mass_effect_2_pc_24

Well, they’re finally here. Here are some more to choose from.

Attendance Poll Analysis

Quest: To clean up, analyze, and visualize the dataset of attendance poll data across 2 semesters.
[DIGITAL SCHOLARS]
Procedure: Procure a copy of the Excel file containing the Poll Responses from both semesters and read them with an eye on how the data might best be analyzed and represented. Then schedule an appointment with our Digital Humanities specialist James Lee (lee6jj@ucmail.uc.edu) who will show you how this data can be cleaned up and made ready for analysis, and then visually presented. Analyze the data and see if you can find 1-2 major points of interest. Present these 1-2 points using compelling graphics.
Points: Cleaned Up Datafile in Excel format (10), Research Question (10), Articulation of Findings (10), Data Visualization Quality = 40 points.

Board Game Adaptations

Quest: To play a board-game adaptation of a certain property and concept, and then think about what it means.
[ANALOG GAME ENTHUSIASTS]
Procedure: Pick a board game –– any board game. I have quite a few in the UC Game Lab that might be of interest. Play it as close to the rules written as possible with a group of friends and/or fellow students. Make sure you take notes about your experience, especially given what play options you have at any given moment in time. Then research the topic the game is presumably about (Example: Monopoly is about real estate, Ticket to Ride is about the expansion and development of train travel across the USA), picking at least 1 or 2 high-quality scholarly sources in doing so (and consult a librarian if you have questions about that). Afterwards, write a 3-5 page response essay to your play experience with respect to the actual material on which it is based.
Points: Writing Style (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Quality of Secondary Literature Sources (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

The Cocktail Machine and Its Depths

Quest: To find several unsung “gems” among the various games available on the UC Game Lab cocktail cabinet.
[ARCADE GAME ENTHUSIAST]
Procedure: Arrange at least 2 meeting times with Dr. Torner to set up the cocktail machine and play several of the titles available. You will learn how to use the machine, as well as experiment with numerous games. Write notes about which games you choose to play and what your play experience on each is like. Then write a 3-5 page essay closely analyzing your experience, paying particular attention to how long you tended to play each game, and why a more obscure title you found is nevertheless worthy of our attention. You will likely have to do some background research to make your argument.
Points: Writing Style (10), Evidence of Reflective Play Sessions (10), Persuasiveness of Argument about Obscure Title (10), Precision of Description (10) = 40 points

Deck Building FTW

Quest: To teach me about deckbuilding games
[DECKBUILDING AFFICIONADOS]
Procedure: I’ll be honest –– I hate deckbuilding games, but I’ve got a whole collection of them in the UC Game Lab, and I’d like to be able to articulate their value to others. Describe at least 2 deckbuilding games in detail, using terminology from the course, and defend their aesthetic value. Bonus points if you actually convince me.
Points: Writing Style (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Uses Course Terminology (10) = 40 points

Everyone’s a Gamer

Quest: To give us a sense of everyday individuals’ interactions with games
[VIDEO JOURNALISTS]
Procedure: Interview on camera at least 3 different individuals about the games they play, how they play them, and those games that seem to be most “artistic” to them. Edit the footage into a 5-8 minute videoclip that also features video-captured recordings of the games discussed. Make sure that what you are producing is somehow in dialog with Adrienne Shaw’s work; that you do not assume certain individuals from certain demographics will appreciate certain games. Try to get at stories that run against the grain of established narratives. Upload the resultant video file on UC Box.
Points: Interviews of at least 3 people (10), Editing (10), Overall Polish (10), Subtle Underlying Argument (10) = 40 points

FATE and Afrofuture!

Quest: To play an RPG with respect to its socio-political content.
[D&D DUNGEON MASTERS]
Procedure: Get a copy of Afrofuture! the RPG from Dr. Torner, and run it for several friends or fellow students. Write up some notes about your experience afterward. Then do some research on afrofuturism as an aesthetic and socio-political movement, finding at least 1-2 high-quality scholarly sources. Write a 3-5 page essay relating your actual experience of playing Afrofuture! to the socio-political movement, paying particular attention to how the game mechanics themselves emphasize and/or undermine specific dynamics in that movement.
Points: Writing Style (10), Precision of Description (10), Persuasiveness of Argument, Drawing on a High-Quality Source (10), Grammar and Citations (10)

Game Lab Research

Quest: To look at the wide world of university game labs and talk about the future of our own.
[BUDDING ACADEMICS AND ADMINISTRATORS]
Procedure: Do some serious Internet searching, after consultation with Dr. Torner, on various game labs at universities around the world. Start with MIT, Tampere, UC Santa Cruz, Concordia University, but then branch out to find places and archives that maybe are under-represented. Call them or e-mail them and talk about their mission, how they fit into their university, and their main activities. Write up an annotated, comparative tour of at least 3 of these labs, assessing (in your language, not theirs) what they ostensibly do and how it fits into the larger picture of both their own institution and game studies in general.
Points: Writing Style & Organization (10), Evidence of Thorough Research (10), Informed Opinion about The Labs in Question (10), Presentation (10) = 40 points

 

Kill Screen

Quest: To evaluate quality games journalism.
[JOURNALIST AND GAME SCHOLAR]
Procedure: Purchase an issue of Kill Screen and read it from cover to cover. Then pick out 2 articles and evaluate everything about them: how they’re written, how they describe the games in question, and who their target audience appears to be. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of their presentation, and how you might cover this game yourself. Consider also how these essays might apply to course concepts. Write 4-5 pages with your evaluation and findings
Points: Writing Style (10), Precision of Description (10), Evaluation of Journalism (10), Incorporation of Course Concepts (10) = 40 points

Larping The Dream

 

Quest: To play the larp The Dream by Jason Morningstar & produce a final product on it
[LARPERS AND FILMMAKERS]
Procedure: Procure a copy of The Dream from me. Read it through and then gather 5-9 players to play it, as well as the materials. Run through the game, and write down your thoughts about it after the debrief. The game will have produced a recording, which you will edit and then compare to the game’s source material. Send me a 1-2 page essay reacting to your run of the game, paying particular attention to how your labor role in the game affected your play, and upload your video you produced to UC Box (or YouTube).
Points: Evidence of Actual Play (10), Writing Style for Reflection (10), Insights into the Game (10), Final Video Product – Whatever It May Look Like (10) = 40 points

Open Sorcery

Quest: To play Sorcery and have informed opinions about it
[INTERACTIVE FICTION FANS]
Procedure: Play the Inkle game Sorcery! and take notes while you do so. Examine in particular the impact of the player-character choices you make in the game. Then write a 3-5 page essay comparing the choice impact in this game with any other game you have played, especially BioWare, Bethesda, or other Inkle Games. In your comparison, advance an argument about what the game’s accomplishments are with respect to player impact. But don’t forget our course materials as well!
Points: Writing Style (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Relationship to Course Concepts (10)

Pokémon Go Panel Wrap-up

Quest: To edit and enhance some Pokémon Go panel footage
[MEDIA EDITORS]
Procedure: Procure the raw video of last fall’s Pokémon Go panel held by the UC Game Lab from Dr. Torner. Cut out the bits that, in your discerning opinion, are not as interesting as others. In fact, see if you can cut it into a 5-minute “highlights” reel of the most important points for you. Introduce actual gameplay footage captured wherever you think it fits. Upload the resultant video file on UC Box.
Points: Editing (10), Curation of Highlights (10), Overall Polish (10), Subtle Underlying Argument (10)

 

Text Analysis of RPGs

Quest: To take a digital-humanist look at RPG texts
[DIGITAL SCHOLARS]
Procedure: I have a large collection of role-playing game texts, and I’d like to see if there are any patterns across them you can discern. Procure the PDF collection from me, and see which parts you would like to analyze: the Character Creation sections, the Combat Sections, the Index of words, etc. Then make an appointment with our Digital Humanities specialist James Lee (lee6jj@ucmail.uc.edu) about using programs such as R to sort the text into data chunks that can be interpreted: most common words, most common words found next to each other, and so forth. Analyze the data and see if you can find 1-2 major points of interest. Present these 1-2 points using compelling graphics.
Points: Cleaned Up Database of PDF data (10), Research Question (10), Articulation of Findings (10), Data Visualization Quality = 40 points

 

X-citing Art Projects
Quest:
To contribute artwork to a forthcoming game project being developed on campus, and write a reflection on the process.
[ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Find a game designer (or talk to Dr. Torner about finding one) who needs art desperately. There are many! Speak with him/her/them about their needs and come up with a few design sketches that address them. Write 1-2 pages about the game, the art that you designed for the game, and why you made the choices you did. Make extra sure you tell us how the player is intended to interact with the art, and if that influenced your creation at all.
Points: Precision of Description in Written Essay (10), Writing Style (10), Discussion of Player Interaction (10), Scans of Completed Artwork Sketches (10) = 40 points

You’re On TV

Quest: To depict gaming in a positive-yet-analytical light on film
[JOURNALISTS AND VIDEO EDITORS]
Procedure: Attend a gaming event, be it a convention, bridge night, game day, or evening at the arcade, and shoot video there. Edit it into a coherent report of no more than 10 minutes in length. Note in your introductory sequence of the final product the circumstances of you attending this event, etc. Talk to people at the event, but also observe at least 1-2 instances of play closely, and then analyze those instances in retrospect in the final segment of the final product. The final product is, of course, an edited video. Upload it to Box.
Points: Editing (10), Curation of Highlights (10), Overall Polish (10), Subtle Underlying Argument (10)

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Here are the updated quests for my Film 2008 course at the University of Cincinnati this Spring 2017. Each student must complete 3 quests and a Final Boss Challenge.

A is for Affordances

Quest: To describe and theorize affordances in games, and their various functions
[ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Read the short text by Norman on affordances under Quest-Related.
Also, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCSXEKHL6fc
Then pick a game you’d like to analyze, preferably one that has what you consider interesting affordances: Dance Dance Revolution, Jenga, and Doom would all be equally interesting on this point. Write 4-5 pages on your experience of the affordances of the game, beginning with your subjective experience thereof and moving out to general principles of game and material design. Cite at least 3 outside sources in your analysis, using proper MLA 7 formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Conception of Affordances (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

B is for Bungie and Blizzard

Quest: To detail how studios preserve a certain style or type of narrative over time, even between game universes.
[PROSPECTIVE GAME HISTORIANS]
Procedure: Play at least three games by a single game studio, attending to the span of time between the studio’s origins and the present. Good examples would be Bungie (Marathon → Halo → Destiny) or Blizzard (Warcraft → World of Warcraft → Diablo 3). One game must be from the origin era of the studio, the second game from somewhere in the middle of its history, and one must be recent. In a 3-5 page paper that includes a comparison chart, describe to the reader the salient aspects of the studio’s style that distinguish it from other studios, and what continuities seem to persist across distinct titles. Cite studio-related secondary literature if pertinent, using proper MLA formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Comparison Chart (10), Grammar and Usage (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

C is for Conventional Wisdom

Quest: To describe and theorize how conventional wisdom and reflex often define game patterns and decision-making, and what can be done to break its grasp.
[BUSINESSPEOPLE AND DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Watch this video of Greg Costikyan talking about “natural” game design.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGKPirk5wdQ
Then look up the word “isomorphism” with respect to sociology. Make sure to incorporate that word’s connotations into the project. Play a game Costikyan has not discussed, but in terms of his overarching points about game design patterns.Write 4-5 pages on what counts as “original” game design and what could be seen as “copying” or “re-skinning” other games, beginning with your subjective experience and moving out to general principles of game and material design. Cite at least 3 outside sources in your analysis, using proper MLA 7 formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Conception of Isomorphism (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

D is for Diplomacy

Quest: To describe how analog board and card games function with respect to ideology.
[GAMERS]
Procedure: Read Bruno Faidutti’s essay “Postcolonial Catan.” Then play either Settlers of Catan or one of the other eurogames discussed in the article. Write a 4-5 page response to both your own play experience, as well as to the issues that Faidutti raises in the article. Try to see the issue of representation from as many angles as possible; there is no right answer, but the critiques raised cannot be easily dismissed.
Points: Writing Style (10), Self-Reflection (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Incorporation of Course Concepts (10) = 40 points

E is for Exploration

Quest: To take a closer look at a video-game character and its form and functions.
[GAME DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Read the Isbister text in “Quest-Related Materials” on game characters. Now pick a character from a video game, preferably one with enough ambiguity to offer us something to discuss. Write a 4-5 page paper relating that video-game character to principles in Isbister’s text.
Points: Writing Style (10), Relationship to Isbister’s texts (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

F is for Failure

Quest: To describe how a game uses failure to drive play.
[PHILOSOPHERS]
Procedure: Read (or re-read) Jesper Juul’s Art of Failure and keep in mind his points about the rewards of negative affect. Pick a game that has a particularly interesting relationship to failure: Flappy Bird, Track & Field II, and Space Invaders would all be good examples. Write a 4-5 page paper relating Juul’s ideas to this particular game.
Points: Writing Style (10), Relationship to Juul’s text (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

G is for Good Filmmaking

Quest: To evaluate how filmmaking effects are used in contemporary game design.
[FILM AND MEDIA STUDIES]
Procedure: This quest involves some very specific media products. Watch Blade Runner (1982) and Ghost in the Shell (1996), and then play Deus Ex (2000) or Oni (2001) and Remember Me (2013). Using the first two cyberpunk films as a baseline, write 4-5 pages on how the video games appropriate and/or deviate from specific cinematographic techniques and film practices from the 2 films. Note also how Remember Me builds on or deviates from the films vs. Deus Ex and Oni.
Points: Writing Style (10), Precision of Description (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10)

H is for History of Game Studies

Quest: To understand certain fundamentals of the game design field through the narratology vs. ludology debate
[FUTURE GAME STUDIES SCHOLAR]
Procedure: You will have to read a lot for this assignment, namely Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext, Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck, Gonzalo Frasca (http://web.cfa.arizona.edu/art435a/readings/frasca_ludology.pdf), and Edward Wesp (http://gamestudies.org/1402/articles/wesp). Using evidence from these texts and any others you find, take a position in the debate and supply a way we might use the resulting methodology in games analysis. 4-5 pages will be sufficient, but you may want to write more. Please cite as many sources as you need (probably 5+), using MLA 7 standards.
Points: Writing Style (10), Summary of Positions (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10)

I is for Interview

Quest: To conduct an interview with a game designer, professional or amateur, who has a playable game in public circulation.
[JOURNALISTS]
Procedure: Make contact with a game designer (ask me if you need some help there) and, if s/he is willing, interview them about their craft. The interview should be at least 5-7 questions long, and submitted in written form or decent-quality video or audio recording. Make sure the focus in the interview is on not only the design of the game, but its production and circulation in the real world.
Points: Thoughtful Questions (10), Interview Structure (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Overall Interest (10)

J is for Just Choose Already

Quest: To explore what interactive literature has to offer and write about it persuasively
[LITERARY SCHOLARS]
Procedure: Sit down and actually play through Andrew Plotkin’s Spider and Web (http://eblong.com/zarf/zweb/tangle/) and Crowther and Woods’ Colossal Cave Adventure (http://www.amc.com/shows/halt-and-catch-fire/exclusives/colossal-cave-adventure). If you’d like, play through a contemporary piece of Interactive Fiction such as 80 Days (2015) or something from Choice of Games LLC. Use FAQs or walkthroughs if you get stuck. Consulting sources such as Anastasia Salter’s What is Your Quest? or Nick Montfort’s Twisty Little Passages, analyze your experience in playing these games in literary terms. What make these games “literature” to you, and how do their actual game elements intensify or complicate this relationship? Use MLA 7 for your citations.
Points: Writing Style (10), Evidence of Play (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Overall Argument (10)

K is for Kriegsspiel

Quest: To understand the basis for modern military board games through Reiswitz’s Kriegsspiel
[GERMAN STUDENT]
Procedure: Read the overview article from Philipp von Hilgers (https://www-alt.gsi.de/documents/DOC-2009-Jun-114-1.pdf), Vego’s overview (https://www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/900b6d3c-bcc8-4ff0-8c17-9ad22c448799/German-War-Gaming.aspx) as well as relevant passages from Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World and Kriegsspiel News (http://www.kriegsspiel.org.uk/index.php/articles/origins-history-of-kriegsspiel/3-origins-of-the-kriegsspiel). Now play through a modern descendent of the Kriegsspiel: either an Avalon Hill game (of which I have a few), an HPS Simulation, etc. Now write 3-5 pages in English or 2 pages in German about your play experience with respect to what you have read. Be certain to include how specific game mechanics constrained your options or permitted you to engage in specific play behavior. Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Writing Style (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Precision of Description (10), Relationship to History and Course Materials (10)

L is for Libraries

Quest: To go through recent game studies scholarship of interest.
[LIBRARIANS AND READERS]
Procedure: Find 5 game studies publications published within the past three years: articles, books or otherwise. Choose publications that work on one topic: role-playing games, platform studies, first-person shooters, etc. Write a 4-5 page paper with an argument detailing what is preoccupying these publications. What are the main issues at stake in these articles? Who are they in conversation with? What games seem to be cited frequently? Use MLA 7 citations, and have at least 5 of them!
Points: Writing Style (10), Insightful Reading (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Precision of Argument (10)

M is for Making Games

Quest: To create freeform games based on literature to use in the classroom.
[LITERATURE STUDENT / GERMAN STUDENT]
Procedure: You will first need to do some background research on what freeform games are. Look to Lizzie Stark’s Pocket Guide to American Freeform, the Golden Cobra Challenge (http://www.goldencobra.org/), or Gizmet Game Poems (http://gamepoems.gizmet.com/about/) for clues. Then pick a canonical German text below (if a German student) OR one from the English-language canon. Come up with a short freeform game (20 min. – 1 hour) that could be played in a classroom to convey specific material related to the work in question. Be creative! Resultant works may be adapted or used later in the classroom.
• EXCERPTS: Das fliessende Licht der Gottheit (Mechthild von Magdeburg)
• POEM: “Es ist alles eitel” (Gryphius)
• NOVELLA: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Goethe)
• DRAMA: Maria Stuart (Schiller)
• POEMS: Various poems (Eichendorff)
• DRAMA: Einen Jux will er sich machen (Nestroy)
• POEM: “Des Biedermanns Abendgemütlichkeit” (Scheffel)
• NOVELLA: Krambambuli (Ebner-Eschenbach)
• EXCERPTS: In Stahlgewittern (Jünger), Im Westen nichts Neues (Remarque)
• DRAMA: Die Dreigroschenoper (Brecht)
• NOVELLA: Schachnovelle (Zweig)
• ERZÄHLUNG: Nachts schlafen die Ratten doch (Borchert)
• NOVELLA: Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. (Plenzdorf)
• DRAMA: Der Tod und das Mädchen (Jelinek)
• ERZÄHLUNG: Mutterzunge (Özdamar)
Points: Clarity of Instructions (10), Understanding of the Original Text (10), Presentation (10), Overall Game Design (10)

N is for New Games for YOUR Major

Quest: To create (or at least start) a game related to your major
[GAME DESIGNER]
Procedure: If you’re looking to get into game design, then one of the best places to start is to create a game. Find a topic or complex related to one of your majors and come up with an idea for a game related to it. Run the idea by the instructor before you get too far into it. Then plot out the game rules and, if possible, make a playable prototype or proof of concept in Sploder, Twine, InDesign, Gamemaker or some other relevant game software.
Points: Presentation of Final Product (10), Overall Game Design (10), Clarity (10), Relationship to Source Material (10)

O is for Other Language

Quest: To play a board / card / role-playing game in German and reflect on the experience.
[GERMAN STUDENT]
Procedure: Come talk to your instructor about getting a copy of a German-language board / card / role-playing game, and then play it for at least 1 session auf Deutsch. Then you will write a 3-page reflection paper on the experience, and playing games in a foreign language.
Points: Successful Playthrough (20), Quality of Self-Reflection (10), Grammar (10)

P is for Platform

Quest: To assess the field of “platform studies” from a scholarly and play perspective
[GAME DEVELOPER AND SCHOLAR]
Procedure: Platform studies involves the examination of a specific piece of hardware and its impact on the games it produces. Read at least 2 of the books in the Platform Studies series at MIT (http://platformstudies.com/). If you can, track down a working version of the platform in question and play a few games on it. Write a 4-5 page reflection paper answering the question: how is platform studies useful in assessing games? How might we understand a particular game thanks to its platform?  Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

Q is for Quarters

Quest: To visit an actual arcade environment and reflect on it anthropologically
[COLLEGE STUDENT]
Procedure: Gather together a group of 2+ students from this course and go to a local arcade or board game café: Tabletop Game Cafe in Columbus, The Rook, 16-Bit, The Place, Gameworks, etc. Spend at least $5 on games, paying close attention to each game you play: how the game is presented, what it promises you, how much it costs, what you actually get when you play it, and how long it takes for you to go before you have to feed the machine more quarters. Also observe your classmates as they play, if possible. Write a 4-5 page reflection paper on the experience, specifically attending to both the social context (i.e., being in an arcade) and the games themselves. Bring in concepts from the course useful for your description, such as affordances, constraints, representation, and others.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Relationship to Course Materials (10), Description Details (10), Writing Style (10)

R is for Role-Playing Theory

Quest: To look at contemporary role-playing game theory and take a position within it
[ROLE-PLAYING SCHOLAR]
Procedure: Read through Sarah Lynne Bowman’s The Functions of Role-Playing Games, Markus Montola’s “On the Edge of the Magic Circle” (https://tampub.uta.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/66937/978-951-44-8864-1.pdf?sequence=1), The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp (http://nordiclarp.org/w/images/8/80/2014_The_Foundation_Stone_of_Nordic_Larp.pdf), and the most recent issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing (http://ijrp.subcultures.nl/). Find a topic that interests you. Then write a 4-5 page paper with MLA 7 citations that responds directly to recent arguments in RPG studies. Draw on your own experiences with RPGs if you can.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Source Material (10), Writing Style (10)

S is for Sexuality and Gender

Quest: To examine broader implications of gender and sexuality to be found in games
[CRITICAL THEORIST]
Procedure: Drawing on Adrienne Shaw’s Gaming at the Edge, find at least 2 other articles – academic or otherwise – that deal critically with the issue of gender and/or sexuality and gaming. Be specific as possible, and try to play the games that are mentioned. Now write a 4-5 page paper responding to the issues raised, being attentive to critical theories of representation and game mechanics. Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to the Secondary Literature (10), Writing Style (10)

T is for Travia GmbH & Co.

Quest: To look at the German video games industry from a critical perspective
[GERMAN STUDENT]
Procedure: Read this document positively appraising the German games industry (http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Content/EN/Invest/_SharedDocs/Downloads/GTAI/Fact-sheets/Business-services-ict/fact-sheet-gaming-industry-en.pdf) and consult the Wikipedia page on the German video games industry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_gaming_in_Germany). Track down and play one of the games on the list. Now write a 4-5 page paper in English (or a 2-page paper in German) explaining the game as a product of German industry forces. What company made it? What are their sales like? What could be considered “German” about this particular game? Pay attention to transnational and European-level markets, and come see your instructor if you need more details. Any citations shoudl be in MLA 7.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

 

U is for Uncertainty

Quest: To apply Costikyan’s theories of uncertainty in games to a specific game object
[GAME DESIGNER]
Procedure: Now that you’ve read Uncertainty in Games, it’s helpful to apply it to a game object. Pick a game that you think has a particularly interesting balance of uncertainty factors. Imagine telling some game designer how the game uses uncertainty to work. Write a 4-5 page paper articulating precisely what aspects of the game’s design contribute to this uncertainty, particularly looking at affordances, incentives, and constraints. Use Costikyan’s terminology and cite (MLA 7) as you write.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Source Text (10), Writing Style (10)

 

V is for Valor

Quest: To enlighten the rest of the class with respect to some specific game topic
[FUTURE POLITICIAN OR PROFESSOR]
Procedure: Are you a public speaker extraordinaire? Would you like to work on those skills? First, sign up for a 10-minute spot to present on a topic of your choice related to games and the course material. Then come up with an engaging 10-minute presentation on your particular topic to give in front of the gathered students. Please make it engaging!
Points: Clarity (10), Structure (10), Delivery (10), Persuasiveness (10)

 

W is for What is a Role-Playing Game?

Quest: To play through a game that serves as a theoretical intervention, and assess it
[GERMAN STUDENTS AND OTHERS]
Procedure: Find 2-3 fellow players and play Epidiah Ravachol’s What Is a Role-playing Game? in English (https://dig1000holes.wordpress.com/what-is-a-roleplaying-game/) OR in German (http://pihalbe.org/sites/default/files/Was-ist-ein-Rollenspiel–Raumraeuber.pdf) if you are a German student. Then discuss the play experience afterward. Take notes on both the play and the discussion. Then write a 4-5 page paper describing the experience, what happened in the game, and how the game made an impact on what you thought a role-playing game was. Speculate about what you would do if you had to make a similar intervention.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

X is for Xenophobia

Quest: To look at racial and/or race-related dynamics in a game with a critical lens
[CRITICAL THEORISTS]
Procedure: Minorities are vastly underrepresented in video games. This structural racism is largely attributed to lean market demographics, when in fact people of color play games just as much as white people. To do this assignment, read the Mou & Peng article (https://www.msu.edu/~pengwei/Mou%20Peng.pdf), A.A. George’s Tor.com article (http://www.tor.com/2014/08/13/gamings-race-problem-gen-con-and-beyond/) and related materials to be found in the library or online databases. Pick and play a game which offers us clear insights into this particular dynamic. In a 4-5 page argumentative paper with at least 3 sources (MLA 7 citations), tell your reader about the constructions of whiteness and racialized figures in the game.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Theory (10), Writing Style (10)

Y is for Your Ideas Are Not Your Own

Quest: To understand how ideology works through game mechanics
[CRITICAL THEORISTS]
Procedure: Game mechanics are persuasive and rhetorical instruments that one can use to further specific political and economic arguments. Almost every game implies how humans ought to behave and how systems ought to work: Monopoly justifies the bootstrapping entrepreneurial mentality as well as (paradoxically) demonstrates how having wealth and property just gives one more wealth and property, Pong implies that a game of pure physical skill is possible, Undertale rejects normative gender and sexuality perspectives while also reassuring us that kindness will save the world. In this assignment, you will play a game of your choice and discern the general ideological implications of its aesthetic and mechanics. After playing the game for a significant period of time, write a 4-5 page paper answering the following questions: What are the players incentivized to do in the game? How could these incentives be read in terms of political and economic profit motive? What mentalities are considered “optimal” in the story universe of the game. Citing (using MLA 7) Ian Bogost or cultural theorists from the Frankfurt or Birmingham School couldn’t hurt.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Theory (10), Writing Style (10)

Z is for Zelda

Quest: To do an in-depth analysis of a specific level of a specific game
[GAME DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Pick a level of a video game, and play through it at least 3 times. It could be a controversial level like “No Russian” in Modern Warfare 2, or the opening dungeon of The Legend of Zelda. Pay close attention to the following aspects, among others: how the level begins/continues/ends, what emotional high points and low points it offers to you as a player, what characters you meet and how you are expected to deal with them, the potential outcomes of the players’ actions within the level, the layout of the landscape, its soundscape and artistic inspirations. Now write 4-5 pages advancing a specific argument about the level. Be as precise in your description as possible, and relate its various points to concepts you learned in the course.
Points: Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10), Relationship to Course Concepts (10)

 

FINAL BOSS FIGHT

During the final two weeks of the semester, students get to try out their game analysis skills against a worthy opponent. They will select a game and play it, taking notes. Then they will locate no less than 3 reviews of or academic articles on the game. Citing these reviews and/or articles, they will then write their own review that somehow affirms, refutes and/or responds to the 3 reviews, while also arguing their own position on the game. Assignment length is somewhere between 2000-4000 words (the length of a decent game review) and should be written with popular game criticism standards (i.e., those of Fernández-Vara) in mind.

26 Game Studies Quests

January 27, 2016

 

bard's tale

For my Film 2008 course at the University of Cincinnati this Spring 2016, each student must complete 3 quests and a Final Boss Challenge. Here are 26 distinct quests for them to choose from. (Can you tell I’m a German and RPG scholar?)

A is for Affordances

Quest: To describe and theorize affordances in games, and their various functions
[ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Read the short text by Norman on affordances under Quest-Related
Materials: Then pick a game you’d like to analyze, preferably one that has what you consider interesting affordances: Dance Dance Revolution, Jenga, and Doom would all be equally interesting on this point. Write 4-5 pages on your experience of the affordances of the game, beginning with your subjective experience thereof and moving out to general principles of game and material design. Cite at least 3 outside sources in your analysis, using proper MLA 7 formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Conception of Affordances (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

B is for Bungie and Blizzard

Quest: To detail how studios preserve a certain style or type of narrative over time, even between game universes.
[PROSPECTIVE GAME HISTORIANS]
Procedure: Play at least three games by a single game studio, attending to the span of time between the studio’s origins and the present. Good examples would be Bungie
(Marathon → Halo → Destiny) or Blizzard (Warcraft → World of Warcraft → Diablo 3). In a 3-5 page paper that includes a comparison chart, describe to the reader the salient aspects of the studio’s style that distinguish it from other studios, and what continuities seem to persist across distinct titles. Cite studio-related secondary literature if pertinent, using proper MLA formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Comparison Chart (10), Grammar and Usage (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

 

C is for Constraints

Quest: To describe and theorize how constraints work to narrow and control player options and movement – both in the positive and negative sense.
[ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Constraints limit user interaction with any given game to delineate their options and available maneuvers. Pick and play a game that you think has interesting constraints: Mysterium, Waco Resurrection, and Desert Bus all have interesting ones to consider. Write 4-5 pages on your experience of the affordances of the game, beginning with your subjective experience thereof and moving out to general principles of game and material design. Cite at least 3 outside sources in your analysis, using proper MLA 7 formatting.
Points: Writing Style (10), Conception of Constraints (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

 

D is for Diplomacy

Quest: To describe how player unpredictability and the removal of randomness as an alibi affect a board game’s aesthetic.
[GAMERS]
Procedure: Borrow or buy a copy of Diplomacy (board game) and play it with 6 other people, including other players from the class doing this assignment. Be attentive to the rules, especially regarding secrecy and troop movement. After the game is over, debrief with your fellow players for about 15 minutes, talking about the various strategies that worked and – most importantly – how everyone felt during gameplay. Now write a 4-5 page paper describing your experience, focusing on your available decisions and moments of drama, and apply Greg Costikyan’s “player uncertainty” concept from his Uncertainty in Games book.
Points: Writing Style (10), Self-Reflection (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Incorporation of Costikyan’s Concepts (10) = 40 points

 

E is for Exploration

Quest: To take a closer look at a video-game character and its form and functions.
[GAME DESIGNERS]
Procedure: Read the Isbister text in “Quest-Related Materials” on game characters. Now pick a character from a video game, preferably one that offers us much to discuss. Write a 4-5 page paper relating that video-game character to principles in Isbister’s text.
Points: Writing Style (10), Relationship to Isbister’s texts (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

 

F is for Failure

Quest: To describe how a game uses failure to drive play.
[PHILOSOPHERS]
Procedure: Re-read Jesper Juul’s Art of Failure and keep in mind his points about the rewards of negative affect. Pick a game that has a particularly interesting relationship to failure: Flappy Bird, Track & Field II, and Space Invaders would all be good examples. Write a 4-5 page paper relating Juul’s ideas to this particular game.
Points: Writing Style (10), Relationship to Juul’s text (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10) = 40 points

 

G is for Good Filmmaking

Quest: To evaluate how filmmaking effects are used in contemporary game design.
[FILM AND MEDIA STUDIES]
Procedure: This quest involves some very specific media products. Watch Blade Runner (1982) and Ghost in the Shell (1996), and then play Deus Ex (2000) or Oni (2001) and Remember Me (2013). Using the first two cyberpunk films as a baseline, write 4-5 pages on how the video games appropriate and/or deviate from specific cinematographic techniques and film practices from the 2 films. Note also how Remember Me builds on or deviates from the films vs. Deus Ex and Oni.
Points: Writing Style (10), Precision of Description (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10)

 

H is for History of Game Studies

Quest: To understand certain fundamentals of the game design field through the narratology vs. ludology debate
[FUTURE GAME STUDIES SCHOLAR]
Procedure: You will have to read a lot for this assignment, namely Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext, Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck, Gonzalo Frasca (http://web.cfa.arizona.edu/art435a/readings/frasca_ludology.pdf), and re-read Edward Wesp (http://gamestudies.org/1402/articles/wesp). Using evidence from these texts and any others you find, take a position in the debate and supply a way we might use the resulting methodology in games analysis. 4-5 pages will be sufficient, but you may want to write more. Please cite as many sources as you need (probably 5+), using MLA 7 standards.
Points: Writing Style (10), Summary of Positions (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10)

 

I is for Interview

Quest: To conduct an interview with a game designer, professional or amateur, who has a playable game in public circulation.
[JOURNALISTS]
Procedure: Make contact with a game designer (ask me if you need some help there) and, if s/he is willing, interview them about their craft. The interview should be at least 5-7 questions long, and submitted in written form or decent-quality video or audio recording. Make sure the focus in the interview is on not only the design of the game, but its production and circulation in the real world.
Points: Thoughtful Questions (10), Interview Structure (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Overall Interest (10)

 

J is for Just Choose Already

[LITERARY SCHOLARS]
Quest: To explore what interactive literature has to offer and write about it persuasively.
Procedure: Sit down and actually play through Andrew Plotkin’s Spider and Web (http://eblong.com/zarf/zweb/tangle/) and Crowther and Woods’ Colossal Cave Adventure (http://www.amc.com/shows/halt-and-catch-fire/exclusives/colossal-cave-adventure). If you’d like, play through a contemporary piece of Interactive Fiction such as 80 Days (2015) or something from Choice of Games LLC. Use FAQs or walkthroughs if you get stuck. Consulting sources such as Anastasia Salter’s What is Your Quest? or Nick Montfort’s Twisty Little Passages, analyze your experience in playing these games in literary terms. What make these games “literature” to you, and how do their actual game elements intensify or complicate this relationship? Use MLA 7 for your citations.
Points: Writing Style (10), Evidence of Play (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Overall Argument (10)

 

K is for Kriegsspiel

[GERMAN STUDENT]
Quest: To understand the basis for modern military board games through Reiswitz’s Kriegsspiel
Procedure: Read the overview article from Philipp von Hilgers (https://www-alt.gsi.de/documents/DOC-2009-Jun-114-1.pdf), Vego’s overview (https://www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/900b6d3c-bcc8-4ff0-8c17-9ad22c448799/German-War-Gaming.aspx) as well as relevant passages from Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World and Kriegsspiel News (http://www.kriegsspiel.org.uk/index.php/articles/origins-history-of-kriegsspiel/3-origins-of-the-kriegsspiel). Now play through a modern descendent of the Kriegsspiel: either an Avalon Hill game (of which I have a few), an HPS Simulation, etc. Now write 3-5 pages in English or 2 pages in German about your play experience with respect to what you have read. Be certain to include how specific game mechanics constrained your options or permitted you to engage in specific play behavior. Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Writing Style (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Precision of Description (10), Relationship to History and Course Materials (10)

 

L is for Libraries

[LIBRARIANS AND READERS]
Quest: To go through recent game studies scholarship of interest.
Procedure: Find 5 game studies publications published within the past three years: articles, books or otherwise. Choose publications that work on one topic: role-playing games, platform studies, first-person shooters, etc. Write a 4-5 page paper with an argument detailing what is preoccupying these publications. What are the main issues at stake in these articles? Who are they in conversation with? What games seem to be cited frequently? Use MLA 7 citations, and have at least 5 of them!
Points: Writing Style (10), Insightful Reading (10), Grammar and Citations (10), Precision of Argument (10)

 

M is for Making Games

[GERMAN STUDENT]
Quest: To create freeform games based on German literature to use in the classroom.
Procedure: You will first need to do some background research on what freeform games are. Look to Lizzie Stark’s Pocket Guide to American Freeform, the Golden Cobra Challenge (http://www.goldencobra.org/), or Gizmet Game Poems (http://gamepoems.gizmet.com/about/) for clues. Then read one of the books in the list below. Come up with a short freeform game (20 min. – 1 hour) that could be played in a classroom to convey specific material auf Deutsch related to the work in question. Be creative! Resultant works may be adapted or used verbatim in Fall 2016.
• EXCERPTS: Das fliessende Licht der Gottheit (Mechthild von Magdeburg)
• POEM: “Es ist alles eitel” (Gryphius)
• NOVELLA: Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Goethe)
• DRAMA: Maria Stuart (Schiller)
• POEMS: Various poems (Eichendorff)
• DRAMA: Einen Jux will er sich machen (Nestroy)
• POEM: “Des Biedermanns Abendgemütlichkeit” (Scheffel)
• NOVELLA: Krambambuli (Ebner-Eschenbach)
• EXCERPTS: In Stahlgewittern (Jünger), Im Westen nichts Neues (Remarque)
• DRAMA: Die Dreigroschenoper (Brecht)
• NOVELLA: Schachnovelle (Zweig)
• ERZÄHLUNG: Nachts schlafen die Ratten doch (Borchert)
• NOVELLA: Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. (Plenzdorf)
• DRAMA: Der Tod und das Mädchen (Jelinek)
• ERZÄHLUNG: Mutterzunge (Özdamar)
Points: Clarity of Instructions (10), Understanding of the Original Text (10), Grammar (10), Overall Game Design (10)

 

N is for New Games for YOUR Major

[GAME DESIGNER]
Quest: To create (or at least start) a game related to your major
Procedure: If you’re looking to get into game design, then one of the best places to start is to create a game. Find a topic or complex related to one of your majors and come up with an idea for a game related to it. Run the idea by the instructor before you get too far into it. Then plot out the game rules and, if possible, make a playable prototype or proof of concept in Sploder, Twine, InDesign, Gamemaker or some other relevant game software.
Points: Presentation of Final Product (10), Overall Game Design (10), Clarity (10), Relationship to Source Material (10)

 

O is for Outer Space

[GERMAN STUDENT]
Quest: To play an intensive starship game in German
Procedure: If there are at least 4 German students interested, a German-language game of Artemis can be arranged. Artemis is a multi-player tactical ship simulation game that’s a lot like crewing a starship. Once we get through the logistical hurdles, you will meet for a 2-hour session of the game, and play it only in German. Then you will write a 1-page reflection paper on the experience, and playing games in a foreign language.
Points: Successful Playthrough (20), Quality of Self-Reflection (10), Grammar (10)

 

P is for Platform

[GAME DEVELOPER AND SCHOLAR]
Quest: To assess the field of “platform studies” from a scholarly and play perspective
Procedure: Platform studies involves the examination of a specific piece of hardware and its impact on the games it produces. Read at least 2 of the books in the Platform Studies series at MIT (http://platformstudies.com/). If you can, track down a working version of the platform in question and play a few games on it. Write a 4-5 page reflection paper answering the question: how is platform studies useful in assessing games? How might we understand a particular game thanks to its platform?  Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

 

Q is for Quarters

[COLLEGE STUDENT]
Quest: To visit an actual arcade environment and reflect on it anthropologically
Procedure: Gather together a group of 2+ students from this course and go to a local arcade: 16-Bit, The Place, Gameworks, etc. Spend at least $5 on games, paying close attention to each game you play: how the game is presented, what it promises you, how much it costs, what you actually get when you play it, and how long it takes for you to go before you have to feed the machine more quarters. Also observe your classmates as they play, if possible. Write a 4-5 page reflection paper on the experience, specifically attending to both the social context (i.e., being in an arcade) and the games themselves. Bring in concepts from the course useful for your description, such as affordances, constraints, representation, and others.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Relationship to Course Materials (10), Description Details (10), Writing Style (10)

 

R is for Role-Playing Theory

[ROLE-PLAYING SCHOLAR]
Quest: To look at contemporary role-playing game theory and take a position within it
Procedure: Read through Sarah Lynne Bowman’s The Functions of Role-Playing Games, Markus Montola’s “On the Edge of the Magic Circle” (https://tampub.uta.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/66937/978-951-44-8864-1.pdf?sequence=1), The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp (http://nordiclarp.org/w/images/8/80/2014_The_Foundation_Stone_of_Nordic_Larp.pdf), and the most recent issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing (http://ijrp.subcultures.nl/). Find a topic that interests you. Then write a 4-5 page paper with MLA 7 citations that responds directly to recent arguments in RPG studies. Draw on your own experiences with RPGs if you can.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Source Material (10), Writing Style (10)

 

S is for Sexuality and Gender

[CRITICAL THEORIST]
Quest: To examine broader implications of gender and sexuality to be found in games
Procedure: Drawing on Adrienne Shaw’s Gaming at the Edge, find at least 2 other articles – academic or otherwise – that deal critically with the issue of gender and/or sexuality and gaming. Be specific as possible, and try to play the games that are mentioned. Now write a 4-5 page paper responding to the issues raised, being attentive to critical theories of representation and game mechanics. Use MLA 7 citations.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to the Secondary Literature (10), Writing Style (10)

 

T is for Travia GmbH & Co.

[GERMAN STUDENT]
Quest: To look at the German video games industry from a critical perspective
Procedure: Read this document positively appraising the German games industry (http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Content/EN/Invest/_SharedDocs/Downloads/GTAI/Fact-sheets/Business-services-ict/fact-sheet-gaming-industry-en.pdf) and consult the Wikipedia page on the German video games industry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_gaming_in_Germany). Track down and play one of the games on the list. Now write a 4-5 page paper in English (or a 2-page paper in German) explaining the game as a product of German industry forces. What company made it? What are their sales like? What could be considered “German” about this particular game? Pay attention to transnational and European-level markets, and come see your instructor if you need more details. Any citations shoudl be in MLA 7.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

 

U is for Uncertainty

[GAME DESIGNER]
Quest: To apply Costikyan’s theories of uncertainty in games to a specific game object
Procedure: Now that you’ve read Uncertainty in Games, it’s helpful to apply it to a game object. Pick a game that you think has a particularly interesting balance of uncertainty factors. Imagine telling some game designer how the game uses uncertainty to work. Write a 4-5 page paper articulating precisely what aspects of the game’s design contribute to this uncertainty, particularly looking at affordances, incentives, and constraints. Use Costikyan’s terminology and cite (MLA 7) as you write.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Source Text (10), Writing Style (10)

 

V is for Valor

[FUTURE POLITICIAN OR PROFESSOR]
Quest: To enlighten the rest of the class with respect to some specific game topic
Procedure: Are you a public speaker extraordinaire? Would you like to work on those skills? First, sign up for a 10-minute spot to present on a topic of your choice related to games and the course material. Then come up with an engaging 10-minute presentation on your particular topic to give in front of the gathered students. Please make it engaging!
Points: Clarity (10), Structure (10), Delivery (10), Persuasiveness (10)

 

W is for What is a Role-Playing Game?

[GERMAN STUDENTS AND OTHERS]
Quest: To play through a game that serves as a theoretical intervention, and assess it
Procedure: Find 2-3 fellow players and play Epidiah Ravachol’s What Is a Role-playing Game? in English (https://dig1000holes.wordpress.com/what-is-a-roleplaying-game/) OR in German (http://pihalbe.org/sites/default/files/Was-ist-ein-Rollenspiel–Raumraeuber.pdf) if you are a German student. Then discuss the play experience afterward. Take notes on both the play and the discussion. Then write a 4-5 page paper describing the experience, what happened in the game, and how the game made an impact on what you thought a role-playing game was. Speculate about what you would do if you had to make a similar intervention.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10)

 

X is for Xenophobia

[CRITICAL THEORISTS]
Quest: To look at racial and/or race-related dynamics in a game with a critical lens
Procedure: Minorities are vastly underrepresented in video games. This structural racism is largely attributed to lean market demographics, when in fact people of color play games just as much as white people. To do this assignment, read the Mou & Peng article (https://www.msu.edu/~pengwei/Mou%20Peng.pdf), A.A. George’s Tor.com article (http://www.tor.com/2014/08/13/gamings-race-problem-gen-con-and-beyond/) and related materials to be found in the library or online databases. Pick and play a game which offers us clear insights into this particular dynamic. In a 4-5 page argumentative paper with at least 3 sources (MLA 7 citations), tell your reader about the constructions of whiteness and racialized figures in the game.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Theory (10), Writing Style (10)

 

Y is for Your Ideas Are Not Your Own

[CRITICAL THEORISTS]
Quest: To understand how ideology works through game mechanics
Procedure: Game mechanics are persuasive and rhetorical instruments that one can use to further specific political and economic arguments. Almost every game implies how humans ought to behave and how systems ought to work: Monopoly justifies the bootstrapping entrepreneurial mentality as well as (paradoxically) demonstrates how having wealth and property just gives one more wealth and property, Pong implies that a game of pure physical skill is possible, Undertale rejects normative gender and sexuality perspectives while also reassuring us that kindness will save the world. In this assignment, you will play a game of your choice and discern the general ideological implications of its aesthetic and mechanics. After playing the game for a significant period of time, write a 4-5 page paper answering the following questions: What are the players incentivized to do in the game? How could these incentives be read in terms of political and economic profit motive? What mentalities are considered “optimal” in the story universe of the game. Citing (using MLA 7) Ian Bogost or cultural theorists from the Frankfurt or Birmingham School couldn’t hurt.
Points: Grammar and Citations (10), Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Relationship to Theory (10), Writing Style (10)

 

Z is for Zelda

[GAME DESIGNERS]
Quest: To do an in-depth analysis of a specific level of a specific game
Procedure: Pick a level of a video game, and play through it at least 3 times. It could be a controversial level like “No Russian” in Modern Warfare 2, or the opening dungeon of The Legend of Zelda. Pay close attention to the following aspects, among others: how the level begins/continues/ends, what emotional high points and low points it offers to you as a player, what characters you meet and how you are expected to deal with them, the potential outcomes of the players’ actions within the level, the layout of the landscape, its soundscape and artistic inspirations. Now write 4-5 pages advancing a specific argument about the level. Be as precise in your description as possible, and relate its various points to concepts you learned in the course.
Points: Persuasiveness of Argument (10), Precision of Description (10), Writing Style (10), Relationship to Course Concepts (10)

 

FINAL BOSS FIGHT

During the final two weeks of the semester, students get to try out their game analysis skills against a worthy opponent. They will select a game and play it, taking notes. Then they will locate no less than 3 reviews of or academic articles on the game. Citing these reviews and/or articles, they will then write their own review that somehow affirms, refutes and/or responds to the 3 reviews, while also arguing their own position on the game. Assignment length is somewhere between 2000-4000 words (the length of a decent game review) and should be written with popular game criticism standards (i.e., those of Fernández-Vara) in mind.

Gedankenspiel I: The Pen

September 13, 2012

Image

[I have written a series of blog posts on paper entitled “Gedankenspiel” that I am entering verbatim into WordPress. The thought is that I write differently by hand than via computer.]

I.

The pen is not only mightier than the sword, it’s mightier than the COMPUTER.

When I confront my students with the task of research, I usually present to them their mightiest tool:

the pen.

Why this, in an age of smartphones, micro-cameras and ubiquitous information?

First of all, information is neither neutral nor ubiquitous.

It is invested, complicit, contextual, and throttled.

Invested, in that powerful interests support only certain information flows

Complicit, because the flows themselves impact the information available (McLuhan, Kittler)

Contextual, in that it cannot convey but a partial view of the given story

&

Throttled, because access even to the permitted information is part of someone’s profit model

You use your pen to invest in your own, simple information flow

The pen allows us to be selective about reality, because we by nature have to be.

No circuitboards or touch screens or operating systems stand between us and the comparatively simple algorithms of writing.

Pens afford a mastery over language, which is itself not only a means to power over others, but also over one’s own thoughts.

Should our notebooks be set alight, our memories, narratives and control over them blown away as ashes into the wind, then we shall use our pens to once again inscribe power – via the written word and image – into the personal realities we perceive.

2012: Cryptic

January 2, 2012

Ever stared a year in the face?

Ever tried to manage your expectations about a year?

Ever attempted to come up with a coherent plan for a year, only to watch it crumble inexorably?

Though these are all yes/no questions, a year should not pose answers – only more questions.

Like this hazy Google Images search, if you will:

 

 

 

As with every year, I begin to blog again as my thoughts coalesce once more.

Short reviews of all that I consume shall soon commence again.

This interview with director Jörg Foth regarding Dschungelzeit (1988, Time in the Jungle) was conducted by Evan Torner on October 5, 2010 and in September 2011. It is the first interview Foth has ever given about his experiences in Vietnam.
***
DEFA Film Library [DFL]: You began working on the East German/Vietnamese co- production Dschungelzeit (Ngon Tháp Hà Noi, Time in the Jungle), back in 1982. How did it come about that you were working on this film? How did you develop its content?

Jörg Foth: It was not in 1982, but after I had made my debut film Das Eismeer ruft (The Arctic Sea Calls) in 1983. I was asked first to work as a director’s assistant again, like before my debut film. So in spring 1984, I assisted for Bernhard Wicki when he shot Die Grünstein Variante (Grünstein’s Variable) with the DEFA. With few exceptions, junior DEFA directors in the 1980s had to first work as assistant directors, then debut with a children’s film, and either earlier or shortly thereafter finish an international co-production as co-director. That’s why Michael Kann worked in Bulgaria, the USSR and Czechoslovakia in 1982 and 1985; Dietmar Hochmuth worked in the Soviet Union in 1988, Helge Trimpert in Switzerland in 1988, Yugoslavia in 1989. These double and triple hurdles–assistant director jobs, children’s film directing, and co-production– helped prolong our way to our first autonomous film beyond the children’s stories and waste our best years.
So I worked as a co-director for DEFA in Vietnam and had to visit the Studio for Feature Films in Hanoi Film for initial talks in fall 1984. The script was about a group of Germans who went to Vietnam as members of the French Foreign Legion after they had been POWs in France at the end of WWII. It was based on someone’s authentic report that he had written down years later.
Now I had heard the name of the German legionnaire who had placed his memoirs at DEFA’s disposal at some point back then, but never laid eyes on or spoke with the man. I also didn’t know if the name was correct at all. Legionnaires had false names not only while they were in the legion, but probably also afterward in the GDR. In any case, it wasn’t H.S. Stautmeister (Der Mann aus dem Dschungel, published with Verlag Frieling), nor was it Horst Pahl. Maybe I can find the name somewhere, but it certainly didn’t interest me at the time—Burmeister, or something like that. The books that proved much more important for my preparations were those like [Peter] Scholl-Latour’s ―Death in the Rice Field.
The film script had been already completed as a collaboration between the Vietnamese author Banh Bao and the East German author Peter Wuss, who rather uncollegially withdrew his name from the credits when the film was already finished and censored. But it had to remain an equal co-production, so that’s why my name was next to Bao’s in the final version. The original script title was ―The Tower of… (some name of a place) – it was supposed to be Biblical. Leonja Wuss, Wuss’ wife, initially wanted to co-direct the film. I had no idea why the job eventually fell on my desk, but it was certainly the main (or one particular) motivating force behind Wuss’ withdrawal of his name after the film had been accepted. It was, then again, not really my job to develop the content, but just to follow the script, prepare the shooting and cast the German actors.

DFL: The co-production conditions themselves bring to mind different aspects of the GDR’s relationship to Vietnam and other postcolonial countries.

JF: The GDR defined itself always as a ―friend and helper of all countries of the so-called ―Third World. My entire childhood and youth in East Germany was filled with slogans, messages and speeches on international solidarity and people’s friendship. Peace and friendship were two of the main founding promises that the young GDR gave. And of course it impressed us as children who had played in ruins for a long time after the war. For Fasching or Carnival, we dressed up and painted ourselves as Chinese, Indians, Africans in our kindergarten or school. We didn’t do so only because it looked nice or strange, but with feelings of solidarity even if we never had seen such strangers from abroad.

DFL: Economic and world political factors may have dramatically affected your co- production. Did you have conversations with people from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and/or other institutions about the content or conditions of you film project?

JF: No, my conversations only took place inside the DEFA studio and the film studio in Hanoi. I don’t know what and how the directors of both studios talked to their officials in both governments.

DFL: What did the GDR have to gain or lose with the project?

JF: The GDR was a pretty small country, it had some nice landscapes like the Baltic Sea in the north and some mountains–Saxon, Thuringia, Harz–in the south, but the GDR always felt smaller than it was, also because people couldn’t travel abroad. An international co-production sounded like an adventure for the DEFA and its audience and also a way to discover faraway perspectives. The longing for distant horizons and for making your own life a little more global than it was, were the motifs for all international co-productions that DEFA had tried. Another reason was saving half of the production costs at the same time.

DFL: What was the justification for the cooperation, and how was the co-production cooperative?

JF: The co-op effect of the co-production was an illusion. If there are 2 countries, 2 film studio bosses, 2 production managers, 2 directors, 2 cameramen, 2 set designers, 2 sound engineers, 2 costume designers, 2 production teams, 2 casts and so on, it is very hard to cooperate. And in our case, for each step or for exchanging personal position each side needed a translator, who often played his/her own play instead of translating, so things went truly wrong.

DFL: What was the political atmosphere that surrounded the project?

JF: Starting in fall 1984 and continuing during the preparation of the production in 1985-86, the political atmosphere surrounding our production changed because of the emergence of Glasnost and Perestroika, as well as the more abstract point of view that the GDR was starting to take on the Soviet Union.

DFL: You have expressed privately that the film did not turn out very well, and that there were great challenges in the creation of the film. What were the largest obstacles to overcome in the realization of the film? What difficulties did you have in talking through a translator? How did your body manage the different climate in Vietnam?

JF: The two main obstacles were the absent sanitary conditions and me actually being unable to ultimately turn down the project despite it not going so well. I was ill when I returned from the
shooting period. I had amoebas in my blood and was losing the hair of my beard. The doctors back home couldn’t find out about my illness. All of a sudden, I wasn’t sure what had made me sicker: the lack of sanitariness or the impossibility of working together!
As for the inability to say ―no: two friends of mine privately and urgently advised me against this co-production. Uli Weiß was afraid (as he put it) ―that then you’re stuck with them for 2 years (actually, it would become 5 years). Production head Hans-Erich Busch said something similar: ―Jörg, go to the doctors and ask that they write that you’re unfit for the tropics and save your strength for something else.  In truth, Busch probably did not want to make this film and now hoped I’d let him call it off in this fashion. But it could’ve been that my life, my youth, my connectedness with Western protest culture and music now stood in my way, so that I just couldn’t say ―no to this film.

DFL: The film eventually was completed in 1987 and 1988 (premiered in East Germany on April 14, 1988), and stands as one of the few films treating the subject of Germans caught up in postcolonial conflict in Vietnam during the late 1940s.

JF: There are a few more movies, documentaries, as well as TV films on this specific topic in Vietnamese history. And it is not a surprise than in the early 50s there were 20,000 Germans fighting for France in Vietnam. The GDR tried to call them back to the ―new Germany. Because of WWII, the POWs in Soviet camps and people fleeing to the West, East Germany needed men.

DFL: How was the film exemplary or extraordinary for a DEFA film? What kind of aesthetic did the film have, and were there mutual East German / Vietnamese influences on how it looked?

JF: It was exemplary only for the fact that it had artistically failed like every other DEFA co- production. But nothing about the production was extraordinary. I think there were not any cultural influences from one or both sides. This film is neither a Vietnamese nor an East German one, that’s the co-op problem. I tried to work closely together with the Vietnamese side, but this only meant that I had to leave my own position and without really reaching the Vietnamese partners.

DFL: What scenes in the film were particularly memorable for you?

JF: I often think back of the scene that takes place on a hanging bridge. On one side of the river there is large group of Viet Minh hiding themselves because they had been warned and on the other side some paratroopers appear. Among these Vietnamese rebels, there is a small German group of former members of the Foreign Legion who had run away and had joined the Viet Minh. We did not really have available white actors who could convincingly play the enemies and cross the bridge. I talked to my co-director and colleague, Tran Vu—a very impressive elder film artist from Hanoi—if we shouldn’t use our East German actors who fought in the film for the Viet Minh, dress them with French uniforms and let them play the scene, a double acting like a mirror scene. Tran Vu looked at me in an unforgettable way and said quietly: ―This will be the best scene of the film.  I’m sure DEFA would not have approved filming the scene this way, but Tran Vu’s words made it possible.
It was at the time when Heiner Müller wrote the following lines in Wolokolamsker Chausee V: ―The moment of truth – when in the mirror / the image of your enemy appears.

DFL: The protagonists of East German and Vietnamese cinema tend to be quite different, with the former favoring upright heroes and the latter favoring clever tricksters. What cultural differences did you encounter that were striking to you?

JF: The play of the Vietnamese actors was much closer to theatrical expressions than the performance of the East German actors. But I wouldn’t say that this was an obstacle that we couldn’t manage. At least, it was better to have different ways of acting on both sides of the actors. The strangers could stay strangers. Unfortunately, both sides speak the same language on screen. This is really a huge mistake.
If you take one look into the German-European and Vietnamese-Asian fairytale worlds, you quickly notice that their heroic types are diametrically opposed. In Europe, the image of the open, upright, and fair soldier is exalted and cultivated, even when such behavior is quite obviously never practiced in actual physical or martial conflicts. In Asia, it is the image of the mentally superior hero that is more ideal than the physically superior one, probably due to the fatal dangers of the weather, nature and the animal world there. This intellectual advantage, which is decisive for any victory, includes lying, trickery, deception and all that we would call ―unfair. We could have built our film based on that kind of cultural difference without discriminating against either side. Quite the opposite in fact: understanding each other’s differences would have more than helped our story. But despite the long planning phase, I still had almost no idea about what other countries like Vietnam were like, let alone their cultures. The GDR was too small. And we were too blind.

DFL: Almost no one has seen this film since its release. Perhaps given that it resembles Kurt Maetzig’s Preludio 11 (1963) as yet another failed co-production about past postcolonial conflict abroad. Is it likely that there are two different versions of this film that exist–one for the GDR and one for Vietnam? How would you assess the final film today?

JF: Even Helmut Nitzschke shot a complete film in the Carribean, based on a novel by Anna Seghers, Das Licht auf dem Galgen (1976, The Light on the Gallows), or Bernhard Stephan, Rückkehr aus der Wüste (1989, Return from the Desert). Both were not co-productions, but in my opinion failed films because of failures in working with–and getting lost in–other cultures.
I’m sure that the Vietnamese film version looked and sounded different the version we had made for our cinemas. The Vietnamese named their film script Jungle House, whereas ours was called Time in the Jungle. This little difference tells you a lot about the two different points of view of the same story. The title I had the DEFA use stands for irritation, confusion and chaos. The Vietnamese title is for the opposite: stability and sovereignty. The Vietnamese team didn’t follow our invitation to the German premiere and they didn’t invite us to their premiere of, I’m very sure, a Vietnamese version of our film. This was the very bitter end of a very hard film project, which was otherwise the first international co-production ever completely shot in Vietnam.

DFL: Is there anything else about the film and its creation that you’d like to mention?

JF: In my preparations for the film, DEFA neither offered to screen Apocalypse Now for me, nor did it alert me to the DEFA-produced TV film released in cinemas Flucht aus der Hölle (Escape from Hell, 1959/60). With that film, it had nothing to do with content or art, but rather the GDR idea of friendship among the peoples and proper protocol.
The first thing the Vietnamese asked me was if I knew of Apocalypse Now, and if I’d like to see it. So I spent my first Vietnam trip to the film studio at Hanoi in a small Asian screening room,
watching a print of Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola had personally given this copy of the film to the Hanoi Film Studio as a gift. And I think the film cannot have a greater impact than when one is watching it alone in the middle of Hanoi, having arrived there for the very first time.
During the preproduction from 1984 to 1987, friends and colleagues of mine often advised to try to get out of this project. But on one hand I was trapped in history and memories of my youth in the 1960s and on the other hand I was shocked to accept that it seemed to be impossible to work together. I was unable to share this. I did not want be the one who would say, there’s not any way to make a film together. Again, I was too much lost in all these slogans of friendship and solidarity that my country fed me.
After I had returned from the shooting period and all the post-production was done, I did not speak about my experiences and challenges for many years. 25 years later, this is the first interview I’ve had about Time in the Jungle. Thank you for asking.

Evan Torner, former program assistant of the DEFA Film Library, he is a PhD candidate in German & Scandinavian Studies and Film Studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where he is writing his dissertation on “The Race-Time Continuum: Race Projection in DEFA Genre Cinema.” In addition to curating and coordinating the 2011 Summer Film Institute, he is also the official English translator of the 100 Years of Babelsberg exhibit at the Filmmuseum Potsdam. Torner has published numerous articles on 20th-century German genre fiction and cinema, and is co-editing a volume on Immersive Gameplay with William J. White for McFarland Press, 2012.

Resisting the Empire:

The plucky Protagonists and fearsome Adversary now all exist.  But how do our heroes resist?  At what price is the Adversary’s defeat?

• Choose a Protagonist. Play out an initial moment of resistance against the Adversary’s empire for them.  Imagine what makes this character just say “no” to an overwhelming dictatorship and then take up arms against it.  The Protagonist will succeed at doing one of the following:
–Resist a Minion
–Resist a Symptom of the Adversary’s Keep Others in Line
–Recruit an Ally to the Resistance

[Let’s grab Dirk first.  I’m going to think of Dirk as kind of like a rogue noble turned bandit, with a gang of insectoid horsemen (knights?) who surround his roving legged palace.  Spinox has learned of Dirk’s location from the Vanishing King and heads off to the plains to capture him. He and his army have hoversleds (those are cool… and a must-have), so they whiz on over to attack the horsemen. Problem is: the hoversleds have to be relatively low to the ground, so the horsemen still have a fighting chance against them. Dirk embarks on his horse and lays into Spinox’s goons. To help him, one of his fellow knights Maraud does some crazy stunt-riding (i.e. wielding two swords on a horse) and manages to hold him off. Now I can only choose either “Resist a Minion” or “Recruit an Ally,” so I’m going to choose “Resist a Minion” to put Spinox down for now, knowing full well I’ll get a chance to “recruit” Maraud to my side later.

• Do the prior step for the second protagonist. Please choose a different option from the list, so as to create some variety, and play out the corresponding scene.

[Then I grab Botkin, who is meanwhile toiling away in the bowels of some factory. I’m going to choose “Resist Symptom” and say the Symptom is effectively the internal ‘Net within the Vanished King’s palace that keeps tabs on the robots’ programming.  As a big fan of the role-playing game Zero, I take a page from it and just have Botkin suddenly drop from the ‘Net.  Just like that, his digital mind is severed from the collective and begins to act independently using all the skills downloaded into him.  Botkin begins to actually learn the ins and outs of the palace, noting not only the patterns from his subroutines but anomalies as well. The chinks in the Vanished King’s stronghold are found.

In summary: Dirk’s looking to end the source of his misery, and Botkin’s learned how.

Also keep in mind — they haven’t met yet. Be thinking of ways to plausibly get them together now.]

• The Adversary now gets a scene of his own.  Let the effects of the two moments of resistance become abstract-but-troublesome variables with which he now must reckon.  He now will apply the pain to each Protagonist in a direct and hostile fashion.  In addition, or as part of this pressure, the following happens:
–One of the Protagonists may get a new Ally as a result of this redoubled oppression. As with other Allies, the Manipulator must decide if they see this ally fighting to the death for his Protagonist, then marking an X or O in the box on that side of the big Character Roster sheet.

[Botcruel introduces this scene by bringing a “malfunction” to the Vanished King’s attention, Botkin dangling from his arms.  The Vanished Prince orders the robot destroyed; a fairly simple proposition. To spare Botkin an early and easy death, I as the Manipulator take the Ally and claim Botcruel as my Ally. I write him down as an Ally and decide he’s a little too jaded for that mushy “sacrifice” stuff – X.  So Botcruel takes Botkin off to be “destroyed,” but actually uses this opportunity to slip him additional secret programming and has him shipped off to the Plains to gather forces for his own coup d’etat!  Botkin now has Botcruel’s eyes in the palace, and Botcruel his unknown programming variables in Botkin…

The Vanished Prince, meanwhile, summons Sinuet from his usual project of converting resistance leaders into spies and double agents to find Dirk and defeat him… with his own army – bwa ha ha ha!]

Keep tuning in!

Where I Have Been

February 4, 2010

Reality

Next week, the Berlinale begins.  Expect more posts here as I binge on films.

Hard to believe that January is already over:  I still hear the fireworks from New Year’s ringing in my ears…

This month has been marked by me getting my priorities in order in terms of my dissertation writing and other projects (which include 3 articles, 3 film encyclopedia entries, and 3 scholarly book reviews).  I have been writing more regularly and thus more absorbed in an interior world of symbols and discourses.  The month was paradoxically also one full of considerable diversions, including museum visits, film screenings and even a trip to Venice.  So I have at least something to talk about.

This is, of course, not to mention my encounter with German snow maintenance… or lack thereof.  Having grown up in Iowa and lived in Massachusetts for four years, I know what winter looks and feels like.  Blizzards, sub-zero temperatures with brutal wind-chills, icy roads – I’ve seen it all.  Or thought I did, until I confronted how little effort Berliners commit to clearing sidewalks and roads after a good snowfall.  Snow is allowed to accumulate everywhere, and is packed down with foot traffic.  This snow turns to ice, or slush when warm, and has already caused countless broken ribs and other calamities to the Berlin residents over the past several months.  The solution?  About a week after the snow, a few Berlin service guys sprinkle a dusting of gravel on the sidewalks, or maybe sand if they can afford it.  Where’s the salt?  The sand?  The obsessively ice-hacked and shoveled sidewalks?  The Americans regulate this sort of thing through 24 mandatory snow-clearing ordinances.  The Germans regulate it by patching up the injuries in the hospital.

From January 10 – 17, our friend Melissa was in town, which gave us the excuse to distract ourselves.  We saw a performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Komische Oper, which interpreted the naive and gruesome (in equal parts) piece through cross-dressing, a canted stage and the creative use of monkey outfits.  I also found myself in the Filmmuseum at the Deutsche Kinemathek again, this time in the exhibit on Romy Schneider (lacking proper context for those who don’t know who she is, of course).  Our Thursday morning was spent on the English-language Berliner Unterwelten tour of the old bomb shelter right below Gesundbrunnen.  The tour was one of the best I’ve been on – the guide was well-informed, energetic and somewhat sarcastic, all sympathetic traits to me.  Friday was spent all day at the Museumsinsel, where I soaked in the hundreds of artistic treasures of the Pergamon, the Bode-Museum (my personal favorite), the Alte Nationale Galerie, and the Altes Museum.  That night, we found our way to Prenzlauer Berg to play Settlers of Catan with Kira and Hilary (a thoroughly German activity!).  Actually, I realized that the original version of the game is meant only for 4 players, which meant I did what I love most:  ran the event.  Since I apparently miss teaching and game-mastering, merely the act of serving as “banker” and moderator for a simple board game gives me cause for elation.

On Saturday, January 16, 2010, Melissa, Kat and I intrepidly boarded the S-Bahn at Berlin Yorckstrasse, getting off at the Nikolassee stop near the edge of town. There, in the middle of nowhere, was the hostel where mittelpunkt 2010, a European LARP convention, was held.  The first session we visited was a physical LARP workout on how to “convincingly act out the use of magical powers” held by the charming Helge Bruhn. We threw imaginary fireballs and battled each other’s invisible force fields.  The second session that Kat and I visited was held by Emily’s friend Martina on how to keep things interesting in a fixed-group LARP setting, like with a spaceship crew. That was the most “international” of panels, as there were people from France, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and the U.S. all having an earnest discussion whilst swapping war stories.  The third session was my playtest of the system Campbellia called “Screenwriter’s Panic” in which the players had exactly four hours to come up with a finished Hollywood treatment of a cliché-driven “hero’s journey” blockbuster film. We wound up creating a surreal love story that centered on television, drugs and the eating of an imaginary giant frog…

The following weekend saw me attending the second half of our Genre Analysis class.  We presented different Reality TV formats and discerned whether or not they constituted their own genres, sub-genres, etc.  I got “Living History” – a sub-genre of “Reality Show” – and presented on Schwarzwaldhaus 1902 and Abenteuer 1900 – Leben im Gutshaus, both series about ordinary people traveling back in time through strict rules and regulation and a little bit of “TV magic.”  The presentations were actually quite fascinating, as we got to measure casting shows against swap format shows, etc. to demonstrate what they did and didn’t ask of the viewer.

Kat and I decided to visit Venice before it’s swallowed by the Mediterranean, so we spent last Wed. through Sat. there.  I’ve never visited so many churches or seen so many canals in my life.  Stunning architecture and winding passages around every corner.  Otherwise, the experience was fairly expensive, and I couldn’t have lasted another day there.  Actually, it was great to get out of Berlin and see what another major European tourist capitol looked like before diving back into my studies.

Scholarly

Frampton, Daniel. Filmosophy. NY: Wallflower Press, 2006.

“Filmosophy is a study of film as thinking,” Frampton claims within the first few pages, and indeed that’s the case.  Just as real witnesses of 9/11 claimed watching the WTC fall was “like a movie,” so have our entire thought frameworks been entirely merged with those of films and filmmaking.  Role-playing games are designed to simulate filmic imaginaries.  Video games are designed with virtual camera angles.  The safest (and most dangerous) topics at the dinner table are opinions expressed about films.  Frampton connects all aspects of film philosophy – film theory, psychology, social expectation – into a very readable projection of our thoughts as films.  Or films as thoughts.

Fantasy

Sherlock Holmes (dir. Guy Ritchie, 2010)

Who would have thought Sherlock Holmes could be successfully portrayed as a kleptomaniac boxer?

All That Jazz (dir. Bob Fosse, 1979)

In Bob Fosse’s “autobiopic,” a philandering New York choreographer is suddenly confronted with his immanent death.   A paltry few years after this film, Fosse’s bleak vision of himself came true.  Striking visuals, including some of the best weird Fosse dances ever choreographed.  His final shots are always memorable, and this one’s no exception:  Roy Scheider being zipped up in a body bag.

Croupier (dir. Mike Hodges, 1998)

Sometimes, films come along that give you a real insight into the mindscape of people within certain professions (Hawks’ Red River just stampeded to mind).  I don’t know if Croupier is one of them, but it certainly gave me the feeling of the total disdain that dealers have toward the “punters” in a casino.  A young Clive Owen gives his role the perfect mix of sardonic misery and comfortable sophistication.

Stella Dallas (dir. King Vidor, 1938)

Suspenseful emotional manipulation on a scale rarely seen today outside of Titanic.  This is the ultimate “too late” melodrama, in which no one really is to blame but nothing really seems to work out.

Michael (dir. C.T. Dreyer, 1924)

An older painter and his young adopted son rise to fame and glory, but the latter squanders the riches of the former, betraying the painter’s “true love” for the boy.  Crisp, austere and dramaturgically intriguing to the very end.

Infernal Affairs (dir. Andrew Lau, 2001)

An undercover cop faces down a planted mobster spy in Hong Kong’s crime world.  I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this film up until now.  Tony Leung and Andy Lau complement each other very well, and the pacing is downright superb.  Go see it, and avoid Scorcese’s remake.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (dir. Terry Gilliam, 2010)

With this film, I forgive Gilliam his involvement in Brothers Grimm (2006).  Then again, Gilliam also forgave himself. This film explores the encounter of old narrative media with the modern world, pitting sensual symbolism directly against instrumental modern capital… embodied in Tom Waits’ convincing portrayal of the Devil.  Oh yeah: Heath Ledger died in real life, so Colin Farrell dies for him in the film.  Weird.

Broken Blossoms (dir. D.W. Griffith, 1919)

A tragic tale of a Yellow Man (no, I’m not kidding) from China who makes his way in the U.K., only to find a young street girl abused by her boxer guardian…  There’s something Shakespearean about the level of death at the end of the film, but I think it was largely to gloss over the “edginess” of a plot surrounding a love affair between a “person of color” and a “white woman” ca. 1919.  As usual with Griffith, a bang-up editing job.

Intolerance (dir. D.W. Griffith, 1916)

A marvelously experimental feature film overview of human tragedy across Babylon, Biblical Jerusalem, 16th Century France and 20th Century Los Angeles.  Though the latter part seemed only there to appease the cinema-goers expecting something akin to a “regular” silent narrative, the former three prove breathtaking in their scope and production design.  Would I want to have been at the editing table for this one though, I wonder?

Van Helsing (dir. Stephen Sommers, 2004)

Complete pulpy garbage mined from Universal Studios’ tried-and-true archive of copyrighted monsters:  Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man… you get the picture.  Or maybe you don’t:  Hugh Jackman in his big coat, his silly automatic crossbow blazing at the evil flying Eastern Europeans.  It is a rather basic demonstration of what most of the Hollywood Majors are doing with their prior film properties these days:  update, make redundant and franchise!  See Clash of the Titans, Tron, and The Karate Kid…

Archive of Gazes (dir. Rüdiger Neumann, 1984)

Hanover, 1984.  A cameraman sets up his camera in assorted locations and simply observes action unfold for a second or two, then cuts to the next observation.  Repeat.  Cars pass.  Boats trundle along.  People go about their business.  Birds chirp.  This is the filmic equivalent of a palette cleanser, allowing one to see the world anew through a kind of apolitical gaze.  The film screening was accompanied by a panel discussion with Heinz Emigholz and other prominent disciples of director Neumann who, indeed, held an anti-ideological position the entire time he was in the faculty at the Akademie der Künste Hamburg.

The Golden City (dir. Veit Harlan, 1942)

Gold-standard Nazi melodrama, saturated in AgfaColor (made by the folks at IG Farben who brought the world the Zyklon-B gas used in the Shoah) and mired in a maddening mythos of “Heimat” for Aryans.  A naive young farm girl is seduced to the “golden city” of Prague, only to become pregnant out of wedlock.  Rejected by her stubborn patriarchal father upon her return, she commits suicide in the same moor which drowned her mother.  Eastern Europeans have never looked so placatively sinister.  Kristina Söderbaum embodies all the psychotic expectations placed on women under Nazi Germany, as well as the tension between a state that ultimately hated simple farmers and the very simple farmers who voted the Nazi party into power in the first place.

Tschetan the Indian Boy (dir. Hark Bohm, 1972)

A rarely seen children’s film from the Filmverlag der Autoren, one of the cornerstones of the New German Cinema.  A mix of German frontier nostalgia and liberal humanist fantasies, the film tells a tale set in the American West ca. 1880 of a Lakota boy “saved” from death by a wandering shepherd who gradually sees the boy as his cultural equal.  One could see this as the West German precursor to East German “Native American encounter” films such as Blauvogel (1979) or Atkins (1985) without the political teeth of either.  After all, the shepherd ends up leaving his flock (and his means of income) behind, joining three Lakota in a voyage off to Lakota.  In debunking frontier myths, Tschetan has to create a new frontier, so that all hope isn’t lost.

Yes, I Am Busy

December 6, 2009

Reality

I figured a blog after a month was sufficient suspense for the world.  Summarized below are some of my experiences, assembled from the hazy recesses of my memory.

November 9, 2009: The 20th anniversary of socialism’s unexpected collapse saw Kat and I standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate in the rainy cold from about 5:30 p.m. until about 9:30 p.m., during which time most of what we could see was umbrellas.  Much of the crowd consisted of slightly drunk tourists. The orchestra played a handful of depressing modernist tunes and then the Berliner Luft song, which some people really liked. Then all the world leaders got up and gave trite speeches that amounted to more-or-less the same thing. Lech Walesa got up and struck down part of the “domino wall” they built, but got injured a split second later.  By that point, Kat was wet and freezing, so we tried to go home – to no avail! They had blocked off our subway exit, and they had barricades on every street.  Freedom without walls, my behind!  So we carefully wound our way to Friedrichstrasse to take the S-Bahn home.  The next day, I asked the Berliners at my school what their evening was like: they stayed at home and watched the events on television.

Far less mediocre was the retreat for the HFF Potsdam-Babelsberg retreat to Eberswalde.  The purpose of the retreat was ostensibly to party hard and plan sehsüchte, our student film festival in Potsdam-Babelsberg and the largest of its kind in Europe.  Needless to say, I think we did more of the former than the latter, which gave me a serious headache complex on Saturday.  Despite the aching pains from between my ears, I managed to see the absolutely stunning Brandenburg countryside, which reminded of me of Adventures of Werner Holt or I Was 19 (always DEFA films with me).

The following Friday, our sehsüchte team met at the Kino Arsenal for four hours with, oh, none other than the top figures of the Berlinale.  This seems like a once-in-a-lifetime sort of opportunity for me, so I feel like a thorough description is in order.  We first spoke with Dieter Kosslick, director of the entire festival, about financing the Berlinale via the KVB (Kulturveranstaltung des Bundes Berlin) and how one must maintain financial control to survive as an institution.  He then described the Berlinale under Moritz de Hadeln (1980-2001) as organized like a “Stalinist hierarchy” (ouch!) and bid that we spread responsibility for our festival evenly amongst ourselves.  Some fun facts about the Berlinale I learned:  from about 5,700 films submitted, only 350 are accepted for the festival (and the submission fee is non-refundable, naturally); no films between 30 and 60 minutes in length are eligible; there are over 800 official festival guests, but 21,000 accreditations given out … including those for over 4,000 journalists; the Berlinale will be converting to a full HD festival, meaning everything will be projected within 3-4 years as JPEG2000.  Then we spoke with Thomas Hailer (Program Manager), Karin Hoffinger (Program/International Relations), André Stever (Film Materials), Maryanne Redpath (Generation – kids program), Christina Szápáry (Event Management), Susanne Willadt (Accreditation) and Frauke Greiner (Press), all one after the other and regarding what their job looks like, etc.  The chief concern that they seem to have in dealing with the Hollywood majors – but also independents – these days is with piracy, namely that the festival screening copy doesn’t fall onto the Internet somehow.  These days, they have orange, satellite-controlled hard-drives that control when movies can be projected from the data held within.  Crazy stuff.

From the Berlinale meeting, I ran over to Kino Babylon on Rosa Luxembourg Platz to attend the DEFA-Stiftung Award Ceremony as the representative of the DEFA Film Library.  There, I saw everybody from the Who’s Who of GDR cinema there – Erika Richter, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Andreas Voigt, Ralf Schenk – the list just keeps going.  The awards ceremony itself was rather dry – though the great German-language film journal Revolver deservedly won an award – but included a never-before-seen hilarious short about robbers breaking into a symphony orchestra house using the timing of the music being played in the hall itself.  Afterward, I got a chance to have a long conversation with Stefan Kolditz about his father Gottfried, and other topics, and then hit an excellent Vietnamese restaurant down the street with Kat.

On Saturday morning (11/21), we had brunch in Prenzlauer Berg with screenplay author Katharina Reschke and her partner Oliver Schuette, both of whom taught at Grinnell College for a stint.  The weather was so nice that the whole population of Prenzlauer Berg seemed to be outside to enjoy the sun.  Then we followed the brunch with preparations for a dinner with Luisa Greenfield and Ming Tsao, which was both tasty and highly polemic.

The following Tuesday was the release party of HFF teaching assistant Tobias Ebbrecht’s book DDR erinnern – vergessen.  Okay, so it wasn’t so much a party as it was a roundtable discussion between Tobias, Ralf Forster, Peter Badel and Helke Misselwitz about making documentaries in the GDR.  I think the takeaway points were that they missed the kind of cohesive teamwork one found in film production under socialism, and that whatever anyone says about their work, they made films and those films are well-archived for future generations.

That Wednesday night, Moderat (Modeselektor + Apparat + Pfadfinderei) were throwing their last concert ever in the Astra Kulturhaus in Berlin … and I had to go!  I managed to get my ticket at a discount thanks to some generous scalpers, and then joined the 2,000+ throng of excited Berliners willing to sweat their way through the evening.  What a concert too – they played three encores, even though they’d run out of material!

On Saturday, the Medienwissenschaft students and I were charged with the interesting task of standing by the 3D cinema in the Zoo Palast and ask the incoming patrons why they chose to pay more for the 3D version of A Christmas Carol than simply see the 2D version.  Confronting random Germans with a questionnaire as a foreigner was certainly awkward, but somehow enjoyable.

For Thanksgiving, Kat and I actually decided to take the night off from cooking (which we do with great frequency) and went to the Ypsilon, a Greek restaurant around the corner.  We had fried cheese and mussels to our heart’s content, and it was a lovely time overall.  On Black Friday, we headed to Ming and Luisa’s for a film night – Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Poto and Cabengo (1980) and Jean-Luc Godard’s France/tour/detour/deux/enfants (1977) – about children.  It seemed appropriate to depart said film screening and head to the 80s Night/Terror wave Party held near Jannowitz Brücke.  Awesome music (Soft Cell, New Order and all those folks) swept us away, though we were rather impressed by the fact that Germans tend to dance as if they were in their own isolated bubble/little world… as opposed to the American “bump n’ grind” style that plagues us all.

To counteract the Goth and Terror of the previous evening, we attended the Thanksgiving at the American Church in Berlin.  Even if given the opportunity to do it again, I wouldn’t.  The event was logistically poorly organized (over 1.5 hours waited to get our food… and they ran out of many things), expensive and not at all filled with English-speakers, as it turned out.  The weekend was much improved by a visit to the Jewish Museum the following day:  the exhibits were extensively researched and completely fascinating in every way.  One might say that the architecture of the building itself speaks volumes.

I saw Volker Koepp, another DEFA documentarist, at a Humboldt University talk.  Students tried to tell him his films were obscure and needed to be better advertised, to which he responded that he was both a prolific and internationally recognized filmmaker.  It made all the work on his and others’ behalf at the DEFA Film Library seem worth it right there and then.

One side effect of the awful Thanksgiving was that it alerted us to a FREE opportunity to see the inside of the Berliner Dom:  an English/German Christmas service, complete with singing.  The Berliner Dom is certainly a monument to Protestantism if I’d ever seen one, with statues of Protestant resisters such as Luther looking patriarchally down upon the parishioners.

My first visit to the Filmmuseum Potsdam Sammlungen department yielded a wealth of information on Gottfried Kolditz – so much that I had to make another trip there the following week.  Creepily enough, I think I read his last diary entry before he died, and he died a few months before I was born. Hm?

The Berliner Staatsoper became an agenda item, so we found ourselves watching a thoroughly modern performance of Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus from the 4th row after paying very little.  I was glad for this fact, because I felt like the modern staging screwed with the fantasy elements inherent in the masquerade ball, though I liked (as always) the jail guard Frosch in the third Act, especially as a former GDR flunkie.

That Friday night saw Kat and I attending the weekly shindig held at the Another Country bookstore in Kreuzberg, an English-language bookstore known by every English-speaking expatriate in the city.  We spent an embarrassingly long time glued to the projector screen, watching the second season of The Restaurant, a “coaching” genre reality show from the UK where Raymond Blanc and other judges evaluate pairs of amateur restauranteurs making a go of it.  Beautifully shot and definitely intended for foodies, there were enough characters to sustain long-term interest.

And this week it rained a lot, we held a baking party on Thursday, and Kat and I ordered our tickets to go to Prague for Christmas.

Summary finished, folks.  Was it digestible?  Can I be “digested?”  Yum!

Fantasy

Let me preface this by saying I’ve seen far more movies than this over the past month, but too many titles are swirling around in my head to thoroughly document it in this forum.  THIS is a small selection of some notables:

Dreams that Money Can Buy (dir. Hans Richter, USA 1948)

Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Ferdinand Léger, Hans Richter … the great modernists of the early 20th Century went ahead and made a film.  A work of surrealism that keeps its tongue firmly in cheek, Dreams that Money Can Buy is about a guy who can sell people dreams out of this dark apartment.  Hilarity and trippy sequences ensue.

Red Cliff (dir. John Woo, China 2009)

The best film of the year, hands-down.  A condensed 138 minute version of the four-hour epic based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms literature, Red Cliff is (despite any cuts) John Woo’s finest cinematic achievement.  Ask me more and I’ll tell you.