Must Be Some Kind Of.. Hot Tub Time Machine, or How Time Machine Creates Meaning in Our Modern World

By Sparling Wilson

H. G. Wells’ Time Machine may at first not seem like a romance akin to the stories by Spenser and Mallory. After all, Wells’ work reminds us more of something we would expect to find in the current Young Adult section of the library. While its Divergent and Hunger Games style of dealing with future dystopia is interesting, what is really special about this story is the way that Wells is able to use the romantic genre to critique society and at the same time use the protagonist’s struggle to inspire hope.

The story follows the hero’s journey pattern pretty closely. The hero, the Time Traveler, departs on his journey through time. He arrives in the year 802,701 to find that civilization as we know it has completely changed. His discovery of the changed Earth represents a kind of “crossing of the threshold” as Joseph Campbell would put it. He experiences varying trials, from communicating with the Eloi (future humans), his descent into the “Underworld” (or plainly speaking, discovering and fighting his way out of the underground world of the Morlocks), and even has a temptress/ romantic interest, Weena. The story is even complete with the Time Traveler returning home, entirely changed by his journey, and then setting out again. Similarly to other works we have explored, such as The Lord of The Rings, The Fairie Queen, and Ready Player One, our romantic hero even has a moment where he is so changed by what he has experienced, that he cannot stay home and continues West. In this case, “West” is the future, which Wells represents by depicting a big, red, setting sun.

While it is very interesting that this story follows the hero’s journey and fits into the category of romance, it is also significant. Wells is able to place his story within a different kind of mythological context, the far-future, whereas stories typical of this genre take place in a mythological form of the past. When romances take place in the past, they tend to serve as a kind of contemplation of our own nostalgia for simpler times when good and evil were black and white. However, by placing this story in the future, Welles flips the genre on its head. Times are no longer simple, but far more complex, hence the dystopia. Good and evil is not as well defined. Yes, the Morlocks attempt to kill the Time Traveler, but we also know that they are the prodigies of an enslaved human race, forced to labor under the ground as a result of a system of massive economic inequality. Thus, we see the remnants of our own society within the framework of the one the Time Traveler visits. However, similarly to the epic struggles of other romantic heroes, the strife of the Time Traveler gives us hope. Unlike typical romances, there is no epic struggle of good versus evil, but the struggle to find meaning within a meaningless world, which is one that we can relate to in modern society. It is the Time Traveler’s struggle, and his ultimate decision to return, that allow us to identify with him and see heroism within ourselves.

Gaming Has Positive Effects On Your Health… So Where’s The Hype?

By Sparling Wilson

In class, we have discussed how video games incorporate many different philosophical, artistic, historical, and social issues across their many forms and types. For some games, relaying information or a critique to the player is the end of goal, while others incorporate these elements more subtly to make a deeper and more complex gaming experience. Even first person shooter games incorporate high though, such as Bioshock’s blatant critique of Ayn Rand’s objectivism. However, even games that are not as cerebral can benefit the players.

Heath and mental benefits of these games range. According to Dr. Daphne Bavelier players’ eyes may actually benefit from looking at a screen for hours, improving the ability of people who play most to distinguish gray scale and the definition of objects. She also indicated that playing certain kinds of games have positive effects on people’s ability to multitask and on their attention.

Here is the video, where you can see Dr. Bavelier giving the talk..

Ted Talk On The Benefits of Gaming

This Ted Talker spoke about designing games to be useful for rehabilitation or specific learning purposes, which of course is valid. At the same time, I must offer a critique on her idea, and specifically her presentation of it. While she just spoke about the benefits of playing video games, and most importantly first person shooter games, which have long been considered the most extra-regular of the gaming family (minimal story line, all focused on simple, repeated task of shooting enemies), she just took a major step back and gave a large blow for the gaming community. Sadly, she separates games played for pleasure from games with a practical application. If you watch the video, she spends a great deal of time relaying how these pleasurable games actually do have a practical application, and yet, she does not consider games played for pleasure to be completely as applicable as a game designed with a more scientific purpose.

Personally, I am constantly befuddled at the mainstream community and scientific community to continually write off gaming and gaming culture,  especially after seeing the great deal of high-concept thinking that video games employ. Why can’t we accept that games are a valid form of media, and event at their most basic form, they provide health and mental benefits when used in moderation?

I have come to view gaming as awesome: it incorporates visual art, audible art, narrative, philosophy, history, culture, participates in remediation, and critiques itself, probably more than any other form of media. What’s more, I’ve come to regard it as one of my favorite forms (although I’m still new) because it’s interactive and challenging: I am able to participate in the art and narrative in a way that is unique to gaming.

I guess going back to my previous question about people accepting the validity of gaming in the mainstream, I can relate to the haters. A few months ago, I didn’t really understand much of the hype or the depth that games can possess; I merely thought of gaming as entertainment. My assumption is that as gaming continues to attract more and more followers, both through a diversity of genres and increasing accessibility because of platform integration (hello, mobile games), people will begin to see games as a more valid form of media. As a result, more scientific and sociological research will be done on games, and then, once the artistic and scientific communities fully accept games, the medium will receive the respect it deserves. It is sad that acceptance necessitates this kind of validation, but I really hope that it comes soon.

Romance and The Hero’s Journey In Ready Player One

By: Sparling Wilson

In Joseph Campbell’s A Hero With A Thousand Faces, he outlines the stages of the hero’s journey. Of these elements, he does not fail to mention romance, which he calls the “Meeting With The Temptress”. Campbell explains that in traditional stories of the heroic kind, romantic encounters serve as a kind of sidetrack or distraction for the hero from his journey. In the sense of accomplishing his mission, these encounters are definitely seen as negative. Ready Player One reflects this view in its portrayal of romantic relationships within the novel.

A comical and salient parody of Campbell's model for the hero's journey.
A comical and salient parody of Campbell’s model for the hero’s journey.

In many young adult novels, one can expect to find romance to be at least a part of the story. In the age of young adult novels that center their plots on romance, but combine their genres (so they are more like YA + dystopia, YA+ paranormal activity), it is strange, but also refreshing, to see a novel take a more classical approach to romance. Ready Player One steps away from the modern notions of romance in novels (hello, Twilight) and moves back towards a more classical approach towards this topic in terms of the hero’s journey. As we talked about it class, yes this novel contains romance, but the whole plot does not center itself on pursuing a relationship or finding love in the midst of dystopia. Like more classical hero’s journeys stories, such as The Iliad or The Odyssey, Ready Player One includes romance as a part of the journey, but does not make it the purpose of the journey.

The basic plot of Twilight and other current YA literature. Also, let it be known that this photo was entitled, "Who Is The Hottest", which I think is very telling of the genre.
The basic plot of Twilight and other current YA literature. Also, let it be known that this photo was entitled, “Who Is The Hottest”, which I think is very telling of the genre.

In fact, the story really emphasizes the classical view of romance in stories of this kind by making Art3mis be the protagonist’s “femme fatale”, if you will. The author literally brings this point forward by having Wade confess his love to Art3mis at a club called the “Neo Noir”. I found that point to be very funny in a film-geek kind of way. In noir, the femme fatale was the love interest of the protagonist that lead him to ruin, and the author makes it clear that Wade’s obsession with her is doing just that (at least in terms of his standing in the competition). Anyway, this reference makes a really salient point that while there is romance, the author does not take a positive stance towards it. Perhaps things will shape up positively for Wade in the end, but so far the author is placing romance purely in a classical view. Ar3timis is the “temptress”, if you will, that puts our hero off of his course.

To me, it is refreshing to see a lovesick teen in a dystopian hero’s journey not have the girl fall right into his lap. I love that in this modern, YA novel, being a borderline stalker does not reward the character. Also, I applaud the author at realizing there are so many interesting aspects to this universe that need exploring rather than just Wade and Ar3mis’s relationship, as well as his clear understanding of the proper structure of literature. You go, Ernest Cline.

How Indie Games Are Saving the Shoshone Language

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

Women And The Gaming World, also #Gamersgate

I’m not going to lie, I approached the whole gaming world with many pre-conceived notions and stereotypes of gaming culture and the very people that played these games. I pictured the overweight, late-twenties male in a stained and dirty t-shirt hidden in his parents’ basement playing games alone for hours, with the reflective glow of a screen illuminating his pasty white skin providing the only light and the quick twitch of his hands on the console being the only sign of life. My perception of the gaming world mostly came from its negative (or at least off-color and sensationalized) portrayal in the media, and specifically Brian from the film The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants (pictured below), which was one of my first introductions to gamers. One of the bloggers on here has already mentioned that the gaming world really seems like a boys-only club akin to something out of a 90s movie, and before I approached the world of gaming, I would say that I agreed 100% with that statement.

from fanpop.com
from fanpop.com

Before I started gaming, I thought my entrance into the culture would be a bombardment of ostracization in the online community. I thought the people playing games would be jerks because I wasn’t a guy; I have to say though, I have been very pleasantly surprised. Please keep in mind that my experience is limited to only a few games, but I have found that people for the most part have been very welcoming and helpful. I guess there isn’t really any way to tell outright that I am a woman, but I think that this gender neutrality is a plus of gaming. In the game, one assumes the identity of his or her avatar, and thus the gender of the gamer is kind of a moot point. Video gaming provides a unique and cool situation in which men and women can compete against each other and be on teams together in a completely equal way, which is more than one can say for most organized sports. So basically video gaming is the utopia of gender equality, right? Right?

Well… not so fast.

The gaming world, especially now, has been getting a lot of flack for a lack of diversity, ESPECIALLY with how the gaming world regards women. I’m spoiled that in LOTRO, I have the option of completely customizing my character to be whichever gender or race I want it to be, but in most games, this is far from the case. In the vast majority of games, one assigned an avatar/ protagonist character from the beginning, which would be okay if men and women characters were generally equally spread as protagonists throughout games, but that isn’t what happens. The majority of games have a male protagonist, and women characters are highly sexualized. Geek Feminism made a list of games and how women are portrayed in them, and the protagonist section is woefully low. It’s missing a few, but considering how many games there are, the message is overwhelming.

You can read their info here: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Women_Characters_in_Video_Games

Sadly, this misogamy is carrying over to the real-life world. While female playership is increasing greatly, some male players seem to be pretty mad that the “boy’s club” aspect of gaming is on the decline. You may be familiar with the “#Gamergate” situation that is currently going on, and if not, the gist is that a female game maker, Zoe Quinn, and another female game critic, Anita Sarkeesian, have been harassed and threatened by members of the gaming community to the point where they have had to flee their homes. You can read more on the situation here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/09/24/349835297/-gamergate-controversy-fuels-debate-on-women-and-video-games

This behavior is unacceptable. Gaming is not a man’s world, it’s everyone’s world, equally. I think the fact that we play using avatars speaks to this. While the characters display sexism, which needs to change, the games themselves are gender blind. The age of the damsel in distress and femme fatale is over. It is time for the gaming community at large to welcome and respect the influx of women that is helping to make it so hugely successful, both online and in the real world.

-Sparling Wilson

Enjoy this satire:

from geeksaresexy.net
from geeksaresexy.net

True Life: I’m a LOTRO Addict

I am very proud of myself… I’ve made excellent strides in the gaming world. For those of you that don’t remember, I am the newbiest of newbs (the writer who basically had only played iphone games), so when I downloaded LOTRO and was told that it would be a part of my grade for the course, I was wary at first. Initially, I struggled with the controls of the game, not realizing that the arrow keys could be used in place of the “a” “s” “d” and “w” keys for movement; not being able to move with ease was frustrating and really put a damper on my enjoyment of the game. Another issue I had at first was navigation through the game with the quests. I did not realize that one merely had to follow the glowing ring on the map to find the next part of the quest, and because of this, the going was excruciatingly slow. A silver lining the this issue was that I learned how to move before I learned how to navigate, and so I spent a long time fighting wolves in Thorin’s realm and reached a higher level by the end of the intro period that most. On the issue of navigation, I wish that staying on the epic quest line would be more self-explanatory because I’ve spent a lot of time doing side quests that I would in some cases prefer to avoid.

With that being said, these were just issues I had at the beginning of my journey. Since I’ve managed to get over these problems, I have become completely enamored with the game. If I’m waiting around, I play the game. If I’m bored, I’ll play the game. Not feeling like going out on the town? I’ll visit the Prancing Pony in Bree. I am seriously getting addicted to LOTRO!

One aspect I really love is the role playing. I love the fact that I can customize my character’s wardrobe and appearance, as well as the specific skills I can gain as an Elf Champion. I think one reason why this part of the game is so appealing is due to the fact that I am an English major and avid reader. When I am reading (especially in the Lord Of The Rings series) I can imagine myself in the protagonist’s position and wish I were apart of the action. By playing LOTRO, I am able to engage with the narrative in a way that has never been open to me before, and that helps to fulfill this desire.

Additionally, the quests provide just enough challenge to be fun and engaging, but are not difficult to the point that I want to abandon them as a lost cause. Even if my character dies, I feel like I can evaluate my performance and improve enough to give the challenge another go and ultimately be successful. While this game isn’t as strongly based on learning as the game Braid was, I still think it is an important factor here. In playing this game, you learn new strategies to help you play more efficiently and creatively.

One thing that I have learned since starting this game is that apparently Lore Masters get to have animal pets. Since I have been enjoying playing so much, I think it is time for me to create a new character of the Lore Master variety so I can acquire some of the cute and friendly creatures I’ve spotted along the way!

-Sparling Wilson

Form and Function

Admittedly, I am a total newbie when it comes to gaming. Seriously.. I’m the kind of person whose experience with games stops with Mario cart and scoops for my iPhone. So when I jettisoned myself out of reality and into the world of gaming by downloading the game Braid, I was skeptical as to if I would have even the minimal amount of fine motor control to successfully play the game, let alone be able to enjoy it.

 

Luckily for me, Braid is the kind of game that is totally transformative. I found myself lost in the aesthetic beauty that appeared on the screen as it whisked the hero, Tim, and me to a fictional and imaginative land. It is the very visual appeal of this game that makes all the difference, as well as works in conjunction with the fiction of the game to elevate and transform the narrative.

 

The backdrop of the game is striking. It’s like being inside one of Monet’s masterpieces. The highly impressionistic setting is important because it lends itself to the creating the element imagination that so many gamers enjoy. I am personally in the camp with the game theorists that believe that the fiction and landscape of the game space are more than just decoration to the game’s rules, but rather are a part of entire gaming experience where form and function come together and help inform one another. I’d like to think that the creator, Jonathan Blow, is too. The game creates a cohesive theme of two-dimensionality within the landscape and the rules of the game that I assume help to enhance the narrative, but I’m not really sure yet. Don’t worry, guys, no spoilers here: it took me many hours and lots of help just to figure out the basics of how to play the game, and I still can’t figure out how to properly utilize the monsters to get more height… However, I assume that when I finally get to the end and have the whole story figured out (I can’t bring myself to read ahead on Wikipedia), this theme of two-dimensionality is going to tie-in some how.

 

Now, while the visual background to the game is exceedingly exquisite, I can’t get over Tim’s chic and streamlined menswear look. I love how his conservative and prep school-ish ensemble stands in direct opposition of his environment. Where a normal game maker might design a charter’s wardrobe to fit the theme of his surroundings, Tim’s outfit stands in stark contrast of it. However, his navy blazer and khakis don’t pull me out of the game, but rather help me to relate to Tim because he looks just as lost in this game as I feel. But actually, Tim’s outfit gives an ironic sense of realism to a game that plays with the concept of time and looks more like a painting than reality. And with class just starting back, the timing of discovering Tim’s outfit couldn’t be more perfect! With his navy blazer and khakis, he looks so ready to hit the books.

 

Here, I’ve made this ensemble more ladylike by incorporating my favorite brown leather Christian Louboutin wedges to keep the outfit from looking too masculine. This Brooks Brothers navy wool blazer and white (wrinkle-resistant!) button down and J Crew tailored khakis keep the look true to Tim. Of course, I had to include a braid as a tribute to the game itself. Now that I look the part, maybe I can figure out how to actually win!

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-Sparling Wilson