Category Archives: Student Blogs

Handing in My Completed Thesis

I never thought I would make it here. Tomorrow is the day that I am going to hand in my completed thesis. To me it isn’t finished. It is 80 pages of hard work that I am proud of. But the novel isn’t finished. I have completed as much as I could within the past two semesters that I have been working on my thesis as a whole. At first the brainstorming process took me longer than I thought. Once I manifested my idea to write a novel the research stage had to begin. Once the research stage was over I had to then start writing. I wrote my first chapter over winter break and I have been painstakingly writing ever since.

I am happy to say that I am handing in what I have so far and I am happy about how far I have come. I do believe that there is much more work to do. This summer will be dedicated to finishing my novel and I will do my best to send it out to get it published. I am really hoping to be able to find a publishing house who would like to publish my novel. I believe it has a strong message and I think the story is compelling enough that people will want to read it. I am just coming to the climax of the story. I have been setting the plot up for the “problem that needs to be solved.” I have become fond of my characters and I want to see good things happen to them but I am still unsure of how to do that in this novel.

My job is to tell a story. My second job is to raise awareness to alcoholism and how they affect families and loved ones. My third job is to entertain the reader and get them to love my characters as much as I do. I hope I have done all of these jobs well.

I’m excited about my project and I am excited about graduation. But just because I am receiving my diploma does not mean that the work ends here. I am going to continue to work on this story and make it the best it can be.

I still really need a title. Any suggestions?


Ideas for Digital Website

This blog post will cover some brainstorming idea for the digital website portion of my thesis project.

I won’t say I hadn’t been giving this some thought already (even though it’s always a work on progress). For the digital website, I remember I spoke to Dr. Z at one point to go over how to set it up. She suggested using WordPress as more of a website in stead of a blog (I think maybe kind of like what I’m doing now).

As for content, I plan to include the following:

  • The Pilot
  • Episode 2
  • The Literature Review
  • Blog posts
  • Character backgrounds (maybe?)
  • Progress photos (similar to the ones from my presentation)
  • I was also thinking about including a brief self reflected video (If there’s time. Unfortunately I most likely will not be doing the documentary of the progress. Unless either I never need sleep or somehow more hours get put into the day.)

That’s what I’m thinking. If there’s anything I could be missing, comment below.


Thesis in 3 (Part 2)

Being A Superhero and Black Af

Didn’t nobody want Hancock to be a superhero. Hancock, from Columbia Pictures’ Hancock, features Will Smith playing, basically, a nigga, with superpowers. And by nigga I’m going by Chris Rock’s definition thereof, the type of brother you hide your kids and wife from, from whom you hide the fact that you got any money on you because you best believe that nigga is gonna rob the shit out of you. Of course that’s hyperbole, but only sort of. A better defintion of what it might mean for someone, particularly black, to be the kind of nigga I’m referring to that reflects Hancock’s disposition is […] .

Because if you who is reading had ever seen Hancock you’d know that homeboy got no breaks as the kind of abject despairing Negro he was. I mean, dude was introduced slumped on a bench from obviously drinking too much either the night before or, perhaps, hours before the opening scene; and dude can’t seem to do nothing right. Like, catching bad guys for Hancock is like letting a toddler take the wheel of some go-fast car. Fucking smashing the getaway car into buildings and shit; he’s even drinking on the “job”! It makes sense no one likes Hancock, though. He’s a nigga. He drinks, curses, unlike Miles, who you who is reading might want to consider as paragon in terms of finding you a Miles Morales to bring home to yo mama and daddy as boyfriend or bae or boo-thang or another. It’s apparent Hancock – pun intended – is his worse enemy. But at the same time, society got this weird sense of what it mean to be a superhero going on that casts Hancock, a visibly black motherfucking superhero, as more of an antihero, like Hellboy kind of, despite all the good he do.

Having not seen Hancock in, like, however many years now would mean I’d be kind of remiss for not mentioning that yours truly ain’t seen the film in, like, however many years. Now, but the aforementioned premise of the film sets up what’s considered, in history, particularly Blaxploitative film history, as the Big Black Buck, “big (sic) baaadddd niggers, over sexed and savage, violent and frenzied as they lust for white flesh,” as cited by Rob Lendrum (“The Super Black Macho”) as having come from Donald Bogle by way of D.W. Griffith (Birth of a Nation). A buck (Lendrum, et al) orientation is basically run of the mill of what it mean to be a black superhero; or at least what it did mean. Lendrum’s “Super” actually about the criteria for most, if not all, black superpeeps circa 1970, so civil right and the black power movement. So ingrained in the ideology of these fictional do-gooders were the sensibilities of black folks tryin to get out from under Whitey’s [bullshit] that they would just reinforce the problematics of black (em)power(ment) in the first place, failing to critically analyze the subject material at hand, in turn undermining the end goal of, perhaps, portraying blacks as something other than black af or “baaaaddd niggers” (ibid). Talking about a one Huey P Newton’s reading of probably the spear for the canon of blaxploitation films, Sweet, Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song, Lendrum: “Newton reads the film as a revolutionary text while reaffirming the Black power movement’s macho attitude and assertion of patriarchal family head,” and how that “manhood is achieved two ways: sex and violence against the white oppressor” ( ). Which is not the case for Hancock as he’s not featured as vagina-crazy, cock-swinging, howling black lunatic trying to fuck any and every white and on two legs. Hancock, if anything, if nothing else, more aligns with Lendrum’s second tenet or axis of “Black Macho” circa civil rights, that of “possess[ing] ‘super savage’ abilities, or hyperbolized physical powers of the uncontrollable body of the Buck” ( ). From this standpoint super-blacks are assholes – and Hancock, if you who is reading has seen, none to happy about being called an asshole.

Oh, I wish a human would.

Hancock: god-like, cock diesel, fast af,  can fly, impervious to bullets, black. What this does to Hancock, et al is they “reinforce stereotypes and strategies of dehumanization that have positioned the black subject” as no brain and all brawn. Which’s Hancock all day till he’s reunited with former bae, Mary Embrey, who been on the low under the guise of wife to Ray Embrey, played by Jason Bateman, who the guy that turns Hancock’s life around – wherein “white is right”-ness comes into play. The Embreys and Hancock cross paths when Ray car get stuck on a train track as an oncoming train that have plenty of time to stop but gives no fucks about the fact that there a car in its path wont stop therefore  Hancock, he just flip Ray’s car over onto another car, I want to say, which leave he hisself with no time to get out the train path, so he just stand there lowering his shoulders, letting the train crash into him, which does jack shit to him, because he’s Hancock, who derails the train as a result, obviously. It get better, too, as motorists of all walks and talks disembark their vehicles to scold Hancock for having not just flown up into the sky with the car thereby preventing the collision to which Hancock just play flip and crack jokes on his hecklers just before Ray clapbacks with how everyone should basically STFU because Hancock the reason he’s getting to home to his wife and kid, you dolts.

Hancock being Hancock isn’t super gracious or anything, expresses zero gratitude for nothing, but herein lies (or laid?) an opportunity for our troubled black, Buck af, protag to get in good with the “puny human gnats,” to quote Galactus right quick,” and he, Hancock, he bites. He takes Ray’s invitation to join he and the fam for dinner thereby finally establishing a rapport with someone for a change, as well as reconnecting him with Mary (who unbeknownst to Ray is “super,” too), whereby Ray, who is a Hancock fan, asserts that in order for Hancock to turn the tide of public opinion about him, give the people someone to be proud of, that is in order to be taken seriously as someone unlike them, the people, he (Hancock) will have to get his life together. Following the logic of the film this amounts to Hancock going to prison where he’s rehabilitated(?) through a number of sundry discussions with other inmates who encourage him to share out about his life, and then Hancock has an epiphany. Scenes thereafter show him shaving his face, seemingly, literally, cleaning hisself up – turning into the kind of superhero Ray’s trying to encourage him to be – up to the point of actually being called on to disarm bank robbers, of which the leader is strangely akin to a Southern drawl-having, country bumpkin played by Eddie Marsan, who in this context actually works as the big, big baddie, if we read into it like that; but anyway, Hancock is also in full superhero regalia at this point, a stark transition for the hobo chic he was rocking prior to, rocking an all black leotard all clean with an eagle on his chest, all clean shaven and shit – a superhero. It’s not until, maybe, 30 mins left in the film is Hancock shown drinking again, having no reason to at all really, since he’s the HNIC, as in everybody loves him for having done a “Good Job,” something he borderline retardedly repeats to the police on sight during the bank heist, for saving hostages, prevailing over evil – all of which were pretty run of the mill for Hancock before his outward transformation, except that what constituted black superheroism in the fictional universe of Hancock was contingent on how “right” it was.

Now. As Lendrum writing in “Black Macho” (2005), black superheroism from Jump St., since civil rights and shit, was underpinned by long-privately-held prejudices and stereotypes of blacks that, unless critically analyzed for how nuanced they are and peculiar af to blacks, though there is nothing innate or inherent or inborn about them, come off as just random superhero characteristics. But like Lendrum say:

 

  1. “The alter ego [though in Hancock’s case there is none] although not sexually and socially rejected like his white counterpart, is often badgered and lacks the power of authority to change his emasculated position” (3…)
  2. “The black body of the superheroes is borrowed from the brutal Buck stereotype and the superpowers that they possess are often exaggerated attributes of the brutal buck or savage” (3…)
  3. The comics, like the films, fail to shed light on the social conditions that create this need, and instead depict the ghettos as places filled with pimps, hustlers and other snarling black buck criminals in need of a trouncing. ….What is worse is that this distinction oversimplifies a dynamic and complicated urban landscape that has developed due to hundreds of years of colonial history including slavery and economic barriers” (3…)

 

Now timeout. Understanding that third bullet requires insight into Hancock’s “business,” i.e., where he lives and what he does for a living, which is a) jackshit and b) in a trailer. No doubt the nigga (excuse me) in Hancock makes it hard for his ass to get anywhere in life, just the LQ (read: liquor store), presuming racial and social politics are just as palpable in the universe in the film as they in real life. Making Hancock unsuitable for any job, understandably so being that our homeboy is a superhero, unlike Superman or Spider-Man or Bruce Wayne, who do work, are white, and are very much so invested in the immediacy of the (white)world they inhabit. Even still not the point: the film fills the audience in on little to nothing about Hancock save for the fact that he’s, like, a million years old, once had relations with now-Ray’s wife, and that he was beat to shit, like, a million years ago, to the point of not remembering anything. (FYI Pounding whiskey the way Hancock do can do that to you too just so you know, but Hancock is only depicted as having an affinity for drinking the stuff, not actually getting drunk off it. Mostly he’s absent minded, careless, doesn’t give af about what or how he does what he does, having nothing really to do with blood alcohol content or anything, just arguably being a nigga. Which is fine; or at least should be fine, right?) Whatever Hancock’s life was prior to us in the audience, you, et al who are reading this and have seen the film, whether it was a week or a month or three years prior to his (Hancock’s) introduction, is a mystery. Hancock then as a “snarling black buck criminal [type of brother] in need of a trouncing,” following the logic of what the criteria Lendrum sets up,” is inherently unlikable as a black character unlikable as superhero of color whose blacks superheroics are not limited to a black community.

Check this out, though, because while a number of black characters come out during civil rights, e.g., Black Panther (who film out soon!), Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Sam Wilson (the incumbent Captain America) (wholly inspired by blaxploitation films come out during that time just so you know, just to remind you) have survived into today, they didn’t necessarily have the same mass appeal as other their more popularly and widely known white male counterparts; hence A one Doc Nama’s reading of the hard body, cock diesel motherfucking Luke Cage as being especially “Groid,” like, “this brother was really rough,” he says, which ties into the laughable linguistic endowment of circa civil right Luke Cage as having a sort of ridiculous patois, partly inspired by Chester Himes crime fiction, whereby Chester Himes invented this faux-Black language, meant to be jocular, which none of the earlier (White) writers of Luke Cage were let in on, “something I would’ve probably done,” says McDuffie, if he were, say, writing about Asian Americans, and then decided to read a bunch of Amy Tan not knowing that Tan was pulling the wool over readers’ eyes, so to say. Hence comics writer Grant Morrison writing concerning Cage “whose language bowdlerized urban argot in Marvel Universe-friendly oaths” (Supergods 253), like the infamous-ridiculous, “Sweet Christmas!” another time-tested quality, with Marvel’s on-screen version of Cage in the Netflix TV series Jessica Jones, bringing it back. McDuffie a little more sympathetic with it, though, calling the effort “a well intentioned attempt at making a language real” (YouTube).

And certainly the hubbub about what are appropriate and accurate accounts of representation has made the majority-white comics comic community leery about the characteristic they imbue their characters with because being called racist is not something that they or anyone wants, I want to say.  See a question posed to Bendis via Tumblr:

Bendis responds with “Write the individual” sort of “pshaw”-like, as if to say that there’s nothing else informing a given fictional individual but the fictional cosmos in which the characters inhabits, as if Bendis’ personal politics and ideological persuasions got nothing to do with the orientation of the individual. It’s almost as if he’s saying – and certainly Bendis is an authority when it comes to writing comics, etc. having been doing it now for mad years, garnering hisself uber-success – he can’t get the representation thing wrong, even just a little wrong.

But here’s the thing, you Nerds. “Well intentioned attempts as making a language real” that McDuffie makes salient in early stages of Cages, or even a reality real to the point that it makes salient black specific issues, in the context of Black superheroics, is typically limited to performing said superheroics in a black ghettos, where black superheroes concern themselves with Black people problems; whereas the white ones have more civic implications than political (or racial) that extend into other fucking universes, introducing readers to other fucking worlds and a bevy of alien language-speaking aliens, and on. What business do niggers got in outerspace when there’s, like, housing and employment issues to ameliorate, including sundry thug types dealing drugs to the kids them, right? See Lendrum: “When the black superhero burst onto the scene, the writers attempt to bestow them with values and a code of morality that is distinctly black” (ibid 367), making the message “black crime must be fought by black superheroes. Superman is ineffective at dealing with such problems” (ibid). So what then I ask you who is reading this is a writer, whether white or just unfamiliar with The Ways of Blackness, to do about incorporating black faces in white spaces, in place of white faces, where blackness historically marginalized, demonized, ostracized, criticized, and stigmatized?

Let me break y’all of with a theory. Given Hancock’s ultimate transformation from big brutal buck (Lendrum) type whose blackness and general worldview were problematic in the context of the Dominant(ly White) culture he inhabited; given that writers of black superpeeps highjacked popular perceptions of blacks only reinforced equally problematic perceptions of blacks; given the fact that there’s this crazy, crazy Push for Diversity Movement, whereby thereof proponents clamor all the do-dah-damn day about “Diversity!” “Representation!” “Multiculturalism!” blackening and gaying up everything; considering all of that now in the context of comics and what it means to depict a person of color or just some other random motherfucker who is not a classically handsome straight white dude, with some goddam dignity and who other real life equivalents of these very people can be proud of and look up to, what if – just what if, right? – the way to do that was to make them white af? To take these largely “straight out of Central Casting” type of motherfuckers, blacks and other POC, and make them into something else.

To take, for example, a brother like Hancock and have him endure the kind of transformation that the presidential candidate in Ben Carson tried running by potential voters (the one about how he grew up a dirty, ghetto, black kid with anger issues and holes in his socks and roaches and rats all up in he and his mama’s face, and but then turnt his life around by graduating head of the class, becoming the No.1 neurosurgeon in the whole fucking country); the kind of “From Rags to Riches” narrative that would only make sense to a considerable # of peeps about a considerable # of other peeps when it comes to succeeding at making it – cue the American Dream, right?

Under the right scruples it not as crazy farfetched as you might think it. Historically-speaking, distinctly black masks were limited to distinctly Black people problems specific to distinctly black communities when it would come to their distinctly black superheroism. All except for maybe a small numbers of them (e.g., Black Panther and Sam Wilson, who would inevitably rub shoulders with white male counterparts, reinforcing “good” black stereotypes and tropes, including PC Black tendencies and sensibilities, i.e., those respectability politics-having Blacks, with which real life equivalents would distinguish themselves from deemed “bad” blacks, and Whites would enforce as a kind of firewall against black activism gone seemingly awry, like Black peeps can’t ever be mad, e.g. think #blacklivesmatter; the kinds of Black people worthy of celebrity; the kind of brothers you take home to mama, like Miles), had jurisdiction just in the “hood,” where Black plight was palpable and out of the scope of Official Superhero Business for the majority of other, more popular, white, superheroes. I got no real way of actually knowing what be going through the heads of writers of comics when it come to how they reppin – representing – members for whom a large swath of their readerships are presumably supposed to identify with; but I can say that in an effort to understand, I made an inquiry. Disclosing this somebody’s identity, I run the risk of a biting off more than I can chew in terms of the beef I got with a good chunk of the Comics community for how they doing their diversity, and particularly with how Marvel doing Miles; or at least how they’re not doing him when it come to making not just a different kind of Spidey, but also redefining what it means to play superhero while Black Af. And be apprised, because while my beef largely located in linguistic endowment of the newly drafted Spider-Man Miles Morales, a proper verdict can’t be rendered in isolation to other aspects of the character.


Thesis in 3 (Part 1)

 

Oh, I Wish A Human Would

Dont get it twisted. Brian Michael Bendis not all that wrong in his take on the new half black half Spanish Spidey, Miles Morales. Mind you, that assessment also depends on how “in love” you who is reading this is or was, at one point or another, with the Spider-Man mythos in the first place. Which pretty much amounts to an underprivileged dweeb making it out here in these NY streets as the high-flying, deering do-having, Spider-Man after getting bitten by a radioactive spider that endows him with all types of arachnid-like powers from sticking to walls, climbing them, an enhanced sense of proprioception, to pulling off all manner of acrobatic shit. Per the usual too, then, this results in all kinds of coincidental calamities, of which we can pretty much thank our web slinging protag for bringing upon hisself as a sort of cosmic punishment for being awesome the way he is, including the classic unraveling of the immediacy of said protag’s world, which, in this case, stands for Peter Parker constantly wrestling with his sense of priorities as his sense of priorities do end up changing because, duh, he’s Spider-Man.

This paper, however, is hardly an indictment of Bendis as having done something wrong in his creation of Miles Morales, for it’s certainly fine and good that Miles is that way he is – all clean cut and eloquent and shit.

It’s more of a speculative (ad)venture as to what the hell is up with Miles’, with his language, and here’s what I mean. That Miles as a clearly black-faced youth in his assumption of the mantle of Spider-Man should of sounded less like his predecessor Peter Parker, who is white, and more unlike that. What does that mean, though? For this author it meant or means imbuing Miles with a linguistic variant historically associated with black and latino peeps, perhaps, a language classically associated with just some random dumb nigga who dont know better/wanna be better, one believed not to do nobody any favors when it comes to just about anything in life, except for maybe the purposes of spitting some dope behind rhymes on a rap track or, like, affording you yourself a good comeback for when you who is reading this is finding yourself needing something hurtfully clever to retort with when you’re pride is on the brink of shattering because some motherfucker(s) call(s) you a motherfucker and how yo mama so fat with her fat-self that her belt size equator or something. I’m talking about a language that as recent as Trayvon Martin has been a point of provocation for peeps in a debate as to what is an appropriate way of speaking that can or will or should afford one honor and R E S P E C T in the midst of a Push For Diversity Movement that amounts to, basically, the blackening and gaying up of pretty much every historically straight, white fictional character under the sun.

But don’t get me wrong. This author is not saying that Miles as a brotha has to or had to be or sound a certain way in order to be taken seriously as another kind of Spidey, a “Spider-Man for kids of color, adults of color,” as Bendis say. I mean please, far be it from me to tell peeps how they should speaking, let alone what kind of rap music is the type of rap music they want to listen to because it’s not Iggy Azalea or something. What I am saying is that if the point is to diversify, right? If today the consensus is that, say, #blacklivesmatter, or even that #alllivesmatter, that diversity matters, or that we should be celebrating difference in all of it’s forms and persuasions, then Miles, et al were opportunities for their creators to make centerstage historically ostracized, demonized, stigmatized, marginalized, disenfranchised, criticized aspects of real life equivalents that, for them, make it hard to just live their lives. It means putting at the forefront of these “all new, all different” super-peeps sensibilities and qualities traditionally seen as unacceptable, undesirable, though certainly not a basis for discrimination or their absence.

From the standpoint of comics, then, it means not just altering the way a given character looks but also the way the character talks, because how else are we who are reading to tell the difference between the the black and white one, especially if and while they’re in costume. Think Marshall McLuhan “the medium controls the message,” then. Performance – call it diversity – in comics is underpinned by a text-image binary, i.e., pictures plus thought and speech bubbles. Insight into who and what these characters are, want to and don’t want to be – or at least who the writers and illustrators want and don’t want them to be – is gleaned from from that intersection. In turn putting the spotlight on speech patterns and physical appearances. Usually diversity is limited to superficiality, whereby readers and creators substitute appreciating substance for appreciating skin grafts and sex changes, as if that’s all that make a person different, as if those’re the only grounds on which a person get discriminated against. They don’t go beyond epidermal or genital concerns, which fail to acknowledge the other factor to be taken into consideration, which’s how these characters are represented linguistically. Certainly an author’s voice is an author’s voice and ideologies and sensibilities clash all of the time. But what does it mean when a supposed “all new, all different” “Spider-Man for kids of color, adults of color” is blessed with a language ideology that reinforces a white is right dogmatic approach not just to language but also to ethnic performance? – that is, what is considered palatable.

Certainly ideologies and sensibilities vary; one homie’s experience isn’t necessarily equal to another no matter how alike they might be on whatever points of identification they might have. But if the point is to give certain peeps something to be proud of then fear shouldn’t dictate what a superhero is going to do, or how a superhero is going to behave, because I’d bet any money that if a superhero were to come crashing down to planet Earth right now only to be hit with all kinds of politics as to how to “superhero,” that superhero would come out her or his or its face saying, “Oh, I wish a human would.”


Untitled

The whole point of me creating this blog was to archive my thoughts, process, and ideas as a writer. As I write my novel I take moments, like snapshots, from my process and I document them. I don’t expect anyone to read it. Its mainly a reflection for me to read one day when I’m feeling like I have accomplished nothing.

Today is that day. I’m not sure if it is the way I woke up this morning or the looming fact that I only have 4 more weeks of class and then graduation will be upon me and I will begin to feel the pressure to put my masters degree to work. I feel as if I have gotten no where with what I am doing for this project. Yes, I have words on paper. Digital paper that adds up to 75 virtual pages. Long gone is the ink to paper, now it is the systematic tapping of keys on a keyboard that load Times Roman letters on to a white “page” that stares back at me from my computer screen.

I guess I am starting to sound like a depressing starving writer haha.

I figured out what my reading will be for the symposium. I’m very nervous about reading my work in front of a bunch of strangers. I hope I receive positive feedback because I chose a section of my book that is extremely personal. It was also hard to find a excerpt that was short and concise but makes the audience want me to read more. I’ll have to read it out loud and time myself to see how long it will take. I am going to take some time to write out what I want to say next week. I think all of our projects are important and deserve to be heard. So I am happy we are having the symposium but I just don’t know if my project is that important that people will want to listen.

Like I said, I’m feeling a little down today. I’m just hoping I can pick myself back up by next week and write something positive to say.

Oh, did I mention that I still can’t figure out a title for my novel? Feeling stuck isn’t fun.


Map It Out

I meant to post this blog on Monday actually. I added another step to my process. After talking last week about seeing where this second episode goes, I decided to map it out. I took out my handy dandy notebook and kind of made one of those directional charts you look at if you want to know which version of Ryan Gosling would be perfect for you.

With this, I tried to weigh out my options and see what scenarios would work best with what. Although this seemed like a good idea at the time, I fell into a little bit of a trap, trying to find the perfect scenario… just like I did when I first started writing.

Although I need to add a side note for a moment. quiet literally as I wrote the above paragraph a woman sitting next to me at Barnes & Noble talks to her friend, I overhear pieces of the conversation. When the friends get up and throws something out, the woman looks to me and says I can’t stand negative people, they always have something bad to say. I don’t care though, who cares what other people say? I just work on pleasing myself because that’s all that matters. Negative people only come into our lives to get what they want, spread their negativity, and then they leave. Don’t ever worry about pleasing anyone but yourself… When she left she told me to stay true to who I am, work on that, and have a nice day. I said absolutely nothing to this woman about anything.

Yeah… I’m gonna take this as a sign.


11. Wherein the Writer Questions What It Means To Be a Hero

The earliest games I remember playing were always about saving a princess. Admittedly, a great number of games I played were centered around defeating some faceless evil, stacking shapes, various feats of skill an athleticism, and in one notable case, simply amassing material wealth. But in most of the games I remember best, the objective was simple: cross this dangerous world, fight monster, solve puzzles, and defeat the nefarious villain all in order to save the kidnapped princess and restore order to the kingdom. Substitute “girlfriend” and “neighborhood” for “princess” and “kingdom” if you like, it mostly amounts to the same thing in a slightly different skin. However it looked, I ate it up. I’ve always been a voracious consumer of stories and gaming has always catered to that need for me, even when it wasn’t really trying to. As I believe I’ve made mention of before, the opening sequences for some of my favorite games as a child were light on the storytelling element. Super Mario Bros. had none that I can recall, and The Legend of Zelda presented one opening scroll (like Star Wars) and sent you on your way. But in the first few minutes of gameplay (it doesn’t take too long to get through to the first castle in SMB) I knew what I needed to know- there’s a princess out there needs saving, and she’s depending on me to save her. Maybe it’s because my last name rhymes with Kenobi, but I’ve never been able to resist a call that sounds like, “Help me, you’re my only hope.” And I’m not saying that games should be like this, only that they were and something within me responded to that. I was all-in to assume the role of the kingdom’s last chance, the princess’ only prayer. That premise alone tied me to these unfolding narratives, however sparse they were, and the associated gameplay. But even as I say that, I suspect that as much as there can be no way around the tint of nostalgia in this work, that I may be misrepresenting the past in a way that is beyond the bounds of the haze of nostalgia. I was very young when I played those early Nintendo games. The Legend of Zelda itself was released the year before I was born, so my first experience with it was at a very young age. The same is true of SMB. While it is true that I’ve always been a sucker for all the things already stated, and big part of my enjoyment of and participation in those games came from exploring. What a new thing we had, and how exciting it was! A rousing score, the barest bit of advice from an old man, and then we were on our own out in a world that was ours to run free over until dinner time or whatever. I was conscious of the princess and her peril, but was mostly driven by adventuring.

It wasn’t until I got a little bit older that I was able to digest the themes presented to me as part of the games I was playing and fold them into my lived experience, both in-game and in real life. This first really got started with Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, both released before I turned ten, and which I got as hand-me-downs at some point when my cousin Mike, featured earlier here, gave me his Super Nintendo. The compulsion to return innocence to the world, or rescue Princess Zelda from the clutches of evil was strong. I felt like what I was doing, I had to do. That I needed to see these characters to safety. To save them. When I say, as I’m about to, “it all changed when…” everybody who grew up playing video games will each think of a game, a game that was significant and had meaning for them. And of those people from my generation, the overwhelming majority of them will be thinking of one of two games. I’m sorry my brothers and sisters, but for me, it wasn’t Final Fantasy VII. For me, it all changed when I first played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The flat 2D environments from when I was a little kid were gone, and I could run and swim and shoot arrows (in first-person perspective!) all in 3D. It was amazing. And at the center of it, despite the game being named after a magical musical instrument, was the princess Zelda, who was forced to flee for her life ahead of the evil king Ganondorf. The realm was in despair, and the princess was in peril. I had to save her. This is what I remember as the strongest connection of this kind of my youth. I felt a part of this world, and I felt able to make a difference in it. And, I felt compelled to use that ability to do good.

I’m digressing some, allowing that this whole thing is some form of digression or other. The point is, I felt these games that I’m describing, and I felt them at a young age. Admittedly yes, the 1998 release date for Ocarina of Time begins to approach puberty territory in terms of my age at the time, so it’s possible I’d have been driven to rescue the princess partially out of some increased hormonal activity? That sounds like science to me, but I’m not an expert. Still, even LoZ: OoT aside, I felt these things playing earlier games, just perhaps not so strongly as I did when Ocarina came out. And that’s not saying nothing. There are plenty of things that happen in my daily life that are supposed to be important that I don’t feel about nearly as strongly as I feel about that iteration of the Zelda franchise. Birthdays, milestones, accomplishments- whatever; it takes a lot to match the satisfaction and thrill of breaking Epona out of the ranch, or wielding the Master Sword against the King of Evil. That might seems a little crazy. Let me pull up for a second here. These aren’t just lonely nerd obsessions. After all I didn’t even know I was a lonely nerd when I first started rescuing princesses. I’ve been playing video games for like 25 years, which bums me out to say, but these haven’t been 25 idle years of mindless violence, cartoon boobs and wasted daylight. Like, not just those things. I’ve also learned things from video games, and I think I’ve been learning steadily this whole time. And not just how to beat this or that level, or how to get your game system to work when its on the fritz. But rather a host of problem-solving skills and ways of making connections, how to make trial-and-error work, how systems work, how to work with them, and how to work against them. More important than any of these, I learned values. I didn’t go to church much growing up, and I thought CCD was a joke, an inconvenience that kept me out late on Monday nights instead of watching 7th Heaven. I didn’t have an institutionalized value system in place. A lot of what I internalized about how to be a person came from The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and the X-Men and The Legend of Zelda. I learned to be curious, to be brave, to be respectful. I learned that it was not just ok but good to be weird, to stand up for those in need, and to never, ever leave a princess hanging. I learned there was value in being a hero. And a great deal of the heroism was centered on rescuing a princess, a woman or girl of varying degrees of helplessness, not for any gain of my own or because she owed me something- rather, it was just because she was in trouble, and she needed my help. That was always enough for me. And the thing is, I know there are millions of people out there in the world, none of whom are reading this that were out there with me: fighting off skeletons and sea monsters and running through fire and death, all to get to the same place I was going- to save the princess. These were my friends, my brothers and sisters, even though I never knew any of them. I had like 5 friends growing up and 3 of them played video games. But I knew (because I’m not an idiot, not because of a magic connection or something) that all those people were out there, and they felt the joys that I felt when I did something awesome because they had to do the same awesome thing to continue their journeys. Their quests all began and ended at the same places as mine. And through all that what I thought we were learning, what I thought we were learning together, was to be brave, was to be kind to each other, was that when we saw a person, a woman in trouble, that our “princess rescue” instincts should kick in, and we should get in there and save her. And my heart breaks to write that this hasn’t turned out to be true. That there is a vocal and vitriolic and angry set within the gaming community, I pray a minority, that has decried the inclusion of women in the discourse surrounding gaming, has opposed their voices and their work, and has done so to such a degree as to force some women out of the industry, taking lengths that I can only assume must be criminal. Threats of all kinds and hateful language have been leveled at these women, who are not only innocent women but our own people, just because of their input to and criticism of the gaming industry.

It’s 2016. I don’t feel the need to gender everything. I let my girlfriend pay for dinner a lot. I don’t have, I hope not, and backwards concepts of how I need the world to be as far as how men should behave versus how women should behave, etc.. That said, here’s something that’s definitely gendered and maybe sexist and if it is I’m sorry, truly, but I don’t take it back. As much as our early games, and throw in there your sci-fi/fantasy tropes (Star Wars), made women (as princesses) objects and gave them no agency to act on their own, they taught US, the PLAYERS, regardless of our own gender, that they were to be CHERISHED. That they were to be PROTECTED. That you, I, we, were to risk life and limb, to cross the world, the galaxy, to stop at NOTHING to save them from danger. And now you’re telling me that we have a new legion of people, who have the audacity to call themselves gamers, that are going to attack a bunch of women who FINALLY have found success in this industry, in this medium that we have so loved, that had given us so much, and they’re going to try to silence them, to drive them out? On whose authority do you speak? And what is your end, what goal do you have in mind? Cementing the old tropes of women-be-quiet-and-get-rescued, or are you just a proponent of more boobs/skimpier costumes and you don’t want to get in trouble for throwing the word rape around like it’s a fucking Will Ferrel movie reference. You ever had a girlfriend? Hell have you ever made a friend that was a woman? Let me ask you: do you daydream about a girl with smooth skin and a nice rack who is going to sit quietly and wait for you to get her out of trouble for the rest of your life, or do you want the kind of girl who’s going to use your blaster to shoot out a grate and jump down a garbage chute? The kind of girl that’s going to disguise her royal self and lead you through every danger until she finally gives you the only weapon powerful enough to save the world? The kind of girl who trades in her scepter for a frying pan and fights next to you to take her kingdom back? Let me tell you, cousin, you want the second option. It doesn’t even have to be in relationship terms like that. Women occupy other roles than romantic partners. Did you have a mother? A teacher that you respected? What do you think they would think is a good direction for games to go in? I know that these examples are fictional people, but if we’re valuing a trope of helplessness over agency and power (that goes beyond sex appeal) there has to be a reason why, and I can’t think of anything but to ground it in the real world. If that’s your fantasy, a quiet, helpless sex-thing to empower you, I guess my question is, why do you want that? And why are you looking for it in video games? Video games (many video games) are about courage, and drama, and magic, and love and light striving against darkness and fear. Why are you looking here for these things in this place that was never about them?

These people, these angry advocates, have turned from the values that I hold are central not to the gaming industry, which is a thing that exists to make money, but of what it means to be a gamer, an outcast, a nerd. Don’t you remember what it was like? Don’t you remember, before they started making superhero movies twice a year, before it was cool for every guy to play call of duty online, don’t you remember what it was like? Don’t you remember the only world where you could be who you felt like you really were being a world you found in a cartridge or on a disc? Don’t you remember feeling attacked, disrespected, alone? What unholy thing has happened to you, you fallen, that you can turn such anger, such hate on another person, let alone one of us, who is trying to make gaming new again in the 21st century? You swore to save the princess, to defend the realm, to protect the light. Have you forgotten? Even if writers like Anita Sarkeesian are 100% wrong, even if you have no respect for Zoe Quinn’s work, the hate? The vitriol? How do you think these things are ok to use in defense of this medium? How can you anonymously send threats of death and rape in defense of the very thing that was supposed to teach us courage and honor? This isn’t where we’re supposed to go, and I’m ashamed that the only group that I’ve ever felt I really belonged in is also claimed by such bigots, and such cowards. In times like these, when megalomaniacal bigots, fascists, misogynists and racists vie for leadership of the United States, it would be a reassuring thought that my people, the nerds, the outcasts, could stand together against such messages and be of one mind for a better future. From Super Mario RPG to Final Fantasy XII to Ocarina of Time I learned that diversity made us better. That a bustling marketplace with people, creatures, of all different colors and shapes speaking all kinds of indiscernible languages was the sign of good times, of cooperation and success. That someone’s gender mattered as little as someone’s race or customs, as long as they weren’t hurting anyone, in terms of a functioning society and everyone getting on with their lives. But I fear that implicit in the gender bias and related hate speech that has recently come out of the gaming community is the opposite of those ideals of equality and inclusivity and diversity and cooperation. It seems instead like something that wants to be segmented, restrictive, exclusive.

I talk a lot about saving the princess. About the epic quest, the fight, stopping at nothing for the one, her. But in reality, I never risked anything. I’ve always been safely on my couch, at the edge of my seat maybe, but never in more danger than the possibility of falling the 18 inches from the couch to the floor. In the years that I’ve been wired into the games that I love, women have been working to get into this industry and make an impact on it, make it a place for people other than me. My friends, my girlfriend, my nieces, I pray one day my daughters. I have had to do nothing to consume this media, but some others have had to risk a lot to make it and put it out there. Somehow I have internalized the struggles of my in-game avatars and felt their journeys’ ups and downs, and come out of it with a set of values that I think are good, sustainable, positive. Be kind first, fight last, be smart always, be courageous but not reckless, don’t let fear give way to anger, always look twice at an unguarded treasure chest. And always come to the defense of someone in need, princess or peasant. I might be full of shit, and these might be a naive set of garbage values. I hope not, but I’m too close to the story to be objective. But I’m thinking, maybe in all this, the princess saved me. Because I see these people on the internet spewing hate, talking about my games, my experience, and there’s a little part of me that looks around at the set of circumstances and thinks, “there but for the grace of God go I.” I don’t know what path these people turned down that led them to where they are now, but I know that in at least a couple places, our paths overlapped. For whatever reason, I don’t think the same things they do, and I’m grateful for that. And I wonder if maybe, if I wasn’t always looking for a princess to save, if i wouldn’t be somebody different. So thank you, my princesses, for seeing me through the darkness, that we may live to fight another day, together.


10. Wherein the Writer Grapples With the Intangible

Admittedly, I don’t know much of anything about music. Like technically speaking, I’m pretty ignorant. I love music, lots of different kinds of music-you know, like a human . But I can’t read it, I’ve never studied it for very long or very deeply, and my 2 year-old godson makes better music on his dad’s drum set than I do with the handful of guitar chords I know. What I do know is that music has been inextricably linked to powerful experiences in my memory. I know that it doesn’t take hearing more than a single note (for the sake of believability I’ll say two notes together, but it’s really one) for me to know when somebody in another room just changed the channel past Jurassic Park on TV (back when that used to happen, before they went and commoditized my whole childhood.) While many of these emotional ties are to real life experiences (“Lightning Crashes” by Live reminds me of camping in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens), a great number of them come from media (I once heard a jazz band drift into a cover of the X-Men cartoon theme song and I freaked out) and of those, a high percent are related to games. Thinking about it now, I should make a running playlist out of music from the Mega Man franchise because it always keeps my energy up. I’ve actually heard that music like it increases mental acuity and helps people focus but I’ve been unable to pin that down as having come from any legitimate research, as many sources I’ve read, like this one, go something like, “we all know that video game music is actually designed to keep you going and not distract you” but never corroborate that claim with anything more reliable than word of mouth and the presumed uniformity of our shared experience. While that sounds a little thin to me academically, I can’t deny identifying with the position. For any reader who has never played through say, Mega Man II, let me tell you- it’s really hard. I don’t think I’ve ever beaten it. More than that, I don’t think a coalition of my best and most trusted friends, gamers all, have ever beaten it- as children or adults. But we’ve played it, and played it for untold hours over a period of decades. The experience never changes and the levels are the same no matter what order you play them in, yet every time we take control of the unwieldily titular man-bot we are on the edge of our seats and laser-focused. How can this possibly be, that an experience that we’ve been sharing literally completely unaltered for about 25 years, still grips us as it did when we were small? The white-knuckled controller grip is the same, the full-body muscle tensing is the same, the creeping, deadly palm-sweating is the same. But why?  Why aren’t we bored? Sure it could be that we, seasoned veterans all, are hyper-conscious of the razor-thin margin of victory we can expect to achieve, and that one split second misstep, change in direction, hesitation, or miscalculated button pressure (collectively referred to as a “freak out” or not “having it”) is all it takes to turn a glorious triumph into a regrettable setback. But part of the reason we might care so much about the daunting victory conditions laid before us is the constantly surging, ever repeating 8-bit encouragement of the Mega Man score. Whether there is science behind this idea or my friends and I have an unnatural commitment to something we shouldn’t, the music from Mega Man always makes me feel like focusing up and moving fast, and this isn’t an isolated experience. The reality is that this is one of the lighter associations that exist between my memory and music in games.

It goes without saying that everyone’s emotional experience of a game is going to be different, if only subtly. It would be naive of me to assume tat everyone has the EXACT same emotional experience when playing a given game, even a given sequence with a game, so I will not try and represent my experience as universal, only mine. But I will not say that other players don’t, in all likelihood, have some emotional response to he gaming stimuli that I’m talking about. Because all but the oldest games (and I’m never talking about them) include music to some degree, many of those experiences will be linked to the game’s score or soundtrack. Other game scores and soundtracks can put a little pep in my step, or reach me emotionally on even an otherwise unremarkable day. There’s a sound, a little progression of just a few notes, that players of The Legend of Zelda know by heart and that to non-players it will do no good to describe. The music, which in the game world announces the discovery of a secret, thrills my heart. Whether in the original 8-bit (link) or as part of an orchestral arrangement (link), it arrests my attention whenever or wherever I hear it. When it announces the receipt of a text message on someone’s phone at school or in a cafe or on the subway, I’ll immediately scan the area, looking for the source like I’m snacking a crowd of strangers for the face of an old friend. It’s not something I think about; I’m not looking for someone in particular, but a kindred, a comrade. It just happens, and I only catch myself once I’ve already begun doing it. Unconsciously, subconsciously- however, to my ear it’s a call to adventure.

That game’s music provides or reinforces an emotional experience for a player is a given. Scores and soundtracks support and help develop plot lines and game themes, and have virtually since the beginning of console gaming. For the original Super Mario Bros., composer Koji Kondo wrote a handful of pieces using the Nintendo Entertainment System’s admittedly limited capabilities that nonetheless provided thematic texture and support for the vivid and distinct tones and situations that make up the variable progression of events and levels on our 2-D plumber-hero’s journey to save Princess Peach and the Mushroom Kingdom from the nefarious Bowser. The iconic Overworld Theme (link) that backs the bright and colorful “outside” worlds is cheerful and encouraging. The Underworld Theme that accompanies the game’s darker, foreboding dungeon levels is proportionately bass-heavy and ominous. And the funny thing about it is, even people who have been playing this game and others like it since their release in the 1980’s probably have never spared  a though for the music that has backed their many adventures over the years. I certainly haven’t. As I’ve said, it is alleged that game music has been written specifically to support focus and avoid distraction. So in a way, for the player to focus on it would be a failure for the composer. We must have forgotten about the endlessly repeating and technologically-limited scores of our favorite 8-bit games or they would have driven us (and our parents) crazy. However, that they supported game themes and emotional texture, that they were meant to at least, is simple fact. Music has for 30 years now been a vital layer of expression in the video game medium. Imagine playing SMB, if you can. Now imagine it without music. It’s weird, right? Something is missing. Without us even noticing it, game music has been shaping the resonant emotional experience we’ve been having with games for decades. As I say this, I know I’ve talked about acknowledging how much game music has effected me, but this was done reflectively. While I was consuming the product, having the experience, making the memory, I was unaware of just how great and impact these sounds would have. When I hear the score for The Legend of Zelda as an adult, I go looking for a horse to jump on, ready to be my best self and so good in the world, regardless of where I am or what I’m doing. Looking back, I felt that way when I heard the music while playing the game too, but I never thought about it applying to my real life. I guess it’s like a form of psychological conditioning, that hearing what to me is a call to adventure in a digital world has made me experience that stimulus as a call to adventure when I hear it in the real world.

Game music can direct gameplay and signify events, like when a dragon shows up in Skyrim or the clock is running down in Super Mario Bros., but the vast majority of the time game music is has a more indirect effect in that it effects the game’s tone or mood. The eerie, bluesy guitar-riff ambience of the score from The Last of Us evokes a world and characters that are familiar and relatable but at the same time frightening and unstable. By contrast, to beat a dead horse (sorry Epona), the score from The Legend of Zelda, with blaring horns and marshal tempo tell the player that they’re in for a grand adventure, and nothing over the horizon is too daunting to be overcome by courage and resourcefulness. I may be embellishing subjectively, but I believe the point stands up anyway.

How do you explain why music makes you feel what you feel? Why bother to try? It’s an arational emotional reaction to a subjective art. It always is. But for games it’s more than that. It ties back to an emotional experience, a moment of high tension and adrenaline and investment- to Kairi reaching across the growing void, telling you she knows that even across the endless disparate worlds, you’ll come back for her. To bursting out of Kokiri Forest and running free over Hyrule Field for the first time. Or if you like, to extend the example to film, to a young Luke Skywalker watching the binary suns set over the dunes, a long journey ahead. The music plays on you anyway, if you have an ear for orchestral music (not classical, right? That’s only Bach and Chopin, or something, if you’re fancy?), because that’s what it does. For game, the added layer of attachment comes from the suspension of disbelief that we didn’t actually participate in the moment. We remember the music as if from lived moments. As if we heard the music firsthand when we first laid eyes on Princess Zelda across the garden, when we ourselves drew our weapon to defeat Sephiroth. We forget we were in the TV room, the den, the rec room, the basement, and remember only the narrative moment, the white-knuckle grip, and the sweat creeping around our fingers. Or we remember happy times, with gathered friends, struggling to get through Quick Man’s stage in Mega Man II without getting blasted by those laser things. Taking turns, playing to our strengths by giving the controller to whoever was best at overcoming each obstacles. Endlessly repeating, the music ran behind all of that, adding texture and emotional attachment to our memory.

As I see it, music serves two functions in games. The first is directive. It signifies. It gives the player information, indicates a secret or prompts the player to take action. An example of this is the rewarding set of notes from the Zelda franchise that indicate you’ve discovered a secret. Other examples include the progression of notes from SMB right before the music speeds up that indicate to the player that 100 seconds are left on the clock, or the music the player hears in Skyrim when a dragon is looming near. All three of these examples tell the player something specific, and prompt them to act in gameplay: You’ve discovered a secret and you should investigate, time is running out and you have to cross the finish line, a powerful enemy is nearby and you need to prepare for an epic battle or run for your life. This third situation is actually an example of both the first function of music in games as well as the second, which is providing texture to the world and adding to the coherence and depth of the narrative and gameplay experience. In Skyrim, a dragon may appear at any time. A player might be guiding her avatar across the rugged terrain of the titular province hunting for rare mushrooms, approaching a new city, in the middle of an important mission, or already fighting any number of other creatures or people when the music shifts, indicating that a dragon is in the vicinity. It could be airborne, or on the far side of that hill in the distance, or attacking the city guard tower that you just left behind you. The instinct for the player is to stop and look around, and see where the threat is in relation to their avatar. In that way, the dragon music accomplishes the first objective of music- to direct. It tells the player something is happening and directs their action after. But it also provides the second purpose. The exciting score provides an epic sonic backdrop for a battle that is best described as mythical. The dragons in Skyrim are big- many times more massive than even the bulkiest orc a player can select as an avatar. Imagine like, if a train car grew wings and a tail and started breathing fire, and that would be not a bad comparison in terms of dimensions. As such, they are one of the more formidable types of opponent a player can come across. A battle with a dragon (which in the game are long-gone legends returned to life, visiting terror on the population on a grand scale) is meant to be a thrilling challenge, one that they player is by no means guaranteed to survive, especially early in the game. This music, then, that signals the arrival of the dragon also helps to set a tonal stage for the gameplay action to come. Depending on how far the player has gone along game’s main quest, it has been suggested that your avatar is the hero of prophecy, the only one who can end the dragon threat by absorbing the power of their very souls. The encounters extend this dramatic premise, and the score that accompanies them helps to support that feeling of uniqueness and excitement, of destiny and necessity, of duty and grandeur. This is a perfect example of the second function of music in games. The narrative moment that the developers are working to convey via visual design and gameplay is also carried in part by that moment’s soundtrack. In some cases this is easily done, like by licensing the original film score for use in a Star Wars game. It’s much easier to draw a fan into an exciting moment in gameplay when the music used is from an exciting moment in another well-loved piece of media that already exists. Who hasn’t wanted to be Luke Skywalker? When developers incorporate pieces of the film score into gameplay, they’re playing to the fan’s desire to live some of the exciting scenes from the film franchise. For us, living that moment absolutely means being backed by all of the horns and strings of that triumphant score, and when a game can deliver that, it can achieve a high degree of immersion and fan satisfaction.


Direction

I’m slightly proud to say that I used this spring break to the best of my ability. I completed the pilot draft and got through the cold open of the second episode.

In addition to the draft, I also had a phone conference with my friend who offered to keep me in check while writing this piece. I explain to him everything going on in this pilot, and how the writing and research works. I also explained to him the differences in it from a regular pilot episode. For example, the cold open is seven minutes long. I explain there was a reason for this, and it would only be the pilot episode(or maybe the first episode to every season, who knows). I wanted to make sure he knew where I came from before critiquing me.

He recently sent me back some formatting tips. I will apply them to the script either after I complete the draft of the second episode, or when I get writer’s block (whichever comes first). I don’t know if I’m completely satisfied with this. Because, well, in my mind I can always do more or better. Where I’m at right now, though, is that I’m hella excited to be on the draft of the second episode. This also means I wrote 15 pages over break – five more than I said I would. #goodvibes


Tobey's Thesis Thoughts 2016-03-13 00:21:00


I'm Still Here

Hey ya'll. So I know I've been a little quite on the blog.  Doing a lot of thesis work and managing a lot of stuff at work and managing some life stuff. 

I finished writing up a draft proposal today. It's been hard. I know it's nowhere where it needs to be and that sucks. Think a lot of frustration crept in while doing research and thinking about what my focus really is. I gave myself a break thinking of all the advice you guys and Dr. Zamora gave me when telling me that this is a long process, and it takes time to get where you feel right. 

That being said, I'm glad that I'm at least starting and that my wheels are spinning. I won't be able to join you guys Thursday on the video chat as I have parent teacher conferences that night. Much rather be hanging in cyber world with you guys. See ya soon. I'm sure you're all doing amazing work.