The Fellowship’s Early Chapters

In contemporary fantasy and science fiction writing, it is ubiquitous to employ literary techniques that enable authors to weave webs of mystery and intrigue that are only unravelled and explained through the course of their stories. Examples include beginning tales in media res, depicting magic powers and special abilities that are only understood through further reading and exposure to their intricacies, and even utilizing completely separate storylines that only intersect and complement each other after much of the story is complete. In a recent TED talk, JJ Abrams, a revered director and producer of many beloved films and TV shows, explained his love for the unseen and his passion for stories that leave elements of their worlds up to the imagination and to the progression of the story. The narratives he portrays on screen often reflect this concept. (Honestly, can anyone make sense of the end of the LOST series?) Tolkien’s early chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring, however, directly contradict what Abrams elucidates as the goal of a successful storyteller. Tolkien instead begins by extensively explaining the customs, cultures and relationships of many of the races and individuals in his novel, leaving little to mystery. We are left to wonder, why did Tolkien shape the inception of Frodo and his companions’ adventure as he did? And what effect did this have on “world building” and the narrative as a whole?

In many ways, The Fellowship of the Ring was the first book of its kind in terms of creating a fantastical world in the form of Middle Earth. Not even Tolkien’s previous fantasy novel, The Hobbit, contained the depth of exhaustive detail found within its sequel. The tone used by Tolkien in the prologue and early chapters of The Fellowship serves to slowly immerse the reader into his world and grants the story the aura of actual history. Hobbits don’t differ significantly from humans (except for their feet and small stature). The parallels with real humans are important in terms of the shared doubt of the degree of danger and magic outside the Shire, and in relating to the book’s protagonist. In that vein, Tolkien’s goal in the early chapters of The Fellowship is to establish The Shire as a sort of safe, provincial environment that provides a nursery for both Frodo’s characterization as well as the reader’s foray into Middle Earth. Eventually, both Frodo and the reader grow tired of the hobbits and the smothering shelter of The Shire, especially as danger approaches. It’s only at this point that Tolkien allows the narrative to progress, and Frodo to move forward with Gandalf’s instructions. By then he has created a link between Frodo and the reader as well as explained as much as possible without the characters even having set foot outside of the Shire. Tolkien also employs songs, and the expansive knowledge of Gandalf to add further context for a gripping, enticing and incredibly detailed world. The contrast between the Shire (as well as the relative safety of discussing magic and monsters through the confines of song ) and the dangerous road is imperative to the conflict and tension building in the narrative. However, even on the road, Tolkien does not resort to mystery. There is a clear distinction between good (the hobbits) and evil (the riders and the enemy). Also, the symbolism is obvious and the hobbits have a clear goal (to reach Bree). Rather than harming the narrative, as some would suggest, this allows the reader to more closely analyze more pressing questions, such as why the ring corrupts, where the dwarves have gone, and why the elves are leaving Middle Earth, and, therefore, become more greatly immersed in the world as a whole.

Tolkien’s tone, as well as his intended themes are also overt. He strives to evoke certain emotions in order to steer his narrative and contribute to world building. In these early chapters, he creates a tone of elegy and lament for a lost past with the introduction of Tom Bombadil and his reluctance to fight Sauron, the departing elves, and the rise of evil. Tolkien also introduces the idea of the corrupting influence of power through the one ring and makes allusions to Christianity through references to temptation, and the selflessness and purity of the hobbits and their motivations. This type of storytelling is entirely intentional and serves to steer the narrative in a direction that is distinct from most modern writing. Tolkien’s goals are to immerse the reader, evoke a tone of regret and longing for a distant past, and connect the reader to the protagonist. He also strives to force the reader to make connections and ask questions beyond attempts to decipher what could have been a complicated and overly stimulating world if Tolkien had employed a more modern concept of storytelling.


A Non-Gamer’s Review of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

How I felt watching The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters…


As a non-gaming woman in her mid twenties, the extent of my gaming knowledge amounts to Crash Bandicoot and Guitar Hero between 2006-2009. I remember coming home from middle school and destroying my brother in 2 player mode on Crash and killing expert mode of Love is a Battlefield and feeling like Pat Benatar.


So, given how inexperienced I am with the intricacies of the gaming world, I must admit that I was incredibly skeptical as I waited for the 2007 gaming documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, to download from Amazon. On a seemingly insignificant Monday evening, I situated myself on the couch with my little sister and my girlfriend (fellow non-gamers) expecting a snooze fest, but we were sorely mistaken!

The next 79 minutes of our lives were filled with so many feels… Shock! Happiness! Sadness! Disgust! Confusion! Anger!

Every feel culminating into pure entertainment.


In a nutshell, Billy Mitchell, the reigning champion of Donkey Kong, meets his match in Steve Wiebe, a middle school science teacher who wipes butts in the face of distress.

Steve submits a video of him surpassing Mitchell’s world record. The weasels of Twin Galaxy abuse their trivial power in the gaming world and undermine Wiebe’s talent by considering his video unacceptable for ranking.


But good ultimately prevails, and Wiebe proves his superiority live and in person at the Fun Center in Iowa; beating Mitchell’s score for a 2nd time!

Mitchell then submits a heavily (and obviously) edited video showing him surpass the million mark, and Twin Galaxies abuse their trivial power (yet again) to place Mitchell back on top of the Donkey Kong high school chart.


I could’ve stopped the documentary at this point (and would recommend one does); what more proof does one need to prove that Bill and the Twin Galaxies crew are snakes?! Wiebe beat Mitchell – not once – but twice?!

Sadly, the documentary loses its momentum…the remainder of the film deals with the 2007 Guinness World Record gaming competition where, one would assume the final public face off between Mitchell and Wiebe would eventually go down…

But, just like Brian Kuh’s love life (#SorryNotSorry), the audience was let down.


The documentary ends with Wiebe showing up to the competition and Mitchell slithering away from an unadulterated face off, resulting in Mitchell holding his high score until 2010, when Wiebe finally claims what was rightfully his!


Life lesson from my first experience viewing a gaming documentary:

Regardless of the simulations and artificial reality these gamers play in, real emotions transcend virtual lines. The highs and lows witnessed during the documentary were genuine and affected 3 viewers who shared very little relatable experiences with Billy and Steve.

So, bravo to Seth Gordon, who constructed an authentic, albeit niche, adventure through the trenches of genuine human emotion that can be related to by all.


xo, J

Tell me a story

What do you value over everything else when it comes to video games? For me it’s story, every time.  I don’t care if it’s an old game or if the graphics are just bad, or if the gameplay is a little clunky, or if it’s too long or short of a game.  If it has an original and/or compelling story, there’s a good chance I’ll like it quite a bit.

Recently I’ve been quite into the fantasy/dark fantasy genre, specifically Dark Souls.  Through my experiences with the Souls series, I’ve realized that it’s not only the content of the story that I enjoy, but how it is told and presented to the player.  In many games, the story is basically told to you straightforward, without making the player do a whole lot of work to discover the story.  There may be puzzles or little notes that you find to delve deeper into the story, but it is rare to find a game that just says “Go.”  That’s essentially what the Dark Souls series does to the player.  You begin the first game with a cutscene that means  quite a lot if you are familiar with the series’ lore already, but is quite overwhelming to the novice player. The player is then given a simple instruction to ring two bells and then gets tossed in the (kinda) right direction.  Now this might just seem like a bad game and, based on the evidence I’ve given, that wouldn’t be a terrible first impression.  I promise that’s not the case.

Dark Souls found a way to have a vastly complex world and lore, with interesting characters and history; and the game doesn’t hand any of that information to you.  You have to go out and throw yourself at seemingly impossible levels until you master them or quit.  And bit by bit, the more you explore and the more characters you meet, the more of the story you uncover.  FromSoftware took a gamble with this style of storytelling (which they started with in Demon’s Souls, the spiritual predecessor to Dark Souls).  If you put in the work to find the story and learn what all is going on, Dark Souls will be one of the most satisfying gaming experiences you have.  Because it’s not just about what the story is, it;s about how you tell it.

Coding Literature

Imagine if you could write a book that, when completed, actually contained the universe that you described in it. Instead of reading the book, you would flip it open to find a small window into this world, a snapshot of what you had created. Pressing your hand to the image, you would be flung into it, snapped out of this reality and into one of your own creation.

This is the basis for the lore in the classic desktop game Myst. Released in 1993, it places one of these books into the hands of the player, who uses it to explore various worlds called ages in a haunting, puzzle-based quest.


Reminded of Myst by our recent playthrough of Gone Home, I thought I’d introduce everyone to the title that likely served as inspiration for the latter game. Myst is only the beginning—after its unexpected success, four more installments in the series were released, in addition to a sidequel. The series’ aesthetic might be best be described as future primitivism, as the D’ni people who craft these books have more advanced technology than we do while the inhabitants of their worlds often live in stone-age architecture.

Stunning visuals abound.

As a young teenager, I found myself utterly entranced with Myst‘s story. The idea of writing an age combines both literature and computer programming, in a way, as one must have both knowledge of the D’ni language and the creativity to write a book. Furthermore, the concept is somewhat meta, as the game’s creators literally did write the ages that the player journeys through. If you enjoyed Gone Home, I highly recommend checking out the Myst series.

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.

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.

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.


An Unlikely Pair

Over the break, we were asked to play Gone Home.  Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, we were unable to talk about it much in class, which is a shame, since this is one of my favorite games that we have played for the class.  One of the things that made me enjoy the game was its unique style.  At first glance, the game appears to be a horror game; your character, Katie, arrives at her family’s new house (dubbed the “Psycho House” in-game) in the dead of night while a storm rages outside.  What’s more, no one is actually in the house besides you, which is both very isolating and dark, as no people means very few lights on in the house.  As you continue, you find creepy hidden passages and even a very small sub-plot involving the alleged ghost of the previous owner of the house, Oscar Masan.  However, these horror elements are not the main focus of the game.

Instead, the focus of the game is on the true protagonist, Sam, and her relationships: to her sister (the character you are playing), to her parents, and most importantly to Lonnie, a girl who Sam eventually enters a romantic relationship with, leaving her homophobic parents’ house to join Lonnie in Salem, Oregon.

These two different types of games-atmospheric horror and character-driven walking simulator-seem somehow at odds at first, since the stereotypical demographic of those two genres are so different.  However, the horror elements of the game actually heighten the player’s experiences with the character-driven portions of the game by providing tension throughout the game.

First of all, the tension the horror provides gives players a reason to be engaged in the game.  Exploring a normal house is boring, but exploring a dark, abandoned house that might be haunted by a sinister being is more compelling.  This is especially important in the early game where the horror is most prevalent, since players have not developed a reason to care about Sam yet.  As the game goes on and it becomes more clear that Gone Home is not actually a horror game, the player’s (theoretical) interest in Sam’s story is enough to carry them through to the end.

And if you’re not a fan of horror games, don’t worry-there is an option to turn all the lights on from the beginning.

More importantly, however, that tension allows players to get into both Katie’s and Sam’s heads.  For Katie, the reason is simple; imagine you came home to a house you have never been to before late at night.  Your family, who you expected to be waiting for you, is nowhere to be found, it’s storming outside, and the lights in the house keep flickering.  Being slightly scared is expected in that situation.  However, this tension is also mirrored in Sam’s experiences as she writes them down in her journal.  While large parts of Sam’s journey of self-discovery are fun and exciting, she also has to deal with unfamiliar, scary situations-just like you, the player, are dealing with.  Sam has no support system outside of Lonnie since she has just moved to a new school.  She knows her parents will be unsupportive, and her only possible familial help, Katie, is away on a year-long stint in Europe.  Sam is exploring uncharted waters where even usually welcoming sights can be dangerous, just like the player is.  By including these horror elements, the game makers are also including a pathway into Sam’s own experiences.