Saturday, September 29, 2007

Graded Blog #5 Hank has been hit by Merlin for (13000) Damage

Sorry for the late post; I felt a little bit more inspired for this blog so I wanted to do it some justice before I posted it.

First of all I would like to start off by stating a simple known fact; I am magical. I am magical because everything I do or touch has a certain bit of grandeur and mysticism to it. Basically, I make things happen that unfortunately a majority of my encounter with the human race cannot do like telling time without a clock, eating sushi, lifting heavy boulders, and knowing what a woman wants (Yes, most men and women don’t know what women want but I’ve learned the age old secret and do not expect me to divulge the answer in this blog). Now that we know the extent of my magical powers lets examine the role of Merlin and his supposed arcane prowess in Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthurs Court.”

Growing up I was always fascinated with Dark Ages and the story of King Arthur and his Round Table. From my experiences, Merlin has always been a benevolent, powerful, and erudite mystic who aids Arthur through his trials. In this novel Twain puts a really interesting spin on the common perception of Merlin by constantly mocking and degrading his arcane knowledge and skills. The first instance where Twain mocks Merlin occurs in the beginning of the novel when Merlin tells his story about one of his escapades with Arthur. Although to unfamiliar ears the story sounds novel and fantastic, as Hank denotes, the response of those familiar to the story explicitly mocks Merlin’s validity. The assassination of Merlin’s character occurs all through the novel. Since we have all already read the book I don’t feel I need to explain every situation Merlin gets trumped by Hank so I’ll just list the majority of them as follows; the eclipse, the destruction of Merlin’s tower, and the Holy Fountain.

One of the main purposes of Merlin and his professed magical ability is to juxtapose his 6th century nonsense with Hank’s technological genius, illuminating the genius of engineering thought. In creating this image of Merlin and his magic as fraudulent, Twain likens Hanks innovative skills to real magic. In situations where 19th century technology is used and is inexplicable/unfathomable to the 6th century men it reinforces the power and strength of Hank explicitly, but implicitly Twain is acknowledging the true magic of innovation and its fearful potential (Twain was fascinated with innovation in his lifetime and lost a fortune supporting a type machine as practical as the automatic feeder for the factory men in Modern Times).
Up until the end of the novel, Merlin’s credibility as a true magician is as much as Brittany spears is relevant to pop music; none. But Merlin performs some true magic in the end essentially sending Hank back to his own time. Why does Twain describe Merlin’s magic up until this point as mere parlor tricks, then have him perform true magic causing Hank’s demise after his “successful”(destruction of an entire army) military campaign? Well this goes back to the concept of Irony in the third blog. “A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthurs Court” is as ironic as a midget named Long Legs. Merlin’s triumph (and subsequent death) is an extension of the constant irony found in the book.

Some questions still remained unanswered like; If Hank was actually performing what the 6th century citizens believed to be magic why was the Church so intent on his destruction but let Merlin exist without interference; Why does hank claim to be a simple Yankee but he often goes that extra yard, adding theatricals to his display of engineering skill? It turns out the second question is a response to the first; Hank’s display of awesome power created Fear (Yes I capitalized fear if you don’t know why you should quit college now) in the Church which has worked centuries to consolidate power. In many ways the Church was holding their society back by proclaiming heresy where innovation prevailed ( keeping the people illiterate was key to maintain their power structure). I feel the Church knew the proclaimed magicians of their time were nothing to fear because they knew muttering spells was the extent of their power and they posed no real threat to the Church itself. Hank was a frightening reality that needed to be dealt with as soon as possible.

Friday, September 28, 2007

I've decided on Machinima

Aparantly my midterm idea has a name- Machinema (machine+cinema). That's interesting. I'm wondering how I can use this genre with my project. I've written and "shot" the movie I plan to turn in, and it's now in post-production. It's tough getting the sound right, but it should turn out pretty O.K. Here's the basic questions I'm throwing up to the teeming masses reading this:

1) How should I handle dialogue?
a. Use subtitles- it'll keep me from having to use actors, which is kinda the point of this project (watch me tell a story without people!).
b. Use voice actors- It'll liven the dialogue with emphases that are important to good stories.
c. Narrate myself- I don't really like this one, but I wanted a third option.

2) Essay accompaniment
a. Write about the movie and their higher significance to the plot (every scene represents and archetypal situation)
b. Write about Machinema's beginnings, trends, current affairs, etc.
c. Write nothing- the movie speaks for itself.

3) In a few parts of the movie, things happen very quickly, often with no explanation. Should I extend them?
a. Leave them alone. I'm not making a Hollywood blockbuster here. There's only so much I can do in 10 minutes of "film".
b. I shouldn't sacrifice quality for time. It's important to tell the story smoothly, regardless of the time it takes to do so.
c. Something else?

Thanks for any help, guys.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Midterm project

Hey guys!

I'm going to do the chain letter story for my midterm project. Thus I need all the help I can get. If you want to write a sentence to the story just give me your email address. I'm probablly going to get it going early next week. THANKS!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Midterm Idea(s)

So, I'm having issues with my initial idea of creating a forum-based Choose-Your-Adventure story-- mainly in gathering resources (i.e. people) to partake in it before the midterms are due. I think at this point, I am giving up the idea of starting that up. Oh well, no big loss.

The idea that I'm moving onto is doing a Create-Your-Own Adventure and seeing if maybe one or two other people want to do it with me. This would make 3 distinctive voices in a story that someone could choose from and with more people we could actually get around to writing something that has some sort of plot. I'm a Writing major and all I've been doing recently is writing short stories, so I don't think with one or two other people it'd be difficult to come up with something. The only incentive here that I could give is my... uh... thanks? I also like to think that in a group, we probably will not experience as much stress/work and it's always cool to have a well-connected shady type like me oweing you a favor. Eh? Eh?

Otherwise, if I'm feeling really suicidal, I'm thinking about designing a tactical RPG game and play up to mine and Adam's video game genre fetish. I'm not really any good with the deeply technical stuff, but as far as writing the story, biographies for each character, a write up on the technical and magical aspects to all the weapons in the game... that I can do. Plus, I have enough experience with the genre that I could also probably describe how I'd want the gameplay to be. I think that I'd be the MOST interested in this idea (and therefore wish to hear the most amount of feedback on it) although it will also require MORE work. It'd be cool if someone wanted to join me in a group with this too... I mean, how can it not be fun designing a video game?

I realize that these ideas are fairly general/vague, and they're meant to be, at this point I just need a start. If I went with option number two, I would definitely design the story of the game along a distorted version of a fable (probably Japanese or Chinese in origin) because you can combine technical elements with supernatural elements. I always found that interesting about games; where the technical realm meets the magical realm and the two balance each other out. Think everything from an RTS like Starcraft to an FPS like BioShock to an RPG format like Final Fantasy. Anyway, I'm done with my fairly disjointed explosion of midterm ideas. Comments, Questions, Insults, Invitations, Propositions all are welcome!

Danielewski Reading

Mark Danielewski (author of House of Leaves, which we're reading later in the semester) is reading from his current novel Only Revolutions tomorrow in the South Side. I'll give a couple bonus points to anyone who goes and blogs about it; I'm not sure I'll be able to make it myself.

Here's the information:

Mark Z. Danielewski reads and signs Only Revolutions 7 p.m. Thu., Sept. 27. Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2705 E. Carson St., South Side.

Midterm Ideas (Need help)!

Well, I have been thinking about a few things I could do for my midterm project. However, I really can't think exactly what I am going to do with them.

I'm a Computer Science major and I had a little CYOA idea floating in my head about a computer hacker who finds him/herself in 1912 (It's this Sci-Fi idea I've had for a while). Now, I am putting this in the back of my head, because I feel I am stealing from the Titanic: Adventure out of Time video game (Yes, I'm a big Titanic enthusiast). It's still floating around in there, though.

Another CYOA idea I have is actually based on a story I started about two years ago, but never actually finished, surrounding a nuclear accident near the city of Chicago. The story revolves around an accident at the fictional nuclear power plant Vinwood, situated just outside Chicago. The plant was a $700 million project built by the Greater Illinois Power Company (fictional). The plant had been in operation for about a year before the accident, and was the first nuclear plant built in the United States since the Three Mile Island incident in 1979. The main character in the story is Richard, the plant's Control Room Supervisor. Now, the decisions the reader makes will determine the outcome. Basically, in this story, the fate of Chicago, and the eastern United States, is in your hands. The events that will take place in the story will be based on the events at that occured at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

Not only am I a computer scientist and a Titanic enthusiast, but I am also a railroad enthusiast and my other CYOA idea revolved around the development of the railroads in the early 20th Century. The story begins with a young businessman who starts his own railroad company in 1915. New advancements in railroad technology, train accidents, and the reader's actions will affect the future of the company. The story will span the life of the company until the businessman dies (either by old age or by an accident).

I'm not too sure about this next idea, but I was thinking about taking a leaf from Mike's book and make a movie. The reason I'm not really thinking about doing this is because of how I am planning to make it; the same way a lot of people on YouTube make their films. Capture video from a game and then synchronize it to the audio from a motion picture. Like this, for example (Titanic + RollerCoaster Tycoon 3). The only difference was that I was thinking about using A Night to Remember rather than Cameron's film.
This idea is almost dead, actually. I just want to know what everyone thinks.

Those are my ideas so far, though I might come up with others. I am leaning towards doing the Nuclear plant CYOA, but the Hacker in 1912 idea is still floating in my head.

What I want to know is, which idea should I go for? Should I do them as I have mentioned or should I change certain elements of them?

What do you think?


My midterm project idea

This is my idea for a midterm is a story that I've begun writing. I want to emphasize the technique that I am using, so hopefully some can give insight or different perspective to what I have planned so far.

The story is about a character "Alex" is essentially genderless until the story almost "lends" to him one through interaction with and judgment by others. He is essentially a straight male who ends up with a man by the end of the first day (thus is bi). When s/he wakes up, she is returned to being "straight" and genderless, until interaction though others teaches the reader that Alex is a girl. The second half of the story is essentially the same, she wakes up with the man from the night before, but ends up with a girl by the end of the second day. [Note: This is an oversimplification, there are serious omissions already.]

My goal here is to almost write from the viewpoint of "He" and "She" as is done in the Lyotard reading we did, except I want to expand on it as a technique for writing that is separated by gender. But my goal here is also to bring to life a quote that resonated strongly with me, from the book "Read my lips" by Riki Anne Wilchins. It's about a transsexual, which is not what my story is about, but it has a bold message about gender as a social construct, the quote is as follows:

"Since her status and legitimacy as a woman will always be at risk, always be determined by and dependent on others, she may find that her lack of contact with sensation grows along with a nagging sense of bodily disorientation. She will wake one day to find herself lost within the unfamiliar landscape of her own body, like a nomad in some strange and foreign desert, surrounded by unknown landmarks, and inhabited by those whose alien features, and distant ways, she can no longer recognize."

So I want to hopefully capture this: A lack of self which grows into a changing person, which emphasizes gender as not just it pertains to a human but how "gender" can in itself be captured in a writing style or technique, like in Lyotard. I also want to bring out this "disorientation," and I think her point in that was so show the disorientation one goes through when they change their gender at a later age, because that individual thinks they know the world until it shifts massively due only to clothing. This to me is the difference of gender: One that can shatter our perception of the world, yet is completely false and invented.

Expanding on the "disorientation" note, I want to keep the reader caught into my way of thinking as it is purely aesthetic. This is not just a "story" but a narrative, so another technique I want to use is quoting other texts. Some religious texts that I love: The Tao Te Ching, Dhammapada, Bhagavad Gita, Liber 777 (and other Qabalistic writings of Aleister Crowley), The Torah, as well as Timothy Leary (his books VERY closely follow and expand on other texts and ideas: The Tao Te Ching, Kabbalah, Tibetan Book of the Dead). Basically, I want to take pertinent quotes about the duality/fragmentation of things as well as about the individual in itself, and use them to underline the reading whether it seems pertinent or not. This is because I want to keep the reader in a state where they realize that this is not a simple story.

A Good Piece of War Correspondence (Graded Blog #5, Option 3)

Twain never shies away from violence in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but the death and destruction which takes place during the last few chapters is uncanny. Hank is a man of technology and at the novel’s close, he uses that technology to annihilate 30,000 knights. The fact that Twain was able to publish such a novel in his time is surprising, but perhaps it is Hank’s cursory, newspaper style description of violence that allowed Twain to publish such a work. Hank’s ironic detachment from the death of 30,000 individuals has forced me to reconsider how modern day newspapers cover the war in Iraq.

Before the Battle of the Sand-Belt, there is an essential piece of irony in the preceding chapter, ‘War!’ Hank returns to Camelot only to find that civil war has broken out in the kingdom and that the nobility has been busy fighting against one another. Clarence describes the reasons for the war and the battles that have taken place, but once he arrives to the King’s death, he diverts to the newspaper and reads straight from the lines of the paper. Once he finishes, Hank exclaims:

“That is a good piece of war correspondence, Clarence; you are a first-rate newspaper man. Well – is the king all right? Did he get well?”

Hank first and foremost concerns himself with Clarence’s article, rather than the health of the king. This is a glaring example of how Hank’s primary interest is technology and in this case, he is interested in the development of a new type of newspaper column: war correspondence. Hank compliments Clarence’s piece of war correspondence before inquiring about the emotional issue of the king’s health. This is not surprising because although the column is eloquent and extensive, it is written without emotion, which is the standard for a good newspaper article.

The description of the king’s death is written in a third person narrative in which the narrator gives a play-by-play of events but does not describe the actions in gory detail. This style is again used by Hank when he narrates the violence that takes place during the Battle of the Sand-Belt. While some of the details are a bit gruesome, the overall effect does not make the reader feel as if 30,000 people have just died in the novel. In fact, most of the men die by touching the electric fence as Clarence and Hank lay in the dark, reporting to the reader as the events unfold. It is this effective style which helped Twain’s novel to be published. This narration style allows 30,000 men to be killed in 15 pages of the novel.

It is very possible that Twain intended this irony to comment on the newspaper writing of his time. Twain had just witnessed the Civil War, the most emotionally draining war in the country’s history, as thousands of Americans died at the hands of their brethren. No cursory newspaper write up could effectively communicate the pain and suffering with its detached, third person narrative.

Twain’s writing really made me question how modern day newspapers cover the war in Iraq. Every time I read an article concerning the war, there is a certain emotion evoked from the article of dry facts and slightly slanted viewpoints (the Trib, the Post-Gazette). Either way I do not question one emotion in place of another, but I question my emotional attachment overall. Should I really be feeling any overwhelming emotion from such an article? Can any of these columns really communicate the true emotions of war? Can they really make me, a person who sits over 5,000 miles away, feel what war is? One word that often is used to describe my current generation is “apathetic;” perhaps we are not just apathetic, but detached and not unjustifiably so.

Graded Blog Entry: "I Would Make a Funny Joke About Engineering Here but I Know Nothing About It"

Let me preface this entry by saying that my brother in law is an engineer. I have no idea what he does all day. All I know is that he works for a company called Hawk MIM, he used to make brake pads, and now he designs things that kill people. That's a hell of a jump, there. It just goes to show you how versatile engineering can really be, especially to someone who really wouldn't know his engineering ass from his engineering elbow (i.e., me). This anecdote serves one purpose: my concept of what engineers do (maybe you can help me out with this definition, Emily), as my brother in law says, is "make stuff."

With that in mind, I was pleased to hear that Zork was referred to as an "engineering narrative" today in class. This is because I can't find a better way to describe Zork, for reasons I slightly touched upon on my ungraded blog entry from sometime last week. Zork allows you, the player, to sculpt the story as you see fit. While there is most probably a "best order" in which the events of the game can be performed, by and large, the player can do the events in the game at the pace and in the order in which they so desire, and to me, this is what I perceive to be the "engineering" aspect of Zork.

The problem with the majority of films and books and video games these days is that they're all covered by one term: linear. It's the very nature of a narrative to have one particular path - it's impossible to have limitless branching options and completely unrealistic for most formats that don't involve audience response, like film or television. There is, however, one area of media that can begin to really reach to the nature of the "engineering narrative", and that is video games.

I don't know if anyone in this class is really an avid gamer, but there's a company out there that's pretty well known these days called Bethesda Softworks. They made a few games you might have heard of called Morrowind and Oblivion, two titles in their Elder Scrolls series. These games have always fascinated me, because they're just about as open-ended as video games can get.

To start, your character is completely customizeable. You decide race, religion, skills and weaknesses. There's a main storyline in there somewhere that's kind of shown to you at one point, and if you follow up on it you'll end up beating the game, but you don't have to. You can just do your own thing. Want to go around murdering people just for the hell of it? Feel free. Go on high adventure in the untamed wilderness in search of glory? You got it. Stand around a town, buy a house, and decorate it ever-so-quaintly? No problem here, either. And if you 'beat the game'? It doesn't end. You're still yourself, only now people like you a lot more for saving the world, and you can just walk around and still do whatever you want.

What makes these games "engineering narratives"? Simply put, you are given the option of deciding what you want to do with the narrative. You have to make your own story, and blaze your own trails in doing so. There are multiple ways to accomplish the same task in Oblivion or Morrowind. Here's an example: At one point, your character can find himself tasked with stealing some jewels from someone else. Now, were you a man of stealth, you could steal them from him when his back was turned or he was asleep. Were you a man of words, you could convince him to give or sell them to you. Were you lazy, you could just buy any old set of diamonds, as nobody's really going to know the difference, and were you me, you'd just whack the asshole with a broadsword and take them, like a man. But I digress.

It's this freedom - even in the minute details that don't really matter in the grand scheme of the game that make it feel so much like Zork. There are a plethora of ways to die miserably, but each of them teaches you something handy. Say, for instance, you find a scroll, and reading it allows you to jump to ridiculous heights. You decide that this is an awesome thing, and as such read it, and jump to a ridiculous height. I bet you didn't plan on what happens when you hit the ground, did you? You die. Better luck next time.

A lot of popular games these days, like Halo 3 and Gears of War don't really focus on immersing the player in the story. The graphics are great and the action is intense, especially multiplayer, but, is there really any room to experiment? You have one goal in the story laid out over the course of the game and are given one way to get there. There's no freedom. There's no room to make anything except what the game's developers solely intend for you to make, and as such, there's no way you're engineering least from my understanding of it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Revolution's Path (Graded Blog 5, option 3)

“Then out I came. But I didn’t get any shout. There was a wondering and eloquent silence, for a moment, then a great wave of laughter began to sweep along that human sea, but a warning bugle blast cut its career short.”

This quote comes from chapter 39, in which Hank duels with Sir Sagramore. Throughout the novel, Hank represents the new idea (generally speaking) and Sagramore represents the old ways. It is in this arena that those two philosophies come head to head. I believe Twain is metaphorically representing what happens when a paradigm shifts- when the new idea comes into direct conflict with the old. A terse description of the process of revolution (ideologically, not governmental) is important in any age, 19th century or today.

In this scene, the crowd boos Hank. He looks silly and weak in their eyes. They cheer their knight, the familiar and normal. Twain writes “A chorus of encouraging shouts burst out for him, and one brave voice flung out a heartening word for me.” The reader should especially note Twain’s calling the voice ‘brave’. Twain suggests that it is brave and courageous to be the first to follow a new course of action, to cheer for the better idea over the old one.

Once the audience is settled and the combatants are announces, Hank and Sagramore start toward each other. On every charge from the knight, the yankee ducks out of the way at the last second, to the delight of the audience. This perhaps represents the ways in which an old paradigm will divert effort to squashing a new idea in an attempt at self-preservation. Rarely will the new ideas try to stand ground against such a change. It would be impossible to overthrow something as fortified in people’s minds simply by force. Instead, the new methods and ideas much show their superiority by first circumventing the strengths of the old.

Rather than coexist, it is the responsibility of the old idea to get rid of the new ones. The novelty would gladly stand side-by-side with the paradigm but this is usually unsatisfactory to the old methods. In this vein, Sagramore “changed his tactics and set himself the task of chasing [Hank] down.” After Hank defeats him and several more knights, he faces Sir Launcelot himself, the “very sum of their shining system”. Once that knight falls, Hank declares “knight-errantry is dead.”

Perhaps the best, and truest-to-life scene comes as Hank challenges the whole knight class, simultaneously. In the real-world fight over ideology, this would be the time to pull out the big guns. Twain has Hank do just that, in a literal sense. Only after fully incapacitating a few of the knights does Hank finally reach his goal. Likewise, old ideas do not relent until most of the believers are dead.

This applies to all walks of life, from music to fashion to religion to sexual mores. Take Rock ‘n Roll for example. Elvis Prestley’s hip-shaking was enough to enrage parents, the sentries of the old value systems. Gradually, enough people rallied behind the new style to make it common place. The new wave would have certainly taken its place beside the classic views of appropriate music and dance but it was the believers of the old that took issue! One can see the same pattern in women’s rights issues. It was not a quick process bringing women out of the shadow of men. Slowly, the new style stopped looking silly and weak, like Hank did initially. Women tried dodging the issues, trying to live side-by-side with men in their world but it didn’t work. Men (mostly) had to push the issue. It has taken years for the old views to die away, and taken quite a few “big guns” to do it.

Revolutions in Ideology will never cease to occur. Every time though, the people will have to follow Hank’s path to assert real change. But it will happen. Slowly, but surely. Twain summarizes well in one sentence how the entire chapter relates to today: “Unquestionably the popular thing in this world is novelty.”

Graded Blog #5, Question #1

I like the idea of an "engineering" narrative, because the word "engineering" is, in fact, used several different ways. A quick look at lists engineering as "a practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences..." but also as "skillful or artful contrivance; maneuvering." I think, looking at Zork and A Connecticut Yankee, I see both of those definitions in use. Zork is an interactive computer game where you have to apply basic knowledge with simple pure science values (combustion, pounds per square inch i.e. "kill troll with sword," etc) while also being cunning enough to contrive the best way to navigate the obstacles for the treasure. In Yankee, Hank himself is an engineer and is involved with all sorts of technical ways of solving problems. However, he also engineers, or contrives, not just the technology but the society that is to interact with the technology.

I have two different works of interactive fiction that I feel fall under "engineering narrative." The first, and fairly obvious choice, is that of the Ace Combat series video game. Ace Combat 3, 4, 5 all have storylines told from the point of view of a central character, but not "you." For example, in Ace Combat 4, the cutscenes before each battle detailing what is happening as the results of your actions is given from the point of view of an on-base reporter. In that, we have our narrative. As far as the engineering concept goes, this game includes both of the definitions I mentioned earlier. The first is that, well, this is a video game about flying technical pieces of equipment like jets, bombers, and airplanes. You have to have some idea that you cannot stop accelerating or else you will stall, know what speed and lift and air currents are and how they affect flying, etc. The other aspect is that you are given many instances where you have to take a plan of action. You must engineer, using the tools that you have on each stage, the best way to possibly win and gain the most points/medals and better story-endings. Do I go into a stage that is expected to have heavy dogfighting with an assault craft like the A-10 Warthog, or sacrifice defensive plating and air-to-land damage for something more maneuverable that has specialized air-to-air weapons such as the Su-47? This game forces you to take into consideration the technical and strategic impacts of your choices while also telling an intricate story from a central character. Ace Combat has "engineering narrative" all over it.

The other video game I thought fit the description of an "engineering narrative" is the old-school Final Fantasy Tactics for the PS1. FFT takes a different tact than the Ace series. This is a turn based RPG that follows the main character (default name Ramza) through a storyline filled with love, death, politics, and battle. In fact, when you aren't involved in a battle (or sometimes during a battle) pieces of the story unfold and almost exclusively from Ramza's point of view. FFT gives you the opportunity to choose a designated number of characters from your party to move about the board and fight/cast spells depending upon those characters stat points like strength, speed, etc. Each battle requires that you engineer victory without your main character (and sometimes others) dying. As with most Final Fantasy games, Tactics has an interesting take of the combination of technology versus magic. You have to know how certain guns operate versus something like a crossbow or a longbow. The game requires that you apply practical knowledge of the sciences that are common to Final Fantasy games (i.e. Water vs. Fire, Aero vs Flying, etc) while taking into consideration how your opponents will react several moves ahead of time. FFT requires the player to think about how they are applying their tactics, and therefore, though it is vastly different from a flight sim like Ace Combat, Final Fantasy Tactics is also an "engineering narrative."

My untitled response to graded blog number five, prompt number two.

“There is nothing special in the world. Nothing magic. Just physics.”

-Chuck Palahniuk

In A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court we see two forms of magic; the first being the illusions performed by Merlin and the second being Hank’s magic, which is, in fact, modern-day science. Aside from how you may or may not interpret the end of the novel, both forms of magic in the text are illusions based on deception. Magic, in A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court, signifies the means with which the people of the sixth century solve problems of the unknown.

Merlin’s magic is that of smoke and childish fabrications. Everything about his magic is vague and lacks any reality. At the Valley of Holiness, Merlin’s demonstration of his magical abilities is far from impressive. He claims that if he is unable to repair the well, then no man will ever find it possible. Because Merlin does not understand the science of the leaking well, he does not understand what it will take in order to fix the crack. Hank watches Merlin, noting that he, “…was still burning smoke-powders, and pawing the air, and muttering gibberish as hard as ever, but looking pretty down-hearted, for of course he had not started even a perspiration in that well” (207). Hank, unlike everyone else, realizes that Merlin has no powers; rather he just puts on a show and hopes for the best. If Merlin finds that the result is less than satisfactory, he comes up with a brilliant lie that is meant to justify his shortcomings. Whereas Merlin burns smoke and speaks of evil spirits, Hank uses his intellect and thirteen hundred years worth of knowledge in order to perform his magic.

Although Hank fully understands the technologies that he is working with, and all that he creates, he also understands how the simple minds of the people of the sixth century work. In order to pass off any of his ideas, and have them carry any weight, he must convince everyone that what he is doing is magic. After having confided in Clarence and a handful of others, Hank has the whole country believing in his mystical wisdom that allows him to perform feats of greatness. Much like Merlin, Hank too puts on a show in order to hype up his less than extraordinary accomplishments. At the same incident at the Valley of Holiness, after allowing Merlin to do all that his powers will allow, Hank finally assesses the problem at hand. He recognizes that there is a leak and has it fixed well before he finally reveals his successful restoration of the fountain. Once he decides that the time has come, Hank exposes the water with a display of pyrotechnics and the pronunciation of a jumbled word.

Although they may seem like very different characters, Hank and Merlin are essentially alike. Both men deal in deception, claiming that they can solve the worlds’ problems with magic. The only difference is their definition of magic. Merlin uses the word as a curtain for his lies and falsifications of the truth, whereas Hank uses it to hide the reality of science.

My Favorite Narratives, Engineering Narratives

Graded Blog #5 (Group 1)

When I first started playing Zork I wrestled with the idea of it being a narrative or not. I decided it did not have enough information and words to be called a narrative. After about an hour of playing it though it came more clear to me that this indeed was a narrative. And when I read the blog assignment for this week I strongly agreed that it was an engineering narrative. Aside from the obvious that Zork is a computer game and Hank himself was an engineer, an engineering narrative is more than that; to me, it is "representation of events or series of events" that involves creation and building where you, meaning Hank or yourself in Zork, are in control of the situation.

In Zork the engineering narrative comes from every event that is put out there for you to choose from. One even for example would be killing a troll and according to my definitioin I need to create an idea in which to kill this troll and since I am the one typing in commands then i am in charge of the situation. As for A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court there is constant rebuilding and a hands on approach by Hank. It is pretty easy to see that this was an engineering narrative because he literally is an engineer. This book helped me come up with a definition of what this type of narrative really means.

As for other video games/books/movies, a ton come to mind, partly because that is the type of stuff I am interested in; building a better place and controlling the way you live. The first book that came to mind is a book I read a long time ago, but always stayed in my mind because I really liked it, and this book is called Hatchet. It is about a boy that gets lost in the wilderness and all that he has is a hatchet that his father gave him and he has to live, create, and fight for himself out there. Then when I think of this book, immediately the movie Cast Away, with Tom Hanks comes to mind. It is the same concept as Hatchet. If you think about it Tom is 'engineering' the way the whole story goes with his actions. He could have easily died within the first couple months but beacause engineered and built a way of life, the story could go on. The last thing that I am familiar with and think could be classified as this type of narrative is the video game, The Sims. If you think about it this game is exactly like Zork, exept more realistic and up to date. All you do is create a person and make sure their needs are met by going about daily chores such as eating, bathing, and working. This to me is an engineering narrative because you are in control of "building" this "person's" life. And besides, it has to be an engineering narrative if it is exactly like Zork.

Overall I would have to say that every book/video game/movie I talked about all have the same basic principles in common. They all represent a building, creating, and managing stage, which in my opinion represent an engineering narrative.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Options for Blog #5 (Group 1)

Here's a couple ideas...

#1) In class today we're going to talk a little about things which Hank and the nameless adventurer of Zork have in common with one another. My argument is that we can classify both A Connecticut Yankee and Zork as "engineering narratives." If this idea interests you, I want you to construct your own definition of "engineering narrative," using detailed examples from a work (film/tv/game/book) other than one we've studied for this class.

#2) Now that you know that Merlin triumphs, and that there was something to his magic, analyze the significance of Merlin or of the supernatural to the text, using specific examples. You should phrase it as a thesis "the meaning/significance of magic/Merlin in A Connecticut Yankee... is x.

#3) We've spent some time talking about irony, and we may get a chance to talk about the term oscillation (from science fiction critic Darko Suvin) today. Rather than asking what aspect of life in the 1890s Twain wants us to focus on, in theory, focus on what aspect of our lives or world the book (especially the last few chapters) does make us consider. How does Twain make you rethink some aspect of our world or life?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Midterm Ideas

I am undecided on what to do for my midterm. I am a computer science major and would really like to create a text adventure program similar to Zork, but my schedule seems too busy to try and make an entire game. I am taking 18 credits right now, and 2 of the courses have the writing option as well as several out of the classroom activities. I was thinking that maybe I should try to start making a game, but if I was biting off more than I could chew, just write a paper instead, but keep working on the game when I have time and use it as a possible final project.
If I decide that I can’t create a game in time, my second idea is to write about the affects of how new technology has changed narrative. Originally I was just going to write about how new technology changed gaming narrative, but I think it would be better if I included more forms such as TV, film, and music technologies. It will compare narratives from old games, movies, and TV shows with that of new ones that seem to rely more on technology and visual effects than the actual narrative storyline itself. With the newer technologies the narratives were able to change because the technology gave us the ability to portray events in a different manner than before.
If anyone has suggestions as to what they think I should do I am open to suggestions. Also if anyone else in the class knows anything about programming and would like to work together to create a game that may be something to think about too.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Midterm help... please

I need some major help on this midterm project. I thought of two ideas, but I think they're pretty underdeveloped.

1. I am a bioengineeering major. In class last Monday we were talking about man as a machine. I was thinking I could relate those passages by Twain and Hobbes to my major/research in the biomechanics field. I don't know how I would go about the narrative part but I would definately have the technology part down.

2. I was thinking I could do sort-of a chain letter story. I would start off by writing one sentence and then email it to someone on a premade list to write the next sentence and so on and so on until it reached back to me. I think this would be really awesome. I could be able to see how technology limits how people show their expressions and I would be able to anaylze how people interpret the sentences before hand and how their personality changes the story.

**Please let me know what you guys think. I really need all the help I can get, lol.

My idea.

It seems like a few people were considering to do CYOA's for the project. Myself having never read a CYOA am somewhat frightened by the idea of doing so, but I lack any other talents. Basically, I would rather do this than write an essay.

So here is my idea:

So you guys may or may not have heard of "A Sound of Thunder" by Bradbury. Basically it deals with time travel and what can go wrong if one causes a rift in history.

Anyways, my idea involves time travel, and the decision one makes on whether or not to go back in time, and what happens as a result of their actions. Obviously I would somehow involve technology into the idea (it is about time travel). But also I would point out the influence technology has on our lives and what leads us to making certain choices.

I don't know. This is a very rough idea and I am still working things out. We'll see what happens.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mid Term Project Idea

I thought about the midterm project again and came up with a revised idea:

modern photographs that would supplement or copy the illustrations of a Connecticut Yankee in a way that target Twain's sarcasm about a certain theme (like slavery, the church, nation/kingdom idea)

It would be like "A Connecticut Yankee in Pittsburgh 2007"

I was also thinking I might photoshop these photos or just use MS Paint or Adobe to create modern day collages that would illustrate the book, commenting on one of the themes above.

Tell me what you think /what you're doing for the project

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I'll be the first person to tell you that I'm something of a dork. When everyone else was playing MMOs like World of Warcraft or EverQuest, I was playing MUDs. Not just because they're free, but rather because they just allowed more freedom. Believe it or not, as primitive as the concept of the MUD is, it really allowed the player to do more than modern online games do. I was also pretty damn good at them, so that kind of kept me around longer than it should have.

Anyway, where I'm going wtih this is that it's refreshing to play a game like Zork when we're all so caught up in the Playstation 3/Xbox 360/Wii hype of today. There aren't really any bells or whistles when it comes to zork, as there are no graphics or sound. Zork does, however, force you to put yourself into the game. Consider, for example, if you're playing a game on your flashy PS3, and you run through an area, say, a cave. You don't really spend any time looking at the scenery, you just see the texture and lack of light and say "okay, this is a cave." Zork forces you to read where you are, and in doing so, provides a much greater amount of detail than modern games can give, despite all their fancy pixel shading and anti-aliasing. You don't just get "You are in a cave," but rather "You are in a cave, far away you hear x, you smell y, you feel z".

It's just refreshing to see that the human mind can still go beyond the scope of the next-gen console.

On a side note, when one winds up in Hades after dying, is there any way to get out of there, or do I just have to keep dilligently saving and restoring?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blog #4, Question 2: Hank, the Man of No Sentiment

As we’ve seen throughout A Connecticut Yankee, Hank Morgan is what you’d call a confidence man. He’s particularly confident when it comes to describing his trip to the times of King Arthur; he tells everything with the intent of making the reader see the story the way he wants it to be seen. One of the key points Hank makes in the beginning of the story is that he is a man “nearly barren of sentiment…or poetry, in other words.” I believe if Hank is trying to con the reader into a certain belief, it would be this one.

Now, it could be argued that he shows his true poetry in his flowery description of the operator woman. As his sappy language indicates, however, his sentiments towards this woman are hardly worthy of the title, “poetry.” I would say that Hank’s most profound, touching and, therefore, poetic words are uttered in his examination of these so called, “freemen.” Though Hank says he intends to avoid any violent revolution, his infatuation with this bloody process seems to show signs that he is indeed not “barren of sentiment.”

Just for reference, defines sentiment as, “a mental feeling; emotion,” amongst other definitions which all carry the ideas of emotion and feeling in common; and for Hank to say that he lacks such a thing is only natural, as the Yankee—as we are to understand the term, at least—is chiefly a creature of logical and scientific thought.

Moving on to Hank’s passion for this revolution, he states:

“Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept years of such villainy away in one swift tidal-wave of blood – one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by the slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell.”

I would say that this passage not only shows Hank’s sentiment towards (read: against) the nobility through its words but even its style. Hank mentions—on multiple occasions, in fact—that he often grows tired of Sandy’s long-winded, indirect speech; arguably because he prefers the approach of a the Yankee: direct and without exaggeration, i.e., without sentiment—or so he wants us to believe. Yet, he is clearly overtaken by witnessing these “freemen,” and continues in an inspired fashion. On top of that, consider this: in describing the hardships of these freemen (pg. 126), Hank comes up with a sentence consisting of ten semi-colons, a colon and a pair of hyphens (if I counted right). I believe that, here, Twain deliberately alters Hank’s speech to present a side of him that we haven’t seen—the sentimental, passionate side.

Though I could continue with examples of Hank actually displaying his sentiment through his actions (like releasing Morgan le Fay’s prisoners and helping the man being tortured) or his words (like describing the Pilgrims), I would rather focus on a point where, in my opinion, Hank starts to lose his grip on his con.

The point in particular is when Hank declares that, had he the chance, he would build man without a conscience; saying specifically, “If I had the remaking of man, he wouldn’t have any conscience. It is one of the most disagreeable things connected with a person; and although it certainly does a great deal of good, it cannot be said to pay, in the long run; it would be much better to have less good and more comfort.” In saying this, I see Hank making two mistakes in maintaining his con; the first being that he does, in fact, have a conscience and sentiment, therewith, while the second is that this seems to be a thin guise of Hank acting like the tough, science man. Had he not cared for the conscience to the extent that he describes, then the prisoners of Morgan la Fey would never have seen the light of day; in fact, Morgan la Fey and the others in equal positions of power would be akin to Hank’s man with no conscience, doing as they please for their own comfort and pleasure.

I must admit that I’ve somewhat skewed from the topic, describing rather Hank’s faults in his con than concentrating on the con itself. I believe, however, that, in showing these faults, I did actually manage to expose the con itself.

Blog #4 (Graded), Group 2, Question 2 (The Conman)

There are moments in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in which Hank reveals to us that he is, pretty much, a confidence man. In this way, he is a bit like all of us. I mean, we all - at one point or another - try to make ourselves look good to others, or at least try to humiliate our "rivals."

So far, Hank has made himself a conman by humiliating Merlin. His very first con is when he destroys Merlin's tower. He describes to us what he did to set up the tower to be destroyed, obviously keeping it secret from everyone else. We are fully aware of what is going on and that the destruction of the tower was nothing more than chemistry at work. However, Hank is in the sixth century. Chemistry in the sixth century was witchcraft. Because of this, the townspeople believed that Hank had incredible powers and that he used them to destroy the tower.

What makes this a con is that Hank did this fireworks show with Merlin - who is pretty much his rival in the story - standing right next to him. Of course, it wasn't bad enough that Hank destroyed Merlin's tower, but he had Merlin try and "save" his tower with his magic and then blew it up anyways. Hank humiliated Merlin in front of everyone, making himself look all powerful while leaving the impression that Merlin was useless.

As things would have it, Hank's cons would not end there. Once again he humiliated Merlin when he "fixed" the dried-up well. After going down into the well, Hank described the problem to the reader and how simple it was to fix (simple crack in the wall was letting all of the water out). However, instead of leaving it at that and simply fixing the well, he had to come along and put on another "magic" show. Just like the show with Merlin's tower, Hank had Merlin have a try at fixing the well himself. Merlin, being the trusted wizard that we is in the eyes of the people, tried all sorts of "spells," but eventually gave up claiming that a powerful demon had cursed it. After some time preparing, Hank began his magic show, setting off the fireworks and casting his "spells" which were more like horribly butchered German. Once again, Hank prevailed as the dominant wizard, at least in the eyes of the locals.

It is apparent that Hank is a confidence man. I mean, let's face it, he does show off quite a bit and makes Merlin look pathetic. With that in mind, he is a bit like the rest of us. Honestly, who doesn't want to show off? Deep down, we all want to make ourselves look good. We've all had those moments at one point when we do something amazing that has people go "WOW" or make those we don't get along with too well feel somewhat pathetic.

The Conman : blog #4

The typical American is always portrayed as a very confident person in almost every aspect of life. In A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain reveals Hank Morgan to be a typical American and thus also as very confident. We can see this confidence shine through when Hank tells the public that he will blow up Merlin’s stone tower in Chapter 7.

Ironically, the word conman is derived from the words confidence and man. Conmen are known to obtained confidence from the people they trick. Hank Morgan is considered a conman since he is gaining confidence from the entire kingdom while trying to trick them into believing that he is some sort of magician/prophet/god. In Chapter 7, Hank blows up Merlin’s tower with what today’s age would be considered a simple scientific reaction to produce an explosion: blasting (gun) powder, lightning rod, and of course lightning itself. However, with their lack of knowledge, people in the 6th century were amazed by the detonation that occurred. This type of ‘magic’ allowed Hank to be praised among the people.

Furthermore, Hank allows Merlin to use his ‘magic’ for a mere second before the explosion occurs. This was to show the people that Merlin’s powers were no match for Hank’s ‘power’. We can see that Hank is trying to override Merlin’s position and tricking the public into believing he is more powerful than Merlin. This would be a great defeat not only was Merlin well liked among the kingdom and looked towards during times of need during that time period but he was high on the latter in the nobility circle.

As with most people, Hank wanted to inform the readers of his fraud for our shear enjoyment. Pure amusement from Hanks con work can be seen when he asks for Merlin to be by his side while the tower explodes. Hank wanted Merlin to be there so his biggest competitor was next to him when he defeated him. Moreover, Hank says “Step to the bat, it’s your innings.” More than likely, Merlin has no idea what this statement means considering baseball didn’t start till mid 19th century. However this statement to constantly used to ask people to try raise the mark enough though it’s most likely they will fail. Additionally, Hank goes into detail of Merlin’s failed enchantments as almost a mockery saying that he was going about it in “a sort of frenzy, and got to thrashing around with his arms like the sails of a windmill.” Hank then proceeds to say “It is plain your magic is weak” for the people to hear. In general, people love to ridicule their competitor especially in front of other people right before they are defeated.

So the question is, don’t we all have a little bit of conman in us and Hank is just more open about it? I mean deep down don’t you like the feeling of beating your biggest competition whether in sports or school? I know I will always remember the soccer game where we beat the section champs and the looks on the other team faces. It filled my stomach with pure ecstasy to defeat them in front of their home crowd.

Assignment #4: Art, perception, and aesthetics

(Response to question #1)

To evaluate whether or not interactive fiction is art, I will observe that according to, art is defined as "the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance." I chose this definition because I feel it is appropriate given that so much of debate about what is art involves mostly ones own opinion, and my own opinion that we as individuals do not only decide but determine for ourselves what is art by our own interaction with it. Even if a piece of art is an inanimate book we do not interact with through an apparatus such as keyboard or mouse, we interact with it both physically and psychologically because art is something that we can relate to and grow from. Similarly, technology has related to and helped expand the mediums of art.

To use an example of accepted art, Edouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, the painting depicts the realities of prostitution in the 1880's, and how it coexisted in an underhanded way with the seemingly contrasting leisurely pleasure of the time. The painting has meaning because for me personally, it incites disgust with a cold reality that I can relate to within contemporary life. Now, I just interacted with a painting, what could be a flat image has incited a reaction, an acceptance of beauty and aesthetics which changes and shapes my mind which inherently changes my perception of the world and in turn, the painting itself. The way we interact with art in my opinion is not like we do with a blender or rake, it's not for some outcome where we impose ourselves, but rather we open our minds to allow anothers interpretation to trigger feelings within ourself.

In the case of a video game or Zork, a similar interaction takes place. As I explore the world in Zork, I learn about it and my understanding changes, and thereby my actions to Zork changes. Not only that, but just as with a song or picture, the video game as a medium has plenty of opportunities to display to me all that is entailed by the above definition of "art." By playing a game such as this, I am able to accept the aesthetics and beauty of concepts either abstract or much more worldly. I feel that the progression of art and technology go hand-in-hand. Without denying the fundamentals of art, we have learned to use technology to create art that is much more interactive. Architecture is a perfect example of this, in the case of the early architectural accomplishments such as the Pyramids of Giza, these structures were hardly useful or interactive with the individual, whereas today we can enter into and experience the Cathedral of Learning. Both share in common that they are architecture, and incite feelings within our self, but the type of interaction is expanded through technology. Art I believe simply has been able to incorporate and innovate technology to create a more encompassing experience that I personally feel will be the future of all art as we know it. There is a whole range of experiences that can be controlled by the artist, and I see video games as a new medium for art.

And of course, because I love Lyotard so much, I tried to find quotes by him to substantiate my arguments here. At least in regards to the human element of art, on page 17 of "Can thought go on without a body," Lyotard says "Perceptual 'recognition' never satisfies the logical demand for complete description." I believe he is speaking in reference on this page to creating machines that can perceive, and expands on the entailments thereof, but I felt it at least brings me back to my point of a constantly changing mind as a result of art's aesthetics. He is pointing out a separation between the will to perceive and logic, where one perpetuates the other. In the attempt to find the "complete description" which I see as divine understanding, we "teach our mind to receive" as quoted on page 18. In art, I believe we receive from the artist in an attempt to fulfill our search for complete description. More interactive art merges our "logical demand" and disposition to act and impose ourselves with reception of the artists' intended experience.

Blog #4 Question 3

There are certainly similarities in prose between Zork and A Connecticut Yankee, mainly in their snarky disdain for what they regard as idiocy ("A jackass is valuable to this world because he is a jackass; but a nobleman is not valuable because he is a jackass." and "Don't you believe me? The mountains are impassable!") One can almost invision the face of the narrator of Zork, trying not to laugh at your obvious incompetence, and the face of Hank as he listens to Sandy's horrible rants, and they would be the same face.

Or perhaps that's just the face of my narrator, and everyone else is doing swimmingly. I do not believe I am very good at text based adventure games.

They are both linear narratives in the sense that they have a definite beginning and conclusion that do not change with time. And even though Zork presents you with choices to make, it is essentialy a binary tale that ends one of two ways, either you die horribly or win. (We'll not count getting frustrated and giving up here, because that's just counter-productive) In the same sense you either finish reading A Connecticut Yankee or you don't. Both are fantastic tales, if not in quality then in nature.

Where they differ most obviously to me is the amount of effort it requires of the reader/user to get to a winning end condition. Where Twain lays the story out for you to follow, and reading it is a pleasure for those who take the English language as a form of art, Zork forces you to interact with a dumb agent who may or may not reward you with some pithy text if you guess the right string of words to type. Is it useful to compare the two merely as stories then? By this measure I'm afraid Zork falls flat. It is certainly cleverly executed, but the idea of wandering about collecting treasure and living in constant fear of the Grue is simply not as compelling as the tale of Hank and his misadventures attempting to civilize medieval Britain.

And yet there is one more way in which both may be considered kindred. Both were largely experimental and responsible for minor revolutions in their genre, to varying degrees. This is really about it, though. Zork was made not just to tell a story, but to do it in a new and unique way, for which it deserves credit. It does not, however, deserve to be classed with Mark Twain as a work of literature or fiction. Here is where the usefulness of comparing the two runs out.

Question #2: Confidence Man

Throughout most of the story, Hank displays himself as a confidence man. In fact, I think it is difficult to find an idea of Hank’s that cannot be described in this way. From the very beginning of the novel, he is able to use his wits to convince his “superiors to release him from captivity and spare his life. Shortly thereafter, he is able to convince the entire population that he is an all powerful being among mere peasants. These are moments in the novel where it is so obvious what Hank is doing that we as readers are intended to take note of it. It is used in this way for our own amusement. (This is, after all, supposed to be an entertaining novel.) Another major example is the passage describing the fountain. We all know that the words that Hank uses to restore the fountain are nothing but gibberish, but the people watching the event are completely astonished.

Hank often takes time to describe how naive the people of the sixth century are. This is not just used to display the absurdity of the dragon stories told by knights; rather it is used in a way to let the readers know that he can get away with anything. This is what Hank relies on to get into power and to stay in complete power. An example is one briefly discussed in class about the 994 workers that need a better deal. He says “it seemed to me that they need a better deal.” This statement is directed only towards the readers. It only “seemed” that they need a better deal but we all know that Hank would never suggest this to the actual workers.

These are things that I think would be expected in a storyline such as this. Hank is thirteen hundred years more advanced than anyone else in the entire world. Put yourself in Hank’s position and I bet that the majority of you would to some degree or another would show characteristics of a confidence man/woman.

Hank also at times will speak in a way that is conning the readers. An example of this is in chapter 13. Hank is using his crafty ways to convince the readers of his reasoning behind changing the political system of the sixth century. He states (at the bottom of page 128) “my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country”, ensuring the readers that his actions are sincere because he is truly loyal. He goes on to say that the Connecticut Constitution declares ‘that all political power is inherent in the people…and they have the right to alter their form of government.’ His reasoning behind changing the political system in the sixth century is that it’s fine because the nineteenth century Constitution says so. (Now I wish that I had been assigned the question on irony.) The people in King Arthur’s time would have not questioned this theory even without knowing what Connecticut meant (or Constitution for that matter). The fact is that he is not speaking to the people in the story. These are Hank’s thoughts and they are intended toward the readers. We are intended to believe that he should be praised for changing their political system.

At this point, we have to look at the big picture. The reason that Hank appears so much as a confident man is that he is single-handedly conning an entire, crucial time period into being something that it’s not, and not ready to be. The irony comes in when you think of this: Ignoring the possibilities for a time paradox, was the entire system that the U.S. is based on created by a con man?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Separating Narratives Blog 4, question 2

Defining a word is a difficult thing to do. Some definitions are somewhat vague and cover a wide spectrum. Narrative is a word that is a prime example. According to a narrative is defined as “a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious.” This could be one of a million different things. Stories can be told in different forms, which then imply that narratives can be quite different from one another. Stories can be told verbally, written down to be read, viewed in the form of a movie, played as game, or even told through music.

According to Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary of English, interactive fiction is defined as “a type of computer game in which the player controls the characters with text commands; also called text adventures.” In such a game, a story is told through both the text commands that are entered, as well as the responses the program gives back after you enter a command. Zork is a great example of such a game. While playing Zork, I found myself to be lost in thought as to the possibilities there are. Choosing to do one thing as opposed to another will alter the story completely. Like when I first began to play, I didn’t go around the house to find the cracked window, instead I went straight to the woods and began a story of my own that was completely different from the one told in class when we went inside the house. The possibilities are almost endless.

As for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, it tells the story of Hank Morgan and his adventures. This novel can be called a narrative with almost no explanation. It is a story of events that is told through a reading which is exactly what a narrative is to be defined as.

Since both Zork and Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court tell a story, I believe that they both can be classified as a narrative. If you ask me this seems to be a problem since, they are different in almost every aspect except for the mere fact that they both tell a story. It seems as if they need to be divided down into different categories of narratives.

Now the question that arises is how you come up with the different categories. I think narratives should be broken up into the following types: books or written narratives, interactive narratives, or visual/verbal narratives.

For obvious reason A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court would fall into the written category. On the other hand I would put Zork into interactive narrative category. In this same group I would also include games like Zelda which tells the story of Link who saves Princess Zelda or any other type story that you must interact with to finish the story. And the last group would consist of movies, TV shows, music, and storytelling done around a campfire.

Well now that I’ve been able to separate groups for Zork and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as well as other different narratives like movies, I realize that I fail to have a place for choose your own adventure books since they could possibly fall into both interactive and written. At this point I really don’t know what to say. I don’t think Zork and Twain’s book should both be put under the same umbrella of a narrative in general, but I cannot think of a way to divide narratives in such that they can fit into separate groups that don’t overlap. So if anyone has a good way to separate them I am open to suggestions.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Blog Assignment #4 (Group 2)

I'm sketching out several possibilities briefly; it'll be up to you to flesh them out.

1) If you believe that interactive fiction (Zork, etc.) is, or can be, a legitimate art form, explain and defend that position, with at least brief attention to what you value in art. Note: don't take this option if you don't think it is, or could be, a real art form. That's too easy.
p.s. You might use the moments about the nature of art in any of the texts we've read so far to help make your position (yes, Lyotard, Davis, Joy and Twain all address the nature of art, at least implicitly).

2) There are obvious ways in which Hank Morgan fits into the prototypical American character of the confidence man (perhaps developed best in Melville's novel The Confidence Man, which is about 5x more challenging than Moby-Dick, but I digress). One characteristic of confidence men as narrators is that they are conning the reader, as well as recording their cons for our amusement.
Using specific passages, analyze the/a con that Hank is pulling on us.

3) Using specific material (I hesitate to say "passages" or "quotes" with Zork) from both Twain's novel and Zork, take a position on whether it is useful to discuss both under the same umbrella of "narrative" - or whether it is better to separate them into different categories (which then presumably you will enumerate).

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Help with Zork

I am having some difficulties making progress in the game..I find that when I think I am progressing, I end up at yet another dead end. One thing that would really help though, is, the command that needs to be typed in order to "refresh" what and where you are. I thought it was "verbose" but each time I type that in, the only response I get is "maximum verbosity". Also, I don’t know if anyone else has made it to a cliff, with rock, but I seem to be getting stuck climbing up and down the cliff. In desperate need of some help...

Also, this is something I learned about myself while playing the game. I didn’t realize how visual I am, until a game like this challenges me to return to my childhood years and use my imagination. While I enjoy the freedom the game gives, I find myself very frustrated trying to keep the visual storyline straight in my mind. Does anyone else find this problem?

Zork and other games

Another game Zork reminds me of the Resident Evil series. I’m not sure if anyone else is familiar with it, but these are zombie-action games in which the main character is placed in an eerie situation and must escape without being eaten alive first by zombies, dogs, and other genetically engineered monsters. There is almost no verbal dialogue in the entire game with the exceptions to a few cut-scenes. The game involves many puzzles that must be solved in order to progress through the storyline. An example would be a locked door with four empty holes depicting different symbols. You must then find the four keys with these symbols to unlock that door. When entering a room, you must search that entire room by getting near walls, tables and other scattered items and hitting the action button. A text description will be displayed that explains what is being “seen” by the character. If something is useful, the character will pick it up and if not, there will just be a humorous description of the sights, smells, or sounds of the surrounding area.

As far as Zork itself, I think it is a pretty fun and interesting game, but I often find the lack of a visual aspect to be disorienting and almost frustrating. Simple navigation through the area can become a lengthy process if you accidentally hit the “w” button one too many times.

With my computer, I have not been able to find a version that enables me to save my game, so I have been playing the very beginning of the game about 20 times. If anyone knows how to fix this, I would really appreciate it. Also, that crafty thief with the bag keeps taking all of my stuff and I haven’t yet found out how what his purpose is. The bloody axe has no effect on him and he keeps making me look like an idiot. If anyone has been able to kill or otherwise interact with him in some way that is helpful, kudos to you and let me know how you did it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Bossman

In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the reader often questions the character of the protagonist, Hank Morgan. Twain’s exposition always leaves the picture unclear, as Hank’s narratives lack any clear indications as to his true nature. The only thing that is certain from the text is that he is a Yankee that worked as a superintendent at an arsenal, who suddenly found himself in King Arthur’s Court. Hank’s tone about the people of the time changes throughout the novel, but the reader also has the sense that although Hank believes his future in Camelot is bright, that this will ultimately not be the case. Twain’s ironic coding of Hank’s speech foreshadows the fact that the Yankee’s “modern” mind, particularly his implementation of certain technologies and politics, will have disastrous effects on Camelot.

Hank displays the characteristic Yankee arrogance, something that many Southerners still see in Northerners to this day, throughout the novel. While watching slaves being beaten, Hank says,

“I must not interfere too much and get myself a name for riding over the country’s laws and the citizen’s rights roughshod. If I lived and prospered I would be the death of slavery, that I was resolved upon; but I would try to fix it so that when I became its executioner it should be by command of the nation.” (190)

This excerpt clearly shows that Hank believes he will be the end all of slavery, but not by force. Instead, the “command of the nation” shall lead to abolition. Hank’s goal is not abolishing slavery through top-down ruling. Instead, King Arthur’s people will slowly be persuaded overtime so that eventually they would come together and tell the King that they are as a “nation” calling for the end of slavery (ironic because it was a kingdom, not a nation).

Twain clearly does not believe a word of what Hank is saying, particularly when it comes to the concept of overriding the country’s laws. Shortly before this speech, Hank is commanding the release of certain prisoners from the dungeon of Queen Morgan Le Fay. It matters not if these men are incarcerated for proper reasons; Hank is still showing his disregard for the rules of the time. Twain consistently shows that the Yankee does not respect the intellect of these medieval people and it is unbelievable to suppose that Twain actually believed Hank’s words were steadfast.

Although Hank may sincerely want the abolition of slavery to come by the nation’s command, the syntax of the sentence shows that he does not truly care by what means this command comes. Hank’s extensive use of “I” in the sentence illustrates that he will be the “death of slavery.” The people’s opinion will not be the main cause; it will rather be a mere reinforcement. The Yankee’s title is indeed the boss. It is quite ironic for the boss to say that he will not “interfere,” when the nature of a boss is to tell individuals how things should be done better.

Twain’s tone about the Yankee is dynamic, but Hank has always gotten his way throughout the novel. This casts a dark shadow on the rest of the narrative. In order to get his way this time, Hank must change an entire culture by making them believe that their current lifestyle is morally wrong without ever saying that directly. Unfortunately, the Yankee’s eyes are too big and his desire to implement modern politics will outweigh his patience for the culture to change. Twain believes that the Yankee has neither the fortitude nor the ability to teach the “nation” to command for the end of slavery; on the other hand Twain does believe that Hank is arrogant and stubborn enough to force this command on the people.

The Church-like despot Graded Blog Entry #3

Coincidentally, today I was talking to my friend and he told me a funny little story about what happened in his mass communication class. His teacher was going to deliver a PowerPoint presentation about technology, but the computer didn’t work so he did the entire thing on the whiteboard. This is irony in its most applicable, humorous form. For Mark Twain, irony lies directly in Hank’s intimate thoughts; specifically on his view of religion and the church:

“I could have given my own sect the preference and made everybody a Presbyterian without any trouble, but that would have been to affront a law of human nature: spiritual wants and instincts are as various in the human family as are physical appetites, complexions, and features, and a man is only at this best, morally, when he is equipped with the religious garment whose colour and shape and size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexion, angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it; and besides, I was afraid of a united Church[…]” (102)

In “Life in the Iron Mills” Hugh was not able rise above the social stratification of his age. Almost parallel to Hugh’s situation Hank was put in a position to gradually eliminate the social stratification present in the 6th century. As a one of the most innovative minds of the 19th century, Hank relishes the opportunity to take the dark age out of the Dark Ages (Ironic). He claims to be a despot there to start advancement not only technologically but socially and educationally. The irony of Hanks view of the church is most clearly seen when juxtaposed to his concept of progression in the chapter “Beginnings of Civilisation”. In the above passage, he implies the problem with the Church is its tendency to constrict or force its specific beliefs unto a nation of people, claiming the “spiritual wants and instincts” of people vary much like individuals vary genotypically and phenotypically. As most despots tend to do, Hank believes his views on social and political reform are the best and most practical and having been “vested with enormous authority” he sets to establish his regime throughout the land inconspicuously. Granted I do agree with his views on social equality, his method of infiltrating the 6th century and slowly but surely instilling these ideas via his “nurseries” is very similar to the Church and its rise to power many centuries prior.

Having established the irony of Hanks views on the Church and his methodology for civilization, it is interesting to note that they both serve their purpose in creating a certain amount of order. Twain acknowledges this point early in the novel (could not find the specific passage) when Hank says what would this nation be without the Church. Now imagine the absence of a unifying force amongst a nation full of men and women that Twain likens to adolescent children. In this sense the Church represents a unification of wills, aiding in the training and “domestication” (for a lack of a better term), instilling docility into a potentially wilder nation than the one that already exists. Examples of the Church’s influence can be found throughout the novel; nobles and people alike praying constantly; and the good nature of the majority of the priest that Hank finds to contradict his ill disposition towards the Church. Through these experiences we find Twain’s objection of the established Church lies in its unilateral imposition of its specific spiritual beliefs amongst the masses. Twain’s solution is to separate politics from the spiritual realm expectant of one of an innovative mind of the 19th century United States.

"Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes" -- blog #3

Just as a heads up: This is my first Literature course ever and I basically only think scientifically. Thus, my blog might make no sense whatsoever; so bare with me.

While reading “A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court”, Hank consistently refers to the Church. In the first paragraph of Chapter 17, the passage reads “I will say this much for the nobility; that, tyrannical, murderous, rapacious, and morally rotten as they were, they were deeply and enthusiastically religious. Nothing could divert them from the regular and faithful performance of the pieties enjoined by the Church. More than once I had seen a noble who had gotten his enemy at a disadvantage, stop to pray before cutting his throat; more than once I had seen a noble, after ambushing and dispatching his enemy, retire to the nearest wayside shrine and humbly give thanks, without even waiting to rob the body. There was to be nothing finer or sweeter in life of even Benvenuto Cellini, that rough-hewn saint, ten centuries later. All the nobles of Britain, with their families, attended divine service morning and night daily, in their private chapels, and even the worst of them had family worship five or six times a day besides. The credit of this belonged entirely to the Church. Although I was no friend to that Catholic Church, I was obliged to admit this. And often, in spite of me, I found myself saying, ‘What would this country be without the Church?’”.

I believe this passage is full of irony. Foremost, Hank says ‘What would this country be without the Church?’ Perhaps, Hank is finally noticing that 6th century Britain is dependent on the Church to a point where the Church is keeping moral in the people of Britain and keeping them away from being barbaric. On the other hand, Twain might be focusing more on trying to show how different 6th century Britain could be if it was like 19th century America with a separation of Church and State. One part of the passage states ‘More than once I had seen a noble who had gotten his enemy at a disadvantage, stop to pray before cutting his throat’. I’m sorry, but anyone that is truly religious is not going to have an enemy nor pray before killing someone. Therefore, if the Church wasn’t involved in the country, people might be killing left and right. However, if there was separation of Church and State, killing might not happen at all, at least to point where Hank will not see this situation happen more than once.

Furthermore, Hank notes ‘All the nobles of Britain, with their families, attended divine service morning and night daily, in their private chapels, and even the worst of them had family worship five or six times a day besides’. During this time period, the nobles were not the ones that needed to do all the praying. If anything, the ‘freemen’ needed to be praying. The ‘freemen’ were the ones catching diseases, working, starving, and all around living the hard life. But, we don’t hear any account of the ‘freemen’ praying. If 6th century Britain was more like 19th century America, there would be no nobility class and thus they would know the necessity of praying and actually meaning it. Hence, if there was separation of Church and State, as Twain is trying to say, there would be a democratic society which would eliminate the nobility.

Irony Blog 3 this is the most random and far stretched connection i could possibly formulate, and honestly that makes me a little happy. In chapter 9, The Tournament, Twain uses Irony in a way that i didn’t notice at first. I think in order to understand what i mean we must look at religion. The Holy Grail is a Catholic "episode" The search for the Holy Grail has fascinated, perplexed, and excited Catholics for years. SO much so, they even made a movie about The DaVinci Code is a book that pretty much claims to have figured out the puzzle, and though the movie didn’t do as well as i thought it should have, it did make some what of a splash, i think the reason for this is because, although this search is older than dirt, the satisfaction one gets went they "figure out" or simplify religion is satisfying in a new way...ok, so where am i going with this. Hank knows the affects religion has on every aspect of life, government, society, and so on. He understands that to incite a revolution, which is his ultimate goal one must have various outlets. When he opens with the story, which i think is cleverly placed, he talks about "the Grandness of the tournaments". He speaks highly of the knights and praises them in a way, by speaking admirably about their traditions. Now, when he goes into the story about how not funny the jokes of Sir Dinadan are he makes sure to not lead the audience to any specific conclusions about him. However after reading on I felt like this guy was very annoying. Now my annoyance is that which i think i mirrored by Twain, AND Hank. I think this is a good example of irony because though Twain is the ultimate voice of the book, through Hank, who in himself carries with him a whole host of characteristics the story carries in such a way, as to help to audience see the barbarism and ludness of the kings court, which is what Hank wants to say, without having to say it. Now the audience has Hank’s View, and upon further reading the story begin to unfold for me at least, more influenced by Hank and Twain.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I promised myself I wouldn't quote Alanis in my title... (aka Graded Blog Entry 3)

“I looked at the boy in sorrow; and as I looked I saw the cloud of a deep despondency settle upon his countenance” (56).

Preceding the story of how Merlin aided King Arthur in retrieving the sword from the Lady in the lake, Hank notices the dismal reaction of everyone in his presence upon seeing Merlin prepare for his monologue. After Merlin recounts his dull tale, Hank comments that he found the account appealing, contrary to what those around him felt.

“It seemed to me that this quaint lie was most simply and beautifully told; but then I had heard it only once, and that makes a difference, it was pleasant to the others when it was fresh, no doubt” (60).

What is humorous or, rather, ironic (and by being so it becomes humorous) is Merlin’s tale. What occupies the space of nearly two pages of Twain’s novel is, in fact, not the words of Twain. Rather, it is something taken directly out of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Although the assignment is to write about the irony that is Hank Morgan, I noticed this to be more ironic (well, at least this… and the fact that the irony embedded in Twain’s story is completely lost on me; or maybe just too embedded for me).

Malory’s text, which was originally published in the fifteenth century, is considered to be one of the best works of Arthurian writing. Most likely, in doing research on sixth century life, Twain found himself within the pages of Le Morte d’Arthur, and he probably lifted some of his ideas from the text. That being said, I’m not surprised that he took Merlin’s account of what happened straight out of Malory’s text.

The irony, however, is the reaction from the characters in the story. A look of suffering takes over the faces of the crowd, Clarence seems annoyed, and nearly half (if not all) of the audience falls asleep, and is snoring, within the first few minutes. The only person to have any sign of interest in the tale is Hank.

How is it that this literary piece of art is utterly hated by everyone in Merlin’s company? Maybe it’s because they know the story by heart, or that they believe it to be untrue. Or maybe they just flat out don’t like it. However, to me, it is still ironic that in our times the tale is considered to be one of the best accounts of Arthurian times but in their time, it’s basically a steaming load of crap. Maybe it truly is because it was only his first time hearing the story that Hank is in favor of the story, but I have my theory nonetheless.

I just find it ironic, a la Alanis Morissette, that a revered work of literature is considered anything but that, regardless of the time period.

Utopian Bliss - graded blog

What I want to talk about is Camelot. This might not end up being about that.

In my high school when we read The Once and Future King (to be honest they read it. I got through about a third of it and decided I’d gotten the gist) there was a lot of talk about how Camelot was the ultimate utopia. Sure, there were evils to vanquish and grails to seek, but really, Arthur’s unification of Britain under one rule (and more particularly, against the Saxons) was the perfect little place. Heaven on earth, Camelot is the hotspot, the awesome club everyone wants to go to, full of heroes and wizards and actresses and football stars. Troy Polamalu parties in Camelot. Blah blah yaddah yaddah. This seems to be the case across the board as far as literary references are concered.

In the very beginning, however, Hank sees Camelot, and it’s people, more specifically, in something of another light.

”Yet there was something very engaging about these great simple-hearted creatures, something attractive and lovable. There did not seem to be brains enough in the entire nursery… but you didn't seem to mind that, after a little, because you soon saw that brains were not needed in a society like that, and indeed would have marred it, hindered it, spoiled its symmetry -- perhaps rendered its existence impossible.”

A brainless utopia? Bill Joy would cry. And so should Twain, given the society he comes from with steam boats and railroads and all sorts of wonderful new things that require thought and ingenuity to come upon at all. A society without brains is society at all. If he were living in the here and now, I think that that comparison might be more acurate, but let’s not bring my political views into this. Hank realizes, though, that this utopia cannot exist without these sort of mindless innocents in charge. So we give up paradise for knowledge? Apparently, considering that well-known story of the Garden of Eden.

What does Hank do, then? He dangles an apple in front of those that are most hungry, knowing that it’ll be their downfall. He wants to destroy this existence because there is no progress. Is Twain, who I think would be comparing Camelot to plantation life and Arthur and his Knights to plantation owners, saying that this is a necessary fall? He and Hank seem to agree that some sacrifices will have to be made to bring this ignorant world into a better way, but the comparison between Hank and Sir Kay can’t be overlooked when we’re talking about the irony of Hank agreeing that this place is utopia and thn wanting to change it.

Before Sir Kay relates his tale about how it came to be that those prisoners who were rightfully Launcelot’s were presenting themselves to the queen in his name, there is this premise: ”He got up and played his hand like a major -- and took every trick. He said he would state the case exactly according to the facts; he would tell the simple straightforward tale, without comment of his own.” Doesn’t Hank begin his story in the exact same way? That he’s without poetry or feeling, and yet he spins this story like he is a storyteller. He makes judgments on the people he’s surrounded by at every turn, how do we know really that he’s not exaggerating bits just like all the other knights seem to have a tendency to do?

Of the blogs that I’ve read from this assignment, it seems clear that one of the larger ironies in this work is that The Yankee is exactly what he tells the audience he is not. He himself is a world of opposition, recognizing the greatness of Camelot for all its blissful ignorance, but on a quest to better it somehow. The difference between Twain, who wasn’t a big fan of slavery or anything having to do with it, is that Twain isn’t taking society into his own hands.