Podcast Reflection – Dark Souls

That was surprisingly easy? Was the main thrust of my thoughts upon finishing the first, and only recording session, for Ian Heaven and me’s episode of the podcast. We had come to the main idea of our episode, that the fiendishly difficult Dark Souls was best analyzed with the term community building, after a number of conversations about the game. Evidently, that was enough time for quite a few ideas about the game to germinate into full fledged analysis and thus we didn’t have much trouble speaking rather off the cuff about our subject, using only a brief outline with an intro, conclusion, and bullet points for everything in the middle. It ended up being just enough structure to keep us on task without stymying creative ideas.

I definitely felt strongly that the work being done was not collaborative merely in the sense of two people working together, but that Ian and I actually built off another and were able to inspire different modes of thinking about the subject. For example, I had come to the idea mainly through the lens of the mechanics of Dark Souls while Ian was able to point out that the lore was just as impenetrable and therefore an equal unifier in the Dark Souls community. We were able to take that a step further and see some parallels and ultimately come up with the idea of Community Building as a term after kicking around ideas like responsibility and accessibility that were important, but as we later realized only really interesting because they led the players to form a community.

In terms of other podcasts, and especially ones in this class, ours was different because we recorded almost entirely in one take and combined with the conversational nature of the script created a, hopefully natural, feeling that one was listening in on two people having a conversation about the subject. We were trying to avoid excess formality and focus more on the content of the episode and expressing our opinion and ideas about the nature of Dark Souls.

Overall, I thought we did a fine job with the podcast though always given infinite time I would’ve preferred to map out all the ideas covered in the initial session, see how they fit together best and if we expressed them as well as possible (or if there was something else to them) and re-record as a smoother finished project. Given the constraints though, I am happy with the result.


Wolf in White Van Essay Reflection

In the end, I’m pretty happy with my essay. I did a good job analyzing and used that as a platform to think more deeply about the work and its ultimate meaning. Having finished the first draft at a rather late, or one could call it early, hour I did not immediately take a critical look and thus was a little reticent to agree with the criticism of my peer editor Nick Reyes when I read it.  Of course, it turned out to be pretty spot-on in the end. One thing I did manage to learn by the end of high school was how much I can strengthen my writing when I get perspective from outside my own head, because I’m likely to miss the same spots as a reader that I missed as a writer. Still, it can still take me a moment to get get over my initial defensiveness so I called the person who taught me that lesson, my best friend and writing partner, and demanded she read my essay and tell me the peer editor’s criticism was off-base. Much to my chagrin, though not unexpectedly after years of exchanging work, she concurred with my peer editor and offered additional criticism in tow. Talking to her though, I was able to get a much clearer idea of what I really wanted to say and how to weave that in to my essay and make it a much less jarring experience for the reader. I had left too many assumptions for the reader to make and my conclusion was more of a surprise, as Nick had said, than the natural endpoint of my logic and evidence. In the end I feel as if I understood Wolf in White Van better, wrote a compelling argument, and had a productive writing process with myself and peers.

Wolf in White Van Essay Up





“Sean attempts to make his life fit into the framework of a game, a set of discrete narrative choices imbued with meaning by the game master and never veering from a controlled path. This choice, which brings Sean even deeper into those fictional worlds he had difficulty separating from reality, is his way of coping with trauma and specifically with the frightening ambiguity of shooting oneself in the face for no discernible reason”


Read the rest here.


Kentucky Route Zero Quick Reflection (Free Write)

Kentucky Route Zero is as beautiful as it is odd. It combines surrealist, magical realist sentiment and plot with fantastic 2D art and sound that underscores those themes.

I particularly enjoyed how the game represented attempting to get information from a bureaucratic entity, something everyone who’s been to the DMV knows can be a frustrating, horrible experience that seems almost alien to the normal world where customer focus seems to be getting better and better as companies vie to keep their customers happy and returning.

Kentuck Route Zero combines this dreadful feeling of working with a bureaucracy with surrealist elements, the Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces takes applications to make spaces into something else in usually bizarre combinations, which serves to highlight the hell of bureaucracy while also making a subtler point about the nature of life itself and the inability to find answers to certain questions.

Fiasco: Game Or Collaborative Fiction?



Is Fiasco a game or an exercise in writing collaborative fiction? It is a game, in that it is run according to a formalized set of rules, composed of discrete parts, including a beginning, middle and end, and involves staples of game design such as dice rolls. On the other hand, there is no winner nor loser, not truly, and the most compelling part of the game takes place entirely in the collaborative creation of narrative. As players we used our imagination, and each other, to inject meaning into the experience through a type of conversational writing. In short, I consider Fiasco an exercise in collaborative fiction guided and structured by a formal set of game-like rules.

Before I was able to formulate high-level thoughts on Fiasco as outlined above I actually had to play the game which was an exercise in muddled confusion for the first thirty minutes as we attempted to make sense of the rules. In our game Brian, Nick, Jay and I elected to play in the “Suburbia” playset. I thought this would lead to small, meditative character stories but as with most (of mine at least) attempts at amateur storytelling, of which this certainly was, our plot got out of hand and became increasingly absurd. I had imagined stories à la “Mad Men” in the sense of getting insights into characters from their actions in a fairly mundane, though by nature of our given biographies somewhat scrupulous, lives. We ended up with something far nearer a thriller with wall-to-wall action reaching dizzying stakes and absurdities such as a escaping to Canada and then Britain, a deadly helicopter chase, being captured by and escaping from El Chapo when he and all other immigrants died from doctored drugs and so on and so forth. My character was a high-end drug dealer who wanted to “get revenge on the dirty immigrants” (hence their later deaths). With my pals Nick, on the right, with whom I had a drug manufacturing relationship and Jay, on the left, my closeted, gay lover. We fleshed out these roles, my connection to Nick went back to our childhood and the beginning of our drug trade in middle-school and we decided Jay was the Mayor’s son and college burnout. Finally, there was Brian who had connections to other players, but not myself, and was some sort of police officer monitoring Jay’s parole.

Playing through Fiasco, as with any time I attempt fiction, gave me greater appreciation for the skill and technique involved in creating compelling stories. While it was extremely enjoyable to play through our story it seems doubtful others would care about from the outside looking in as most of the enjoyment came from the actual creative process rather than the story that resulted from it. In addition to appreciating those who craft stories far better than I ever have, I also found myself reflecting on certain learning outcomes. In particular, writing as a process, where each turn was a chance to reflect on how I had controlled or affected the narrative previously and whether that was good or bad, something I now needed to correct, or an exciting direction I wanted to choose. Whichever of those I ended up landing on I implemented and improved my storytelling methods as I went along. And secondly, but not less importantly, collaboration. The reason I think so many people feared, or had concerns at a minimum, about this game was not only that they wouldn’t know how to play but that they would be opening up their minds to others and connecting ironically while working together. Many of us, myself included, keep an ironic distance as a coping mechanism which can often lead to worse collaboration. However, we were all able to relax and enjoy the game fairly quickly, getting caught up, as evidenced by the plot, in indulging each other’s ludicrous plotting.


Atari Games



Right before break, we took a few days to explore videogame history, specifically old-school Atari 2600 games. I, unlike most of the students in the class, have actually played a real, working Atari 2600 on a CRT screen. Playing on the emulator Stella, was a very different experience. First, these games were designed to work with TV hardware of the time and thus they lose detail and are not presented as they were originally intended. Secondly, they were also meant to interface with custom hardware, joystick controllers and a variety of other paddles, and using a keyboard and mouse does not have the same fidelity of control. Nevertheless, I played many games on the emulator I had played on that old 2600 in my friend’s basement, such as Space Invaders and Combat, and the heart of the games was preserved, their excellent mechanical gameplay loops. It seems that in any form Space Invaders has the basics of good gameplay so embedded that it would be hard to produce a terrible version.


When I play these older games that’s what I think about most, gameplay. It seems today that despite the name gameplay can be secondary factor of many video games. Excellent graphics, writing, humor etc can distract from the gameplay and while these are great, fun experiences regardless I think games would be well-served to use gameplay to further their ends. Some games, like Braid or Dark Souls, do use their mechanics in interesting ways to tell the players something. In effect, while great graphics and writing can make a game better we need some of the old school gameplay too.

More Normal: Wolf in White Van Response



Wolf in White Van is a book about alienation, from both people and reality, as well as an exploration of how those two are so often intertwined. Sean Phillips suffers from a self-inflicted gunshot wound that has left him disfigured and largely removed from the world around, he supports himself by running a variety of role-playing games by mail. Although Sean mostly voluntarily keeps himself inside his house, and thus outside of society. However, the few times he does venture to public areas it is clear that despite his semi-elective ostracization and the shame he feels about his appearance he is still pained by his lack of human contact.

A slightly different interaction pans out one morning when Sean heads to the liquor store to buy candy. Sean goes to the liquor store knowing that no one there will interact, or even look at, him while he makes his purchases in the early morning. However, when he ventures outside two young men call over to him and Sean, seemingly surprising even himself, decides to talk to them and let them take a look at his injury. After they settle into conversation one of the men, Steve, asks Sean if he “wouldn’t rather look more normal?” (72). Not less freakish, but more normal implying there is some baseline of normality that Sean has already cleared. This makes Sean feel “a kind of bliss,” because it was so amazing that anyone would think him normal in any way after his incident(72). Sean assigns this bliss to the fact that they “were three people…who could communicate…using only gestures,” but to even get to that point people would have to look him not as a freak but as a person, a normal person. To Sean being called more normal is a confirmation of his humanity, a testimony to the fact that he can still have real interactions with people.

Darnielle, John. Wolf in White Van. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2014. Print.

Easier said than done – Depression Quest and Dys4ia



From the outside looking in someone else’s life can seem illogical, why don’t they just do what I would do? Is a thought many of us have had before when we’ve watched someone struggle with something, it can’t be that hard to just get out of bed, is another. Depression Quest, by putting us in the role of the person struggling rather than the one observing, demonstrates just how short-sighted and unempathetic those admonishments are; the reason depression is an issue is because people don’t always have those “logical” options available. Depression Quest demonstrates this through its decision mechanics, often some or most of the options, including the ones we want the most, are crossed out. By actually being put in another person’s shoes through the game we can empathize and understand that feeling of being unable to even get out of bed because we realize it’s not a choice, there is no other path to take, we can’t “just get up” and live our lives. By removing our agency Depression Quest helps us approximate, and empathize with, those in our lives who are depressed.

Dys4ia also uses its mechanics to help us foster empathy, through its depiction of gender transition. As the main character struggles with all of the obstacles in our society for trans people attempting to transition we want them, who by playing the game is us, to succeed. Through symbolism and abstraction the game presents the discomfort of the person transitioning, both personally and by society’s judgement, and we begin to feel some sense of progress. But as we finish the final of 4 segments thinking good things are about to come, we are thrown back to the main menu except we can no longer go to the final section “Things Get Better?” we are left with dissatisfaction and understand that transitioning isn’t something just happens, but an ongoing struggle.

Her Story and Beginner’s Guide

Both Her Story and Beginner’s Guide wanted to make me feel like I was part of something, and thus compelled to jump through the rather frustrating hoops of their “gameplay,” but I felt only one succeeded. Beginner’s Guide used narration, delivered by the developer of the game, Davey Wreden, to “guide” the player through the creations of the mysterious Coda. Known only as the most brilliant game developer Wreden ever met, Coda’s story is not told through his own words but rather dished out in tantalizing tidbits that Wreden derives from analyzing his work. The player wants to hear the story of Coda’s depression and angst, the complete explanations Davey offers are so fulfilling, it seems as if he has all the answers, he has made the complex simple. Of course, that should’ve been a red flag in and of itself, how can something so complex as the story of person be told by someone else who had never spoken to him at length? Nevertheless, when it’s revealed that Wreden has completely overstepped his bounds and violated Coda’s privacy, wrongly interpreting his games/state of mind, and work, modifying it to have more symbolism and be completable before releasing it illegally to the public, I felt extremely betrayed by Wreden and complicit in his violation. The Beginner’s Guide did make me feel a part of something, and it was stronger for first offering the simple, false explanation to draw me in so that the point is doubly made that people, and life, are complex. It parlayed the unique nature of games, that the player is the one actually doing the actions, into a deep emotional experience.

Her Story attempted basically the same thing, using frustrating gameplay and making one feel included in something larger than themselves to make the point that life is complex and ambiguous. However, without guidance of any kind it failed me to create a compulsion in me to finish the game or understand they mystery. Yes, I was curious, but not enough to go through the drudgery of what is basically a mid 90’s computer for an unsatisfying answer. Not that there has to be a “satisfying” in the sense of simple and complete answer, but a creator has to earn the right to deliver that through the earlier parts of the game and that’s where I felt Her Story failed. At the very end of the game it is revealed you are the daughter of the woman in the video’s you’re watching, but by that time I didn’t care that much. The game had already lost me, which is a shame because the videos and writing were excellent but I just never got “hooked” enough to care.

Unpacking Manuel’s



Have you ever looked around at the walls of a bar and wondered where all these random items came from and what meaning they have? Well, I have and then I did for a recent assignment in which each member of our class chose an item from the famous Manuel’s tavern in Atlanta, GA and took a deep dive into its history.


You can find out about the mysterious object posted above here.

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