That Dragon, Cancer, and the Role of Crowd Funding

Even a quick glance at the home page for That Dragon, Cancer reveals the origins of the game. While originally a small-time endeavor, many donations through Kickstarter, a crowd funding website, allowed the game to achieve the style and recognition that we see today. It’s not surprising, then, to see the home page for the game littered with messages giving thanks to those who have donated and multiple options for more people to buy the game. There are also links to the corresponding documentary and soundtrack. All of this may seem to some like monetizing a terrible event, but I think we can view all of this as some sort of coping mechanism, and a sincere desire for parents to share their story with anyone wanting to sympathize.

What I find really interesting about this entire process is what this could mean for the future of some indie game developers. To a genre of gaming that inherently struggles more with funding than the big producers, could the sort of crowd funding exhibited by That Dragon, Cancer become a new venue for success? The critical acclaim might indicate so, but we should be mindful of some of the issues facing future games that decide to try this method, especially if they employ the same sort of gameplay as That Dragon, Cancer.

In game, notes like these were created by those who donated to the game’s creation.

Though the route to success for That Dragon, Cancer may not be indicative of any trend, if there are future games looking to find funding in this way, they must be mindful of legal challenges to some past crowd funded endeavors. According to Kickstarter’s Wikipedia page, some of their recently funded projects have run in to issues over copyright, fake contributors, and even rights to certain aspects of the product once it has been funded.

That DragonCancer, also allows for people to experience much of the game without actually buying it. The game’s page mentions that there are several “Let’s Play” videos for the game that allow viewers to watch someone else play the game and experience much of the action themselves. This particular game suffers more from this aspect than most, I think, since the actual action of playing the game is rather barren, and someone could get a lot of the narrative and metaphorical impact simply from watching someone else. Future producers will have to make some sort of choice in this matter, knowing that some will donate to their cause, but others may find alternative routes to experience the game play.

What do you all think? Will we see more games attempt funding through Kickstarter or other sites? What sort of issues might arise?

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.

This scene of Gandalf fighting Saruman is visually interesting and fits with fast-paced and visual media of film
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.

The journal entry section is composed of several entries from different days. The narrator’s confusion, remarks, and attitude come from the character himself.
Cloud Atlas Boook Structure 3.png
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.

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.

CloudAtlas Actors.jpg
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,
Soon, As I’ve
I want to. Often stated,
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.

Interacting with Fiction

What makes a game a game? A game can be almost anything that has rules that define how to play and how to reach the end of the game. However, there are many games that feel more like an interactive story or experience than the traditional idea of a game. This is the case with That Dragon, Cancer where the main mechanic is to point and click on different locations and characters in order to interact with them and advance the story. Aside from a few mini games to illustrate the fight they are in against the cancer, the game acts like an interactive story. Each click leads to a scene that plays out in front of you through dialogue, letters, and limited movement. In order to advance the story you have to take in your surroundings and listen to what the characters are saying. After playing the game many of my classmates expressed that they disliked the game with some of them pointing out the lack of interactivity as a reason that they did not enjoy playing it. Personally, I liked the game and felt that this game style fit very well for an emotionally charged game like That Dragon, Cancer where more free input from the player would have detracted from the story that the parents wanted to tell. Instead of the controls getting in the way of the story it allows you to experience the game at your own pace without any extra factors such as camera angle or free player movement to distract you. However, I can see why many of my classmates would not like the game particularly since many of the games I have enjoyed that were interactive stories or contemplative experiences were much shorter and That Dragon Cancer is very long. For example, The Temple of No only takes 15-20 minutes to complete depending on which route you choose and The Plan is only 5 minutes long, allowing you to control a fly as it journeys upwards through the trees. The Temple of No is a game that is almost entirely text based though it has some illustrations and music for certain scenes. It is also an example of how games that are story focused can vary widely because it is very sparse with graphics and sound where That Dragon Cancer has very beautiful graphics and many of the scenes are told in voice overs from the parents. 

On the other hand, The Plan has very nice graphics and the story is based only on your movement and is directed by the music since there is no written story you are following.ss_46464261147b27033478ada0c7962f8bf7edac20-600x338

Each of these games feature very simple controls that help to drive their story or the experience they are trying to show you. In fact, That Dragon Cancer utilizes these simple controls to pull you into the story and encourage reflection to ensure that you feel the full impact of Joel’s life story.

Make (AAA) Video Games Great Again

Being a business-minded person (ironically majoring in English), it hurts to me to see the state of AAA titles, or titles that have major (designer) studios and massive budgets behind them. I’m not going to try to make this a nostalgic, grass is greener type of post, but there has been an undeniable decay in quality titles. I attribute this to a variety of factors, the foremost being the push of financial interests overwhelming any sense of artistry for designers and storytellers. Many famous studios since the seventh generation of consoles (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) have become “sell-outs” pumping out sequel, after sequel each year, releasing incomplete, glitchy games and selling them for $60 a pop. Why, you might ask, do they have the audacity to release half-baked titles? Because the seventh generation of consoles introduced the ability to PATCH games. Patching means they essentially offer online updates that you download straight to your console. In its best use, it fixes gamebreaking bugs that play testers missed, at worst it allows developers to meet their deadlines on products and just update it later.

From a studio standpoint, tension has grown between “hey, we’ve got this $100 million dollar game brand that’s super valuable, lets leverage that and sell it again, slightly different, for the full price!” and “hey, lets create something new and original, and see where it goes!” The operative term for this phenomena is risk.

Risk has always been an important facet of success in game development, people conceptualize all kinds of unique, wacky ideas, and generally if their team was behind them, they would get to work. Now, most big conglomerate video game companies have acquired these studios and have essentially told them to take far less risk, and to design titles that encourage the customers to spend even more cash on downloadable content. My favorite example of taking a unique idea and injecting old fashioned corporate greed is Evolve. Evolve took a unique concept, one player plays as a massive powerful monster trying to evolve (lol) and destroy the planet or kill the hunters. 4 other players pick hunters, categorized by roles, in order to combat the titanic beasts. Sounds interesting right? Check out this cool screenshot:Image result for evolve

It’s a AAA title that had a lot of unique promise to it. But then, on day 1 (yes, ONE, UNO, EINS) of its release, it launched with approximately $136 in buyable, downloadable content for players in the form of new characters and monsters…

Developers all started out in the same place, getting into game development either out of the interest in the challenge, or true love of creating stories and entertaining the masses. As soon as the sixth generation of consoles, that is, the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube era, each platform had incredible AAA products come out, these games were complete because they had to be, you couldn’t issue software updates to any game-breaking glitches. Releases had multi-year gaps between them, meaningful space to respect their current offerings, and to properly develop their newest titles. Now, we have this:COD.jpg

COD Youtube.png

You really gotta ask yourself: what’s going on?


Robert Browning and Tolkien- Dark and Mysterious

robert_browning_sml   In looking at this past week, a large focus was on comparing the video game realm Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) to texts such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings- Part 1- Fellowship of the Ring a poem by Robert Browning.

Our class focused on Robert Browning’s Poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.” This poem has a particularly dark, almost agrarian style attached to it, referring to many icons that are thought of to be “medieval” of sorts. Specifically, Browning discusses icons such as castles, treasures and the mention of the name Giles- which may be an allusion to Giles Corey- a name that I will get to later in this discussion. Synonymously- in John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, there is discussion of towers and a treasure of some sort with regards to the actual ring.

Looking at stanza three in  Browning’s poem, it reads,

“If at his counsel I should turn aside                                                                                                   Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower.”

This seems to be describing Roland could not find anyone reliable to count on- and to find someone worthy to be with is as difficult as finding one’s way through a dark tower at night. It seems to point out the struggles that of finding one’s way.

In comparison, looking at Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, he writes,

“The Dark Tower had been rebuilt, it was said. From there the power was spreading far and wide, and away far east and south there were wars and growing fear. Orcs were multiplying again in the mountains.”

What is entailed here lies the discussion of trying to navigate one’s way through the land combined with the unknown brought about from war and unrest- not to mention the mountains that Tolkien describes- creating another barrier, element of mystique.

Looking at stanza 17, Browning writes,

“Giles then, the soul of honour – there he stands
Frank as ten years ago when knighted first,
What honest man should dare (he said) he durst.”




Here lies an allusion of the man Giles Corey. Giles Corey was accused of witchcraft in Salem, MA and was pressed to death by stones. Another dark connotation and entails a discussion of morality and telling the truth, and the consequences that result from not doing so in the eyes of one’s peers.


source: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Giles Corey of Salem Farms,” in . Houghton Mifflin Boston, 1902. Artist John W. Ehninger, 1880, p. 752.

Ever, Jane: Mansfield Park and MMORPGs

Every MMORPG I’ve ever played has had murder as a basic and essential game mechanic. Need to complete a quest, advance a level, acquire an item? Better go kill a dozen wolves/bandits/pirates/mages so that you can get enough exp/gold to… buy more powerful weapons and kill stronger wolves/bandits/et cetera. Even in Lord of the Rings Online’s Shire area has kill quests – there are hobbit-suited quests like delivering mail and avoiding nosy neighbors, but there are also assignments to kill bears and slay wolves, even if the books themselves say it’s been generations since wolves appeared in the Shire. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this style of gameplay, but it’s become so ingrained into the MMO experience thatI I’ve come to assume it’s essential.

Enter Ever, Jane, an online roleplaying game currently in open Beta that is based on the novels of Jane Austen.


The village of Tyrehampton. Screenshot from Ever, Jane.

Yes, Jane Austen. Set in Austen’s vision of early 19th-century Regency England, Ever, Jane allows players to create a character who – instead of climbing levels and increasing their strength, defense, HP, and other familiar stats – will develop traits called Status, Happiness, Kindness, Duty, and Reputation. Instead of kill quests, players may embark on ‘stories’ with or without the help of other players. As the game’s website says, “It’s not about kill or be killed but invite or be invited. Gossip is our weapon of choice. Instead of raids, we will have grand balls. Instead of dungeons, we will have dinner parties.”

Unlike Lord of the Rings Online, where roleplaying is only encouraged and required on specific servers, roleplaying appears to be the heart of Ever, Jane: players are encouraged to stay in-character at all times, build storylines with other players, and adhere to role-playing etiquette. However, the game’s stories and character traits introduce more traditional elements of gameplay that players of other MMORPGs might expect. Balls and dinner parties act like special events (or exclusive dungeons) where a player must meet certain requirements to enter; mini-games will simulate era-appropriate pastimes which help increase stats. Instead of slaying your enemy in PvP, you can ruin their reputation with gossip.

I was impressed with the creators’ passion to translate the experience of Jane Austen novels into a gaming experience — especially an MMO. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for instance, lends itself easily to action and adventure. To adapt Austen’s works the creators needed to challenge the basic notions of what an MMORPG is and cut away the stereotypes of the medium to get to the heart: community.

An online game based around Jane Austen novels might sound like a niche product, but it’s a niche with an enthusiastic fan base: during the game’s Kickstarter campaign, 1,600 backers pledged $109,563. As the game passes through its Open Beta and into full launch, it will be interesting to see which classical MMORPG elements will be integrated and altered to suit the game’s goals and which won’t be invited to the dinner party.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Is it really an allegory?

To be honest, the first time I read The Lord of the Rings, I didn’t think that it could be allegorical of anything at all. It was a highly fictional world with Elves and Dwarves and Magical Rings that are just too imaginative to be part of the real world. To me, Lord of the Rings was nothing more than the product of Tolkien’s fantastic imagination and dedication towards creating such a detailed world. All I saw was a writers’ great enthusiasm towards the concept of this imaginary world in which all the creatures from the fairy tales we all have read live together.

To be fair, I was 15 at the time so I’m not surprised to see how my recent readings of this series has completely changed its meaning – not going to lie, I enjoyed my first reading far more than my recent ones, just because I was able to immerse myself into this fantastical world and almost become a part of the story. In recent readings, however, I have been much more aware of what is actually happening in the story and have often connected aspects of it to the real world. By doing so, I did cut out on some of the fun of reading it, but my recent readings of the series have been far more memorable, just because they now feel a little more realistic.

In the foreword, Tolkien bluntly states that “The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.” In short, THIS BOOK IS NOT ALLEGORICAL OF ANYTHING – And my first reading of this book is representative of exactly this. As the story progressed, I went along with Frodo and Sam on their quest and felt the same things as they would have felt – the book most definitely held the attention of its readers. What really strengthens this idea that Lord of the Rings is purely fictional is that Tolkien just didn’t stop at this book, but wrote almost 12 more books on the history and lore of Middle Earth. He was just trying his best to make a complete fictional world.

However, at this point it’s just difficult for me to think that this book (and all the books preceding or following it) does not pull from the events around Tolkien in his time. The overlaying themes of good versus evil is something that was (and is) highly prominent at the time given that this book was written shortly after the first World War and was followed by the second World War. The number of parallels that can be drawn between the book and the state of the world at that time make it very difficult to agree with the fact that this book was written as pure fiction. Sure, the book is not a direct allegory of real events such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which it is clear that each character represents a person in the real world, but it is most definitely not pure fiction.

Looking at the allegorical aspects of Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s comments about how the book was not intended to be allegorical of the war, one question that came to my mind was that can anything be pure fiction? Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings during a time of great social and political turmoil and it is hard to think that those ideas were not part of his subconscious while writing the book. It is extremely difficult not to include aspects of the real world in writing and almost impossible to not be influenced by what is going on around you. In my public speaking course, we have been talking about informative speeches and how it is necessary to be unbiased in such speeches. During our discussions, I realized that it is really difficult not to include any of your own opinions to be part of your speech in one way or another. In the same way, I’m certain that Tolkien definitely had some opinions on the state of the world at that time, and at some point some of these ideas were bound to bleed into his writing. Perhaps, this is why he states that the book was not intended to be an allegory, but the ideas presented in the book are highly applicable to the real world and this is just a result of some of his own opinions being reflected in his writing. Taking a look at another ‘fictional’ series, Harry Potter once again deals with highly imaginative topics such as wizards and fantastic beasts. However, it is quite often debated that this series too has some allegorical aspects with respect to religion. Similarly, in The Lord of the Rings, themes that are shared with christianity are seen throughout the book, and I think it’s very possible that his interactions with C.S. Lewis could have been a contributing factor to that. After all, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is full of references to the Bible.

In the end, I agree with Tolkien on the statement that The Lord of the Rings was not written as an Allegory to the second World War, Christianity, or any of the many other ideas and themes that this book parallels. It was written as an attempt to entertain and excite readers and it does exactly that. However it is nearly impossible to write any work without being influenced by the culture and society around you and The Lord of the Rings is a result of the events happening around the time it was written, blending into it. However, this actually doesn’t take away from the book but in fact, adds to it. By adding aspects to it that are representative of the real world, readers are able to connect with the book at a deeper level as they are familiar with the concepts being dealt with. It allows the readers to relate to the events taking place in the book and in some ways enhances their experience as the delve deeper into the world that the author has created for them.