What do you think of when you hear the term, “video game?” For some people, video games could be seen as a simple, mindless form of entertainment that doesn’t have much value outside of pressing buttons and a few hours of distraction. If you would have asked me what value they had outside of entertainment a few years ago, even though I spent a lot of time gaming, I would have probably agreed. Nowadays, however, I have come to realize that video games have potential to possess as much value as literature. Video Games are more than button-pressing time wasters. They can be filled with great stories, complex and relatable characters, and thought provoking themes. Before I continue, I should give a potential spoiler warning for some games.
In literature, a good character is going to be one who is three dimensional, one who can be analyzed beyond what is represented in the pages, or presents a commentary on an issue. When talking about character analysis, I think a good example to present my point is Kratos from the God of War franchise. At first glance, Kratos seems to be a one-dimensional savage who kills everything in his path due to rage issues, but, after analysis, Kratos is also a Spartan who was tricked into killing his family, betrayed by his god and manipulated by every other person he trusted.
Such rage becomes more understandable once the reasons are made clear. He also has more humanity than most gamers give him credit for. He still has a caring side, primarily toward children, showing love to his daughter in the underworld and protecting Pandora (who is a young girl in the game). At the end of the third main game, he sacrifices himself to save the rest of humanity, releasing the hope that was inside Pandora’s Box. It is interesting that some people who have played the game miss the sympathetic aspects of Kratos’ character, to the point where I feel like I am the only one who holds this point of view. Much like a book may have aspects that are totally missed by readers, video games can divide opinions based on whether or not information is obtained. Stuff like this can make “mindless” beat-em-up games much more interesting and valuable.
Video game characters and events can stay in the minds of players much like in literature. I will never forget the ending to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, because I periodically think back to the final act (well, minus the secret final mission). The events in the last mission stay with me years after I have played it. Night in the Woods, an indie game that I played in late February and completed in early March, has a cast of characters that continuously find their way back into my mind almost every day due to them being so relatable, interesting, and fun. The end of the game left me wanting to hang out with them one more time. It doesn’t hurt that the game acts basically like an interactive story.
Infamous 2 has one of the best endings in media that I have seen and I still think back to it, getting the same chills that I had upon the initial experience. Not only did that game have a character that made me feel like I lost a close friend upon his death, Infamous 2’s story was a video game with commentary on what is humanity/what is good or evil. Near the endgame, there is a situation that presents the difficult decision as to what is the greater good, giving two courses of action that includes mass sacrifice.
Such themes and commentary, like in novels, are in quite a few video games. The Metal Gear Solid series is filled with commentary on war, ethics, science, and so on. It also holds a confusing yet interesting story that most likely requires multiple times playing to connect all the dots much like a book or short story may need to have a second or even third read. Shadow of the Colossus, a game with little dialogue, presents a story of desire that ends up being self-destructive.
The Wolf Among Us is another game that presents questions of what is good and commentary on justice, asking if necessary “evil” should be punished, and addresses negative consequences of stopping that “evil.” Also, its ending has potential to give rise to discussion as to what it is implying and what exactly does the ending entail. Literature often creates discussion and the fact that video games have that potential gives them greater potential value.
The best example of this that I know of resulted from the game, Bloodborne. The story is almost nonexistent at first glance, but upon digging deeper the story can be found in pieces due to item descriptions and other small bits of lore. This creates room for discussion, theories, and analysis due to nothing being clear-cut. What is extremely impressive is that a player wrote a 90 page analysis of the lore of the game called “The Paleblood Hunt,” presenting his theories and interpretations of the deeply hidden story. This, interestingly enough, reflects the underlying premise of Bloodborne which is finding the truth that is hidden to the rest of mankind.
The fact that there can be so much woven within the code of a game, much more than on the surface, makes me believe that video games certainly have potential for being similar to literature. Now, not all video games can be considered masterpieces in this regard much like not all literature is good or successful. However, when enough care and thought is put into a game, it can definitely be equivalent to literature in value.
Grub Street Fiction Team Member
Having trouble bringing your pieces of fiction to life? No worries. All you have to do is sink into the deep, dark abyss, also known as the internet. Although, the good thing is that you don't have to dig too deep in order to find this riveting TEDTalk video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PG3tp2oA3xo&feature=youtu.be with Ryan Gattis.
His lecture entitled "Pain & Art: Write What You Honestly Know" brings up the issue of writers having difficulty creating pieces of fiction that have that certain amount of authenticity, which in turn makes their pieces more engrossing. He explains that every piece of fiction should have these five qualities: hooks, the unexpected, cause and effect, how did it feel, and concrete, specific details. He then goes on to explain that these qualities are necessary in order for a work of fiction to be successful, but that those qualities aren't enough if the work itself doesn't seem "authentic." His use of this term refers to the idea that no piece of writing is finished until the author digs down deep and genuinely understands the motives, the feelings, and the fears of his or her characters.
Gattis continues with his lecture by telling a story about the time he met a gang member for a book he was trying to write. In a rather meta fashion, he then begins to recall a story that he told this gang member during their interview. He goes into heavy detail about a time where a football player broke his nose and how this caused his nose to form a distinct 'J' on his face. He relies on specific concrete details of the bright blood flowing form his nose and the thoughts and emotions that were going through his head at the time of this incident. Also, he got "involved" in the storytelling. He recalled it with emotion, with passion. He brought his experiences of what he knew into the story to make it come to life.
The gang member, after having been told the story, was enraptured with Gattis' experience. He threw question after question at Gattis, wanting to know more about this incident. Gattis explains how the space around them had changed. They equally felt connected to each other in this moment. He then goes on to tell the audience that, "I trust you to see who I truly am," and in return, he became "empathetic" and "human." His experiences gave him that special edge that can take good writing to great. He got "involved" in his storytelling, and this is what it took to make his writing authentic and real.
Grub Street Nonfiction Team Member
“Why do you do it?”
It’s a question I receive quite often. The looks, the head tilts, the unspoken judgement, it all comes along with every “I’m an English major” response. People wonder why-- why dedicate my time to sit at a computer and write 10 page papers and read five novels at a time just to graduate without a high paying job. “Because I love it.” It’s my answer every time.
Some decide to go into college pursuing a career that follows a family name. Some decide to pick a major that will give them the highest paying job at the end of the day. Some don’t even know why they do it at all. And then there are some like me. Some that pick something they enjoy. Something that doesn’t make them wake up and dread going to class every day. Something that feels more natural to them rather than forced.
Writing is my out. It helps me cope. It helps me relax. It even helps me figure things out when I originally didn’t know how. There are so many things it can do for me that make me want to do it every day.
I once had a teacher when I was a sophomore in high school tell me that my writing was full of emotion and it was like something he’s never seen before. He asked if I would be comfortable sharing it with the rest of the class, but I responded with a very confident, “No.” I wasn’t confident in my writing, I never shared it. It was something that was for me and just for me, but that’s changed.
As my writing has grown, I’ve grown. I now love sharing my work and posting random little blog articles for people to see. I’ve realized over the last few years how many people can connect with it and relate to these tiny words I put on a page. I don’t do it for the high paying salary or the attention, I do it for my own happiness.
Grub Street Nonfiction Team Member
Image Source: https://www.writing.com/images/typewriter.jpg
All writers eventually find themselves stuck in a rut, their creative coffers dry. Instead of giving up and taking a break, try some of these tips to reignite your imagination:
The key is to let loose and allow your imagination to run wild. When brainstorming, quantity is initially more important than quality. Generate a hundred bad ideas in order to find the golden one for your next story.
Grub Street Fiction Team Member
I don’t remember when I was diagnosed with autism, but what I do remember is going through my childhood being so shy I would hardly speak and when I would speak, there were times when my words were, I guess I could say, lost in translation. When talking, my brain seems to think of the words I want to say, but my mouth doesn’t work the way I want to causing me to stumble over my words or not explain something as fully in detail as I would like to.
I remember this one time when I young was in Pennsylvania with my family, visiting my grandparents and aunt. My aunt lives close to my grandparents’ house, so my brother and I usually stayed the night at her apartment during our stay in PA. Anyway, I remember that she was telling my brother and me what she had for us for breakfast in the morning. She had bought these mini boxes of Kellogg’s cereal and she was telling us what kind she had: Frosted Flakes, Cheerios, Lucky Charms, etc. Now before I go any further, I must provide some background information. At the time, whenever I would eat Lucky Charms, or any cereal with marshmallows, my stomach would feel queasy afterwards. So, when she offered Lucky Charms, I meant to say, “When I eat marshmallows, they make me feel sick,” or something to that extent, but what I said was, “I’m sick of marshmallows.” Obviously, I was told off for being rude.
Now while the above story isn’t an accurate example of my trouble with speaking today, I still have trouble getting words to come out the way I want them too. Usually, I’m stuck talking…um…like this…especially when…um…um…it’s personal or when I’m trying to explain something, or usually there will be long pauses as I am trying to get my thoughts back on track.
My point is, I doubt I would have been able to tell anyone the above story effectively by speaking, but I did it through writing. As far back as I can remember, I have been writing. When I was a kid I would try to write stories--none of which were any good looking back, but that didn’t seem to stop me--and in High School, writing essays was definitely my strong point. I remember the last day of an English class that I took in Community College; I had an essay to turn in instead of an in-class final, and when I turned it in, the professor mentioned that I didn’t talk much, but I said a lot in my writing. The same is true regarding my time at Towson, a lot of my classes are discussion based which means I don’t fare well at all. Usually, I remain silent unless forced to speak, but when I get a writing assignment, I can finally say on paper what I could never do in class.
I guess that is how a lot of works of literature get started. The writer wants to say something, but lacks a “normal” voice, and yet he or she finds a voice by writing the novel or short story. While I am still currently unsure what type creative writing I will decide to focus on, prose or poetry or both, I am still able to say a lot more than I could ever do with my “normal” voice.
I am grateful that God gave me the ability to write so I can communicate despite my autism, and while it would be nice to be able to able to speak, I think I would prefer the ability to write because normally words from the mouth don’t last very long, but words on a page, they tend to last longer and are able to be revisited without the use of recording devices. Plus, in a way, it’s more fun
Grub Street Nonfiction Team Member
With June being LGBTQIA+ Pride month, and only 2 months away, many will be planning their Pride Parade trips. Whether you head to Baltimore, DC, New York City, or one of the many pride parades coming up this year, you are bound to see a sea of people proudly and boundlessly showcasing the truest versions of themselves. While adult members of the LGBTQIA+ community enjoy this luxury, what about queer identifying (or ally) children? For many children, there is a lack of outlets for them to express how they identify or relate to their allyship with the queer community. LGBTQIA+ positive children’s books have been at the forefront of providing this outlet and pave the way for more accepting and loving children.
Books are a productive way to mirror everyday life. For LGBTQIA+ children, it is a way to see how they identify being reflected back at them in a manner that depicts them in a positive light. Heather Has Two Mommies, written by Leslea Newman is 1989, was one of the first children’s books to talk about a lesbian couple. A few years later in 1991, Daddy’s Roommate, written by Michael Willhoite, depicted a divorced father, who now lives with his new boyfriend. Both introduced queer parenthood to children in a way that was digestible and understandable to them. While these books received an intense amount of backlash, they were pioneers in the queer-positive literary realm.
LGBTQIA+ positive books have the ability to not only shed light on a child’s budding sexuality, but also gives them a window to normalize their own home lives. Reading books that reflect their nontraditional families gives them an optimistic view of their family dynamic, free of judgement or negative critique.
So as June approaches, and your Pride 2017 plans come to fruition, try to remember the little ones in your life who might not have the same outlets available to them. Some LGBTQIA+ children’s books to check out might include:
LGBTQIA+ children need to see that they are loved, respected, and valued, and what better way to show them they are valid then through literature that does just that!
Grub Street Poetry Team Member
With April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, my own trauma is on the forefront of my mind. As a poet, I’ve always been inclined to express the truly inexpressible through my writing, which has in turn become a method of healing for me as well as for countless others whose paths mirror and reflect my own. The sharing of our experiences in navigating our new lives as survivors creates a community of care in which our voices are being heard and valued.
I have used writing as a tool to flesh out my own space in a society that has attempted to rob me of my personhood and condense me to my simplest parts. My words are proof that I am still here and defiant in my drive to remain an active participant in the shaping of my own experience. My writing mimics the power I attempt to reclaim and encourages others to do so as well—in conversation, in validation, and in self-agency.
This April, know this: I am listening.
To explore creative writing as an outlet for emotional healing, I would suggest exploring confessional poetry, as I find it the most therapeutic. Poets.org provides a brief introduction to confessional poetry and its headlining poets here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/brief-guide-confessional-poetry.
For further guidance and sense of community, check out The Voices and Faces Project’s national writing workshop, The Stories We Tell. The Chicago-based organization seeks to create a culture of visibility for survivors of sexual violence in order to “change minds, hearts, and public policy.” The organization also offers a reading list of both fiction and nonfiction, found at this link: http://www.voicesandfaces.org/writingWorkshop.html.
Grub Street Poetry Team Member
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about a new essay I’m working on. I told her how scared I am to have this much of myself on display.
“You’re so brave for putting yourself out there,” she told me. All I could manage to think was, at least you get to hide behind fiction. Then it occurred to me that I had that option too. I just didn’t take it.
Throughout the course of my college career, nonfiction was always referred to as the “other” genre. When talking about my passion for the genre, it was always assumed by others that it wasn’t possible to be as “creative” as you can with fiction or poetry. I hadn’t even heard of creative nonfiction until coming to Towson. I had always assumed that you had to be a celebrity, a prodigy, or an anomaly to write a memoir.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about nonfiction, and one of the reasons why so many shy away from writing it. Many writers assume that they just aren’t interesting enough to write a compelling personal essay.
One of the most common critiques of contemporary creative nonfiction is that it’s self-indulgent. I have a friend who says he never kept a journal because it allows one to “self-romanticize.”
Others assert that all we can really claim to know is the self (something close to solipsism).
I was first drawn to creative nonfiction because I am interested in people—the way they leave messes behind. I wrote about people I knew, only attaching myself as an auxiliary detail. It’s only very recently that I’ve begun to write about myself as a singular entity.
As a child, I floundered during timed, standardized test essays (I bombed my SAT essay too). It was always suggested that if we couldn’t think of anything interesting, it was perfectly acceptable to make something up. For some reason I still have trouble with fiction—I’m wired for nonfiction, for mess.
Nonfiction is less popular with readers because it provides no escape. We are forced to confront ourselves when reading, while simultaneously recognizing that the writer’s lived experiences may be entirely different from our own. If anything, personal essays promote empathy.
After the conversation with my friend, I began to wonder why I had chosen the most revealing, confessional line of writing. I could have easily chosen fiction or poetry. Even writing this blog post was difficult. I had to look myself in the eye, pick out the reasons why I do what I do. But even so, I’m still not entirely sure why (mess).
Good works of creative nonfiction transcend the self. I’ve always thought that the more specific a writer gets, the more relatable. Some specific details:
My most frequent recurring dream is always set in a crowded restaurant.
I make my own vegetable broth out of frozen scraps. I store it in a glass jar. I hope that this will be enough to stop climate change.
After I have bitten my fingernails, I look at them in disgust. Then, I immediately start biting again, in an attempt to fix them.
Specifics are a reassurance that the person behind the book is really there—full of complex problems and tics. To me, this is comforting. A vulnerable detail seems like a signal towards something larger. A collective vulnerability.
In her lyric memoir Nox, Anne Carson examines the death of her estranged brother. My brother is not dead, nor estranged, but I understand.
In Bluets, Maggie Nelson deals with lost love and an obsession with the color blue. Somehow, I manage to understand.
The moment a writer decides to put their work into the world, they have the power to transcend the self—to affect people, to forge understanding. I, like many others, began to write in order to let out something unknown. But as I read more memoirs, and prepare for my work to be made public, I notice a different force pushing me forward—the hope that I can stir empathy in someone. I can’t help but feel that someone who chooses to be so vulnerable is the opposite of self-indulgent. That by throwing their secrets into light, they are becoming a part of something collective, something larger.
Grub Street Nonfiction Team Member
Image source: Photographed by Barbara Fondelheit
The image above is "Flight" by Gillian Collins.