offering one-on-one tutorials and co-hosting an hour-long workshop in collaboration with Michael Dempsey titled "Storytelling on a Budget." The term humorously referred to creating visually appealing stories with limited resources, especially relevant when lacking filmmaking tools. While Rockstar Editor is a built-in program in GTA V, it typically requires admin or moderator access, a luxury not always accessible in public servers. However, BB and Michael reassured members that it was possible to proceed with filming without these privileges. Utilizing the roleplay term "seeing through my eyes" for first-person POV shots, combined with intentional editing and storytelling, one could create compelling films with little to no tools at their disposal. In addition to this workshop, several tutorials were made accessible as a way to ensure continuous learning regarding this tool. A nearly eighteen minute tutorial was posted on YouTube to teach anyone who was interested in learning how to make a 10 second character intro, as it was part of their assignment.
The use of Rockstar Editor in LiTT City continued to evolve, with many members becoming proficient in its usage. Mariel Reyes Galvez later hosted a workshop to deepen understanding and proficiency with the program. This hybrid workshop took place on Discord video chat, with a simultaneous in-city meeting at Legion Square. The council members were encouraged to explore the emoticon (emote) menu to add movement to their clips, offering a dual lesson in recording for Rockstar Editor and expressing emotions within the game through the emote menu.
Before long, everyone in LiTT City had explored Rockstar Editor, resulting in the creation of beautiful storytelling pieces that enhanced the lore of our city. This newfound skill paved the way for many new ideas, concepts, and conversations. Several students eagerly expressed their interest in cultivating a Hollywood-like environment within LiTT City, envisioning a space where creative directors could grow in the digital space. This collective idea gave rise to innovative media pieces that pushed the boundaries of filmmaking within virtual spaces. Members enthusiastically embraced creative freedom, leading to the production of jaw-dropping pieces that spanned from captivating commercials to character introductions. The creative landscape had no limits, and the community was ecstatic at the limitless possibilities brought forth by this newfound skill.
A cinematic movement emerged, igniting the flame of innovation in the city's film space. Bonez Productions, a local film group founded by BBBonez in collaboration with TidilyWink & Mmarigreys as writers, along with numerous council members contributing as body and voice actors, embarked on an ambitious project. Throughout the semester, this creative collective invested their personal time in writing, shooting, editing, and producing a compelling trailer for a short film titled "If Looks Could Kill." The narrative featured a diverse cast of femme and queer characters who, having been wronged by the prevailing cistem, chose a life of crime for personal gain. They were not modern-day Robin Hoods, but rather true vigilantes.
On September 29th, 2022, the official trailer made its debut, captivating audiences by becoming the most anticipated film yet. While the film was scheduled for release later that year, roadblocks emerged, such as disagreements with between creative talent and the executive committee, leading to its unfortunate shelving. The full version of the movie, to this day, remains an unreleased mystery. Despite the film's unfulfilled release, the trailer alone stands as an innovative beacon, showcasing the possibilities achievable through the Rockstar Editor. It underscored the importance of thoughtful editing, the necessity of a compelling storyline, and the collaborative efforts involved in the production process. Although the project faced challenges, its impact endured, leaving a mark on the city's cinematic space for semesters to come.
The examples showcased above represent just a glimpse of the creativity and innovation that flourished, both within LiTT City's formal lessons and the personal creative projects of our members. These instances beautifully showcased the application of our newly acquired filmmaking skills. As the semester progressed, a series of meetings, lessons, and workshops were carefully organized to further refine and expand this skill set. These sessions frequently delved into the idea of filmmaking, its relationship with storytelling, and the art of using editing techniques to convey emotions effectively. To deepen our understanding of filmmaking as a concept, the group engaged in a collective viewing of Baz Luhrmann's reinterpretation of "Romeo & Juliet." This experience aimed to dissect the intentional use of editing, camera movements, and sounds to tell a compelling and different story that remained equally familiar. It marked the initiation of several reflective lessons centered around this theme throughout the semester.
Alice is Missing - A collaborative Roleplay Experience
In our explorations at the LiTT Lab, we engaged in various group activities and brainstorming processes throughout the semester as a means to expand our concept of roleplay and gaming as a whole. One particular experience involved taking roleplay outside LiTT City, where we collectively played "Alice is Missing" over Discord. This was the first time we roleplayed outside of LiTT City. Alice is Missing is a tabletop role-playing game that immerses players in the mystery of Alice's disappearance, using real-time communication through text messages (in our case, Discord dm’s). The gameplay places a strong emphasis on non-verbal communication, with players collaborating through prompts to unveil details about characters and the mystery surrounding them.
During the hour-long event, communication was strictly confined to text messages, eliminating ALL verbal interactions. This heightened the importance of precise communication. Adding a unique twist, we paired two LiTT members per each character, ensuring everyone had an opportunity to participate without having to host two separate sessions. This twist presented an added challenge as two individuals collaborated to convey one character's story. The experience became a collective lesson on effective communication, shared imagination, and the evolution of storylines through improvisation and no prior planning or steering. Arturo and BB took on the roles of gamemasters for this tabletop game, opening up space for fresh and innovative storylines within LiTT City. The session not only showcased the creative potential of collaborative storytelling but also underscored the significance of communication in shaping immersive narratives, practices that would be echoed and reshaped in our future meetings.
“Connection Failed. Try again later”
After enjoying the safety within the boundaries of LiTT City's borders for as long as we did, it's only natural to forget about the very real and potential dangers that await us beyond them. This comfort was quickly shattered when the team faced a cyber attack from a closely partnered developer, someone entrusted with personal information crucial for advancing the city's code. While the specifics of the attack are less relevant, the aftermath marked a critical and pivotal moment in the creation process. It served as a reminder of the significance of LiTT City and how individuals in positions of influence might exploit their knowledge to tip the scales against those eager to learn and contribute.
The council members responsible for the coding portion of the project found themselves dedicating countless hours and days to rectify the situation. Their primary goal was to safeguard the city from further harm by modifying the compromised information associated with the account. This personal and targeted attack posed a severe threat, nearly eradicating years' worth of LiTT City's progress in a moment. Fortunately, the team had relatively recent backups, saving them from total loss. However, the attack claimed a significant casualty: the loss of numerous characters created within the city, which, despite attempts to recreate them through reference pictures, never quite regained their initial essence.
In the aftermath, the team made a solemn vow to prioritize the safety of all existing and future LiTT City members. They decided never to share such sensitive personal information again, regardless of the apparent qualifications of external individuals. The incident prompted an internal approach to learning and coding, making use of the many resources at their disposal. This experience not only highlighted the resilience of the team but also instilled a collective commitment to fortify LiTT City against potential threats, ensuring a secure and thriving environment for its members.
A Tale of Two Cities
As the semester came to an end, the LiTT City Council realized they had merely scratched the surface of possibilities in the virtual world they were constructing. The journey had been filled with trials, tribulations, and invaluable lessons that now fueled their determination to work towards a more refined vision. In the final weeks, the council continued meeting to discuss different system proposals, additions, and removals that could shape the upcoming LiTT Lab College course that was set to take place the following semester at CU Boulder.
During the meetings, different small-groups took turns presenting their ideas to the rest of the council. This collaborative process not only provided an opportunity for reflection on the events of the semester but also allowed the council to harness the knowledge gained and lay the groundwork for the future. The prospect of the LiTT Lab College course added an extra layer of excitement, as it aimed to further dismantle the barriers between reality and virtual worlds. The unique twist lay in its hybrid teaching setting, with part of the course being conducted INSIDE LiTT City within the expansive universe of Grand Theft Auto V roleplay. Additionally, the council engaged in discussions on how to host these classes within the game's university—a university within a virtual university. How cool was that!
To fortify their curriculum-building process, the council sought inspiration from existing and thriving roleplay servers, with a primary focus on NoPixel, a multiplayer roleplay server, that served as the home to many successful and widely-known roleplayers in the gaming community. This exploration into established servers aimed to distill best practices and innovative ideas, ensuring that LiTT Lab College course would be at the forefront of immersive and effective virtual education.
A side by side comparison of the GTA V’s original wallpaper versus one we collectively made. The two tell drastically different stories with no words at all.
One of the many ways we did this was during a Colorado Springs Car Show where Arturo took the LiTT Lab to a local car show with their cameras on hand so they could document their process. During this event, they had a chance to learn about the history and narrative that each car carried and the inspiration that surrounded their construction. After hours of exploring, they were able to translate those findings inside of LiTT City by designing their own car “wrap” in collaboration with Mari, who coded them in. They used knowledge learned outside the city to create something digital and equally as long lasting.
Annotation became a crucial practice early on, with the primary objective of reshaping LiTT City's visual landscape by replacing previous murals, art, and billboards with new, impactful creations. This marked the inception of a significant initiative driven by Arturo, who sought not only to transform the city's aesthetic but also to empower everyone with the skills to individually code these beautiful and influential art pieces into the game. The murals, carefully and intentionally designed, served many purposes. Some acted as beacons, radiating hope, prosperity, and pride throughout the virtual streets. Others were designed with a mission to champion equality and inclusivity. Regardless of the theme, each mural carried a purpose, contributing to the rich tapestry of LiTT City's evolving story.
These tools remained invaluable, guiding LiTT members in crafting a curriculum tailored for the upcoming college course. This marked a crucial milestone as it would be the first time the city would open its virtual doors to newcomers since its inception. The prospect of this new chapter brought forth a myriad of questions and concerns, creating a sense of urgency to address the many challenges ahead. While acknowledging the weeks of preparation available, there was an understandable sense of hurry—perhaps fueled by the recent safety concerns or the eagerness to introduce newcomers to the wonders of this evolving and revolutionary world. Despite the uncertainties, the LiTT team promptly embarked on the task at hand.