I believe that Wolf in White Van is about trauma and healing. It taught me that trauma can stop by at anytime, anywhere and it can be really frustrating. Sometimes when facing trauma, we become so undeniably obsessed with it, that we regard our whole life and existence as traumatic based on that one sense. In my essay on Wolf in White Van and trauma, I talk about how people often turn to the world in their minds when going through traumatic phases. These “worlds inside the mind” could be formed through video games, music, films, or some kind of artistic process that requires attention. And what happens when we put our minds to art? We forget about trauma in that short run and heal ourselves through time and art.
“I had grown receptive to dark dreams,” (Darnielle, 7) says Sean, emphasising the trauma that goes through his head every night. According to the simple definition of the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, trauma is “a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time”. Reading through Sean’s narrative as an outsider to his world, it does seem to me as if Sean is experiencing trauma through his “accident” when he shot himself. But I feel that as humans, we have a natural instinct; when something is bothering us, we try to take care of it instantly but if we can’t, then it will keep bothering us till we fix it or till we put our minds to something else. In a basic sense, what makes us feel good is the opposite of what bothers us and it acts as a getaway from all the bothering. Sean’s getaway from his trauma was his imagination, which stemmed from his passion in gaming. My thesis for the question about how John Darnielle portrays the relationship between gaming and trauma in ‘Wolf in White Van’ is that gaming often takes a person to another world inside his or her mind, which differs from the real world in terms of consequences for every action and a basic sense of attachment (or shall we call it addiction?). Sean sees his life as a video game; his imagination, his dreams, and nightmares are all part of the gaming culture he grew up into. Wolf in White Van is about adolescence isolation, desolation and the search for meaning. According to John Darnielle in his interview with Gabriella Paiella at Electric Lit, “It’s the engagement” that saves Sean from letting trauma take over his life completely. I do agree that when a person is alive and is still living his or her life, there’s something that the person does. It could be video games, music, or even another person. But there’s always that engagement with an activity, person or object that keeps the mind alive.
The novel, however, follows a parallel structure with Darnielle narrating the events through Sean that led to his accident in which he disfigured himself. This parallelism can be attributed to the narrative structure of Sean’s game, Trace Italian and the narrative structure of the whole novel. The plots for both Trace Italian and ‘Wolf in White Van’ are reversed in their structure, as the most important event of the novel highlighted in the beginning, comes right towards the end. They are also exemplary of how Sean’s accident may have caused his teen obsession in fan culture (particularly of Conan the Barbarian novels and comics) raise the problem of an artist’s responsibility for his fans’ potential misinterpretations of the work. In this way, we come closer to finding more information about Sean’s accident as the events in the book get successively closer to the day of the accident. When Sean says “There are only two stories: either you go forward or you die” (Darnielle, 157), we can see his determination in going forward despite the feelings of alienation and resentment he feels and it also functions as a metaphor for the novel, since the reader doesn’t have much to take away from the novel unless it is read till the end.
According to me, the most interesting characteristic of the novel is Sean’s game, Trace Italian, which is not only his primary source of income, but it’s more than just a game to him and to some of the players. It is also significant in the way it works traditionally—Sean sends the players their situations and they respond to these situations by mail. However, according to Sean, no one will ever win Trace Italian. The game basically consists of a pointless set of operations and maneuvers in an imagined space of defeat, struggle, and finally death and Sean’s goal is to make Trace Italian survive as an unbeatable game. Sean feels that in preserving Trace Italian, he has lost the main goal and purpose of his life as he compares it to side-quests in video games, “In video games you sometimes run into what they call a side quest, and if you don’t manage to figure it out you can usually just go back into the normal world of the game and continue on toward your objective. I felt like I couldn’t find my way back to the world now: like I was somebody locked in a meaningless side quest, in a stuck screen” (Darnielle, 48). I feel that Sean’s trauma can be felt accurately through this quote. If we think about it, he’s just a boy who was living a normal life, and one day he has an accident, which changes the course of his life from the moment onwards. He copes with his trauma through “side-quests” such as his game Trace Italian. Operating the game takes away Sean’s pain and helps him take his mind off things. However, Sean’s depression influences him so greatly and deeply that he keeps going back to Trace Italian to diminish his pain and this “side-quest” becomes so central to his life that he feels trapped in its presence.
In conclusion to this essay, I would concur with Robert Luckhurt’s definition of trauma, that it is a “manic production of retrospective narratives” because Sean’s mind does not stop bringing back the memory from the day he shot himself. Although, Sean can’t be blamed for it. When people see him, they do have an abnormal reaction to his condition as he says in the novel, “Unless you work in the medical field somewhere, you can’t really be prepared to meet me, I don’t think. It is always a surprise” (Darnielle, 56). In a realistic sense, Sean’s trauma exists mainly in his mind and it produces these retrospective narratives, as he grew up accustomed to dramatic fan-fiction narratives in comic-book culture. It’s difficult not to be swept up in the real world so visibly in the mind’s eye, because sometimes what is true can be absurd. Getting lost in art, is more appealing when you feel like you’re already lost within the realms of that art. Just like Sean, we all turn to the worlds in our minds when we feel a sense of alienation from the real world outside of our minds.
Darnielle, John. Wolf in White Van: A Novel. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Luckhurst, Roger. The Trauma Question. London and New York: Routledge, 2008.
Paiella, Gabriella. “INTERVIEW: John Darnielle, Author of Wolf in White Van.” Electric Literature. N.p., 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
Wolf in White Van and Trauma: <– Link to the main page of the essay.
My controlling idea for this analysis is that trauma mainly exists in the minds of people as their representation of the real world and its problematic state. I also make use of the idea that we all turn to the worlds in our minds when we feel a sense of alienation from the real world outside of our minds.
This wasn’t really a game. Or was it? After taking this class, I’ve had to change my criteria for what I consider a game and what I don’t. But for now, let’s just put it this way: Interactive storytelling produces the same effect as games do. It’s what Kentucky Route Zero does too. If you think that all you have to do is click on a screen and read the texts, you’re wrong. The game involves a lot of decision-making as well. You control Conway’s character. You take him in the direction you want, you choose what objects and characters to interact with, and you also choose not just his dialogues, but at times, the dialogues of other in-game characters.
On another note, I’ve never played a game with a truck driver as the protagonist. It was an exciting to play as a trucker going on an adventure with his dog. My favorite part was being able to choose a name for the dog. It’s like having your own dog in the game. Other than that, I’ll be honest about not having enjoyed this game. It was really confusing and frustrating at the same time. There was no real goal, or even if there was, I’ll have to admit that I didn’t understand it. This game went right past me. It felt like I was trying to dig out a rock out of a rock using another rock. It’s possible but it’s ridiculously overwhelming.
At first, Fiasco seemed like a complicated game with no real goals or instructions whatsoever. Unlike my classmates who played with each other, I was playing with 2 other friends, Rumi and Habib, who aren’t even a part of our class and it was really difficult to get them to play to with me, so I just hoped that the game wouldn’t bore us to death. As we read the rulebook, an overwhelming feeling came upon us and it seemed like we didn’t know what we were getting into.
After spending 40 minutes trying to figure out how to distribute the dice, we finally started the game and decided to elect “Bangkok” as our playset. We named our characters in the game based on our personal favorite cartoon characters- Homer, Goku and Bulbasaur. We realised that with the playset, characters, details and other elements of the game, we’d have to create a story of our own. We didn’t hold back; we created a very fictitious crime story involving drugs, money, gangs, and the DEA. My character, Bulbasaur, was the leader of a gang called “Ri$h gang”. Rumi’s character was Goku, who is a DEA officer, and the relationship shared by Goku and Bulbasaur is that they are brothers who were separated at birth and don’t actually know that they are brothers but eventually realise it since they look almost the same. Habib’s character, Homer, is also a DEA officer but is working as an undercover agent and is investigating “Ri$h gang”. Homer and Bulbasaur are gang members, and Homer and Goku are both part of the DEA team force.
Playing through Fiasco, I ran through my imagination and felt a burst of creativity. After we finished the first act, all of us felt like we had the energy to continue to the second act without taking a break. However, we messed up the game quite a bit and all three of us ended up dying in the aftermath. However, I must say that the experience was not as bad as I expected it to be. The game was very enjoyable because of the way each of us approached our creative sides competitively. The learning outcomes I had from playing fiasco were reflected upon by me afterwards. I had definitely learned collaboration with others. Even though my friends weren’t as enthusiastic about the game, something about the spirit of collaboration got Rumi and Habib to play with me on the same level of excitement. I also improved my rhetorical composition skills, as I was able to demonstrate an understanding of the particular elements of the game. Lastly, I also feel that I understood writing as process. Since there were times when I was confused and I didn’t know what to do or how to write/act, I would look up other works for inspiration and this would often help me get through obstacles while writing.
Fiasco wasn’t such a fiasco. I have to admit that it was one of the few games that I actually enjoyed playing this semester.
75 pages felt like 750, as I finished reading them. It was probably because of John Darnielle’s unique writing style. The novel tells the story of Sean Phillips, an antisocial game designer going through a traumatic phase in life after he has an accident which leaves him with a disfigured face.
At first, I wasn’t able to catch up with the story because of the choppy writing style, incoherent foreshadowing, and the loose flow of events. However, as I read on, I had developed a sense of what was happening in the story but the confusing narration kept bugging my curiosity. Sean’s vivid imagination, in my opinion, is a metaphor for the reader’s understanding of the novel. In the same way that he doesn’t want to deal with the regularities of everyday life, we as readers don’t want to read the shallow, mundane bits of the novel and only want to focus on the main action of the novel.
Sean’s social awkwardness, according to the novel is attributed to his state of depression. However, in my opinion, Sean is not depressed; he’s just confused. This confusion had arisen because Sean’s face itself had become his main enemy. “And I started to say “fine,” and I meant to say “fine,” but I ended up saying that I felt my life was filled like a big jug to the brim with almost indescribable joy, so much that I hardly knew how to handle it.” I could sense the confusion in Sean’s words and realised that his imagination is so lifelike to him that it actually causes a discrepancy in his mind, provoking his trauma and antisocial behaviour.
Darnielle, John. Wolf in White Van: A Novel. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 1-75. Print.
Space Invaders, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Star Raiders, Pacman, Battle Pong are my childhood. These Atari games are the reason I started to show any interest in gaming. However, when I was a kid, I only played these games when I was with my friends and had nothing else to do. For some reason, during my childhood, console/video gaming wasn’t something that could be done for long periods of time. I still remember the time when my mom didn’t let me use my Nintendo GameCube for more than 30 minutes a day.
During class, we discussed many of these games. The games that I had played were: Space Invaders and Pacman. First I played Space Invaders and after 10 minutes of doing so, I realised how simple the game is, and lost all interest in playing it. All I had to do was move left or right and shoot the space invaders who were also shooting at me. I still remember how Space Invaders had so much more meaning to it when I played it as a child because at the time, gaming was meant to be simplistic and games were based on patterns that could be memorised by players after playing the game a few times.
As I played Pacman, I realised that even though the game was as simplistic as Space Invaders, it wasn’t as easy to beat. That’s probably because Pacman doesn’t have that pattern that players can just memorise.
As I played these games, I thought of what I was gaining out of them. I realised that these games are the pioneers of what is now an interactive gaming industry. The Atari games serve as the foundation of today’s games. They created games that had so many meanings associated behind them that people started seeing their life as a game and their goals as the tasks.
This game wasn’t like anything else I’ve ever played. Before playing the game, I read about it and discovered that it was about Anna Anthropy, who describes her hormone replacement therapy through the game’s narrative by inviting the player to experience the narrative in a more interactive way.
Although fairly simple, the game had a sense of complexity to it. I felt like it was more of a piece of art, rather than a video game because it is just like a narrative that the player cannot fail. I did feel like I was connected to the game as a player, but I didn’t exactly fall in sync with the game because of its uncomfortable, gloomy theme and the depressing music that plays on with it, makes it worse.
The game kept switching from one panel to another within seconds of playing. All I had to do was press one or two keys, get through a tiny task and instantly get moved on to the next. The game also brought upon some jump scares like the blood that appears after we’re done shaving.
Personally, I felt as if the game deals with an important issue; something that is undermined in today’s metropolitan world. The number of times that she had to assert that she’s a woman in the game, clearly shows the depression behind it. Even though I didn’t feel it was like a game, I enjoyed it because of its novel theme and simple graphics.
It only showed me images with similar colours and visual representations but nothing that related to comedy, tragedy, or clowns.
So I decided to search for the artist of the sketch. His name was R. Kane Walsh, and as I mentioned in my first post, there was nothing I could find about R. Kane Walsh on google, suggesting that he could be under a pseudonym, or maybe he just isn’t well known.
So, when I realised that I couldn’t find any real evidence on this specific sketch and its author, I decided to write about its theme. The theme of “duplicity” was something that personally connects to me because of my belief that everyone has two sides: one they let the world see, and one that they keep to themselves.
I also thought about clowns, and how clowns are judged because of what they do. I feel that in my world, there lies this misconception about clowns and their job. As I thought about Comedy and Tragedy, I realised that the saddest people are sometimes the happiest on the outside. At the same time, I thought about how in my childhood when I tried to play pranks or tried to be funny, my mother would scold me and tell me not to do so or else people would call me a clown and laugh at me. Since then, I’ve held this negative notions of clowns and after looking at ‘Comedy’ and ‘Tragedy’, and in an attempt to analyse them, I decided that it was time for me to change my conception about clowns.