Twitter Wars

•October 11, 2014 • 1 Comment

By: Carly Vaughn

Our in-class Twitter exercise reminded me of something that happened this summer. Ira Glass, host of the wildly popular This American Life podcast and radio show, tweeted. Something really dumb. About literature. This is what he had to say:

ira glass tweet 1ira glass tweet 2

Now, whether you agree with him or not (most people did not), Glass is doing more than just saying “Shakespeare sucks”. He’s critiquing the Bard with some literary context. “No stakes”, “not relatable”, and “not emotional” are not actually dismissive phrases, but critiques about literary conventions of creating conflict and suspense, and perhaps saying that the work feels too cold or distant to fulfill those conventions. I’m sure there have been scholarly papers written about Shakespeare and his possible lack of “stakes”, but because Glass took to Twitter to give his critique people saw it as dismissive and pretentious. With only 140 characters to tweet with, it’s hard to convey tone.

Glass went on The Tonight Show and talked about the backlash against his tweet recently:

This reminded me of our class exercise because, in our group, we escalated into the terms of Twitter arguments and wars pretty quickly. We threw out pejorative terms about the characters in the Faerie Queene, about each other. We did do some actual critiquing, but like Glass, it sometimes felt like our point was overshadowed by a funny or dismissive hash-tag. I think this is an inherent problem with Twitter. Unless you are an exceptional word-smith, writing a coherent and persuasive argument on literature in 140 characters, let alone 140 words, is pretty difficult. It takes multiple tweets to quote examples from the text to support anything you’re saying, and by that time you might have already pissed off an army of tweeters. Just like Glass did.

The New York Times wrote an article about Twitter and literary criticism last year. “At first glance, it seems that critics, in particular, should relish a tool like Twitter. Criticism is a kind of argument, and Twitter is excellent for arguing back and forth in public,” says Adam Hirsch. While Hirsch goes on to say there is not much “criticism” in the literary criticism scene on Twitter, I think his point also shows that Twitter is public, and when you make an argument using it’s framework, the public is going to argue back. So before you tweet any literary criticism, know that you will not be tweeting into a vacuum, and perhaps gird your loins against the haters.

Relationships and Video Games

•October 10, 2014 • 2 Comments

Our discussion of the role of other players in Journey raised an interesting point about cooperative gameplay. One of the most underrated aspects of video game play is its ability to build relationships especially in games requiring teamwork and/or synergy. The most popular video game in the world today is League of Legends, and as a 5 v 5 game, a large amount of teamwork is required to win. This teamwork fosters relationship building and helps teammates to get to know one another the more they play. Personally, I’ve gotten closer to many people and made even more friends through online gameplay, especially in team oriented games like league.

One of the games that I’ve spent the most time on is Runescape, where I became friends with quite a few fellow players. Runescape also included a mini-game called Castle Wars. Castle Wars was effectively a game of capture the flag, and the focused goal often encouraged players to interact and communicate more. As a result, I made far more friends playing as a team in Castle Wars than in normal gameplay. In whatever game or game type, teamwork tends to build relationships just as quickly as real life experience. Playing on a team with others, as we have all found during our time playing together in class. The sense of closeness a team feels after conquering an opponent together draws people together in a way that is difficult to replicate in the everyday world.

Chall7225

How Indie Games Are Saving the Shoshone Language

•October 10, 2014 • 1 Comment

By: Sparling Wilson

In class, we have talked about indie games that serve different purposes rather than to just provide blasé entertainment to the consumer. In Braid, the game serves to challenge both game structure and promote and unravel its own narrative, while challenging the gamers’ concept of time. In Journey, the game seeks to promote teamwork and affect a strong emotional response from the gamer.

Recently, students from the Shoshone Youth Language Apprenticeship Program, hosted by the Shoshone Language Project at the University of Utah have developed a game designed to help promote and re-instill the values and language of the Shoshone people in the young people that have lineage of that culture. This concept of educational gaming is not a new one, but it is something that is rarely done successfully.

As someone with younger siblings that are experiencing highly technology-integrated classrooms, I often see them having to play games outside of school for homework. However, I think these games miss the point. The games that they are made to play by their school are extremely transparent in terms of being made as a way to be educational; that is, it’s obvious that the game isn’t made to be played for enjoyment. In these games, the graphics are bad and unoriginal, the learning material is presented/ tested in a way similar to a classroom, and it just isn’t a very fun concept overall. In this regard, educational gaming is a big time fail. The attempt to make learning fun and hip seems to be falling very short of the mark because… these games aren’t tricking kids, they seem like work, and kids don’t want to play them.

from awkwardtrends.com

This image demonstrates how gauche educational games are! From awkwardtrends.com

But in a brilliant turn of events, the game Enee, which means “scary” in Shoshone, is a far cry from the traditional educational game. It is able to very seamlessly weave Shoshone cultural traditions and language into the narrative of the game in order to make it both educational and appealing to its youthful audience. For example, the main character in the game, Enee, must traverse a dark and terrifying landscape, and complete quests similar in nature to those in LOTRO. Like how the quests in LOTRO support the epic narrative of the books, the quests in this game follow/ tie-in traditional Shoshone folklore, superstitions, myths, or just important aspects of the culture. In addition, the NPCs of the game are characters that appear in traditional Shoshone stories. What’s more, they integrate Shoshone phrases into their speech, and in some cases only speak Shoshone, which is part of the challenge and quest. Also, the graphics definitely reflect that indie-chic quality that is present in Braid and Journey. In Enee, they look kind of scary- they definitely help to give the player a sense of “enee”.

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From the game "Enee"; a challenge that incorporates Shoshone myth with the quests

From the game “Enee”; a challenge that incorporates Shoshone myth with the quests and the protagonist, “Enee” (above)

Personally, I’m a really huge fan of this game. I think it makes great strides in the educational gaming realm. With great graphics and a seamless integration of the material it is trying to teach, Enee really sets the standard high.

If you’re interested in this game or the Shoshone language and culture, here is a link where you can download it:

http://theeneegame.com

If you’re interested in reading more about the game’s development process, the game makers, and the decline of the Shoshone people during the 20th century, read this:

http://upr.org/post/university-utah-students-create-shoshone-language-video-game

Where are all the Female Characters??

•October 10, 2014 • 2 Comments

 by Julia

As I was reading Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, I started thinking about female representation in fantasy genres and how this relates to today’s pop culture.

britomart

Image: http://pdsh.wikia.com/wiki/Britomart

Series like Game of Thrones are praised because they have a wide variety of female characters from many different perspectives. Other series (like LOTR) have very few female characters. In the last Hobbit movie, Tauriel the elf was added to try and add more female representation.

 

Gif: halfabubble.tumblr.com

Many series have an underwhelming amount of female characters. On one hand, this makes sense for certain stories–to use a non-fantasy example, the film Shawshank Redemption definitely doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but since it’s set in a male prison, this makes perfect sense. And it’s a great film.

 

Gif: filmotheques.tumblr.com

What bothers me about fantasy and sci-fi series and the lack of female characters is that it DOESN’T make sense. Are these people living in a world where all the women are somehow missing? For example, take Star Wars. You’ve got the token female character, Princess Leia. But when listing out how many female characters appear versus male characters, it’s overwhelmingly disproportionate.

 leia

Image source: thatgirlmag.com

Which brings me to my main pet peeve. So many creators have tried to “remedy” the lack of female representation by adding ONE female character to a group. Lack of females in the Hobbit? Let’s add one elf. Not a lot of female superheroes shown in Marvel? Let’s add one to the Avengers.

 

These women are often the stock “strong female characters.” They’re warriors, so they’ve got to be awesome, right?

 

Yeah, awesome. But it would also be cool to actually have a VARIETY of female characters. According to the 2014 Hollywood Diversity report, while women make up over 50% of the US population and minorities make up 36%, only 26% of films had a female lead, and only 11% of films studied had a minority lead. Other quick facts: only 4% of films were directed by women, 7.6% of films were written by minorities, and most broadcast shows have writing staffs with less than 40% women.

 

AND according to a study by the New York Times, even when women get to be the lead actress in a film, they get an average of 57 minutes on screen…compared to lead actors, who get an average of 85.

 

So is modern fantasy perpetuating this problem, or eliminating it? The choice to add Tauriel to the Hobbit was certainly controversial, since writers were making changes to the original story. But new shows, novels, and games with stories written in modern times can plausibly create more realistic universes. Series with complex, three-dimensional female characters like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Cinder, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Graceling, most things by Robin McKinley, and more create some opportunities for realistic female characters to flourish.

Gif source: cedricdigory.tumblr.com

However, the release schedule of Marvel movies is one indicator that this lack of equal representation is still an ongoing problem in the genre. As a huge fan of the fantasy and sci fi genre and a fan of comic books in general, I’ve always been a little sad at the way female characters were portrayed (or not portrayed) overall here. And the fact is, of the 15 Marvel movies that have been announced or released since 2008, 11 featured white men as the leads. The 4 others feature ensembles with only 1 female character in the group. It’s just starting to feel pretty redundant.

marvelbackpack

PS-Here’s a Marvel backpack I have. Black Widow isn’t even on it.

Concerning Hobbits: How the Smallfolk Saved Middle Earth

•October 3, 2014 • 2 Comments

By Thomas Adams

Warning: If you have not seen the rest of the Lord of the Rings series and do not want it spoiled, do not read this post.
After watching the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, I was inspired to finish the rest of the series (again, for like the 5th time). So I went on to watch the extended edition of The Two Towers and The Return of the King. This time, instead of watching for pure entertainment, I was watching to learn – about the world, character development, the motivations of peoples, and many other things. Near the end of The Return of the King, the four hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin) start to bow to Aragorn, the new King of Gondor. However, Aragorn stops them and says, “My friends, you bow to no one” and bows before them. The rest of the people around follow suit.

I don’t think it can be understated how true Aragorn’s statement is and how important the hobbits were in saving Middle Earth. Let’s look at each one individually.

Merry

At the end of Fellowship of the Ring, Merry is capture by Uruk-hai, along with Pippin. When the Uruk-hai and Orc begin fighting with one another, the two escape into Fangorn Forest where they meet up with Treebeard, a tree-herder. Once Merry learns of this new race of trees, he tries to get Treebeard and his ent company to fight against Sauron and Saruman. Eventually, the council of trees decides that this is not their fight to fight. When he begins taking Merry and Pippin back home to the Shire, Merry convinces Treebeard to take the south route, which goes right past Isengard. Merry says this would make the most sense, since Saruman would least expect it and Treebeard obliges. As they continue on the path, Treebeard comes to an opening in the should-be forest. He realizes that his tree friends have to cut and burned down to fuel the fires of Isengard. Unsurprisingly, this angers him greatly, and Treebeard calls upon his tree friends to fight Isengard. The destroy a dam, flood Isengard, and win the battle to take control of Isengard. Merry’s part in the story here cannot be understated. He single-handedly convinced tree beard to take the route that would lead him to see the destroyed forest and make Treebeard realize that this was their fight. If Merry had not convinced Treebeard to turn around, Isengard would have been left unscathed and many of the following events would have never occurred and the rings may never had been destoryed.

Pippin

in The Return of the King, Pippin accompanies Gandalf to Minas Tirith to convince the Steward of Gondor to ready his armies for battle and call to Rohan for aid. This battle would be the last battle to determine the survival of Men in Middle Earth. After a conversation with the very stubborn steward of Gondor, Gandalf is unable to convince him to light the Beacons of Gondor, which would signal to Rohan that Gondor calls for military aid. Gandalf has another plan. Using Pippin’s size to their advantage, Gandalf instructs Pippin to climb the beacon’s spire and light the flame himself. Pippin is able to do this successfully and alert Rohan to their need for help. Eventually, the message reaches Rohan and they ride out for battle. If Pippin did not accompany Gandalf to Minas Tirith (the reason for which is another story in itself) and if Pippin was not able to successfully light the beacon unseen, Rohan would have never made it to the battle for Minas Tirith, and the Realm of Men would surely have fallen.

Sam

There’s so much that can be said about Sam that it is really difficult to focus on one particular instance that had the most influence. But after watching the Return of the King, there is definitely one that comes to mind. After Sam is banished from the quest by Frodo (for supposedly eating all the lembas bread and wanting the ring for himself), Frodo and Smeagle venture into the Spider’s tunnels. Smeagle did this so the Spider would eat Frodo, and Smeagle could then take the ring for himself. As Sam is venturing back down the Stairs, he sees the lembas bread remains that Smeagle threw over the edge. This was the turning point for Sam, as he knew Smeagle had ulterior motives and would end up killing Frodo for the ring. Sam starts back up the Stairs to save Frodo. Sam gets there just in time to stop the Spider from eating Frodo (who is paralyzed at this point). He battles with the spider and eventually wins, defending Frodo for the time being. Unfortunately, some Orc come near, Sam hides, and they take Frodo’s body to their nearby tower and Sam follows. Once again, the Uruk-hai and Orc begin fighting among each other. Sam takes this opportunity to head up the tower and defeat a few foes before getting to Frodo just in time. Had Sam not gone back to help Frodo, and successfully fought off the Spider and Orc, Frodo would have never made it out alive and the ring would have not been destroyed – and worse, would have probably fallen right into the hands of the Enemy.

Frodo

Since Frodo’s main purpose is to carry the ring and destroy it, it would make sense that this is his most important task. Frodo did not have as many “breakout” moments as the other hobbits in the movie. On the contrary, he slowly just became more and more corrupted by the ring and eventually tried to take the ring for himself while standing at the edge of the fires of Mt. Doom. However, against all odds and with the help of a few friends, Frodo was able to get the ring to Mordor and get the ring destroyed, ending the battle against Sauron and his forces – solidifying the victory for Man. Frodo was never suppose to make it to Mordor alive, much less actually destroy the ring, but he did it. And that’s the most important thing that could have been done.

When the Men of Gondor bow to the four hobbits at the end of the Return of the King, it is very much deserved. Their actions throughout the story single-handedly turned the tides of battle back into their favor and eventually ended the war. Had they not been successful with their respective tasks, Middle Earth would have surely been taken over by Sauron and his evil forces. Of course, many other characters had influence on the outcome of Middle Earth, but it is most certainly true that the smallest persons had the largest impact.

Are indie games better?

•October 3, 2014 • 1 Comment

What is an indie game? For the most part it’s one that’s been developed by a skeleton crew, unattached to publishing partners, licenses or anything else. Braid and Journey are both indie games and they have both completely shaken my previous expectations and understanding of games, as a nongamer, in a positive way. They were refreshingly approachable gameplay wise, and creatively engaging in an unexpectedly moving way. Turns out, they are both a part of a small revolution in the gaming industry.

In class the other day, we discussed whether Journey would be a better game and more financially succesful by being accessible to a wider audience if it had had a bigger budget. It sounds like a win win for everyone (more people play and the developers get more money)and made a lot of sense. It was in fact curious that both of the best games out there as proved by its selection for an in depth analysis of new media course like ours were not the products of moneyed and well staffed Triple A giants but instead small crews or even solo ventures of the indie variety. Why didn’t more money, experience and expertise produce anything quite as interesting or good? Of course, you can argue with me on the basic premise of a good game. But it seemed that at least trends in the larger game industry seem to also supported this phenomenon of smaller budget strapped teams producing increasingly popular games like Minecraft, Fez and Flappy Birds.

At first glance, it seemed to make no sense that games backed by better resources weren’t producing higher quality games? With more money, comes larger salaries for better and more developers, artists, software and hardware right? But this isn’t the first time the restrictions of budget and scope end up pushing creative boundaries. In the film, a very similar ecosystem of indie filmmakers on the fringes produce the more thought provoking and interesting work while the mass appeal intellectually weak blockbuster titles reap in the viewers and ticket sales.

Also in the fine arts world, there exists the avant garde work that shocks and offends most of the critics, galleries and museums of the status quo. Yet, eventually developments and shifts of these very same outliers get incorporated into the mainstream direction of institutional or official art. The indie game developers themselves have even expressed dismay at the counterproductive effect of larger budgets and widespread success on the creative spirit and discouraging further work. Markus Persson, the creator of Minecraft which has earned him more than a hundred million dollars, cancelled 0x10c the next game he was develping, citing “creative block.” While I don’t have the scope or space to get into a discussion of why there is an inverse relationship between quality and financial success in media today, the fact of the matter is that it exists. But unlike film, or the art world, the official status quo corporate giants are warming up to and supporting the indie sector actively and openly. Journey is a great example of that, with a publishing deal with Sony that making it possible to complete. The trend is also seen at major game shows like E3 where table fees for smaller indie studios that are in the thousands are getting covered by the bigger companies as support.

I see a potential in gaming to bring the kind of emotionally and intellectually engaging experience normally associated with high art to a wider audience than its counterparts in art, film or even literature. Weird art shows and indie films will always be on the fringes appealing only to a small cultural ‘connoiseur’ elite by the fact of their inherent strangeness. But games don’t have to be like that. Instead of thinking about indie games like Journey as making gaming more stuffy , intellectual and thus less accessible, we can think about it as making high brow and intellectually engaging art more fun and thus more accessible. The likelihood of a twelve year old playing Braid is a lot higher than the same kid going to an art house indie film or reading The New Yorker’s latest short story. Isn’t that kind of cool the way indie games can take an the elistism, stuffiness and ultimately alienation out of art and open it up to everyone as not only an accessible experience but a fun one too?

-Diana Zhu

Gimme hold of that narrative!

•October 3, 2014 • 1 Comment

Narrative ambiguity is a central feature in Journey; a pro for those of us who enjoyed playing/watching the game, irritating and inconclusive for those who did not. But many of us felt connected to the character(s), sensationally aware of the setting, and personally invoked in the story–whatever we manipulated it to be. Not surprisingly, Journey’s critical response also centered on the game’s open interpretation aspect. Joel Gregory, a game reviewer for Playstation Official Magazine writes that “its [the game’s] brilliance . . . comes down to the fact that the symbolism is left open to interpretation” and describes the game as an “interactive parable” (2012).  And as Gregory notes, the interpretations of the game are infinite, but a definitive answer isn’t the point here. Rather, the game invokes the player on an intellectual level and allows (or forces, for those who didn’t find joy in it) to engage with and in many ways, complete the story by his or herself.

In class, we wondered if this type of game–one that requires intellectual reflection and analysis–might be limited in audience. Many people, it seemed, might be turned off by the mental gymnastics required of the player. And Gregory echoes these concerns, writing that “some think it’s pretentious nonsense.” But the game’s critical reception overwhelmingly suggests otherwise: Journey is currently the fastest selling game on Playstation Store to date, won multiple Game of the Year awards (in categories ranging from story to gameplay engineering), received a Grammy nomination for the score and garnered 92% approval rankings on both GameRankings and Mediacritic.

So rather than excluding segments of the typical gaming community, might Journey (and games like it) actually invite a larger audience? The gameplay is relatively simple, but as Eurogamer reviewer Christian Donlan writes, Journey creates a “sense of hardship” because of the vast unknowns in the world of the game. (This “hardship” is precisely what draws so many advanced gamers to the game; they still find payoff in the end despite the low technical demands of the game.) Games like Journey invite another class of people to the gaming table: maybe those novice gamers who still want to participate in the stimulating virtual world,  maybe those literature buffs who want something new to dissect and analyze, maybe those who feel most connected to a story when they make their own contributions to it. I suspect a bit of all three lies within many Journey players. (But to give credit where credit is due, the game developers have done the majority of the mental work for us plebian players by creating such a visually and sonically robust world.)

In a workshop on Vanderbilt’s campus this afternoon, game designer Evan Meaney cautioned the audience of the illusion of choice present in video games. In his words, games offer the viewer more choice than film (or other media forms) only by “better lying.” And this makes sense–of course a user doesn’t have full control over the game world, because the game developers have only coded so much! In terms of mechanics, Journey succumbs to this same critique. But by granting the player with narrative power, we’re gaining more control, and for Lamer Gamers like me, that’s pretty darn empowering.

-Emma Baker

 
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