Author Archives: megfinnerty

Video Games in the Classroom

I think that this subject can be argued both in the positive and the negative ways, however I am definitely more on the side that video games have academic merit. Video games do have a place in contemporary post-secondary classroom content, maybe even in a number of places. Depending on the context in which they are studied, video games could be found in multiple disciplines.

Perhaps the most obvious one to the naked eye is fine arts. Many of today’s video games are designed extremely thoughtfully down to every last feature and facet. More recent developments in video game industry graphics have created incredibly detailed and complex effects that have revolutionized visual expression in games. I also think that video games can be discussed in any classroom that refers to pop culture content. From a psychological or sociological perspective we could examine the kind of impact video games have on individuals, on our society as a whole, as well as the stigmas and stereotypes that surround the people who play them. The study of video games could also involve more scientific disciplines such as math or physics, as they are filled with calculated movements and algorithms that help to represent actions and movements from the real world.  

I think those who are on the negative side of this argument are perhaps the same people who had a hard time considering electronic literature as “literature”, as electronic literature contains similar features to that of a video game, such as visuals and interactive elements. Instead of reading text on a page, text is now on a screen with a variety of different engaging factors; some are safe and controlled, while others take you for an intense visual ride. However, video games also have many similarities to literature in the traditional sense as well.  

Like books, video games can take us into another world, whether it is for pure leisure, or for escape, or to achieve some sort of goal or outcome by the end. In the world of a book however, we get to exercise the creativity within our imaginations a lot more so, while the visual content of a video game is already presented for us.  As was shown in today’s class notes, courtesy of Marie-Laure Ryan, “Narrative consists of a world (setting), populated by individuals (characters), who participate in actions and happenings (events, plot), through which they undergo change (temporal dimension)”. Video games contain all of these elements as well, some to a greater degree than others. Like literature in the traditional sense, the creator, whether it is a single person or a team of people, determines the outcome for the narrative in the early stages of development, well before the user/reader comes into contact with it. In video games, the ultimate goal or challenge for the majority of the time is to move through the game on a narrative continuum until completion, but it is the skill of the player that determines whether or not you reach the end. Unlike most traditional literature, more recent video games often give the user different opportunities to follow different paths in order to reach that final destination.

If we ignore video games as a relevant subject to be studied, we could be turning our backs on an entire realm of story telling that is not expressed in “traditional” academia. At the same time, if there is an integration with academic study on the impacts and opportunities of this new media, think of the amazing games that could be developed!

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Birds!

“Birds Singing Other Birds’ Songs” is a unique artistic endeavor based on language and sound, using animated type used as the primary visually element. After a number of encounters with this playful piece, I do not fully understand what I am supposed to take away from it, but as visual art I found it really charming in a quirky sort of way. Composition is a vital component in this piece. The way that words are used to phonetically describe different bird sounds in multiple configurations, all connecting to create the shape of a bird, was really unique. Watching the animated birds in flight across the screen, and “sing” the text that is used as their building block is really effective in drawing the viewer into the piece itself. Human voices are used to recreate the birds’ songs, each song plays as the form of the bird unfolds. While it may defeat the purpose of the piece, I found watching the animations more enjoyable without the audio, as the sound did become unpleasant to the ear rather quickly.

Using a variety of fonts, Mencia’s birds fly across the screen overtop a bright blue background in motion, filled with images of clouds, portraying the sky as the interface in which the birds are immersed in. While some of the birds are created and formed by text as the outline, others appear almost instantly on the screen fully formed, but with text inside them, that text emulating the sound the human voice is trying to recreate. While each bird moves in a slightly different way from the others, I found it interesting that all of the birds were created using black or white text with the exception of the fourth bird, which contained a number of bright coloured letters as well as black ones. This bird in particular falls together very slowly to form its bird shape, and a few moments after it does the letters fall away. Twelve different configurations of different birds, all using different sizes and sound words enabled the work to come to life on the screen, all within the click of a button at the bottom of the screen. This piece enabled a lot of user freedom, which was a perk; I enjoyed being able to start up and stop each bird at my leisure. Being able to play multiple bird animations simultaneous also brought new experiences while exploring through this piece.

Like most electronic literature I have recently encountered, I had to let go of any traditional standards of poetry and literature I had to enjoy this piece by Maria Mencia, particularly from a visual perspective. “Birds Singing Other Birds’ Songs” may have enabled difficulties in regards to interpretation, however, that carefree element of getting ‘lost in translation’ was a breath of fresh air.

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Chemical Landscapes Digital Tales

By Megan Finnerty & Salome Fornier-Hanlon

Review

“Chemical Landscapes Digital Tales” by Edward Falco, Mary Pinto and Will Stauffer-Norris, is a visual poetry piece that combines eight abstract chemical and light created photographs, each depicting different lands, with their own constructed texts whose content and formatting reflect the art upon which they are displayed. Each of the eight compositions play with the relationship between colour, scene and language; the colours of the pieces being reinforced through text, as their names provide further description of the scene or story written. With the implementation of flash, “Chemical Landscapes” becomes an engaging work, the text making a temporary appearance as it quickly fades out, leaving the reader to grasp onto small snippets of text, and either replay the same poem to try and read more, or venture onto another; creating his own internal landscape and its story with the words he has absorbed.

While “Chemical Landscapes Digital Tales” is an enthralling work, I found myself confused and disoriented due to the failure of the author’s conveyance of their message or intent. While this visual piece is clever and intriguing as it lures in the reader by its evanescence and romantically worded prose, the concept of the collaborators of having a reader jump from scene to scene all the while procuring random ideas to construct a new story or meaning was far from being executed by my exploration of their work. My first impression of what this piece was trying to project was a representation of the ocean through art, text and movement, relating content to interface and behaviour. The words fade in onto a background of what looked like a seascape for all but two (one which mirrored rain, and another of purple, which I was not too sure what landscape it projected), and then faded out to white. This dynamic struck me as wonderful in representing the undulating and recessive nature of an ocean tide, requiring us to replay the scene over and over to grasp the full text, replicating the in and out movement of waves on shore. Eventually, however, novelty wore off, leaving me more frustrated than mesmerized. The necessity for me to repeat the same text over and over to read the entire poem became exasperating, leading me to cheat and pause the flash. I became further disappointed when I realized that most of the poems had nothing to do with the sea, their text not only suggesting a different landscape, but pieced together in a very un-fluid manner, random ideas and words popping in from nowhere. In the end, I still appreciate the piece for its visual execution, and though abstract, the beauty in the prose it displays. If the authors had successfully communicated their philosophy behind this work, “Chemical Landscapes Digital Tales” would be a very powerfully moving piece of e-poetry; a truly engrossing visual, mental, and sensational experience of art, movement and textual meaning.

Response

Thank you for your thoughtful review, Salome!

I find myself in agreement with much of what you had to say about “Chemical Landscapes Digital Tales”. While I too at first found myself completely mesmerized by the mimicking of the ocean tides and the lovely combinations of colour and texture, I soon became quite frustrated. Having to call the text back by clicking on it again and again did not appear to be a huge concern initially, but I quickly became annoyed, as I could not find myself being able to get through the entire piece in one viewing. I realize the creator intended this to be the case, however having to go back and re-click it multiple times to complete the reading, I found myself losing focus quite easily. That lost focus caused me to have to read the pieces several times before I actually absorbed the content of each one of them as a whole. The piece does in fact create a slightly different experience with each reading, however they all caused me to experience the same aggravation. That being said, I did however enjoy how Falco’s words so nicely matched the visual landscapes created by Mary Pinto. Softer colours were effectively used to create more serene landscapes, accompanied by calmer, more tranquil content, while the poems that portrayed more stressful scenes of nature were amongst a darker, slightly edgier landscape, visually elevating the intensity.

Using ‘Visual Poetry or Narrative’ as a keyword is very appropriate for this piece, as these “landscapes” were thoughtfully created using only chemicals, a flashlight, and a darkroom. However, while I did find myself admiring the beautiful visual atmosphere this array of works provides, I personally found myself a bit more engrossed with the importance of time in this piece rather than its visuals, as the visuals quickly disappeared with the text.

The world of electronic literature is still quite new to me, and I realize that while many pieces are extremely interactive, others leave you with no control whatsoever, forcing the viewer to go along for the ride. “Chemical Landscapes Digital Tales” is a little bit of both, leaving the viewer almost slightly deceived. At first glance, the viewer is in complete control, only to realize that the initial click is about the only control you are granted in this piece. While this piece was visually beautiful, I found that its beauty was slightly outweighed by the frustrations it caused me. 

A Few Questions…

1)   How did you guys feel about this piece? Did you experience the same frustrations that we did?

2)   Do you think the creators in this piece made a positive choice in making the reader continuously chase after the text?

3)   Do you feel that this piece may have been more or less effective with the addition of either interactive elements, or audio?

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A Tug at the Heart Strings…

By Megan Finnerty

Due to the dramatic increase of type in recent decades, the art of the handwritten word is one that is fading quickly in published pieces. While published handwritten pieces are difficult to come by in the world of print, they are even more rare in the realm of electronic literature. Dan Waber uses Flash, a popular program to create interactive visual elements, for his online pieces. In “Strings”, Waber’s use of this program provides his viewers with a new spin on handwriting with the manipulation of a single black ‘string’. “Strings” allows us to briefly reminisce about this elegant art that is often taken for granted, giving it a new personal twist within a completely new platform, while also depicting some of the common elements found within a relationship.

Like many pieces of electronic literature, ‘Strings’, allows us to embrace the shape, form and flow of the work, despite it being an exceptionally simple piece with minimal content. I was really intrigued by how my attitude as a viewer changed as I progressed throughout the elements in this short piece. As I clicked my way through Waber’s work, I greatly enjoyed that the actions of each one, as they are given anthropomorphic qualities relating to the words that they spell out: in a sense, it felt enchanting.

In this piece, I find myself more fascinated with the text as visuals in motion rather than the text itself. The first two parts of this piece, “argument” and “argument2”, show a simple, back and forth struggle between ‘yes’ and ‘no’; “argument2” particularly emphasizing on the often chaotic qualities of an argument itself, throwing in an overlying ‘maybe’.  “Flirt” and “flirt(cntd)”, like many of the others, do exactly as the word implies. The first “flirt” piece shows a very subtle, almost instantaneous shift between ‘no’ and ‘maybe’, while the second piece playfully teases the viewer with a ‘yes’, taunting the eye with a different sense of depth and motion on the screen. Both of these pieces demonstrate unique methods of flirting, and the motions portrayed mimic that of our own when in the act. The next piece, entitled “hahaha”, is also very endearing. Similar to “argument”, “hahaha” has a constant push-pull motion with a bit of a rhythmic pulsing, each push and pull gaining a ‘ha’ as if the laughter were increasing.  While “hahaha” demonstrates Waber’s lighthearted sense of humour, “youandme” and “arms”, are a bit more intimate. “Youandme” demonstrates the crazy, fast-paced emotional state of our own lives, and the focus of our attention amongst our own chaos. ‘Me’ is shown running rampant across the screen in a disorderly fashion, while ‘you’ is calm and easygoing, displayed mostly in the centre, as often we look to our significant others to keep us in a centred state of mind. “Arms” has a similar intimate charm as the string spells out ‘your arms’ and makes a circular shape to represent those arms; the black string embraces the white space.

The last piece featured within Waber’s “Strings” is entitled ‘poidog’. This piece uses the black string to spell out a very significant phrase, which I believe sums up the point that this piece as a whole is trying to make; “Words are like strings that I pull out of my mouth”. Waber has taken those ‘strings’ and illustrated for us a transformation of writing, using a multimedia platform. This piece in its entirety is unique, endearing, and thought provoking in a truly simplistic fashion, making it a wonderful introduction to the world of electronic literature.

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Science Fiction, meet Political Satire

Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” propels us into a fascinating dystopian society. Consumed by vanity and perfection, this chemical society is conditioned into what they believe in, and are constantly and quite happily subdued through recreational drug use and promiscuous sexual activity. The concept sounds great from a distance, however, this society lacks something that I believe many of us take for granted: freedom.

Was this Huxley’s way of predicting what he saw for the future of our society? Although many of Huxley’s elements are extreme in the fullest sense, some events in our recent history have some striking similarities. Huxley envisioned a super-modern world that reflects many of the issues that have since become part of contemporary society. The “better living through chemistry” that was touted in the 1950’s gave us our own brave new world where contraceptives became easily accessible, allowing a world where seemingly consequence free sex could exist. Anti-depressants and other stimulants, prescription or otherwise, are able to subdue bad feelings and control unwanted behaviours, often allowing us to run away from our true feelings to a state of contentment, much like Huxley’s soma. In more recent years, new media technologies have evolved into something much like feelies, though perhaps less intense. New media has however allowed people to remove themselves from their current situation, and become totally immersed in something else entirely, similar to the way we escape into television or the Internet. So many of our senses become engaged.

Our contemporary society may be less enamored with the concept of utopia than that in Aldous’ novel, however, we have known through our own bloody history the horrors of totalitarian “perfect” societies, courtesy of Adolf Hitler and other dictators.  Many of the names Huxley chooses to use are combinations of various political and philosophical icons of the times that surrounded him when Brave New World was written, many of which hold contrasting ironies between the character and the icon in which their name was taken. While the majority of Huxley’s characters are relatively flat and almost robotic in nature, there are a few who do not fit in this category. John, ironically known as “the savage”, is a dynamic character who experiences an upbringing with multiple elements. John immerses himself in the “uncivilized world” around him, filled with traditional morals and values, while his mother Linda is from the “civilized world”, and holds strong to those morals . This brave new world is introduced to him firsthand as a result of a visit from Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowne, who take John and his mother Linda back to London with them. Upon their arrival, John’s initial excitement quickly diminishes when he realizes the flaws in the society, including a lack of creativity, individuality, kindness and compassion; the same flaws that were originally observed by Bernard Marx, who ironically becomes consumed by the popularity that has surrounded him due to his return back with “the savage”.

Through Brave New World, Huxley uses his intellectually perverse sense of humour to critique mankind by over satirizing an idea of modern society. His concepts are thought provoking and challenging, and his descriptive nature and style of writing successfully engages the senses, giving the reader a truly unique experience. This novel is captivating, insightful, and provocative in the truest sense of the word.

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