For this month’s edition of Defining Experts, I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Natalie Underberg-Goode, Professor and Assistant Director for Games and Interactive Media, in the Nicholson School of Communication and Media, a few questions regarding her research interests, her goals, and what she has learned during her time and experience in the field of Games and Interactive Media.
- What are your research interests? What made you interested in these research topics?
“My research interests are in the areas of digital storytelling and digital cultural heritage. I primarily have focused on Latin American (especially Peruvian) as well as Central Floridian communities.
I became interested in these research topics because in school I was never able to choose between studying literature and social studies. On the one hand, I wanted to study stories; on the other, I wanted to better understand how the stories connected to the time and place in which they were written. I found eventually that the field of Folkloristics allowed me to focus on both of these at once—folklorists study both expressive culture as well as the social and cultural contexts in which it is created and shared. For me, digital media is a fascinating tool set to use to create, study, and share stories about cultural heritage.”
- What were your goals when you first started your work/research? Would you say you achieved them?
“Since coming to UCF, my research goals have remained fairly consistent: I study how digital media can be used to preserve, interpret, and disseminate folklore and cultural heritage, with a focus on digital storytelling and participatory digital media research and design approaches. Since the beginning, I have been interested in breaking open the so-called “black box” of digital design and production, to bring individuals and communities further into the design and development process. I want to know how we can build more meaningful bridges between people who have diverse areas of expertise: cultural knowledge, storytelling and design, programming, and community impact. I see much of what I do as an exercise in translation between people with knowledge in different fields.”
- What motivated you to want to go into this field?
“I recall first falling in love with Folkloristics when I had a class taught by folklorist Jim Taggart when I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. He was studying the ways that folktales connected to gender roles and gender identity in Spanish and Native Mexican culture. What made me so interested was the way that he studied how particular European folktales (magic tales or what we’d call fairy tales in everyday English) were told and re-told by men, women, Spaniards, and Native Mexicans in ways that revealed insights into how they viewed the world. The way that traditional narrative, and folklore in general, changes from performance to performance, yet retains something of its structure or form that makes it recognizable is something that I never tire of discovering and rediscovering.”
- Can you tell me about some of the digital games you produced? And books/articles you published?
“I can tell you about a few digital projects and research publications. I collaborated with a non-profit in Cusco, Peru (the Center for Traditional Textiles in Cusco, or CTTC), to interpret and share Andean weaving and the experiences and knowledge weavers who continue this important tradition in Peru. Supported by a Department of Education grant received by UCF’s Latin American Studies program, the site features over 700 textiles from the CTTC’s permanent collection, exhibitions focused on weaving kinds, techniques, process, and patterns from the CTTC’s photography archives, and a GIS-based community tour of the 10 villages with whom the CTTC collaborates. The site also contains several digital stories and interactive visual novels drawn from the lives and experiences of the women who direct and participate in the CTTC, in order to help visitors better understand the cultural, economic, and historical context in which they work and create.
In addition, in the Life/Ways project, UCF students learned about creating digital and interactive personal narratives, including a digital story about his/her/their life and an interactive narrative that investigates “what if” in regard to a crucial decision the author made in his/her/their life. The project extends the StoryCenter’s (previously Center for Digital Storytelling) concept of personal digital memoir into interactive domains.
Books I’ve published include: Digital Ethnography: Anthropology, Narrative, and New Media (co-authored with Elayne Zorn), which examines the use of digital media to preserve, interpret, and share cultural heritage; and Multiplicity and Cultural Representation in Transmedia Storytelling (solo authored) which investigates the ways in which cultural heritage is used as a kind of storytelling strategy for creating alternate versions of popular franchise stories, like those associated with Black Panther, Moana, and Mulan, as well as how indie comics creators put their own spin on heroic narratives. This is in addition to editing a special issue of a visual ethnography journal and other publications over the years.”
- I’m sure you learned a lot during this time. Can you share some things you’ve learned or have reflected upon?
“There have been many things. I think one of the things that’s made a difference for me, and that I in turn hope to give to others, is good mentoring by senior colleagues. Having even a couple people invested in your success has made the world of difference. I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful mentors as a student, junior faculty, and even now. Mentorship is really important, and something I’ve tried to encourage in our program because it does make a difference just to have someone to go to as you are working on your career to ask questions, to bounce ideas off of, or just to vent to from time to time. In more recent years, I’ve had excellent mentorship not only in academic areas but also in relation to administrative work. Whenever and if ever I have a success, I know that I owe it in part to the help and support of others around me. I hope to pay that forward, so to speak.”
- What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered? Was there anything that surprised you?
“I would say a challenge has been in not being able to develop more coursework in my area of expertise. We have a large program, and many students to serve, and so our focus needs to be on offering the coursework that is necessary for students to successfully complete our program and go on to have success after graduation. As a result, I am fortunate to be able to teach courses that I have developed, such as our undergraduate course in Digital Cultures and Narratives, as well as other coursework related to digital storytelling, research, and media history (particularly video games). That said, if I had a choice I’d probably spend all day talking about Folkloristics!”
- What do you most enjoy about your field of work?
“I love, love the ideation process. Nothing is more satisfying for me than thinking through how to connect a cultural idea (a value, a theme, a belief, a symbol, etc.) to its expression through digital media. My question is always: how can we best use the affordances of particular platforms to convey important ideas? Seeing that connection happen is one of the true pleasures of the work that I am privileged to do.”
- Do you have any notable achievements you would like to share?
“The best accomplishments I can think of are not personal, but communal. In other words, the things I look back on with real pride are accomplishments that our program has achieved, even small successes that eventually happened after much hard work on the part of multiple people. For example, one of the things I’ve really loved being able to do over the years as Assistant Director here in NSCM is to support faculty initiatives. I believe when people come to me with a great idea that they are passionate about, if it helps to advance the School and program strategic goals, it’s my role to help nurture that initiative into something that is specific and actionable. For example, over the years we’ve been able to provide Strategic Plan Innovation Awards to faculty to help develop their ideas, and, more recently, special summer initiatives to advance an important program goal. When I first came to UCF I met someone in the Dean’s office who described his job as a “facilitator of faculty dreams.” I never forgot that way of describing his job. It sounded like a dream come true!”
- What kind of impact do you want to leave?
“My goals are rather modest in terms of impact, and they come from the words of E.B. White in his classic children’s book Charlotte’s Web. After Charlotte the spider [spoiler alert] dies, her friend Wilbur says of her: She was a true friend and a good writer. That’s enough for me.”
- What are your plans for the future regarding your research and GaIM?
“I am working on editing or co-editing a couple of upcoming publications, including an edited volume on digital ethnography with a colleague, and a special issue of a journal on contemporary legends on the Internet. For GaIM, I hope to continue to support our faculty as they pursue their own areas of research and creative work, as well as continuing to work work toward improving our program’s ability to serve its students.”
By Majdulina Hamed.
Published to Nicholson News on May 5th, 2023.
If you have any news, accomplishments or highlights about your work or life, please be sure to share them with us, by emailing us at NicholsonNews@ucf.edu.