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The fog rolled across the desolate fields, consuming everything in its path. It brought with it the smell of burnt flesh, gunpowder, and sweat. The screams could be heard through the mist, familiar screams of humans in pain, dying, mixed with the screams of the aliens, their bloodcurdling hoots ricocheting off the eardrums with a sharp pang. His heartbeat quickened, and the blood began to course through his veins as he approached the cacophony of misery that was the fog. He steeled his nerves, kissed the cross hanging from his neck, and sprinted in.

Am I the only one who wants to know what happens next and what was happening in the first place? The narrative is the ultimate captivating medium to transmit a story.  Reading is universally fascinating (specifically fiction) because it essentially introduces a whole new world to the reader. The reader is introduced to the story but not spoon-fed the details, enabling the reader to engage his/her imagination. This engagement of imagination translates into a captivation with the world that the mind inevitably creates when reading. This imaginary sanctuary takes the mind on new adventures allowing him/her to truly immerse his/her self in the hybrid book/imagination world that has been created.

Videogames and movies are much less effective in engaging and holding the observer. The observer is shown what the world looks like and who the characters are. This diluted version of a book disengages the imagination and helps cultivate a mind accustomed to reduced stimulation.  This is not the way to develop creators, thinker, writers, and other members of the creative community, yet the trend in society seems to be heading towards a lower level brain function at an alarming rate.

Reading cultivates the mind and I hope that it does not die out, to be replaced by the likes of movies and videogames as substitutes. Although they have their place, there is nothing that cultivates the mind better than a good book.

By Aneel Henry

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Interactive = Interesting

With absolutely no doubt in my mind, I know that I am easily the biggest gamer in this entire college, let alone this class. I have played almost every game of significance released since the Nintendo 64 era, and even plenty from before then (nearly the entire Final Fantasy series, for example). I literally have a wardrobe filled with over 325 video games at home, and those don’t include the 100+ digitally-downloaded games that I own. Ever played Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES or Hotel Dusk: Room 215? I have. Enough said.

As such, it probably isn’t a very shocking statement when I say that I greatly prefer video games to books. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy books; reading 1984 bordered on a life-changing experience. However, I’ve always felt that video games and movies are more of an evolution of books rather than merely competing media. They (usually) combine the well-told plots and themes of literature with  audiovisual enhancements that enrich the overall experience, allowing them to transcend their text-based counterparts. Of course, central to the gameplay of most video games is the idea of combat. While this centrality of physical strife does slightly limit the subject matter of video games, it tends to provide an infinitely more engaging experience.

Case-in-point: Snow Crash. Sure, it was fun to read about Hiro’s incredible swordfighting skill, but reading about a fight and trying to mentally piece it together is just not as engaging as an actual interactive simulation of combat. In LOTRO, the outcome of any given fight is entirely dependent on my actions. Thus, it yields much more satisfaction to defeat an enemy by my own hand — knowing that had I acted differently, the fight would not have been won — than to attempt to visualize someone else fighting the battle for me. Sure, I may just be pressing a series of numbered buttons and not actually physically wielding a spear, but my button presses are still managed by a skill that I have developed. Combat in a video game is so immersive because, by presenting audiovisual feedback based on your input, the game is temporarily able to convince you that your button-pressing skill is actually real combat skill.

Think about it. After winning a fight in LOTRO, which thought is more likely to cross your mind: “Wow, I’m awesome at hitting buttons,” or “I’ve gotten really good at fighting”? When you approach an enemy, do you intend to kill him or to press a series of buttons in a timed manner which, with proper execution, will cause a certain number to be added to the value designated as “Experience Points”? Video games have mastered this art of subconsciously convincing the player that their prowess in combat is directly tied to the thoroughly unrelated skill of button-mashing. It really is the ultimate in “make-believe”. And, simply put, it works.

In Snow Crash, I cannot in any way affect the outcome of Hiro’s battles. The book does not provide me with a way to immediately act out the fights. Sure, my imagination is at work in constructing the conflict, but experiencing a semi-concrete form of the fight is definitely more involving and immersive than reading a text description of it. In this sense, I’m infinitely more absorbed in LOTRO’s battles than those found in Snow Crash, as I engage in the near-perfected illusion of actual interactive combat. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll always prefer pretending to fight an enemy myself to imagining someone else fight the pretend battle for me.

-Billy Bunce

Technology: Friend or Foe?

Anna Dickens

So, you may be wondering why the subject of my blog today is slightly…off topic. Trust me: in a perfect world I’d be discussing the various perils and delights of LOTRO just like everyone else. But of course, the world isn’t perfect, and neither, to make a gross understatement, is technology.

As one of the hapless few Mac users in my English 115F class, I was fated to spend several hours in a dark room of Vanderbilt’s Information Technology Services building, having software installed that would outfit my Mac with all the goodies of Microsoft and thereby allow me to access LOTRO. I won’t bore you with details, but let’s just say the installation process was horribly painstaking, time-consuming, and frustrating.

And that, my friends, to make a long story short, is why I have yet to hone my gaming skills (or lack thereof) and quest through Middle Earth.

The bottom line is: sometimes, technology sucks.

Take Facebook, for example. My relationship with this website is love-hate, at best. To completely dismiss Facebook as frivolous and stupid would be hypocritical on my part; after all, I’m the girl who, every Sunday morning, dutifully posts a photo album documenting the weekend’s festivities. Although I usually scorn busybodies, I am ashamed to admit that I consider Facebook my primary informant for weekly gossip, utilizing it to see who’s-dating-who and who’s-doing-what and OMG-what-is-she-doing-in-that-picture??? I also owe it to Facebook for enabling me to handpick my current freshman-year roommate, a very agreeable arrangement that probably wouldn’t have transpired had I opted for the random roommate search. So yes, Facebook does offer an entertaining diversion, a fast and convenient way to network with friends, and a beneficial means of communication.

But then there are times when Facebook is the bane of my existence. Consider this scenario: 12:00 pm, Wednesday night. Slumped tiredly over the keyboard, Sugar-Free Red Bull by my side, I struggle to punch out the last few lines of an English paper. The computer mouse, as though possessed of its own will, keeps sneaking over to the Internet browser, drawn by the irresistible urge to log on Facebook and mindlessly click through people’s pictures. I shouldn’t, I think to myself. But at the same time…Oedipus can wait. I’ll only log on for five minutes. Five minutes turns to ten minutes, which turns to twenty…and before you know it, I’ve wasted the better part of an hour doing absolutely nothing. Let’s just say Facebook is not one for spawning productivity.

Another technology phenomenon that I regard with ambivalence is the Kindle. For voracious readers who devour a book a day, investing in one of these devices is sound and financially-incentive, to be sure. Personally, though, I’m too “old-school” to bring myself to purchase a Kindle. When it comes to reading, I am somewhat of a purist, much preferring to hold a real book in my hand rather than reading the text off of a screen. When reading Gone with the Wind, for example, I used my grandmother’s copy, leftover from when she was a young girl. I loved reading from this book because it had character—the yellowed, frayed pages that omitted a deep musky stench when you turned them; the dusty, weatherworn cover; the elegant old-fashioned print. A beautifully-crafted, antique book, in my opinion, lends itself to a much more nostalgic, emotional reading experience than an impersonal electronic device ever could.

Much of the magic of books, I think, is derived from the physical book itself, from its feel and smell and look. The same can be said of newspapers. I enjoy utilizing the internet for news updates as much as the next person, but the fact that print newspapers are increasingly becoming a dying breed is troubling to someone who values a tangible reading experience. To replace books and newspapers completely with technology would be a crime, in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong: I am in no way condemning technology. Technology is an undeniably invaluable asset of our world; I couldn’t even begin to list the many ways in which it has enriched my life personally. As much as I hemmed and hawed about my little LOTRO mishap, I would much rather endure the occasional technology woes than forfeit my computer altogether (no more Facebook! Gasp!). But a certain point exists, I believe, at which our world can become too saturated in technology. Am I speaking of an ominous, bleak dystopia looming on the horizon, similar to the one Huxley portrayed in Brave New World? Of course not. But I do think that some elements of our existence are better left untouched by the mark of technology.