Monday, August 11, 2014

“Endure and survive”: The heroine of The Last of Us

My teenage brother recently lent me The Last of Us. He’d been talking about it all year and was emphatic that I play it. I’ve read the reason music from our adolescence stays with us is because it’s the first music we choose to listen to independent of our family’s tastes. With both of his older, video-gaming brothers out of the house, I realized this was his first game chosen independent of us. So I played it with an open mind, expecting about as much as I’d gotten from Sword Art Online and his other teenage fandoms. But I was blown away. Obviously, I’m late to the party here, and much of what I have to say about the game has been said already. But with the “remastered” PS4 edition having just been released, I figure it’s a good time to revisit the aspect of the game I expected to be weakest but turned out to be its strongest: Ellie.

[Read the rest at GamesBeat]

Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Lost at Sea"

I finally got around to reading Bryan Lee O'Malley's first, solo comic book Lost at Sea. First off, if you go into it expecting a spiritual prequel to Scott Pilgrim you'll probably be disappointed—though both have similar themes around growing up and relationships. Raleigh, an 18-year old girl fresh out of high school, is on a road trip from California back to Canada with some acquaintances. Along the way, she does some soul-searching, both literal and figurative—she suspects her soul was stolen by a cat—and discovers she's not the social pariah she thinks she is.

What's interesting is that Raleigh clearly suffers from some form of depression or anxiety disorder. Much of her inner-monologue reads like Tumblr recovery confessions, but that's not a bad thing. It makes her authentic and relatable. Adding to this is that Lost at Sea isn't really a victory narrative; Raleigh is still recovering. The difference is that she learns she isn't alone. That, coupled with O'Malley's signature art style, makes this a really nice read!

Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sex and Vampires: A Research Vignette

This past week, my professor asked us to try writing a vignette (a short anecdote that pulls from different observations made at the site of study) about our research from a perspective other than our own, as a way of possibly introducing our reader to different parts of our study (research design, methods, literature review, etc.) or creating a narrative from disparate observations, interviews, or notes. I'm not sure how I feel about it, and mine is more of a single anecdote than a vignette pulling from several ones, but it's a story I want to tell regardless.
It's a warm, late summer day, and the rain clouds that roll off the water and onto the Brooklyn, seaside campus are not unlike those that Mina and Lucy watch before The Demeter runs aground, bringing Dracula to England. The teacher mentions this to his class, hoping to give them a sense of relation to the events of the novel they're reading. There's some chittering from the students at this, but clearly they find it as cheesy as assigning a horror novel to coincide with Halloween.
"Okay, let's jump into it then," he declares sitting on the front edge of his desk, book in hand, waiting for the first person to speak-up. "Did we find anything peculiar in these chapters?" he prods. "Does Dracula fit the image of a vampire as we think of it?" The bait is set. Then a sarcastic young woman, who enjoys making snide remarks, raises her hand. He nods to her.
"So what's the deal with Dracula? Is he gay for Jonathan or what?" The teacher smiles, and the class titters at the suggestion.
But they look surprised when he responds, seriously, "Well, let's talk about that. What makes you ask?"
"The way he's all possessive of him! He's always touchin' him and stuff. It's creepy."
"He's a vampire!" another student interjects. "He's supposed to be creepy! He just wants to eat the guy, right?"
"Can't it be both?" the teacher asks. And then, twenty college students were having a discussion of homosexuality as a horror element in the novel,  the class using their pop culture understanding of sex and vampires to read subtext in Victorian literature.
Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pokémon and Baseball: A Research Anecdote

The first college literature course I ever taught was a sophomore level Intro. to Pop Culture class. It was tied to the program I helped coordinate, which was the only reason I, only an instructor with a MA, was even allowed to teach a lit. course in a department full of qualified, tenured professors.

The caveat was that the course was carefully vetted before I taught it (using this professor's syllabus, that Universal Baseball Association.
one's text recommendations, etc.). Luckily, I managed to include only books I'd already read and studied, except one—Robert Coover's

UBA is about a man who invents an elaborate pen & paper baseball game—think Dungeons & Dragons with baseball. A loaner in love with his game and its characters, the novel begins with a series a dice rolls that end with the death of his favorite pitcher. Devastated, this is the catalyst for the novel's central conflict (separating between the real world and his imagined one). And having been written in the 1960's, my students had no idea what to make of it.

"This guy needs to get a life."

"He's whining about some made-up character?"

"Is the whole book like this?" were some early responses. Struggling to engage them with the character (and therefor, the whole novel and 3 weeks of the course), I asked, near desperation, "Can't we relate to the character on any level?!"

Then a Vietnamese student who I'm convinced learned English by watching American sitcoms, spoke up.

"Oh man, Mr. V. This reminds me of how I felt when Aeris died in Final Fantasy VII. I cried. It was legen-wait-for-it-dary!" (He ended many of class comments this way.) I pounced on it, quickly explaining to the class that this video game death is widely considered one of the most emotional in video game history, in which a central character, into whom a player could have poured dozens of hours, dies. Permanently. This does not happen in video games. When it happened to me, almost 15 years ago, I cried, too.

"Oh!" a softball player jumped in. "When I was younger, my favorite game was Pokémon." At this, several students comment, chuckle, and otherwise assert collective nostalgia. "I had this one team of Pokémon that I just kept playing with, even after I beat the game. Then one day, my little sister stole my Game Boy, started a new game, and saved over my file, deleting my Pokémon." There were several groans among her peers. "They were gone. And I didn't pick it up again."

And just like that, 20 teenagers connected to a 1960's fictional character dealing with the death of another character of his own creation for a baseball game played with pen, paper, and a handful of six-sided dice.

It was then I realized I couldn't just bring pop culture into the classroom and expect it to engage students; I had to ask them to bring their own. This was the start of what would become my current research.

I also went home that afternoon and pulled out my old copy Pokémon.

Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sherman Alexie and Me

“'Books,' I say to them. 'Books,' I say. I throw my weight against their locked doors. The door holds. I am smart. I am arrogant. I am lucky."

This isn't the quote I put on the board last Thursday. I put up Scott McCloud's definition of art:
Art, as I see it, is any human activity which doesn't grow out of either of our species' two basic instincts: survival and reproduction!
But I had Alexie in mind as I explained the differences between writing a Personal Narrative essay for a grade and writing to tell a story. We discussed this through McCloud's "Six Steps"--a path, he argues, all art takes:

To reinforce this, I also showed them the first few minutes of Chimamanda Adichie's "The Danger of a Single Story"--a TED Talk about why multiple narratives are important:

We discussed how reading multiple narratives, as we have been doing this semester, helps us by allowing others to grow beyond the single story we might have been told about them. Writing our own stories enables us to grow by countering the single story others may have of us.

"Story" here, I explained, is that act of creation that McCloud refers to in his definition of art. And having multiple literacies gives us multiple ways to tell our stories and read others.

Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?


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