The Eye: In Gaming and Other Forms of Media

A. A. BENJAMIN

 

I’ve noticed a trend in the different mediums I’ve come in contact with lately.  

TheEYE
Movie: The Fellowship of the Ring
Game: A Story About My Uncle (PC)
Game: A Story About My Uncle (PC)
Game: Journey (PS3)
Game: Journey (PS3)
Article: some Uber alien game that hasn’t come out yet
Article: some Uber alien game that hasn’t come out yet

What is the cultural significance of this eye and why do we fear it? It drives us instinctively to hide even when it has not been explained—game, movie or otherwise—why we should hide in the first place. Something fictitious puts such a deep anxiety in our hearts that I have to wonder what about this fear is real.
 
 
 
My first instinct is to run to Orwell’s “Big Brother” in 1984. This could possibly be a subconscious cultural and political commentary of modern day lack of trust in structures of authority and power. This unifying symbolism shows a thread of fear that weaves these creative minds together as they form a common enemy.
 
The looming watchful eye always takes a grotesquely large and bulbous shape, anywhere between orange to reddish in tone, sometimes with that cat-like slit that seems to be that much more evil. It is always THE eye. One, not two.
 
 
 
Not only does the singularity suggest the disturbing all-powerful theme explored in 1984, but it also creates this alien-ness that makes it hard for us to fathom what the one eyed creature would do with us if it did catch us. The unknown stirs our deepest fears…
 
Though recurring images across mediums may not be intentional, I think it’d be a bit naïve to assume that they are by accident. What are we trying to tell ourselves, with the continuous return of this monster? Maybe we fear imposing onlookers stripping away our privacy and autonomy. Maybe we fear spectatorship, which is quite interesting considering the mediums in which this monster takes form. If we conflict with a culture of spectatorship, we must be using some strange counter attack that involves becoming the looming spectator ourselves. We can comfortably strip Frodo down with our own eyes, but God-forbid the camera turn on us. Our first instinct is to hide and fear, and it appears that game developers continuously use this easy fix to propel gamers through their desired narrative.
 
I still can’t pinpoint, though, WHY The Eye is such a universally easy fix. How has this organ become a fearsome symbol through time?

The Eye of Providence, or what illuminati conspiracy theorists call, the Eye of Horus  (U.S. Dollar Bill)
The Eye of Providence, or what illuminati conspiracy theorists call, the Eye of Horus (U.S. Dollar Bill)

“Bring him down to our level” – A Look at the Dark Knight

While the Fellowship of the Ring has an excellent way of telling a story, it is not the only way. To enlighten myself on an alternative to the romance circle, I chose a movie that I felt would be very different from the Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, and compare them for reference. The result: after I re-watched Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight, is strangely informative and satisfying.

The Fellowship is, as we went over in class, a “romance circle” model, one in which the hero must leave childhood behind, dedicate herself to the quest, go into the underworld, brave herself against the dangers of hell, and rise a more prepared champion. Interestingly, Batman Begins, the prequel of the Dark Knight, follows a very similar model, but that’s another topic. On the other hand, the Dark Knight is a very different construction, from the general model of narrative, to the techniques used to build that narrative.

The Fellowship focuses on the story of, well, the Fellowship. Their story is the all-important, age-ending, battle-starting quest that will change the face of Middle Earth forever. Nothing else is more important, even the epic quests in Lord of the Rings Online. In the Dark Knight, Batman has already understood what he must sacrifice to become the “hero Gotham needs.” Furthermore, there is a huge monkey wrench in everyone’s plans: the Joker, who simply want to prove that order is meaningless, and plans to install order, no matter for or by whom, are pathetic. These premise sets up a narrative that is beyond the Batman himself, one in which the actions of Joker, the crime mobs, the mayor, Jim Gordon, and many other side characters are just as important. In a way, this makes the very city of Gotham and its 30 million inhabitants another character in the movie as well.

To construct a narrative with this kind of “connectedness” in a medium in which the audience has only a fixed view (the screen), it seems the movie actually drew the attention away from Batman, the supposed protagonist. The movie often uses a panoramic or bird’s eye view to show the larger surrounding, before drawing closer or cutting to a specific character. This enlarging of view point constructs a more web-like narrative, rather than a much more chronological one like the Fellowship. In the Dark Knight, the scene will often cut to events in different locations, happening to different characters, but often implied to occur at the same, while the Fellowship largely restricts this kind of “changing places” to flashbacks.

There are so much more that I can discuss in the Dark Knight and the Fellowship of the Ring, because of how well done these two movies are. Nonetheless, there is a dramatic difference between them in how each movie choose to tell their own narratives, which are also built very differently. The Fellowship has a more linear style because of the immense importance of the quest to reach Mordor, while the Dark Knight is what happens when a guardian who refuses to abandon his morals meets a psychotic hellbent on corrupting him.

-SyC

A New Story

I have never played an online role-playing game, so I was a little confused when I started playing Lord of the Rings online. I didn’t who exactly I was, where I was, and who the people that were running around the map were. I started out as a Hobbit, since that was the race I was most familiar with. When the actual game started, I saw that I was in a small room with a number of other people. I spent about five minutes trying to either leave the room or talk to someone, before I finally figured out I had to talk to the postmaster. I didn’t read what he was saying, because I was anxious to start playing the game. After leaving the post office and meeting Bounder Boffin, I got my first taste of combat. It was mostly just jabbing the mouse button, but it was still fun. I then fought some more spiders, talked to some people, and discovered a town, before getting bored and logging off.

As for my impressions of the story, I didn’t see enough of it to make a judgment, and I did not really see the dialogue because I wanted to see what the game was like.  However, I did like the fact that  you got to make your own character and your own story. If I had been forced to play as Frodo or Sam or any of the other characters in the story, I would have felt I would not be able to make my own choices. With your own character, you can project your own personality and character onto him. Another thing I liked was that I had freedom to walk around and explore the world. I recognized a number of  places from the movies and book, and it was interesting to explore the game’s setting, and I suspect I’ll be able to do quests in a variety of locations on the map.

Overall, I think I’ll like the game. The story will probably get more interesting, the setting is dynamic and diverse, and I have my character just the way I want him: a guardian Hobbit.

– Kashyap Saxena

It’s the Fellow-WHAT?-ship of the Ring

By: Billy Bunce

Although I can think of countless novels that take place in an Arthurian fantasy realm, very few films with such a setting come to mind. The most recent traditional fantasy film I’ve seen other than Lord of the Rings would have to be (surprise, surprise) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Looking back on both movies, I’d have to say that the most striking similarity between the two films was the almost entirely archetypal structures of their plots.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m perfectly aware that each movie is based on a decades-old instant-classic novel, but the reality is that the narratives present in these films are quite standard fantasy fare by modern standards, and neither really does anything too unique with its plot. In Fellowship of the Ring, we find clearly-defined good (the Fellowship) on a quest to defeat a painfully obvious evil (Sauron), and not much else thrown into the mix. Saruman’s betrayal of Gandalf actually could have felt unique had we met him before his corruption by Sauron, but unfortunately the whole scene comes across as awkwardly as the director loudly yelling, “Look! That wizard’s a good guy! Just kidding; he’s breeding an army of Orcs.” Instead, the plot of the movie contains little to no twists (aside from two character deaths, one of which is relatively minor) and acts merely to prolong the inevitable final battle between the forces of good and evil, where said good forces will unquestionably triumph.

Similarly, the first Narnia movie also makes its intentions nerve-rackingly obvious from the start. However, because The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was written as a children’s book, the clarity is even sharper. The main villain is named “The White Witch”, and the main hero is a morally infallible lion (an animal naturally associated with power and protection). Aside from the Biblically allegorical death of Aslan, not too much really happens in the plot of this film either, other than, again, the inevitability of a final victorious conflict. The allegorical nature of the film makes it somewhat unique, but all of its actual plot events are more or less just copied from the Bible.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy these movies. On the contrary, actually, they both drew me in with their enriching worlds and excellent ambience.  However, I find that these movies provide only that: a world and an overall “epic” feel. In terms of the narrative proper, not very much occurs that couldn’t be predicted immediately by anyone who has so much has picked up another fantasy novel. In this sense, the movies are both quite similar. They don’t have too complex of a narrative, but then again it doesn’t seem that either movie actually tried to have an intricate plot. From the beginning, it is apparent that both movies try to absorb rather than surprise. They find more value in crafting an incredibly believable  fantasy realm than in creating narrative twists. In this manner, I feel that both movies definitely accomplished what they set out to do, even if the plots themselves were a little too dry for my liking.

The Fellowship of the Ring vs. Pan’s Labyrinth

Both of these movies are fantasy films, made by two of the best directors of our day–and even now, they are collaborating together to put J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit onto the silver screen. Here I’d like to compare two of their finest movies–Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, a film about a young girl living during the reign of Francisco Franco in Spain, and Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment in the moving picture translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.

First of all, there are many, many differences on the surface of each of these movies. Pan’s Labyrinth is set in 1940’s Spain, and in it historical events as well as magical ones occur. The audience knows the places, recognizes the medical techniques, and may know the language spoken by those in the film–Spanish. The Fellowship of the Ring, on the other hand, takes place in Middle Earth, where there is an entirely new set of places, events, languages, and technology (or lack thereof) to deal with. Plots for the two films are comparable, however, though still dissimilar in many ways. The Fellowship follows the journey of nine different people, many of whom are from different species, to destroy the One Ring and save their homes, families, people, and countries from falling to the forces of Sauron, the quintessential evil would-be conqueror. Pan’s Labyrinth follows the journey of one small girl as she attempts to complete the three tasks that will let her join her mother and father, and reclaim her place as Princess of the Underground Realm . However, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether or not Ofelia, the main character of Pan’s Labyrinth, is really interacting with faeries and fauns and the Pale Man, or if she is escaping her tormented life into a no less terrible, but at least alternate, fantasy world.

Each movie delivers a different message as well. Del Toro, through Ofelia’s journey and its (possibly) tragic ending, asks the audience **if** they believe her. Captain Vidal, her stepfather, cannot see the Faun, but Ofelia can. And if her mother dies when the mandrake is removed, well, do we know for sure that the mandrake was even the cure? After all, they are more renowned for their deadly screams than the healing properties the Faun tells Ofelia of. In addition, Ofelia faces trials that are vivid, dangerous, and downright revolting–trials that we wouldn’t like to dismiss as merely imagination. Everything that happens to Ofelia we see, and yet, in the end, her fate is up to us. Did she die “for real?” Or did she merely move on to the Underground Realm, to rejoin the family she left behind? While at the same time making important statements on the nature of escapism and the fantasy inherent in not only Ofelia’s mind, but the dream of the rebels, Pan’s Labyrinth asks if you believe Ofelia. There is no asking “please,” nor compromising–either what she saw and did was real, or it only existed in her mind.

The Fellowship of the Ring, on the other hand, does not ask the same question of belief that Pan’s Labyrinth does. Far from taking place in our world, where such questions can impact the audience profoundly, Fellowship takes place in an entirely different world, and so belief that the events depicted in the movie happened is not the question. Instead Fellowship asks you to believe in the characters, and in how they reflect the weaknesses and strengths, the longings and the desires and the deeds of men in this world. Boromir has many weaknesses, but also many strengths, while Frodo and Sam make sacrifices aplenty when they leave the only home they’ve ever known so that they can save it. You feel the bravery of the Hobbits when Pippin and Merry distract the Orcs so that Frodo can escape, and you cheer when Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas undertake the perilous journey to rescue them. Through these characters and their commitment to destroying the ring, despite their differences and flaws, you are asked to believe in the power of good–that, though the Free Peoples whine and argue, they can band together and fight the evil trying to conquer and enslave them, and not only fight but emerge from the battle victorious.

Though both films are clearly of the fantasy genre, they cover very different ground with their stories and their characters. Ofelia’s story is a small one, that, if it happened, would go unnoticed by everyone, while Frodo’s tale is epic in scale and affected every single being that lived in Middle Earth. But both the Fellowship of the Ring and Pan’s Labyrinth ask the audience to involve themselves in some way in the story being told–to know Boromir’s pain and Frodo’s quite strength, and see them in the world you live in, or to simply believe Ofelia’s tale of magic. Both, however, are amazingly good movies, and are a testament to the excellence that fantasy films can achieve.

Signing  off!

Dacia

I Heart Elves.

Super Late Post By: Lynne Moody

The classes in LOTRO are very important in supporting Tolkien’s narrative. One of the first things a new player does is select a character class to play as. Though, if a newbie isn’t familiar with different classes, they might choose a class that doesn’t fit their personality and want to switch later. I think that the classes/races of characters in the novel are important signals of the characters’ personalities. We all know that elves are mystical and mysterious, and dwarves are feisty fighters.

Tolkien highlights the differences among the different races, and many of these highlights are shown in LOTRO as well, such as appearances, hobbies, and dwellings.  These crossover characteristics help the reader/player relate the novel to the game and vice versa.  Therefore, the different classes definitely enrich the storylines of LOTRO and The Fellowship of the Ring.  Every class has different adventures depending upon where their race lives in Middle-earth; however, everyone eventually ends up doing the same tasks. Every race interacts with each other, be it friendly or on battle terms.

I, personally, love being an elf. They seem magical, sleek, lovely, and intelligent all at the same time. However, one aspect I don’t like is that they seem very sneaky and elitist. The Human class looks too boring and life-like to me, while the dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits are too tiny for my tastes. Plus, the elves are my favorite class in the novel, mainly because they provide so much assistance to the fellowship so many times.

Go elves!

Fighting Styles Within Fellowships

By: Max Mam

In The Fellowship of the Ring, the movie remediation of Tolkien’s epic novel, there are many different races each excelling in different types of combat. Frodo’s fellowship contained four hobbits, three men, an elf, and a dwarf. Just by looking at the characters’ respective weapons, it is apparent that each race has a different fighting style. The short-swords of the hobbits show that they are suited to fighting by hiding and confusing their opponents. The swords wielded by Aragorn and Boromir strike an efficient balance between offense and defense. Gandalf of course uses his ancient magic to obliterate his foes while Gimli relies on his powerful close-combat attacks with his axe. Legolas hangs back releasing a torrent of arrows and also uses his elven agility to perform acrobatic close-combat attacks.This combination of varied fighting styles allows the fellowship to efficiently work together to defeat their many foes.

In LOTRO, players get the chance to create their own fellowships and fight together in a fashion not unlike that of the movie. Though the races are the same, the classes that a player may choose from are quite a bit more varied than in the movie. Race plays a part mainly in how a player’s avatar looks and directly affects which classes a player may choose from. A player wanting to specialize in sneaking around and launching surprise wouldn’t be able to use a bulky dwarf character to do so; instead he would have to use the smaller statures of either the hobbits or men. The fact that certain classes are available to only certain races makes the game more believable and encourages users to seek out players of other races and classes to form varied and powerful fellowships. By including a wide variety of both classes and races the population of each server enriches the narrative experience since the diversity throughout the world creates a more realistic environment and facilitates heightened immersion within the game.