Mindcrafting Minecraft: The Psychology Behind this Open-World Creation Game

Minecraft is huge. And I don’t just mean the open-world environment within the game. According to the gaming website Polygon, as of June 2, 2016, Minecraft has sold 100 million copies. From my eight year old cousin to the older generations who apparently also play, everyone’s playing. Because of its popularity and its social elements, I think it’s appropriate to look at what kind of effects this game has on those who play it.

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Minecraft is unique because it is accessible to all age groups

Dr. Geher wrote on Psychology Today about how Minecraft is able to build social skills. Its common people to join servers with their friends in real life, allowing them to build structures cooperatively or compete with each other in world-building contests. The first benefit is teaching people about the “Tit for Tat” strategy of stealing others resources, such that you seem nice at first and overtime steal more and more so as to get the most resources without provoking retaliation. Furthermore, everyone in a shared server is forced to learn who they can trust and learn how to build trust in others, since while an alliance is helpful, a traitor trying to steal your resources or destroy your caste is worse. Furthermore, it also builds technical skills, which teaches players, especially children, the importance and use of gaining expertise of a craft. Altogether, Minecraft can be a great tool to facilitate social relations and teach important lessons.

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What’s the point of playing cooperatively if you don’t take cool group photos?

While I wish I could also say that Minecraft helps with spatial reasoning, reading, and programming, I don’t think this is accurate. A very convincing article from The Atlantic talks about how the video game itself isn’t a very good tool for teaching children, and I tend to agree. We wouldn’t just give students textbooks or novels and tell them to figure it out the same way we shouldn’t expect Minecraft to teach children. Nonetheless, I think it has great potential to be educational and fun in the right circumstances.

Sources

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201506/how-minecraft-actually-builds-social-skills

https://mojang.com/2016/06/weve-sold-minecraft-many-many-times-look/

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Things to Ignore When Reading Ready Player One

Writing a book is hard. Trust me, writing a blog and maybe a poem every other week is enough for me. So I give a thumbs up to Ernest Cline, the author of Ready Player One, and everyone else who decides to make art. So in this post, I’ll give RPO a thumps up with one hand and use the other to write (yes, this was all on paper originally) my critique.

The pervading problem with this book is that it is way too extra for me to enjoy, allowing for both contradictions and superficiality that lessen the immersion and importance of its subject matter. The paragraphs will focus on poverty, A.I., Wade’s skills, Wade’s love interest, a list of other ways the book was extra, a passionate discussion of Aech, a complaint on how the’80s theme was handled, and a conclusion. So While I encourage you to read all of it, becauuse it all points a thesis that I hope you’ll agree with, if not also feel in your bones, at least there’s a guide if you just want to pick and choose from my buffet of complaints.

One of the first contradictions that this book makes is between the overwhelming poverty in its dystopian setting and the isolation Wade feels for being poor in the OASIS. This book doesn’t really hold back on describing the world as being impoverished: energy crisis, mass migration, stacks, etc. So on one hand there is a world of poverty, which is fine on its own. On the other hand, there is a social elite, complete with virtual space ships, teleporters, planets, expensive virtual clothes, etc. So lots of stories explore this dichotomy, but they are consistent in a way that RPO is not. In this story, Wade seems to be the only poor person in school, and this is a major factor to his character and narrative. Every time Wade mentions the poverty or the rich people in his school, I found myself asking: where are all the poor students? Wade barely had decent grades, and halliday made sure that the OASIS public school system would receive funding forever, so why was Wade given a headset and no one else who was poor? This is a relatively unimportant contradiction, but it was the first I saw and it was repeated often, so I thought I’d start here and give harsher criticism later.

Another way that being too extra makes a thematic contradiction in this story is when Wade plays against the A.I. guarding the first key. On one page, he says that A.I. could never be like humans because the software can’t “improvise,” (82). In the story’s logic A.I. could never beat humans because they cannot do what humans do, so thus they are definitely not human. This would have been fine, but then the book goes further by having Wade also think that he “was actually playing against Halliday,” (83). He could have thought that he was playing against Halliday’s creation or something, but instead he breaks his own internal logic by saying both that A.I. can never be like humans and that the A.I. is Halliday. This is a simple contradiction that could have been easily avoided if the book wasn’t trying to be so extra.

Speaking of being too extra, let’s talk about how much praise the book gives Wade for his video game skills and 80’s knowledge. Wade, after not playing a game for 2 years, beats the A.I. on his first try. Then he goes on to beat every other challenge without breaking a sweat. This means that our hero never fails, never has to reflect on the fact that he isn’t a perfect gunter, because he is. This really takes out the tension of each challenge and makes the story less interesting, since we don’t know how Wade reacts to not being perfect, which is something that everyone deals with. Not only this, but it is also unrealistic for him to be so good. UNREALISTIC!? But it’s just a book, who cares. The author, for one, seems to. He also seems to think that we will, since he goes into a lot of effort to show how much time Wade puts in to playing games to justify his perfection. In bragging to us about how much Wade knows, Wade concludes by telling us that he studies “Twelve hours a day, seven days a week” (64). If we factor in 40 hours for school and only 7 hours of homework a week, that means that he only sleeps for 37 hours throughout the week, which is just 5.3 hours per week every day during the school year. I’m no doctor, but I’d imagine that if someone only got that much sleep for the school year for 5 years, he’d be dead, or at least unable to function even in the virtual world. His knowledge, talent, and obsession is just too extra to be realistic or entertaining narrative-wise.

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This shit is serious. I’d like to see Wade halllucinate, or at least yawn.

Wanna talk about the character of Wade being extra? Let’s talk about how far the author goes to show how genuine and accepting he is. When describing how his crush is pretty much the only person in OASIS to have a female avatar to not have “the absurdly thin yet wildly popular supermodel frame, or the top-heavy, wasp-waisted porn starlet physique” we get the impression that his crush is genuine because he likes her for who she really is (35). First, the stereotype of almost everyone changing their body in such stereotypical ways is too much to even be called cliche; second, the fact that she is one of the few who break it is such a “she’s not like other girls” trope used to – third – show why Wade isn’t like other guys, because he likes the genuine girl. Also, he has a crush on her. No, not a crush, more like an unhealthy obsession, going so far as to keep a picture of her to look at. Next, lets look at her narrative: she gets helped (read: saved) by the protagonist for parts of the egg hunt, opens up about her personal life to someone she really doesn’t know and thus of course falls in love with him, breaks up with him to work on her own, then realizes what a great guy he is after the final battle and gets back together with him. Her journey revolves around realizing how genuine the main character is. Blegh.

I could talk about a LOT more: Halliday’s inconsistent, unimportant platitude to live in the real world, Wade’s lack of reaction about the deaths he caused by refusing Sorrento (wow look how alpha and determined he is!), their portrayal of internet culture with I-Rok and how the WORST aspects of the internet were staged in front of a cheering crowd without any deeper reflection (for heaven’s sake, they call him a retard and two derogatory terms for gay people without a blink of an eye), the constant insistence that just because Wade knows a lot about 80’s culture means that he somehow deserves to win the prize attached to the contest (does anyone remember how he wanted to spend it all on escaping Earth?), Halliday’s creepy and unrealistic, and seemingly justified obsession with someone who doesn’t like him, the total lack of anything but superficial character growth, predictable ending, the constant use of deus ex machina explained after-the-fact (oh he bought a tool to hack IOI’s network! and Pacman gave him the extra life!), the undeserved and superficial reference that turns out to be totally irrelevant of ““No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful,” (199), the constant spelling-out of references, and the amount of times that the book gives us the same exact piece of exposition over and over again (how many times have I read that about Halliday’s backstory?). Sure, this is all extra, but there are two more topics that I want to talk about in more depth.

The first is the reveal of Aech. I’ll start with the artistic decision to make her a checkmark for every victimized identity he could think of: female, black, lesbian, and heavy. This would be amazing if Aech’s character was actually influenced by her identity. Instead, we get a short backstory that seems to only explain why she has a van and why she doesn’t live with her parents. Before and after this, Aech’s identity DOES NOT MATTER. It impacts nothing, and we learn nothing more. Is Wade interested in how she feels about not representing her race/gender and thus not providing a good model of those minorities? Surely she has some opinion on that. What about how weird it is that she feels discrimination in the real world and not in OASIS? Or how her family feels about this? Or about how her behavior is sort of encouraging her to be ashamed about her identity? What about how she feels when people talk poorly about any of her identities in the game (what about when Wade calls I-Rok a twink or when I-Rok calls them fags?). There is a wealth of characterization here, and we don’t get more than two paragraphs about it before we return to how Wade feels about all of this.

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When Southpark gives their tokens a stronger racial identity than Ready Player One

All of this, all of her identity checks, backstory, possibility for characterization, is all just there to show that Wade is a good person and that he will still be friends with Aech despite this. F*ck that bs. I already disliked this book a lot, but this made me throw the book against the floor. Marginalized identities to a side character should not be used to make the main character look more accepting. They should not be used as just a plot twist. And they do not deserved to be ignored, as Wade so easily does by continuing to refer to Aech as a “he.” Does he ask her which pronoun to use? He couldn’t care less. How Wade wants to refer to Aech is all that matters, her identity is nothing more than Wade’s interpretation of it (much like how Cartman is treating Token in the picture above). But so, while for a brief moment there could be an interesting character in this book, is then taken away because the author really doesn’t want to explore the issue beyond how it can make the protagonist look tolerant. In short, the book is so extra in making Wade look genuine that it makes one of its characters fit every marginalized identity and explores it with as much brevity as possible to keep the focus on how Wade is so great for accepting Aech. This alone is pathetic enough to make me hate the book.

One more thing. The book is filled beyond the brim to ’80s references. The narrative is constantly interrupted with explanations about references, and many more are name dropped in there. This would be fine if there was more, but that’s it. There is no theme to connect everything. It’s just there, and it could easily be replaced with anything else and not change anything. The ’80s references are just there as wallpaper, having no significance beyond letting the reader feel good about remembering some references. What is significant about the ’80s that Halliday became obsessed with it? Why does it pervade everywhere? No reason, just that he was a kid there.

It’s more of a trivia challenge than something interesting. The author could have expanded upon how the escapism of that culture matches that of the OASIS, or it’s origin in the powerful economy of the ’80s and how that relates to their society, or something. Instead all we get is a list of things that people remember from the ’80s. And I didn’t care. Nothing about it was interesting.

In conclusion, this book isn’t so much suffering from a few flaws as much as it is filled to the brim with problems. That is why I can’t just find it fun. However, I don’t mean to offend anyone who did enjoy the book, since reading is a subjective and personal experience. I’m just suggesting that if you want to swim in this book’s water, don’t dive headfirst; brain injury may occur in shallow waters.

 

Hint about my username: Art isn’t easy. ___ is a major decision.

-EveryMinorDetail

What Else Can VR Do?

VR Games are incredible, even in their infancy. They give you a level of immersion that goes beyond anything that a standard television and monitor have and feature exciting controls that allows you to physically control your avatar as you do yourself. As such, the amount of variety and options that game developers have when making a game for VR is unrivaled. Beyond this, many other people are using VR to improve their work. In this post’ I’ll share with you one cool way that VR headsets are being used: Exposure Therapy.

Exciting, I know.

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That’s right, in this post we’re not heading to Disneyland, we’re really going to the doctors office!

First, let me explain what this is. Exposure Therapy is a method of safely allowing someone with a phobia to become increasingly comfortable in the presence of their trigger. This can be used for phobias, panic attacks, Social Anxiety Disorder, OCD, PTSD, and general anxiety. Therapists currently do this by gradually increasing the amount of exposure the patients get over time. However, it is difficult for patients to want to get therapy in the first place, hence having a real-life stimulus may not be ideal. Instead, using a virtual stimulus could be a great starting point for patients to begin Exposure Therapy.

For example, if you wanted to help someone overcome their overwhelming fear of crowds or talking on stage, you can situate them in a virtual crowd or stage and allow them to spend longer and longer periods of time being there and practicing helpful behaviors, like breathing deeply. In addition, this can allow them to get more and more accustomed to a PTSD trigger like a loud-booming noise (think fireworks) by putting them in situations that they can see in their virtual world. Because they never don’t experience the trigger outside the machine, and they can remove the VR system whenever they want, VR headsets would be an amazing tool to use during Exposure Therapy. Furthermore, they give the therapist an immense amount of control over how powerful the stimulus is (e.g. how busy the crowd is or how loud the fireworks are) to gradually work their way up.

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Okay, even I would be scared of this, and I’m not even that afraid of spiders.

After enough time in the VR headset, the next stage would be encountering the stimulus in real life, and gradually increasing their exposure. Of course, things like crowds or fireworks would be difficult to do without VR in the first place, which is also why VR Exposure Therapy could be so helpful.

Before you ask, yes, Exposure Therapy and the process of gradually accustoming people to their fears works. And it works a lot better than just having people face their fear without a gradual process. So while VR is an amazing upgrade for gaming, it can also provides a major step forward in both the scope and quality of Exposure Therapy. This might provide some hope, at least, for those who have good reason to fear that the VR market will not do so well. My hope is that with the extension into markets beyond just video games, Virtual Reality will become a reality in the future.

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Dave was now lost in his favorite game, blissfully unaware of the surgery happening directly besides him. Isn’t technology amazing?

-EveryMinorDetail

What does my Username reference? The answer is much more obvious on a Sunday.

Narrative Perspective in Remediated Stories

In class we talked about the interesting choice Peter Jackson made to show Gandalf’s story as it happened in scene instead of allowing him to retell it as exposition, like in the book. This allowed for the movie to have a faster pace using scenes and action, which works for this format because cinema does not have the time or much interest for slow-paced exposition dumps like books do. This is just one example of how the narrative perspective of a story changes between different medias; in looking at other remediations, we can look at how writers and directors either keep or change the narrative perspective and what this can tell us about the remediated stories and the media itself.

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This scene of Gandalf fighting Saruman is visually interesting and fits with fast-paced and visual media of film
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A scene of Gandalf narrating his fight to Frodo would just not work in a film for too long

In  keeping with the Lord of the Rings saga, the next remediation of interest to this class is The Lord of the Rings Online MMO, which changes both the actual story being told and puts it all in the perspective of one character. The Epic Quest line allows your character to help the Fellowship of the Ring without actually joining it, thus allowing for the story to fit in with the book’s canon without changing it. One interesting aspect about the MMO genre is that although the quests and plot is already set, each person has the option to choose whether they want to join a party and interact with other players, allowing all of them to be their character and make choices within the framework of the games’ quests. For example, they can do side quests, join a party, or make their own, thus crafting their own story.

One remediation that is close to my heart is Tom Tywker’s and the Wachowski siblings’ film Cloud Atlas, based on David Mitchell’s novel with the same title. Both works tell the story of six different characters living in different areas and time periods in a different fashion and rely heavily on remediation. Starting with the novel, six stories are told through different story-telling means (a journal, letters and a musical sextet, a crime-fiction, a postmodern autobiography, an interview that became canonical in post-apocalyptic era’s civilization, and a first-person narration), with every protagonist finding the previous protagonist’s first half of writing in their respective stories; finally, the book ends by completing the second half of the stories in reverse chronological order (such that the 6th story finishes 1st, and the 1st last). As such, although the various individual modes of writing are extremely transparent and very focused on the subjective experience of each protagonist, the work as a whole is abstract and really focuses on the themes common to each story.

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The journal entry section is composed of several entries from different days. The narrator’s confusion, remarks, and attitude come from the character himself.
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The story breaks color coded

It’s interesting that David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is called a novel, since none of the individual stories are presented in that form; instead, they are presented as autobiographical forms of literature (except the final story, which is oral story-telling). The book as a whole could have just been a narration of each character, but instead the story is presented as if the characters were telling you their own story; in this way, the novel can serve as a comment on the literature that it remediates- although a comprehensive analysis of this is beyond the scope of this blog post, I do have a feeling of what it may be: there is a stark contrast between feeling the subjective experiences of the characters from their intimate story of their life that I get from each story and the feeling of similarity between the immediacy and intensity with which each character describes their own story. Furthermore, since the protagonists follow a hero’s journey, the remediation of many different forms of literature may be a tool to show their underlying similarities.

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The movie poster shows the different characters and their respective environments together, almost as one, under an arc or light,

As if the novel did not have enough remediation, the film adds another layer by remediating that novel. Instead of showing half of each story then going back in reverse order, the directors stated that they cut the stories into segments, then combined the thematically similar segments together between each story; as such, the movie may go from the 3rd story portraying corruption and cut to the 1st story dealing with the same theme, then the 5th. The directors explained their choice to tell all the stories at once in terms of a restriction that their medium gave to them, since they believe that the audience would not want to see the first half of six stories then have those stories finished later, as it is in the novel. Furthermore, since each story has a similar Hero’s Journey arc for the protagonist, they would often scramble the various similar sections between stories together, such that we may see multiple characters from different stories crossing their relative thresholds and have the chance to appreciate their differences and similarities at each section of their journey. Finally, the film casts the same actor in multiple different stories, which adds a totally new layer to the theme of inter-connectedness that is unique to the medium but still captures the essence of the novel; since many of the same archetypes of characters appear in the different stories (from the slave or repressed victim fighting against the system oppressing them, the person helping them fight the system who is not oppressed by it, to the powerful agent representing that system), the use of casting actors in the same or different archetypes allows the whole film to have a meaning that is greater than its individual parts.

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Look at how many roles these 6 actors played! This is a great example of remediation using the features of a new medium to flesh out the theme of the story in a new way. By the way, Hugo Weaving (Elrond) plays a slave-ship trader, an assassin working for a corporation, an abusive nurse, an (evil) government officer, and a cannibal from a warring tribe- all the same archetype of the agent of a corrupted powerful organizations.

Although the film had no way to directly frame the whole story as a collection of letters or notes in a diary, the characters are often portrayed writing their story in their respective genre and some events are narrated from that mode. For example, the film showed a character writing a letter and narrating an event that happened off-screen and allowed the auto-biographer to narrate a short prologue to his story, as there is in his book. There is also one final change the film made: it included a 7th time period, consisting of the post-apocalyptic story’s protgonist and his love interest retelling the story of what happened to his grandkids over the campfire, thus making the remediated medium of his actually shown in scene, instead of implied by the books. I love this decision, since it makes the final story a retelling of his life, just as the other five stories are portrayed as a retelling of their lives in different personal modes. In all, the film is a remediation of a novel that remediates the autobiographical writing or narration of six different forms.

The last mode I want to talk about is the musical, which I believe has a special ability to portray what I call the simultaneous multiple 1st-person subjective narration. That was a lot, so lets parse it: 1-st person is telling the story as the focal character understands it, such as Nick in The Great Gastby or Frodo in the Ring trilogy; I use the term subjective to highlight how the narration is focused on what the character feels, rather than what they perceive; multiple means that the story switches between different perspective; and simultaneous means that characters are singing about their subjective experiences at the same time, often over, between, or with others.

A good example in a remediated show is “Now/Later/Soon” from A Little Night Music, which is a remediation of Ingmar Birman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night. In this song, three different characters sequentially sing about what how they feel and what they desire as the other two continue acting out the scene; finally, when the characters get so warped in their own internal experience, they start singing over each other such that it gets almost impossible to hear what each character is saying (despite the fact that it is mostly just repeating the words or sentiment of their previous individual singing); at any rate, just looking at the script from 8:19-9:22 is illegible if read as just the sequential order of the words:

I promise. When is later? As the sweet imbecilities
Soon, All you ever hear is Trip on my trouser leg,
I won’t shy away, “Yes, we know, Henrik, Stendhal elimanates A…
Oh, Henrik,
Dear old– Everyone agrees,
Henrik, please,
Henrik…”
Soon, As I’ve
I want to. Often stated,
Soon,
Whatever you say. When? But when?
Even now, Maybe Maybe

When you’re close Soon, soon, Later,
And we touch, I’ll be ninety When I’m kissing your brow
And you’re kissing And dead.
My brow And I’m stroking your head,
I don’t mind it I don’t mind it
Too much. Too much. You’ll come into my bed.

This technique puts equal weight on each character, thus emphasizing that they are all primary characters and that the scene unfolding on stage between them is important to each of their lives individually; furthermore, it gives the feeling that while each person’s desire when isolated seems rational, when combined in relation to what the other people want, it all becomes an incoherent mess. In framing the song to have the actors sing over each other with their own internal narration, Sondheim uses the technique of song and theatre to change the film’s script but keep its emotional essence.

Into the Woods: Journey, Remediation, & Hypermediacy

One of Stephen Sondheim’s most recognizable musicals is Into the Woods, which you may recognize from the movie version Disney made in 2014. The story involves various fairy tale characters, in addition to two modern ones in the Baker and the Baker’s Wife, who go into the woods in a quest to get what they want and come out happily ever after (or at least singing a song implying so); the second half has them going back into the woods and reexamining their old desires. So just from this synopsis, I can expand on how the show uses the theme of journeying, how it is a remediation of other tales, and how it plays with Hypermediacy in its production.

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The first act is a relatively simple tale of the characters’ journeys: it is plot friendly, about overcoming obstacles, poses only a slight moral dilemma, ends with all the characters, including the narrator, singing about how they have a happy ending (really, look at how joyful they all seem), and moralizes some simple tales that everyone has learned: “And we reached the right conclusions/ And we got what we deserved!”

Behind the happy-go-lucky surface, the philosophies of the protagonists are manically explained “To be happy, and forever,/ You must see your wish come true./ Don’t be careful, don’t be clever./ When you see your wish, pursue”  The underlying belief of these characters is the exact same as what it was in the beginning: to be happy, pursue your wish, explained as “Into the woods/ To get the thing/ That makes it worth/ The journeying.” Although the characters have taken a physical journey, and killed the wolf, slain the giant, avoided making the decision to commit to a prince, and completed the witch’s task, they have not grown as characters since they have not changed, only their circumstances have. While this may be fine for a children’s show (as shown by the success of “Into the Woods jr” which is just the first act of Into the Woods) Act II is here to change that.

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“Ever After” The Act I Finale song. PICTURED HERE, from left to right: Florinda & Lucinda (Cinderella’s sisters), Cinderella’s step-mom, Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother, The Other Prince, Milky White, Prince Charming, Cinderella, Jack (The Giant Killer), The Baker (not from any fairy tales), Little Red, The Witch, Jack’s mother, Cinderella’s Father, Rapunzel, Cinderella’s Father, Prince Charming’s Servant, and The Old Man. NOT PICTURED: The Baker’s Wife (I’m not sure why!), The Narrator (also played by The Old Man in the Forest), and the Wolf (also played by Prince Charming), with the two double roles serving as stylistic metaphors for the characters.

In the second half, the characters are forced to deal with their reckless desire to get what their wish. They go back into the woods because a giant is invading their realm, due to the various things that the characters have done – from Little Red taunting Jack to steal her harp, Cinderella carelessly throwing a magic bean away, and various other careless actions – and they eventually gather together and admit their blame in the present situation. Perhaps what makes act II about the journey and not the destination is the choices that the characters’ make: this is best exemplified symbolically when they sacrifice the narrator to the giant, signifying an end both to simple morals and having your decisions made for you.

10899216_835981286479889_77545087_nLikewise, a good exemplar for how the characters grow as a result of their journey is Cinderella’s ability to finally make a decision. Whereas in Act I her happy ending came as a result of deciding that she would rather be the object of desire rather then follow her own volition, as shown by her realization “I know what my decision is/ Which is not to decide,” when leaving her shoe on the steps of the palace, in Act II she finally makes her own decision by leaving her prince and following her own desires, not his. Only after being forced to reflect in the woods, rather than follow one plot point to the next until they reach their prize, do the characters finally change and sing “Careful the wish you make,/ Wishes are children./ Careful the path they take-/ Wishes come true,/ Not free.” As such, the second act reflects on the danger in rushing recklessly through your journey to achieve your ends.

As previously mentioned, Into the Woods is a remediation, in which the classic fairy tale structure, themes, characters (remember that first image?), narrator, and morals, are put into a medium of a musical. This is significant because whereas a fairy tale is short, plot-based, and is told to tell a simple moral, this musical is almost the exact opposite: it is long, the second half is character-focused, and gives a more complex moral message. As such, it is able to both really reflect on and criticize the motivation behind the characters, both in the songs that illuminate their character and the whole second half that extends their story. Since the characters are humanized, and their stories interact in new ways, it forces us to really examine these tropes as characters, and to question just how reckless the message of fairy tales are.

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The format of musicals allows for a character’s interior monologue to be their lyrics and expand the depth of their character, as shown from Cinderella’s pondering morality itself during beginning of her story.
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This also shows an expansion of his character, as it lets him reflect on his mistakes and his lifestyle in a way that a plot-oriented fairy tale does not. And really, who can blame Chris Pine- I mean this character?

 

It raises questions like “Does Cinderella actually like this prince and want to stay married to someone she knew for three nights, especially considering how desperate she was to go out of her old situation, how likely is it that she genuinely liked him instead of just accepted literally anything she could get?” and “Why should Jack not face any consequences for stealing from the giant,” and “How much can the prince actually love Cinderella after only dancing with her for three nights?” The answers that the musical raises are: She does not like him, Jack should feel guilt and lose someone important, and the prince just moved on to Sleeping Beauty when he got bored anyways.” As such, its remediation into a more contemplative art form allowed the show to critique the fairy tales it is based on.

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In addition, many of the aspects of the musical directly mirror aspects of a fairy tale. There is the infamous first song, a 13 minute piece with several characters singing “I Wish” multiple times throughout, as well as a laundry list of things they wish for; this phrase is common in fairy tales, since the characters are literally only defined by what they think they want (Cinderella = wish to escape, Little Red = Go to Grandmother’s house, Rapunzel = explore the world). Furthermore, the title of the show, which is also the most repeated words in the cast album, is a reference to Fairy Tales, as the woods often represent a place of adventure. Finally, characters like the narrator and the witch are both remediation of the style of how fairy tales are told (simplistically) and the main villain in multiple tales.

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These are the reasons why they go into the woods the second time, notice how after their first wish there was still trouble in their lives
may-bring-problems
Obviously, by the beginning of Act II, they have not learned or grown in their story arks very much.

Finally, the show plays on Hyper-mediacy: in the first half, the characters are almost caricatures, thus drawing attention to the fact that the audience is watching a play. And this works because it is supposed to be like a fairy tale, reflected by the simple, but unrealistic, world the characters live in and the set of the show. In the second they are presented as more real and having more complex motivations, thus making the show appear more transparent. Likewise, there are constant ironic references to Fairy Tale motifs, such as the three willow trees that bring them to the right path: the motif of three is common in fairy tales and allows Cinderella to find her way pack to her story; simultaneously, it reminds the audience that they are watching characters from a fairy tale, and so it makes the play more hyper-mediated in the same moment that Cinderella is able to find her story again. And finally, there is the infamous line “What am I doing here/ I’m in the wrong story!” sung by the baker’s wife in the middle of her climatic scene with the prince, thus drawing the audience out of the story while also illuminating the Baker’s Wife’s intelligence and her awareness of the social politics at play.

 

How to Play Braid: Cheating, Completion, & Company

Talking about Cheating, Therapy, and Completion in the post-modern platforming game Braid

The question every gamer has debated when stuck on the last challenge of a level: to cheat or not to cheat? Usually the idea of whether to cheat is usually understood in terms of entertainment: on one hand, cheating allows you to get past a part of the level that would otherwise take an additional three hours to complete ; on the other hand – as people claim – cheating ruins the fun since what’s the point of a game if you just cheat? (I would respond with saying that a game’s entertainment and narrative value is diminished when a player is simply unable to complete one aspect of 1000 that a game may comprise of- but this is for a separate debate). The question of cheating in Braid is significantly more complicated because both mechanics and the difficulty of using the mechanics to complete the puzzles add to the narrative; as such, one should ask whether cheating in Braid takes away from the narrative of the game.

Braid Walkthrough
Any game is easy with enough Google searches

At first, I believed the answer was simple: no, cheating diminishes the narrative, so I should not cheat to play Braid. Part of the narrative in the game is facing one’s trauma and not letting it control your life; the difficulty in getting puzzle pieces – the literal puzzle pieces that the character puts together in order to understand what happened in his past – mirrors the difficulty in facing traumatic events. As such, since cheating would relieve the difficulty, it would also lower the empathy one feels for the character and his difficulty with trauma, and as such should not be encouraged.

However, upon thinking again, I have a new belief. I think that on a meta level, cheating is sometimes acceptable in Braid. One of the common themes of trauma is needing support to help face it, and so video walk-through for a puzzle piece that one just simply cannot get could act as a metaphor for admitting help with trauma. As such, cheating as a last resort could fit with the game’s overall narrative. Maybe that’s part of why it is so hard, since the developer wanted people to work together to put the pieces together.

Another interesting video game mechanic that Braid uses is allowing its players to walk through the level with very little difficulty. The ease of simply breezing through life without reflecting on your past is literally displayed with the level design; yet the character cannot reach the true realization found on the top level or complete the game without getting the puzzle. Thus, using only mechanics and not narrative, it shows us how shallow and halting it is to simply walk through the motions of life without putting the pieces of your psyche together.

Braid Image.PNG
A very easy level for the un-reflective player

Finally, I think that the game’s mechanics makes it a great game to play with others, which allows the narrative of trauma to have another layer of meaning. As I said earlier, if cheating is like using a therapist, then playing with others is like being in a group therapy session. It reminds you that even if you cannot put the pieces of trauma together yourself, you are both not alone in your confusion and have friends to rely on.

My semester blog will give hints to why my account’s is EveryMinorDetail; this is my Easter egg, with the egg being the piece of art that I am referring to. This week’s hint is: Color & Light