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.

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. 

Moving

Wanted to post. Made some progress this week. Hoping to be done with a solid draft of the first episode by tomorrow. Honestly, I sat home and realized I wasn’t getting enough done. So, I drove over to a Barnes and Noble by me. Although I only had about two hours of time there, I treated it as if it were crunch time. I felt good about it, and set myself up with a spot to continue the next scene.

I think this helped me with my writing. Before, I was always on a mission to end the scene. This time, whenever I decided to take a break from writing, I either wrote down the location of the next scene ,or added direction so I knew where it headed. This made it easier to come back and pick up where I left off.

Spoke to my friend (mentioned this to Dr. Z) about looking over my pilot. He’s super awesome, and also just so happens to have a film degree. He offered to look over my formatting and give me suggestions to keep the story fresh and moving smoothly. I told him I’d send in the first episode in full by tomorrow. I think I’m heading towards a better place with my thesis work. More to tell, though after this week. Stay tuned…

Halfway There!

Today I focused on updating the outline for my novel. I wanted to have a reference point while I am writing just to gauge where it is that I want to go. Sometimes when i am focusing on little details in my writing it is hard to remember the big picture and what i want to accomplish. I chose to write my outline by chapters and what I want to accomplish in each chapter. As I started my writing I didn’t have a goal for page numbers or chapters. I wanted to write the story as best as I could and to make the story interesting and compelling and a story that other people will want to read. I am not sure how good I am doing of that but I like what I have written so far and I think that is what is most important.

So I found out that I am about halfway to my goal. When I finished my outline I realized that I framed it out so there will be about 28 chapters. I just started writing chapter 14 today so I guess that would roughly make this my halfway point. I now have a new goal of writing 3/4 of my novel before the due date. Dr. Z told me to shoot for 75 pages but I am at 70 now so my new goal is 100 pages. If I keep up the pace and the page count I should have a finished novel around 150 pages. I feel like this isn’t a lot but then I don’t want to force my story to be longer if it doesn’t need to be.

I also hit 22,000 words. This was an exciting point for me because when I first started I couldn’t even imagine having written 20 thousand words. But now that I am at the point that I am at, I am very happy with what I have accomplished. Thank goodness that it is spring break next week. This way I can get some extra time to write and not focus on other classes and schoolwork.

Happy Spring Break everyone!


Wine and Cheese

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Monday, instead of writing I went in to New York City. My boyfriend and I had an invite to a wine tasting at city winery in Manhattan. I have been working hard at school and work and I felt like it was the perfect time to relax. We got dressed up and took the train in and had classic New York bagels for breakfast on the way there.

Once we arrived we realized what we had gotten ourselves in to. My boyfriends friend had RSVPed us for this event. His friend owns a liquor store in Maplewood NJ called Village Wines. Well I didn’t realize that this was a corporate event. We walked in and they asked us who we were there to represent. Right away I knew the deal and we slid easily in to our characters. We acted as co-workers and pretended that we were there doing research to find interesting wines for our shelves at our liquor store. Right away I became entangled in my story telling. I met a French woman from the Burgundy region. She had me sample three of her wines. I told her all about my love of wine and how I enjoyed visiting France recently. Soon enough I realized I was playing a character.

Like all good story tellers I created background information for myself and my boyfriend. We tried wines from different reasons and did our best to ask the right questions. We were given a notebook of prices and contact info for each vineyard or winery. After trying a bottle of red wine that cost $1200 (yes, I was shocked too) we walked over to the cheese platter to talk.

I was enjoying myself so much. My boyfriend asked if I could use this as a story idea and thats when I told him, “everything in life can be a story idea.” But yes, he was right. I could easily right a story about our experience that day and I want to constantly look at things as a story idea or use something from my life as a small detail in a story. Isn’t that what life is about?

As I was stuffing my face with cheddar cheese and water (I was trying not to get drunk at such a professional event) my boyfriend noticed someone. He guy walks over and introduces himself. He is a wine buyer from NJ and plays hockey with my boyfriend. They start chatting and right away I am intrigued. I felt like I had a good amount of knowledge about wine but this guy blew me out of the water. Then he admits that this is his full time job. He goes to tastings all of the time to buy new wines for his chain of stores that he works for. You could just tell that he loves his job.

On the train ride home my mind was running with ideas for stories. It just goes to show that you never know what is going to bring you inspiration. Maybe I should drink wine more often haha.

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Mar 2

I’m just going to post some notes here for tonight’s discussion.

This is from Miriam Posner’s syllabus website for her class “Selfies, Snapchat, & Cyberbullies”

“Our goal is to develop a vocabulary for talking about technological and cultural change that accommodates the diversity and contingency of human experience.”

What should students hope to take away from this class, and what are they working toward?

This is from the site for “The Selfie Course” from the Selfie Researchers Network

  • Selfie as discourse: Examples: What is the history (or histories) of the selfie? How do these histories map to contemporary media and scholarly discourses regarding self-representation, autobiography, photography, amateurism, branding, and/or celebrity?
  • Selfie as evidence: Examples: What are the epistemological ramifications of the selfie? How do selfies function as evidence that one attended an event, feels intimate with a partner, was battered in a parking lot, is willing to be ‘authentic’ with fans, or claims particular   standing in a social or political community? One uploaded, how do selfies become evidence of a different sort, subject to possibilities like ‘revenge porn’, data mining, or state surveillance?
  • Selfie as affect: Examples: What feelings do selfies elicit for those who produce, view, and/or circulate them? What are we to make of controversial genres like infant selfies, soldier selfies, selfies with homeless people, or selfies at funerals? How do these discourses about controversial selfies map to larger conversations about “audience numbness” and “empathy deficit” in media?
  •  Selfie as ethics: Examples: Who practices “empowering” selfie generation? Who does not? Who cannot? How do these questions map to larger issues of class, race, gender, sexuality, religion and geography? What responsibilities do those who circulate selfies of others have toward the original creator of the photo? What is the relationship between selfies and other forms of documentary photography, with regard to ethics?
  • Selfie as performance/presentation of self: While this aspect might be considered self-evident. We must pay attention to the tension between spontaneity and staging in the way that selfies serve as a performance and presentation of self in global and social media contexts. Also – when does the selfie as genre become a standard and format for staging authenticity in marketing and social activist campaigns across cultures? To what effect and what purpose?

This looks to me like a pretty good breakdown of the different ways to study selfies. All provocative questions. My question is, what value is this to academia, and in what discipline? Is this a direction for scholarship, or a topic to explore for the sake of ethics and being a human being?

Here are some other questions we might want to talk about.

  • Does the selfie cultural phenomenon, most popular in teens and young people, also encourage a culture of self-indulgence and prolonged adolescence? (Star Wars, Marvel, BuzzFeed, “frenemy”) If yes, could there be a correlative or causal relationship between this and the increasingly vitriolic and decreasingly intellectually rigorous nature of our dialogues regarding controversies, e.g. building a border wall?
  • Because selfies typically exist with very limited context, given the temporal nature of our very lives, is the selfie the next iteration of our attempt to document our experience and leave a mark on the word, or an inane squandering of our “one precious life?”
  • “Cam girl” as mentioned in article 3, is a term widely used to describe internet sex workers. We have no way of knowing what the circumstances are under which people do this, so we’ll just have to leave that alone. But assuming they’re not under duress, they’re exchanging content people want for monetary gain. Does this not fall at the extreme end of a sliding scale occupied by many people who might bristle at being compared to sex workers, who post things on the internet for audiences hoping to gain something of benefit to themselves, e.g. endorsements, notoriety, prizes, etc..
  • Selfies have been called a vital form of self expression. In a networked atmosphere, is it misleading to encourage individual posts that value centrality and primacy Was a way of participating in collaboration? When are these practices mutually exclusive and when do they work?
  • If we accept selfies as composition in the classroom, are they replacing other forms or adding to them? Let’s talk about those other forms.
  • Is a selfie not an intensely personal thing, more so than any form of expression we’ve used pedagogically before?
  • What is driving professors and institutions to explore this topic, and what field can most competently do so?
  • Is it fair to use selfies and other forms of digital media that students use for self expression as a classroom tool?

Consider the selfies below. Care to try to interpret them? Let’s talk about that. What’s happening in these photos? What are their contexts?