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.

intothewoodsobc

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.

19ff1e499f578cb6bf9b438d8286835d
“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.

4c1c75155831534c2b2fd3a20416f286
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.
download
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.

tumblr_noo5nhbbou1uupz0mo1_1280

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.

il_340x270-562429862_ruej
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.

 

Rushing Through The Journey

We embark on journeys of different lengths and purposes all the time, but we rarely stop to appreciate them. The journey is always seen as an obstacle to our goal, something we must go through to get what we want. Even when we get to the end we are not satisfied because there is always something more to strive for. I often find myself racing towards a goal without really paying that much attention to the process of getting there. However, reaching the goal doesn’t instantly make you satisfied. There is always another goal to strive for because without a destination you are just aimlessly wandering through life. In “Ithaca” Cavafy writes

“But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you’re old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.”

emphasizing the need to slow down and appreciate the journey that is life instead of just racing towards a goal. On the rare occasions when I do stop and take a minute to enjoy what I am doing I am much happier and can interact more with those around me. When I move towards my goals at a slower pace and focus on the journey instead of the destination I can take in more of my surroundings and see many things instead of just one. This need to slow down and appreciate what is happening can also apply to a book like Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings. Since it focuses on a journey, the book spends a long time on each part and forces you to slow down and see the entire journey instead of quickly skipping ahead to the destination. You could skip ahead yourself to see what happens at the end of the book but then you wouldn’t get to enjoy the journey that the story takes you on. What use is knowing the ending if you don’t get to experience the how the characters got there and how they grew and interacted along the way? You can find the ending to almost anything you can think of online but it can’t replace reading the book, playing the game, or watching the movie. In many of the puzzle style games I often play the goal is to solve the puzzle and get to the end of the game. Looking up walkthroughs can get you to that goal quicker but reaching the destination of your goal isn’t fulfilling on its own. The path you take to get to the end is the part of the game that is fun and once you reach it you can’t keep playing or get any more satisfaction unless you want to retrace your steps and repeat the journey. It is much more satisfying to enjoy the journey for what it is instead of just focusing on the destination or goal at the end.

Learning to Play

For full effect, please play this.

A lot of people have games that they consider integral parts of their childhood.  As we have discussed in class, for a lot of people this game was Pokemon.  For others, Super Mario Bros or the Zelda series were the cornerstones in their gaming careers.  For me, that game was Morrowind.

For those who are not familiar with Morrowind, it is the third game in The Elder Scrolls series, and the first that was (and still is) widely discussed online.  The Elder Scrolls games are a set of fantasy RPG’s with immersive lore, a fully fleshed out game world, and multiple races (based on, but not copying, standard RPG races) you could play as.  Released by Bethesda in 2002, Morrowind served as a bridge between the first two games, which were both incredibly hard and not very user friendly, and the last two games, which, while still occasionally challenging, adopted standard RPG aids like a compass and quest markers.  Instead of these, Morrowind had a quest journal the player can consult, but besides that must find their way to quests through good old directions given by NPC’s.  As such, this seems like a very odd game for a young teenager like myself, especially one not well versed in games, to choose.

An example of the stunning graphics Morrowind had to offer.  Source

I think the reason Morrowind, and for that matter gaming in general, ended up being so important to me was because it represented time I got to spend with my father.  My dad was in the military, so he was sometimes deployed for months at a time and frequently called away to meetings for a few days at a time.  As such, I didn’t really get to spend as much time with him as I would have liked.  However, when he was home, one of the things we loved to do together was for him to play a game and for me and my twin sister to watch him play it.  I know it sounds like kind of a weird thing to do, but since he loved lore-heavy RPGs like Morrowind it was kind of like watching a really, really long movie where you could kind of, sort of convince the main character to do what you wanted him to do.

I’m sure we made quite the picture: a gruff army man sitting in his chair, staring intently at the computer he was playing on, with two excitable children bouncing around behind him, telling him to go do this quest or go talk to this person.  Eventually, however, just watching my dad play these games wasn’t really enough for me.  I wanted to play these games for myself.

Ironically, as a kid I wasn’t really allowed to play too many video games, and my parents (mainly my mom) weren’t about to support a possible gaming habit by buying me a console (Luckily, they later changed their minds).  As such, instead of the child-friendly Nintendo games many grew up with, I ended up mostly playing old PC games that my dad was done with on our family computer.  This is where I truly fell in love with Morrowind.

The beautiful character creation screen found in Morrowind. Source

When I first started playing Morrowind, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.  The good thing was I didn’t need to. Vvardenfell, an island that makes up the majority of the province of Morrowind and the main setting of the game, was so immersive that I was simply content to wander around, talking to literally everyone I saw and generally getting nothing done. In all honesty, I had probably created at least two or three characters, starting over the game each time, before I even left the starting city of Seyda Neen.

Seyda Neen wasn’t exactly a big town… Source

Once I got into it, though, I really got into it.  Because even my tiny child self was a completionist, I tried to get every single side quest in the game done, ignoring the main quest in the process.  I wandered from town to town, joining all of the guilds and collecting all of the quests, dying frequently and leveling up in a way that hardcore gamers would probably have cringed at.  I never did finish the main quest line, but that didn’t really matter to me.  What mattered was that my character, and by extension me, really felt like a part of that world, a world that was shared by both me and my father.

Morrowind is still one of my favorite games, and I feel like I would not have developed as much as a love for RPG’s as I have without it.  In all honesty, writing this while listening to its awesome soundtrack has made me really want to play it again, but this time actually try to beat it.  What about you guys-what games would you consider to be an integral part of your childhood?  Why do you think that is?  Thank you for reading and I look forward to reading your comments below!

Cavafy’s “Ithaca” and The Video Game Arms Race

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Don’t get caught up in this damn World of Warcraft arms race,” he told me. “You’ll only lose sight of why you enjoy the game in the first place.”

He was referring to the fact that in World of Warcraft, a game that we played together when I was younger, the developers constantly released new, awesome material that required your constant attention and dedication in order to master. A lot of this came in the form of high end “gear,” or equipment that would grant bonuses to a player’s abilities. Once you got towards the end of the new content, you might get diminishing returns on your investment in terms of stats, but it was still noticeable, and a lot of players still grind out countless hours for the sake of becoming a tiny bit stronger. I was one of those players.

lock-image

Though my old account has long since been deleted, this is some of the stuff I was working with. You tend to have a lot of free time when you get grounded as a teenager, and oh lord could WoW use every bit of it. There was a never-ending stream of items, equipment, skills and mounts to obtain and master. I’d spend a lot of time going through the same dungeons and events over and over in the hopes of getting some gear that I hadn’t gotten yet, half for my own abilities in the game and half for pride.

My dad would notice my reaction when I’d lose some sort of achievement that I wanted, and he’d usually get on me for not enjoying the game itself. You know, cuz that’s kinda the point of a game. I’d spend most of the time that I played with my dad looking forward to simply getting loot, losing track of what was most valuable about that time with my dad.

One of our favorite dungeons was called Karazhan; it was an old castle filled with all sorts of magic creatures and haunting spirits who held strong items and fun challenges.

This is but one of them, as our heroes attempt to defeat the actors in the play. The play changes between three random options, and in this one they try to defeat the Big Bad Wolf as he spontaneously chases random members of their party, who are designated as “Little Red Riding Hood,” all the while screaming “Come here little girl!”

Totally fun, right? I missed out on a lot of the pure enjoyment of the game because I was too concerned with the end result. Another good example comes from the final boss of Ulduar, an ancient Dwarven city dedicated to the mystical Titans who created this world.

th

Besides the innovative combat, the stunning location and graphics, and the numerous challenges present for players, Ulduar offers some of the most expansive and immersive lore that I’ve ever encountered as a gamer. Hours of gameplay must be dedicated to reach this point, and we are given a lot of incredible story line along the way that culminates in our showdown with Yogg-Saron. This encounter is both extremely challenging and totally fun, but I spent most of this time worrying about what loot he was going to drop.

Had I not, I might have enjoyed the game as it was meant to be played. I couldn’t tell you now all the stuff that my characters possessed in this game, or even how much time I spent acquiring it. However, I can’t describe the nostalgia that I got when looking up videos to put in this blog. Each of them brought back individual memories with my dad, or they reminded me of how much fun I had immersing myself in one of the great games of our time.

This is all to say that we should take the message of Cavafy’s “Ithaca” to heart, especially in gaming. If we start to stress too much about the end goals of the game, or keep chasing minor achievements and a minuscule leg up on other players, then we start to lose the reason that we play games like this in the first place.

Pokemon GO(ing down)

This may or may not be another controversial comment on my part. Either way, they’re my opinions on why Pokemon GO has probably peaked and won’t see anywhere near their huge rates of play again.

First, the game was very much a beneficiary of the bandwagon effect. It easily would not have been as popular if it were just based on individuals taking to themselves, but with public spaces with multiple stops having from tens to hundreds of people hanging around, talking in groups about their Pokemon and what they were seeing, and some people getting into it having never played any Pokemon game before because their cousins, siblings, children were. But that’s a scary marker if you’re interested in longevity – crazes end fairly quickly, and Pokemon GO’s certainly has.

Second, the game is having trouble even with users who at least were fairly dedicated previously, as the lack of promised features like tracking make finding rare Pokemon much more difficult. The existence of PokeVision made life easier for a lot of people – they would be able to search their areas for the rare Pokemon they saw on the broken tracking feature, and then go out to find it. Yet Niantic has requested these third party groups to take down websites like these, to “prevent cheating.” Given there is no real high-risk/reward competition in Pokemon GO (the design of gyms causes them to change hands incredibly frequently), cheating is fairly irrelevant in any case.

My last point is that Niantic doesn’t seem as capable to efficiently handle these issues and push past their scheduled releases. The Buddy system was apparently released yesterday (though I don’t seem to have it active on my phone yet), but the majority of users are still without a tracking feature – something that has been an issue since two weeks out of the game’s release. Given that it’s been now two full months and they still haven’t implemented their fix universally, and have had the third party workarounds for it shut down, it almost feels like they don’t care. I won’t say that’s true, but with something that increased so much in size and was instantly profitable, it surprises me that they didn’t allocate more resources to have more timely releases for fixes, etc.

I won’t say that I don’t like the game. I do, and my hours and hours of play time can attest to that. I wouldn’t have gotten all the way to level 22 without enjoying it, but it is frustrating trying to be patient with a game that isn’t necessarily broken but is certainly not complete. When Niantic fixes the game, I’ll probably come back and put many more hours into it, but until then I’ll be another user that’s moving further and further from the game.

Pokemon Go Ruined Pokemon for Me

As a young child, I was part of the generation that was swept up with the original Pokemon. I had dozens of cards which I kept pristine in a collectors book, and I had tiny little action figures of Ash and Misty which I played with while I cuddled with Togepi, a stuffed version of an egg creature from Pokemon, who trilled when squeezed.

31lma3j7ohl
(photo credit: amazon.com)

I was obsessed with Pokemon, but there was one problem, I was not allowed to watch it. My parents were very strict about what I was allowed to watch, and Pokemon did not make the cut as it held no educational value. So I played with the merchandise but never saw the original source, and as time went on, I moved on to other toys.

Fast forward over a decade later, and I read an article about a new Pokemon game coming to my phone, where I can catch Pokemon in real life! I downloaded it as soon as it was available, and I was overwhelmed with nostalgia as I watched the Pokeball bounce around on the loading screen. I was a bit nostalgia-drunk from the experience, and realizing that I am now an adult who can do whatever I like (haha not really), I decided to finally watch the original show that had been banned to me all those years ago. Netflix had caught on the trend so the entire original series was available to watch on the platform. So I popped some popcorn and settled in for what I expected to be a pleasant experience dripping with nostalgia. As the title song played, I nodded along smiling. As the show progressed, the smile slowly faded, and even nostalgia could not save it.

I hated it. That’s right. I hated the show. The Pokemon were extremely cute, but I could not help but cringe as they were forced to fight each other, often resulting in an injury severe enough to land them in a Poke-Hospital. These cute little creatures were captured only after they had been weakened by battle, and they sat in a Pokeball until the Pokemon master let them out to fight other Pokemon. If these had been animals, I would have called the police for animal cruelty. Indeed, what I felt like I was watching was the equivalent of cartoon dog fights. Even though it was entirely fictional, I couldn’t help but feel sick on how the Pokemon were treated, and how they still were so loyal to the person who captured them.

I cried watching the show. Yes I admit it. It may seem ridiculous, but this scene (starting at 8:45) had me balling like a baby. I quit watching the show soon after.

The Pokemon Go game lost all appeal to me soon after. I admired the concept, but every time I caught a Pokemon, I saw poor Charmander desperately trying to keep his flame dry while waiting in the rain for the master who abandoned him (if Charmander’s flame goes out he dies). So ended my love affair with Pokemon, my quest for nostalgia brought on by Pokemon Go only lead to pain and disappointment.

 

DOTA and the MOBA: A Premier on the Most Valuable (and toxic) Community in Gaming Today

Last week, Dr. Clayton concluded a class by showing us what competitive gaming has become today: a segment largely dominated by MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) and an FPS known as CounterStrike: Go. For this blog we’re going to focus on MOBAs due to the interesting (TOXIC) culture that games of this nature create.

MOBAs are 5-on-5 team versus team games that rely on players taking on specific roles (mainly carry, support, caster, jungler, and off-lane). Teams must get gold to buy items, level up to get abilities, and push through the enemy team’s defense towers to their throne in order to win, these games take anywhere from 20-70 minutes to complete. The roles are denoted by the character you choose to play, these games commonly have over 50 characters with their own unique abilities, playstyles, and item builds. Let me breakdown the roles:

Carry: These characters often start the game as the weakest (squishiest) members of the team, who constantly need to be “babysat” (protected) by their team, mainly by the support. Over time, if allowed to get gold, and acquire items, they quickly become the most powerful characters in the game, “carrying” their team to victory. They almost always go to the safe-lane (the lane is longer for their team and shorter for the enemy, therefore “safer”).

Support: Protector of the carry, and whole team, their job is to make sure their team doesn’t lose the first 30ish minutes of the game. Generally they mainly buy support items that can either heal their teammates or weaken their enemies. They are also the “warders” of the team, meaning they buy what the uninitiated would consider “security cameras” to show the team enemy positions on the map. Can either roam around the map helping where needed or stick exclusively to the carry

Caster: Generally the one who will carry the game if the carry is underfarmed (has little items) or if they outplay the enemy caster significantly. They go middle lane, which is the shortest lane in the entire game, but equal for both sides.

Jungler: Farms in the jungle, will flank enemies who go to deeply into friendly territory and score a “gank” (team ambush). They jungle to give the off-laner an experience advantage.

Off-laner: Mostly a flex slot that can double as another carry type of role, or as an additional support to the team. They go into the off-lane which is always the enemy team’s safe lane.

Overwhelmed yet? You should be. Often players specialize in a role, and even then, have a specific pool of characters that they favor playing. The diversity of roles and characters give MOBAs their notorious infinite learning curve, it’s a game that you are constantly learning in, which can be appealing, but also extremely unforgiving. I won’t even try to dive into the mechanics that one needs to learn to even play the game at a basic level or you’ll be reading all night.

Because of the unbelievable complexity of the game, experiences  with the random teammates (the majority of players play alone) you match with vary from ok to mindnumbingly awful. Players can and will get matched with players who either don’t want to collaborate, aren’t at the same skill level, or just want to troll their entire team. Having team sizes of 5 players leaves a lot of room for players like this to ruin games, turning 30 minutes matches into 60 minute marathons that you may still lose. The games are so skill-based that having one player who is either unwilling or unable to play well will often lose the whole team the game. As a result of this common occurrence,  communities in MOBA games like League of Legends, Dota 2, and Smite are known for having the most “toxic” players in all of video gaming. Here is an example of someone screenshotting their first game in Dota 2:

 

Warning: Profanity and toxicity

Image result for sample toxic chat from dota 2

The interesting dissonance with the toxicity of the community is the incredibly addicting nature of the MOBAs themselves. People eat these games up, millions watch streamers play these games for hundreds of hours a month, and the competitive scene has teams from around the globe compete for millions of dollars. You read that correctly. Don’t believe me? Here. It’s a sensation that the business community is quickly realizing is the next UFC, a niche entertainment segment that can and will grow to be a billion dollar market. Don’t believe that hundreds of thousands watch these games? Go to twitch.tv and look at most viewed games, the top 5 will contain League of Legends and Dota 2 100% of the time. Does it seem logical that these games are as profitable and addicting as they are? No. Does it seem logical that Donald Trump could potentially become the President of the United States–Until next time friends.

 

-Tom