Dr. Karen Stewart

Academic Research

I research visual narratives. A visual narrative is a mediated text where photographs, film, digital graphics, or other types of images are predominantly featured, and where the visual information is used to tell stories to audiences.


As a visual narrative scholar, I engage in both the critical assessment of visual texts, and in the informed production of my own mediated work. I study visual narratives because we live in a “visual culture,” where individuals and groups use image-based technologies regularly to promote civic engagement.


To conduct my research, I use a “’hands-on” multi-method research approach to produce scholarship and creative works. This means I critically examine mediated communication on multiple discursive levels, and I build and distribute mediated messages with art, video, social media, photographs, and gaming components included. This multi-layered methodological approach allows me to examine visual messages from a critical, rhetorical perspective while also exploring the social use and technology framework in which these creative dialogs occur.

Opening Theme - Samuel VanDemark
Closing Theme - Samuel VanDemark
Current Research Projects


My current research explores Otome game culture. Otome games are romance-based visual novel video games designed specifically for female players. I investigate why these games are popular with women of different ages and cultures, and what players learn about friendship, love, and intimacy while playing. I also study Otome fandoms.


In addition. I received several grants that  provided seed money to build my own Otome game. I am creating Leap of Faith to learn firsthand the narrative strengths and limitations of visual novels.


Undergraduate research assistants are also involved with this project. So far, sixteen different students have contributed to the development of the game. Their contributions have ranged from studying local history, to 18th century costume design, to ways indie game developers use crowdsourcing to finance their projects.