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.

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

Braid, WHY YOU (sic) SO HARD!

I must admit, I don’t play online games very much. The last time I played a “legitimate downloadable game was when I was about 13- a game based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Other than that, my extent on gaming are mostly non-fictitious gaming titles, such as the Madden NFL Series. However, I have delved into the world of Halo when I used to play Halo Wars quite often. This game seemed noticeably different right from the start. Fairly quickly, you can tell that there is going to be a puzzle/strategic objective to the game when you find that your main objective is to collect puzzle pieces. Furthermore, once noticed that it’s a puzzle of usual means (putting actual pieces together), you’ll also eventually notice that there are quips here and there that add to the complexity of the game. Being used to just pressing X, Y, A, or B- having to deal with rewinding the game in ORDER to successfully complete each task was certainly not an easy task. In fact, I found that to be one of the more challenging aspects of Braid.

In being such a difficult game, my mind wandered to an academic write-up by Jesper Juul on the topic of what indeed makes up a game. Specifically, I thought of  the part referring to this idea of pleasure versus challenge. What is an appropriate ratio of pleasure, or- in better terms, level of easiness, accessibility and challenge. I mean, I would want a game to be challenging so that there is some worthwhile experience while paying the game, but making one so hard that it, again- at least for me, seemed nearly impossible to complete? That just didn’t seem sensible. Juul wrote, “Playing a game is an activity of improving skills in order to overcome these challenges, and playing a game is therefore fundamentally a learning experience.” I don’t mean to barrage you with quotes are academic jargon, but Juul went on to say that gaming is also a progression. Essentially, a game is needs to be challenging, yes, but not so that there can be no progression, no learning.

I will say that even if you are not an experienced gamer like I am, you may be able to tell that the narrative seems a bit grey. I mean, it’s basically the premise of almost every fantastical game in the history of the world. That is, a man trying to save a princess. You’ll notice there’s more to that- but I won’t give anything away.

Overall, I’m glad this was one of the first games I’ve played, as I’ve appreciated the level of difficulty of how some games could be- something that I think Juuls would appreciate as well.

 

 

 

 

Fiction and Reality

Starting off with Braid, we are faced with a very familiar looking platform game. While in the beginning, the game seems to be a take on the Super Mario Brothers game, as we delve deeper, we see that Jonathan Blow has used the seemingly simple platform to tell a far more modern and complex story. As with any platform game, the player goes through a series of levels to complete challenging puzzles. However, Blow’s placement of books at the beginning of each ‘world’ offer a much more exciting gameplay narrative, which gets increasingly complicated and ambiguous as the game progresses. The plot follows the story of Tim, who seems to have made a mistake regarding the princess and is trying to get her back. Each world gives us some hints as to what had happened. As I was reading through the description of the game, I was very surprised to see that they called it a “non-linear” game. This came as a big surprise as platform games, by nature, are linear. But as I played through the first couple of worlds, the presence of the books and the ambiguity present in the narrative of the game clearly pointed to a non-linear plot.

While being a story very similar to that of Super Mario Brothers, the game has a very self-reflective nature. Several themes of forgiveness, frustration and regret are scattered throughout the plot of the game creating some tension between reality and fiction. One thing related to this I found very striking was the fact that Tim seemed very out of place in the setting of the game. While the game is set in a place with castles and magic, Tim is dressed in a suit. At several points in the game, it felt as if the game was a way for Tim to escape the tragic reality and trauma of what he has gone through, especially when the different powers he gets aid him to redo many of his steps. I thought this was very point as often gamers play games to escape reality and the fact that the protagonist of the game is doing the same made for a very interesting experience.

New Clarity in Memory: How Braid Forces Us to Wade Through the Past

Our initial experience in the world of Braid may leave us with an impression of simplicity and straight-forwardness. We move to the right of the screen, like most platformers, and are greeted with a scenic backdrop and the promise of challenging levels and puzzles to solve. This sense changes as soon as we begin opening books and piecing together puzzles. As with any memory that we have, Tim’s memories become more convoluted and complicated the more that we delve in to them, and what seemed simple on the surface soon becomes an intertwined drama of perceptions of the past.

The first books that greet us in the game appear basic enough. Tim has made a mistake. Tim must rescue a princess from a monster. Tim’s memories have become muddled since he lost the princess.

As the books become less about exposition, they delve in to philosophical questions about romance, forgiveness, memory, and trust. It is easy to write off some of these notes as precursors of the powers that Tim will gain, but we should not be so hasty. Sure, one of the first books may tell us that we will be “rewarded for the learning, rather than punished for the mistake,” and this plays in well with Tim’s initial abilities to play back time, but there is much more at play here.

Each of these books gives us a small piece of Tim’s past, and, as we complete the puzzles, we are shown even more. This allows the player to construct his or her own narrative from the very basic pieces of the story that we are given. Players will move through the game with their own conception of how the narrative will play out, but as more books are unlocked, we are constantly challenged to redefine and reexamine the past that we have created in our heads.

For instance, our conception of the princess is entirely shaped by Tim’s interactions with the books, and the more he reveals about his idea of the princess, the more we are asked to redefine our own interpretation. Because of this, it is entirely reasonable for a player to revisit old levels and books to incorporate our new understanding with what we thought we had a hold on.

This sort of storytelling is very much unique to this sort of medium. While other styles of art have the potential for the viewer to return to older points to make sense of the present, the books in Tim’s world serve as constant pieces of the narrative that have to be returned to and pondered over, much like our own human memories, in order to be completely understood.

This effect is compounded by the player’s ability, in many instances, to completely skip any conflict in levels and move on, undeterred by the past. In order to fully complete the game though, we are forced to continually return to past levels and revisit the narrative from new perspectives. Many levels cannot be beat until later pieces of the puzzle have been acquired, asking the player to run past the sets of books many times and contemplate how all of the information fits together.

The answer to this question, is in the title. Memory in Braid is an overlapping and tangled blend of reality and perception that the player and subject must traverse, constantly learning new information only to the realization that it disproves what we took for granted. Past thoughts and new information overlap and twists together throughout the narrative, weaving the sort of  story structure that is only possible in this format. Much like our own memories, the more we revisit and reexamine the pieces of information in Braid, the more convoluted and intertwined the narrative becomes, and we realize how much individual recollections are influenced by perception rather than reality.

Heroes: A thing of the Past, or of the Imagination?

By A.A. BENJAMIN

Storytellers struggle to make whimsical what the world makes dull. We foster deeper understanding by exaggeration, by parable and metaphor, or by creating what we wish were happening when it really is not.

When renowned English texts like “Ulysses” by Lord Tennyson and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight begin with lamentations of the lost grand empires of heroism, I have to stop and think for a second…

Alice In Wonderland Confused animated GIF

Oh, that’s right! Storytellers…generally don’t care for reality. As a matter of fact, we generally don’t know what we’re talking about. The trick of our craft is to pretend that we do.

alice in wonderland animated GIF

Great storytellers exist because they are excellent observers, synthesizers and masters of their chosen method. Accuracy doesn’t fall into one of those requirements. Therefore, we can make an educated guess that epic storytellers like Homer of The Iliad weren’t on any battle fields whatsoever. So when we interpret Lord Tennyson’s poetry as commentary on how heroic lifestyle has disappeared in the Victorian era and been replaced by a more docile life, well…there were plenty of wars in Tennyson’s time to choose from. But because in real life there’s no Achilles waiting in his ship to take the Trojans down single-handedly, real wars always seem a little less awesome. In real life, men die without favor, without magic powers, and without luck. In real life, no one has the right to say that the man who died just wasn’t heroic enough.

The storytellers sitting behind computer screens are kind of in the same boat as the Homers. Though I recognize the extent to which storytellers go to experiment and experience the stories they create, sometimes we’re just full of it. So when we then sit before our digital playthings to exit our lackluster lives and take up the rifle of the bludgeoning Master Chief, update our Champion’s reputation in Middle Earth, or chase our interstellar Destiny, maybe the desire to be heroes comes from our pure lust for fantasy rather than nostalgia for the heroism of the past.

The real Pocahontas wasn’t this “grown and sexy” when she saved John Smith.

Games like Halo and Destiny put an interesting twist on this theory because they take place in futuristic settings. It creates a discourse with heroic civilizations of the past, posing a “heroes yet to come” question. However, it still leaves us sandwiched in the middle, as if we’re all just weaklings living safely in our double lives. Yet when we place the “glory days” in actual historical context, we find that those who lived in those eras would have rolled their eyes at our perceptions of grandeur. In my Classical Literature class we watched “Medieval Lives” where Terry Jones informed us that the great chivalric code of heroic knights was really just an attempt of the authorities to control what became a steel-clad blood-thirsty army. So NOT heroic.

Just as authorities struggle to implement decrees to improve our current state of life, so do storytellers implement dreams that attempt to surpass our current state of living. I wonder what the 41st century will come up with once they begin to confuse our dreams  with our reality.

Shadow of the Colossus Review

By Jo Kim

 

When I first heard that Shadow of the Colossus, a game that I enjoyed playing during the PS2 era, was getting a HD makeover, I was excited. On 2011, the game came out for the PS3. Not owning a Playstation 3 for my own, I had to go over to my friends to play the game occasionally. To say it bluntly, this game is one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played on a console.

 

 

First of all, for an action game, the controls give a slightly heavy feel for the players, meaning it isn’t your everyday upbeat action games. In another view, it also means that it is also a quite cumbersome game, as you have to find out the weakness of the colossus in order to defeat them. In a way, it’s even like solving a puzzle. The giant colossus (who are more than 100 times your size) fill the entire screen, and the player can feel the intensity  of the scenes. When you are hunting these colossus one by one, the immersion the player feels is out of this world.

In addition to the action packed boss fights (which are the only type of fights available in the game), the design of these colossus also play a large role in the players’ immersion experience. Starting from a flying eel-like colossus to a scorpion-like colossus that burrows under the arid desert, the colossus come in varying types and sizes. Each of these colossus looks so real and large that the players sometimes feel intimidated by them. Below is an example of what boss fights are like in the game (Note that this is only the 3rd boss out of the 14, meaning that it’s on the easier side).

 

In addition to its ingenious game play, the game also offers one of the best narratives in the industry. Unlike other games where the players have to deal with pointless side quests that seem to be non-related to the story whatsoever, Shadow of the Colossus only focuses on the boss fights. There are no side mobs, NPCs, nor quests. The game offers a straightforward experience to the players who just wants the story to get going.

Overall, I recommend this game to anyone that likes a good action and to those who love a great narrative within a game. The makers of Shadow of the Colossus, being the pioneers of the gaming industry with their iconic game, ICO, masterfully crafts a realm that the players can’t help but to fall in love with.