Here I am: sitting in the stacks at the library, attempting to write my reflective essay for a class that I absolutely do not want to end. Taking a mandatory English class, at a college level, was not something I was expecting to be a cake walk, and I was absolutely right. Coming to college and experiencing a plethora of new experiences all at once is overwhelming, it can be hard to focus, hard to plan tasks. The tasks themselves are ten times more difficult than what we as high school students are used to. But, we learn a lot more than we did at a high school level. We’re gathering information about different ideas, subjects and skills, all-the-while learning how to properly function as ‘adults’ in this messy world: which is why I am glad I took Read|Write|Play.
Although mandatory, I did my research before I got here, so I knew this class would be the right fit for me. Growing up, I wouldn’t describe myself as a “gamer” (as defined by the modern definition of gamer, simplified by trustworthy Urban Dictionary), but I did play a handful of games. My favorites being Tomb Raider (which I chose to do my podcast on; talked about later), Pokemon – that I played on an emulator, and a lot of Age of Empire. While I played those games, I looked at them solely through a consumers perspective – I saw what I was told to see, thought what I was told to think and understood what I was made to understand. But taking this class granted me a new, fresh perspective on video games, and it gave me a lot of insight on how video games have evolved from being considered a ‘nuisance’ to literature. We have truly advanced into the world of technology in every aspect, it is only fair that literature too changes to a digital media form, combining literature with fine arts and science, marking this era with collaboration capable of going on for generations to come.
I came to Emory after taking a gap year. During high school, I took A-Level Literature where we analyzed poetry and plays, writing multiple essays on a single piece of literature, analyzing and over-analyzing each comma, rolled over sentence, pause and word. I was fairly confident about analyzing other forms of literature because I assumed they followed the same pattern – pick out, think, and describe. But I learnt there is much more than just that. Firstly, considering video games as literature is a different task in itself. Although there are words and descriptions, they are not just words. There is much more to a video game than there is to a book. It is like a giant picture book, but the pictures are mobile, and you are moving with it, creating your own path and your own story. The first game we played for class – Gone Home – made me realize this was not going to be any ordinary class, and analyzing it wasn’t going to be an ordinary task. There are a lot more aspects to consider than just the words.
Video games consist of sound and images that are capable of bringing out all kinds of emotions. In Gone Home, the occasional addition of letters written by ‘our’ sister Sam, puts us in Kaitlin’s shoes and her voice allows us to hear the emotion in her voice while giving us key details about how the story progresses. But, the key difference between ‘classical’ textual literature and visual literature is that in video games, we can create our own story. In Gone Home, we can choose which rooms we can explore, we may miss certain steps which would cut off key details about the story, but the story we end up with may be unique to each individual. Even though a person may interpret a book in multiple different ways, ultimately the author of the book writes down one path that each reader has to follow to get to the end – unless you decide to skip 100 pages. With video games, even if you do end up skipping a few pages, you may not realize it, making it unique regardless if you do or don’t.
Realizing this key difference made me pay more attention to my writing process. While I analyzed games like Dear Esther and The Stanley Parable, I focused on not just the dialogue, but the atmosphere created by the dialogue, how they made me feel in a personal, and an academic standpoint, and the visual aspect of the games. I realized that literature is much more than using certain words, but it also stimulating to the eyes, and it is important to include this in my personal writing, which will make it more enriched as well, especially when you write for the internet.
On the internet, everything is fast paced. You can get someone’s attention for 5 seconds, and if they’re even slightly distracted – that’s the end of it. Writing for an audience online is a hard task; you need to make sure you get your point across while keeping your audience intrigued and curious. Of course, creating a strong argument and thorough work are strong factors to consider to generate curiosity and interest; but visual stimulation is necessary for work on the internet. You must include a picture or a video, have your blog or website organized in a way that makes it easy to navigate, view, and enjoy. I have begun paying much more detail to how my writing could make my audience feel and what they will experience when they see what I have to say. This would coincide with the rhetorical composition learning outcome. My goal is to make a convincing argument, but at the end of the day, if my writing and layout give them a new, memorable experience, I feel like that would be much more satisfying.
But then again, making a point, a strong point, takes much more work than just emoting in your work. There is a lot of research that is involved in making your writing come to life. During the Unpacking Manuel’s assignment was when I first realized the importance of a digital citizenship combined with thorough research and the generation of new ideas. With practically just five websites available online for research, each with only about three sentences about my object – a portrait of Harry S Truman – I was left on my own to draw conclusions and convey them to a wider audience who might be interested in learning about Manuel’s Tavern. Reading many scholarly articles about democracy, Truman and some news articles about Maloof, I was expected to draw conclusions about the two being related. I had a blank slate it front of me, without any boundaries, but yet I felt trapped at first; I felt trapped by the freedom. I was not used to being able to draw any conclusions I felt like, that I thought of, from all the information that I gathered. Yikes! Most of the time I spent trying to find the answers to the questions I had. But that’s the point of college – you are free to draw your own conclusions, guided solely by the information you can collect – and it’s all up to you! Provided, your argument must be logical and should have the facts to back it up.
But, for some assignments, even facts weren’t necessary. The Fiasco assignment was rather interesting. You made up a story from scratch, with only some rules to abide by – and the rest was up to you! There was no one telling you that you were wrong, no one to say you can’t bring someone back to life or to say magic isn’t real. While we collaborated with our peers to create a story that simply “worked” for everyone, in that everyone was satisfied, we were pleasantly surprised by how amazing the creative experience could be. The Podcast assignment was similar. Talking and having your raw emotions recorded is a new experience in itself. I personally felt like it brought out a lot more truth than writing would after being edited multiple times. It was also internet-appropriate as one would assume. Someone on the internet would probably prefer auditory stimulation than to sit and read a few thousand words.
The Wolf in White Van assignment is perhaps one of the more “traditional” assignments I’ve had to complete. But, as the assignment was towards the end of the semester, I thought I was able to explore much more into depth than I would have otherwise. I analyzed it as I would analyze a video game: I considered the story, the outcomes, the emotions brought out by the story and the layout of the book itself, and how it took into consideration how the book put itself into a contemporary literature scenario.
This class was an incredible experience, and I’m glad I got to experience it during the first semester of college itself. Calling it a mandatory class seems like an insult now, for a class that taught me so much about digital media and 21st Century literature analysis. I will definitely keep the knowledge and skills I gained in this class and use it for the years to come. Although I didn’t want this class to end, it’s time for me to leave the stacks, go back down… for now.