Children have always used art to explore the boundaries of their imagination whether that be with finger paint, sketching under the covers – or now, more recently, using digital art platforms and tablets. While Gen X-ers might see something to mourn in the switch from real-life creativity to online exploration, the basic beauty of curiosity and creativity still exists on the digital playground. On PopJam, we see this most clearly in the evolution of Original Characters.

So, what are they?

Original Characters, or “OCs”, are imaginative and often highly eccentric personas, drawn, painted and/or sketched and then shared online. They’ve been around longer than the internet, but their current incarnation across the digital landscape provides an interesting look into the evolution of how kids utilise art to express themselves.

Here are two animal inspired OCs

OCs appear in thousands of different forms and have a wonderfully diverse array of characteristics, special features and personality traits. Often inspired by anime, fiction, cartoons and superheroes that kids are familiar with and love, OCs are distinctively colorful, unique and personal, and are regularly used as a tool to connect with other players.

Kids love to share their OCs’ detailed personalities

Importantly, OC’s are a popular and safe way for kids to express themselves and interact with each other without exposing anything personal about themselves. A well-respected and culturally-accepted art form, they’re a form of social currency and a simple way to establish a unique style. Conversely, they are also a vehicle for teens to experiment with their own developing personalities without the threat of negative opinions from their sometimes judgmental peers.

Once an online community has a group of users who create OC’s, the deck has been set, and users will organically create endless ways of using their characters. Young creators often announce them as works in progress (“WIP”), initially posting a simple sketch, then adding more features and a little color with a second post, before finally sharing the finished artwork. OC’s are also used for role play, cartoons, naming competitions, “DTO’s” (Draw-To-Adopt), and art swaps.

Examples of a “WIP” and a “DTO” post on PopJam

In some ways, the phenomenon represents a somewhat unrecognized upside of the digital age. On a monitored platform (like PopJam), tween drama can safely play out and kids can make connections based on common interests, without exposing themselves to real world repercussions. Online Original Characters reflect the creativity of their creators and allow kids to do in the online environment what they have done offline forever: play, draw, imagine, engage, gossip, and socialize.

Lynn Davis manages Community moderation and engagement for PopJam.

Lynn Snyder works with Community moderation technology and data at PopJam.