Defying the Narrator

I was playing a game over the weekend with my friend called the Stanley Parable, and while playing it I discovered an interesting style of storytelling that I had’t encountered very often. The style was a very potent form of narrative dissent, or the character and reader defying the story that the narrator has laid out for the two to follow. The game has multiple endings, depending on the choices you make, and at every turn the narrator has something to say about those decisions.

The most obvious thing that makes this game different from others out there is the complete lack of action. You are an employee in a mysterious corporation who discovers that he is the only person in his entire office left in the building, and after he leaves his desk discovers different reasons for their disappearance, depending on where the player decides to travel within the building. The game is entirely about choice, and when you disobey the narrator, he insults you, and gets very emotional that you’ve ruined his story. Of course you are free to do everything that he tells you to do, but in the end it is entirely your choice. You can even stand in a broom closet if you so choose (I recommend it, it leads to some pretty funny dialogue).

This game demonstrates how video games can offer a different kind of storytelling through player choice. This kind of interaction between the medium and the viewer is only possible through an interactive medium such as video games, and offers a perspective on choice that most books and movies don’t or can’t offer. To be able to decide how you want the story to proceed, regardless of what the narrator tells you to do, and create your own path further validate video games as their own legitimate and creative form of storytelling medium.

Some questions about Explainers

For those of you who don’t know what an explainer is, here is a link to the Geneseo English department’s page on Explainers.

For the Digital Humanities class, I am part of the Explainers team, who have just put up a contest for the best Explainer. An Explainer is a short video or graphic that essentially summarizes a particular topic, be it Edgar Allen Poe or Magnetism. While we have been doing the contest, I wondered something about what we were doing. What I was curious about was whether the author of the explainer truly understood what they were talking about if they were writing such a small segment on the topic. So, to help potential contestants understand what an explainer was, the group, with myself included, decided to create our own explainer about different aspects of both the project and the class, and realized the actual value of an Explainer.

When you write an Explainer, you are required to understand the topic well enough to condense it into a small enough description that is not only easy to understand, but also remains informative to the reader. It needs to be able to teach while being brief, and for that to happen the author must be able to understand their topic to the point of efficiently being able to educate their viewers. It acts as a test for the author, forcing them to form their opinions and gather their knowledge in a very concise way, and in a world where a person’s interaction with any sort of knowledge is very temporary, that level of understanding is one that acts as a very positive example in an age of immediate information.

The only negative aspect of this is that the viewer is still receiving the same level of immediate information, and doesn’t have the same level of connectivity with the source material as the author does. Hopefully, simply the act of reading the explainer will be enough to motivate others to create ones of their own, and allow them the same experience.

Social Media Mishap

I recently came across this article over the weekend:

This for me has been only the most recent representations of how social media has evolved to the point where anything anyone posts can be placed under immense scrutiny. The professor involved is an art professor from New Jersey who was simply tweeting a photo of a fandom that he shared with his daughter, that being Game of Thrones. His daughter is wearing a t-shirt with a quote from the character Daenerys Targaryen, one of the more popular protagonists of the series, that reads “I will take what is mine with fire and blood”. This post led to his eventual suspension by the school as they took the post as a threat against the Dean of the school, as the school was involved in labor disputes at the time.

The thing that social media has done more efficiently than any other form of media is attracting a massive audience at the flick of the switch. However, our society doesn’t seem to understand the full implications that come along with that, and as such sometimes don’t understand when something that is read by hundreds of thousands of people is given a different meaning than what they intended. There are so many different viewpoints and so many different ways to read a post or view an argument that posting a quote of your favorite character may not always be safe. It does, however, demonstrate the potential for a more expansive and cohesive viewership, and has also been a way for many different kinds of dialogue to occur on many different subjects, from popular culture to world events. But in order to be part of those sorts of dialogues, people must first be made aware of the power that they now have, over both their own image and the image of their topic.

And the Copyright Goes to…

After last week’s discussions on copyrighting laws and the rules with which copyrighting is defined, I took a look at an instance that to me seemed a little curious. This isn’t a super insightful instance, but if inspires a dialogue then great, I just thought that this was an interesting scenario.

A lot of college students nowadays are familiar, or at least have heard in passing, about a television cartoon known as Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was a fun cartoon, had a cool concept and had a cast of very relatable and engaging characters. As is common with such shows, it gathered quite a following and a huge fan base exists for the show. A few years later, the blockbuster James Cameron hit Avatar came out, which managed to cash in an absurd amount of money. Now the really unusual thing about this is that one of the reasons Cameron pulled in so much money was by purchasing the copyright on the name Avatar, which essentially barred the name from being used in other productions, including the aforementioned television series. The live action movie that was made from the cartoon series had to be called just The Last Airbender, and the sequel series that the cartoon made had to be called The Legend of Korra to avoid paying royalties to Cameron for an unrelated series.

This to me seems ridiculous.

Why should productions made BEFORE a series have to pay someone else for using their original name? Not to mention that the word “avatar” is a title that has existed long before CGI blue people borrowed it for their description. Robbing former projects of their identities by using bought rights goes against the very point of copyrighting, which is to ensure the artist doesn’t get robbed of their due respect.

I believe that to solve this sort of issue, a change to the function of copyrighting should be made. If a project is published, sent out and reaches a certain profit quota, then the work should have a copyright applied to it immediately. That way, works that have come before other works of the same name can get their due, rather than having the rights be mad bid for ownership. It might be a bit on the unorthodox side, but I know if i created something, I’d want to maintain ownership of its identity, especially if I produced it before a project of the same name. Just a topic for thought.

Can Creativity be Programmed?

I was roaming the internet a few days ago and I came across this article.

To summarize what this article is discussing, it unveils the fact that robots are actually capable of writing books now. At the moment, they are just writing on pre-existing scientific or mathematic theories and laws, and have even occasionally dabbled in love letters as well. However, the article’s biggest point is posing the question of whether or not robots could actually be able to write a fictional novel, and even win a Pulitzer for it.

Personally, I don’t think that is a valid question at this point.

Robots are still created and manufactured by humans, and their capabilities are clearly lined out by their creators within their computer code. At this point in time, there is no way to instruct something to be creative and innovative, that kills the whole point of creativity. To be able to properly write a work of fiction, you need to be able to arrive at the idea through a combination of experience and imagination, something that machines don’t necessarily have right now. Robots simply cannot sit down and think about what would be an interesting story to write about because the code for that simply does not exist.

However, if this technology ever does exist, I think the question is less about can a machine write a novel, but does the ability to create a novel imply that at some level, these robots have an element of humanity in them? Does having the ability to be creative make the machine part of the human psyche, and can that ever be achieved? For me, writing has been a way for me to express thoughts, feelings, and emotions as well as taking ownership of a world that I have built, which inspires me to continue to write and create new stories that can be shared. Can a machine ever find this same level of joy, or will it create and be creative simply because it has to? And what would a robot author mean for the future of storytelling? Will it be another aspect of competition, or a stigma on the literary world? Will it be a boon, or will it only cause a new level of literary elitism?

It’s Dangerous to go Alone…Video Games as Narrative

I’ve been waiting a while to blog about a topic that I felt could come a little organically, and while I will admit that I perhaps waited a little too long to start, I thought this story was a perfect question to present in this class. Recently, I was having a conversation with my friend about a game that had come out a little while ago, called Bioshock Infinite. As we were discussing the game, another friend of ours came over to listen, and then asked us something that inspired a really fascinating discussion; “Haven’t you guys outgrown games yet?”

The friend who I was talking to (out of privacy I’ll call him Mark) , began to argue that games were not a child’s toy anymore, that the days of Super Mario and Donkey Kong being the major games was over. He discussed how games have really made the shift into actual creative storytelling, stories that for the first time, people can actively write themselves. Games no longer simply tell you to save the world, but they now offer you the choice to let it burn or rule it as well. You aren’t simply running through panning two-dimensional backgrounds, completing little missions as they pop up. You’re creating relationships between characters, feeling for the plights of the different citizens who claim to need your help. “In a way,” he said, “for a lot of people, video games are becoming the new way to read a book, except this time they really are the hero.”

Granted, I didn’t exactly agree with games taking the place of books, but games have certainly earned their merit in terms of telling stories, inciting emotions, and teaching moral lessons that myths, legends, and stories taken to paper have done in hundreds of years prior. Video games have been taking these lessons one step forward though, because now, instead of just watching the hero make a choice for his own reasons, and learning from that why it was the right or wrong choice, games force the player-reader to take agency in the narrative and make the choice themselves, suffering whatever consequences may come.

Now that we, in this class, are discovering how to take reading into the digital age, I thought it would be pertinent to see how storytelling has already taken that step forward. Sure, there are a lot of military games out there, but there are also games that talk about a father’s redemption in the eyes of their child, a soldier that suffers through his own Heart of Darkness in Dubai, two brothers that would travel the world to be with each other, and a Journey, taken in complete silence, yet with more communication and understanding than most games convey. Overall, narrative has already penetrated the digital world, and now it is our job to save the texts that helped inspire these new stories, and help inspire a conversation that pushes us into the future.