Gaming Shifts From Individual Experience to Mass Experience

Recently, the players of “Twitch Plays Pokémon”
 beat the game. As fellow classmate, Greg Palermo stated, “The premise is that a bunch of people (reportedly as many as 50,000) control the character 24-7 through a text feed–in other words, by typing “Up,” “Down,” “Left,” “Right,” “A,” “B,” etc.–and try to see if they can actually get anything done.”

It is reported that it took the thousands of players a total of 390 hours to complete the game.

This “social experiment” has led me to look upon past gaming systems their evolution.

Purple Gameboy Color


My first interaction with video games was over a decade ago (wow I feel old!). The Gameboy Color let children escape into many different worlds such as Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and the notorious Pokémon. There were many accessories for the Gameboy Colors, such as the

lightnifty light that helped when playing under the covers past your bedtime. In addition, there was the magnifier. I remember


thinking how amazing this gaming system was with its accessories. I loved the fact that in an instant I could be riding around on Yoshi or avoiding barrels in Donkey Kong while trying to save the Princess. Playing on my Gameboy Color was the time for my own personal entertainment, in solitary.


Children began individually playing with their Gameboy Color in groups during recess or play


dates. It was inevitable that the creators of Gameboy created a way for users to change the gaming experience and play together. The Gameboy Link Cable made it possible for individual users to interact with each other within the same game. This was brand new and amazed many. The old solitary style of playing video games was slowly becoming extinct.



Years later, Xbox 360 was one gaming platform that came out with the brand new feature of users talking to each other from anywhere in the country via headset. This allowed players to interact more than ever before and paved the way for more mass gaming experiences.


“Twitch Plays Pokémon” seems incredible to our generation now because of its premise of linked mass contributions with one goal. Years ago, while I was under the covers with my “worm light” attachment, I would have never guessed that Pokémon would be on the computer, let alone be played by thousands of nerds all over the world.

This achievement and disbelief reminds me of Henry David Thoreau’s statement from “Walden:” “Old deeds for old people and new deeds for new.”

I remember my parents being amazed by all my video games, from the Gameboy Color to the Wii; I guess I’ll have to wait and see what my child will surprise me with!


The Gettysburg Address as Fluid Text

Digital Thoreau’s “fluid text edition” of Henry D. Thoreau’s Walden is so named in reference to John Bryant’s 2002 book The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen. Every text is fluid, Bryant suggests, insofar as it represents not the definitive articulation of a fixed intention but rather one entry in the record of an author’s evolving and shifting intentions. The full record of those intentions would involve, at a minimum, all of the author’s drafts, and perhaps even information about authorial decisions in flux between the moment a pen is raised and the moment it touches paper.

Some texts are more obviously fluid than others because we have more information about their genesis. Such is the case with Walden. And some are fluid not only because of their pre-publication but also their post-publication history. An example of the latter is Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”

The fluidity of this famous speech briefly became a matter of lively public discussion in 2013, its sesquicentennial year, when conservative media outlets expressed outrage over a recording of it made by President Obama. The reason for the outrage? Obama’s omission of the words “under God” from the final sentence.

As it turned out, Obama had given an historically faithful reading of one of the address’ five versions: the so-called “Nicolay copy,” sometimes referred to as the “first draft” of the address because it’s the earliest surviving manuscript copy and may have been the copy from which Lincoln read at the cemetery’s dedication on November 19, 1863. At the request of Ken Burns, Obama recorded the Nicolay copy as part of Burns’ Learn the Address project, which encourages “everyone in America to video record themselves reading or reciting the speech” — and which might remind us that the post-publication fluidity of some texts (most obviously, perhaps, speeches and plays) is partly a consequence of their having been intended for performance.

Google Cultural Institute has a nice timeline of the address’s interesting textual history. It draws largely from the House Divided Project, a digital humanities Civil War project at Dickinson College to which Dickinson undergraduates have contributed, and where you can read all five drafts.

The Gettysburg Foundation also provides transcriptions of the five versions, highlighting the differences between them in boldface.

In ENGL 340 tomorrow, we’ll take these five versions and encode the differences between them in XML, using the critical apparatus tagset of TEI. Then we’ll display them side by side using the Versioning Machine and — if time allows, and if all goes well — Juxta in order to see how visualization tools can help us understand the fluid nature of one of our nation’s most important texts.


Free Rice is a site so cool, you have to see it to believe it. When you first enter the site, you will see something like this:


You would click on “trouble” as the synonym for “difficulty,” and proceed to the next level, which will have slightly more difficult words. Eventually you’ll be picking synonyms for words like agrestal and lanuginous. Or, if vocab isn’t for you, you can change the subject to geography, visual art, German, grammar, the periodic table, and several others. It’s a fabulous, fast way to keep sharp between Netflixing and Redditing and Facebooking and Tweeting and looking at pictures of cute animals.

But the incredibly fabulous thing about Freerice is that each correct answer earns ten grains of rice for countries suffering from chronic hunger. This is an operation of the United Nation’s World Hunger Programme, so don’t be fooled by the .com. Once you start answering the questions, a rice-bowl will appear next to the interface with a running total of the rice you’ve accrued.

And don’t worry if you get the answer wrong! All that happens is a “Please try again” message… they don’t take away any rice. Could you imagine? Talk about negative reinforcement.

If you think this site is too good to be true, you’re in good company. So how does this work, exactly? The site’s FAQ explains it well:

Freerice is not sitting on a pile of rice. You and other Freerice players earn it 10 grains at a time. Here is how it works: when you play the game, sponsor banners appear on the bottom of your screen for every correct answer that you choose. The money generated by these banners is then used to buy the rice. So by playing, you generate the money that pays for the rice donated to hungry people.

I have been singing the praises of Freerice since I discovered it several years ago. It’s a fun thing to do to pass the time and can actually be pretty helpful if you’re trying to brush up on your French or even do some SAT prep.

Freerice is an intersection of the Humanities and humanitarians. We’ve spoken in class about how social media sites like Twitter are all about brevity, about abridging information so that it can catch your attention as you’re sailing through the 27 windows you have open. While some (myself included) may worry about how that’s affecting our ability to focus on reading longer pieces of literature, others have embraced and made the most of this change. Freerice takes advantage of our shortening attention span, demanding only perhaps five seconds for each question. Best of all it, it takes us from social reading to social change, reminding us that engaging with the Humanities from a dorm in New York can have profound implications all over the world.