I’m sharing this here for the sheer value of Sean Stewart’s talk on the Evolution of Storytelling. I’m not entirely sure I agree with his evaluations, but I do very much appreciate how he’s made me think critically about stories and how they reach audiences.
Category Archives: PhD study
I was introduced to Frederic Wertham‘s book sometime in the late 80s or early 90s, on a late night interview show Bob Costas had. That night I stayed up to watch him talk to William Gaines, the (benevolent) dictator of MAD Magazine, a rag I loved while growing up, and for which I’d like to write someday.
Costas asked Gaines about his testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954, hearings that were called in direct response to Wertham’s scathing accusations against comics, and particularly horror and true crime comics like Gaines’ EC used to publish. The very reason MAD is a “magazine” and not a comic book was to get it out of the clutches of the Comics Code Authority, a ratings code adopted after the hearings by most comics publishers and still followed by a handful of publishers as late as 2011.
Well. Turns out that Wertham’s data, portions of which have been considered questionable for a while, have significant problems. Carol Tilley, Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has gone through a portion of the documentation Wertham used in composing Seduction, initially looking for letters from angry librarians complaining about comics, and found very few. As Tilley took notes back to her hotel from examining Wertham’s files at the Library of Congress, she found instead more and more inconsistencies. And to make sure she wasn’t making errors in her note-taking, she photocopied parts of files to be sure.
I find this turn of events fascinating, especially in light of how, after a long series of recent gun tragedies in the US, video games are again being scrutinized and demonized as instigators of violent and anti-social behavior not just in children, but now adults as well.
So, here’s the thing. When I was in grade school, I was the obnoxious know-it-all. I didn’t need to study that hard to get through with good enough grades to keep mom off my back. There was a slowly declining curve as I progressed through high school, and then college came, and I skimmed by the skin of my teeth, to be honest. First grad school wasn’t intensely difficult because a lot of what I did was about making things — writing words, learning to direct, stage managing, building sets, so on. No academic writing whatsoever.
The reason I say the above is because it means this: I never learned good study habits. Ever. I was a lazy snot and bluffed the rest. Or maybe I didn’t consider some things studying because I enjoyed doing them, and they came easily because I was interested. The point is, now I’m in a boat where I’m very interested in what I’m doing, but it is very very hard and it is kicking my ass. So I’ve had to hoist myself by the bootstraps and get in gear, and I’ve had to cobble methods for making this happen as I go along.
Anyone want to hear how I’m getting that done? I offer this in the hope that something I’ve thrown together may be of benefit to someone else out there. And to hear how others out there get their stuff done. Because this is joyously hard (she says, tearing out a bit of hair a realizing she’s chipped yet another tooth), and sharing is caring and it’s nice to know I’m not alone in this boat.
I’m back in the US after nearly 24 hours on a plane. Well, I’ve been in the US now more than 24 hours after spending those 24 hours on a plane, and jetlag isn’t hitting me as hard as I thought it would, but that may be due to the nap I took a few hours ago.
Hours. Hours and hours and hours.
I’m supposed to be working on an article for an academic journal. It’s due on the 21st. The outline is solid, things are filling in, but it still feels very intimidating. I’m aiming at 4000 words, with a max of 5000; 3500 – 4000 should adequately cover what I’m trying to express.
Which is about truth, and lies. Stories are made-up things. Phillip Pullman has said more than once, and with different words, that stories tell truth with lies. And that’s something I’ve thought about for a long time, the difference between truth and fact. Truth can sting independent of fact; fact is hard and cold and unyielding, something that sometimes yields as much comfort as warming words. Lies are a deliberate alteration of fact, but their relationship to truth is not as dualistic.
But let’s say you’re listening to a bunch of people. Interviewing them, really. Because what you want to do is listen to their experiences, find the truth in the fact, the memories and moments that resonate, and then use that to anchor a wholly fictional tale about a completely made up person in emotional — and to some degree factual — truth.
Where are the boundaries in this process? What ethical considerations need to be taken into account? And how does a writer monitor those things, make sure he or she is riding the straight and narrow, at least enough to cause the least harm? And how much harm is too much, and to whom?
And there you go. That’s what the article is about, except I neglect to mention the role of reflective practice which is another entry entirely. With luck, I’ll have this ready to go by the evening of the 21st. Right now, it’s slow going, but at least I don’t have blank-page paralysis, which happened to me for the first time in my life just a few months ago. Shocking.
Anyway, back to work for me.
I have no business writing this post. I don’t. I need to be busting my ass on a project brief. But something really bothers me about a number (not all!) of transmedia blog sites.
For example, check out this short post by Peter Von Stackleburg: Computer Graphics & Designing Emotion in Transmedia Stories.
…It’s great advice. Honest. Light and color in visual imagery have powerful effects on emotion, and on narrative expectation. It’s great advice for people creating 3D comics, or 3D animation, or creating single frame artwork in a 3D computer graphic style. It’s great advice for anyone working with images, really.
But this has nothing to do with transmedia specifically. Transmedia is about multiple platforms. A deeper discussion, one true to its title, would ask questions about how to graphically link all platforms that include visual imagery. How does one “design emotion” over several platforms? Transmedia lets a creator gun or throttle all kinds of emotional responses in complex and interconnected ways. If you have a story about a young couple, told over Twitter, Facebook, and a personal blog run by one partner, you could build suspense like this:
Bob’s been updating Facebook with his locations all day. He has his phone set to auto-upload any pictures he takes (he’s said before that he does it to screw any thief who might steal his phone and take incriminating pictures of him or herself). He’s off at a conference somewhere, the place isn’t that important. What is important is that he stops checking in, and when Jane sends him a good night tweet, he doesn’t respond. Jane tweets later to see if any of their mutual friends is with Bob, as she tried calling him, but the phone rings out. Her friends tweet back jokes and assurances, but then they all go to bed.
And then she gets a Facebook notification about a new picture upload from him. She goes to check — it’s dark, grainy, mostly indistinct. But there’s a streetlight in the background, and someone laid out on the ground not far from there. In less than an hour, Jane posts the picture on her blog, explaining she’s been in touch with police, and asking for people to get the word out and help.
That is an example — rough, sure — but it’s an example of how to use emotion across platforms. I hesitate to use the term design. I’m not sure how to design an emotion. I am pretty knowledgeable in evoking them.
And on a final note, I plan to write about Mr. Von Stackleburg’s posts that I do think are insightful; I realise it’s a bit unfair to just call him out like this, and I don’t want to give the impression that his blog overall is lacking, because it’s not. Also — if he’s reading this, I completely intended to comment directly in the blog with questions, but I couldn’t log in to the site, and I couldn’t find a way to register to comment! :(
In trying to sort out where the gap in knowledge is, the one that I’ll be aiming to fill as my “contribution to knowledge” in my field, I’ve had a bit of a hard time. Part of it is that I think I keep missing the mark with my searches (though my Google-fu is usually sufficient). Part of it is that I’m intimidated. I can’t possibly be coming up with somethign that no one else in the whole wide world hasn’t come up with before.
Which makes my literature review … difficult for me to tackle. I’m already behind the 8-ball reacquainting and just plain old acquainting myself with all kinds of terminology and methods in fields I’m familiar with intuitively, but not rigorously academically. In class today the idea given to me was this: find dudes who are talking about things related enough to your field, but with whom you disagree.
Blindingly smart. This forces me to defend my arguments. I have to articulate why I feel things. It’s confronting, and confrontations often leave me in anxious states. But today, after reading a Henry Jenkins article (“Game Design as Narrative Architecture,” here), I’ve found my first source.
Greg Costikyan. I do not agree with his notions on story, nor do I agree with his assertion that “story is the antithesis of game” (from “Where Stories End and Games Begin,” which is available online from Costikyan’s site, but which seems to be plagued with some malware troubles, so click at your own risk.)
Yes. There certainly are games that contain no story element to them, no narrative (I’m still having a bugger of a time understanding the mechanical/academic differences between story and narrative, though James Phelan is helping), and that’s absolutely fine. Checkers, Tetris. I enjoy them, and have no difficulty admitting they’re games.
But so is Mass Effect.
While my final project will not likely have an interactive element that’s as direct as the audience controlling a character in the story, there are still very important issues being brought up at the intersection of games studies and narratology that I need to own.
Gah, my reading list never ends.
- Myth of the talking ball – a brief history of ludology (weeklyrift.com)
- Cover Story: Narrative in Games (1up.com)
People are internally self-contradictory. We’re not the same from day to day. You might catch me on a bad day and I’ll growl at a kitten. Most of the time I’m rendered a speechless wibble of goo.
Take a given event, get a bunch of people to watch it, and then ask them afterwards what happened. Forgo meaning for now, just ask for the passage from moment to moment, reasonable amount of detail.
No one person will ever completely agree with another. Like the men groping an elephant anc oming to different conclusions, human experience can only capture so much. We have environmental factors that stop us — maybe an obscured line of sight, maybe we’re at the epicenter and are too dazed to get the whole picture. We have internal factors, too. Culture, personal philosophies, perhaps a nasty break-up the night before.
This prism of perception of experience, it’s not a feature, it’s a bug.
Using more than one medium to tell a story is just like this. You got the trunk storyline, you got the foot storyline, you got the tail. And one person — the audience, the reader, the watcher, whatever — that person gets the joy of discovering things. They get to poke around, find something, gain some clarity. Or maybe muddy the waters.
In my mind, this is a great way to get around preconceived notions.
My project will have a broad audience, and it includes people who are going to have some very solidly formed opinions on immigrants. Opinions which aren’t very, let’s say, compassionate toward them. I think, if I do things right, transmedia vectors will keep them around. Because invariably someone will share their point of view.
This is also a challenge for me. Because I’m going to have to think like people that make me very, very itchy. Well. Empathy goes both ways, I suppose.