Serious Gardens. Serious Games.

16agoodgardener.jpg

I want to begin this blog by saying “Select Character ” by Hugh Howey, was a great and interesting read. It was a refreshing change from the analytical texts we have read up to date, and it left me wanting to read more! I really loved the imagery that was captured by the writing style and I was immediately captured in the world created by Howey’s characters. “Select Character” follows the story of a working dad, Jamie, a newborn baby, April and a part time stay at home mom, part time gamer named Donna. In the story “Select Character”, Donna plays a game about war that contains different simulations and that was developed by the Department of Defense in order to recruit individuals to the military. The story moves to introduce three playable characters, all equally massive, just different in skin tone and catchphrase. Donna comments on the lack of playable female characters and emphasizes sarcastically how the three men and their different shades filled the diversity criterion for the game. “Three identical brutes of slightly varying shades.” (488)

Then Donna does something that I even found outlandish for a game that surrounds war, violence and killing; she un-equips almost all of her weapons– her grenades, her uzi, her knife, her assault rifle, and more– and replaces them with five canteens of water, an AK-47 with a bayonet, and a small pistol. Not the best lineup of weapons for wreaking havoc on the battlefield if you ask me. Shortly after beginning the game, Donna’s husband arrives at home early and is surprised and dumbfounded to see his wife not only playing a video game but also the game he loves so much. “THIS IS THE COOLEST THING EVER” (490) Donna then does what I would consider to be a “speed run” of the level, avoiding most, but not all of the violent conflict. She plays the game with the purpose of avoiding violence altogether, unless absolutely necessary. She passes up weapons, and battles, and only shoots in order to create diversions that allow her to move past enemies. Donna plays the game to get to her garden, her serious garden. Donna makes it to the shop, narrowly escaping bullets as she sprints to get there, and instead of using her money to buy expensive guns, she buys tomatoes to give to children and stray animals, and then proceeds to the back to water and tend to the garden that she had developed over time playing the game over and over again. Using the canteens, she waters her existing plants and using the bayonet to prune weeds, all to which Jamie is in awe of. “It’s crazy they would even put this in here.” (498) The story progresses to the point where the way that Donna has played, and with Jamie’s deciphering skills, leads to a call to the Department of Defense with the representative congratulating Donna and asking for help. “Listen to me carefully. Your country needs you.” (502)

This reading was insightful not just about serious games, but also resonated some of the points that we have discussed up to this point. Beginning with diversity, it’s very common for developers of large games to just adjust pigmentation, add a stereotypical vocal catchphrase like “Dawg” for the Black brute and “Following Orders” for the White one. This and also the stereotype about women not being gamers, as Jamie is dumbfounded to see his wife playing his game, almost as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. We’ve learning in the class that women actually make up a large number of total gamers in the world.

Moving past these points, I was able to have my eyes opened about what it means for a game to be serious. Obviously, if a game is designed by the Department of Defense to recruit individuals into service through war simulations, it is a serious game. The game is developed to create a realistic interpretation of what the battlefield, war and the culture surrounding it is like. If I were to play the game seriously, I would try to rack up as many headshots as possible, all while avoiding being shot, protecting comrades and preserving as much ammo as possible. But in Donna’s case, what was serious to her was avoiding unnecessary violence and creating life, and looking out for those in need rather than killing. Her garden was the serious part of the game and that’s how she played it.  Donna followed what she believed to be the best action in her heart, she did what she believed to be the right thing to do, and effectively weighed the consequences in-game that would definitely matter outside of the game in a real time situation. She applied critical thinking to a game where it would be so easy to be lost in the procedural rhetoric and mechanics where the rewards are placed in killing and killing that more efficiently. In Donna’s case it was her ability to critically think about her actions in the game, and the seriousness of it all that made her the type of candidate that the Department of Defense was looking for. Serious games definitely are more than what they perceive to be.

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Book-Length Study on Stephen King

As can be assumed, I picked Option 1 as my blog topic due to my current/completed research project related to the top horror novels of 2000-2014. My own research that was related towards a correlation between book length and authors success opened up many other avenues of approach towards this thesis (which since then has been changed two times). To answer the question of how I might persuade the nationally known literary scholar that quantitative methods for literary study could contribute to the project, I would simply tell him about how my own research has opened many doors for interpretation due to data.

For example, from the very beginning of my database creation I noticed that Horror texts have become way more popular as a genre as time has passed. The way I was able to see this trend was by the absence of data for the years 2001-2005 and 2007-2008. While this does not reflect that people weren’t reading horror texts, it does reflect that there wasn’t enough of that genre sold in those years for there to be a horror category.

Another example refers to Stephen King specifically, the author I have decided to conduct a book-length study on. In my database Stephen King is one of the prominent authors from 2000-2014 (13 appearances & 9 titles). Interestingly enough the majority of his texts are longer than the average range of pages for the database. Looking at King’s works compared with the other authors that were prominent in 2000-2014, it shows that the more successful authors are the longer their range of books are. While this does not confirm that as an author becomes more successful the longer their books are, the pattern is still there.

For my last example of King’s work, I looked closely at his range of pages to investegate this pattern more closely. If the observation proved to be true, King’s works would have been shorter in the beginning and longer towards the present time. But looking at the data there was no correlation to support this. King’s works were shorter in the beginning, longer in the middle and in a middle range towards the end. So by looking at this we may be able to deduce that King’s work and success reflected a range of pages that was in demand by consumers.

I feel that if I presented and elaborated this data to the nationally known literary schoolar, they would at least be compeled and interested by my findings. I feel that by showing a combination of data with social interpretaions they can work together to enhance a book-length study of a famous author, like Stephen King.

Responses to Conferences (4/15 & 4/17)

This week of class, the conferences were extremely awesome, for lack of a better description. While it having been so early in the day, my energy levels may have perceived to have been low, I was very mentally engaged. I was very pleased and awe struck with everyone’s topic and as Abby mentioned earlier it was definitely a unique experience to see the development of the entire class’ research ideas and topics. And to expound from that it was specifically unique to have gone through the same thing personally and have a sense of understanding when it came to the actual presentation.

Personally, I felt that my presentation was drastically different than the rest of the class’, and I hope that my efforts didn’t come off as under prepared. I decided to present an oral report combined with a handout and a visual of my data after reading Tufte’s arguments about presentations. I felt that my data was pretty complicated to break down, so it would’ve benefited the audience to have a visual representation of my data rather than use slides that wouldn’t be nearly as effective. In this sense I feel that I effectively demonstrated Tufte’s views on presentation.

Looking at the rest of the presentations over the last two class meetings, I really enjoyed Jeff’s work. I felt that all of the hard-work and extra time he put in outside of the estimated work load of this project was extremely evident. I really enjoyed the presentation, structure and organization of his research. The way that everything linked together made his work seem seamless and I quickly lost track of time as he continued to explain his research on Seeley. The most interesting connection was the one that linked the mentality of expansion and Seeley’s The Expansion of England. Although the dates were inaccurate in the presentation, this did not hinder my interpretations of the data and topic.

Tim’s evaluation and research on his sister, Dominica, was also very unique and interesting to learn about. It was interesting to see all 800+ volumes presented graphically and visually. The discussion of the reviews and patterns of her as a reader really embraced the concepts of understanding things quantitatively through data, and also in actuality by interviewing Dominica and using her book reviews as data. One thing that I mentioned after his presentation was the inclusion of her background of being home schooled. I feel that home schooling is still prevalent as a practice in America, but majority of the audience might not have experiences with it. A effective analysis and description of the home schooling background will add a plethora of support to his research.

Brie’s research on Virginia Woolf and her connections to Women’s Suffrage really put Woolf into a whole new perspective for me. This semester I have read one of Woolf’s earlier texts To the Lighthouse, and at that point I was only aware of her personal problems, and depression, per a description from my professor. Brie was able to shine a new light on the activist role of Virginia Woolf and present her as a Women’s activist. I really liked the explanation that Brie gave about how one does not have to be physically there to be an activist but by writing the words down and distributing them to the masses, Woolf was doing something; an activist.

John’s work on Moby-Dick told me a lot about the author, Herman Melville. Melville had a much different life than I knew, and I was only aware that he, just as F. Scott Fitzgerald, died believing he was a failure. A literary joke. This is a phenomenon that I wanted to learn more about myself and having John present this was extremely interesting. Like what makes an unsuccessful book popular later on in the future. I feel that John effectively described this occurrence and his ngram on Melville really helped to convey this point. 

And last but not least Abby’s work Using the What Middletown Read Database to Explore Women’s Dictionary Reading, was really unique. I was interested in her topic because I had never heard anything like it before. It was interesting to see that the more women educated themselves the more single they made themselves. There was a direct correlation between women having spouses and level of education/occupation. This is not a new trend and I believe at that time men were threatened by an educated woman. It was also not the social norm and very radical for that time. I wonder if some of the same patterns are prevalent in this time period, and maybe not so much with school teaching (which is now dominated by women (I believe)) but maybe other occupations like a female CEO or some other high power positions.

There is so much more to say about all of the presentations, but  I just wanted to highlight the parts that really stuck with me after the two class meetings. I wish the best of luck to everyone as they complete their final drafts and hope that the papers are just as interesting and thought provoking as the presentations were. I can honestly say that I have never done anything like this before, and actually presenting my own ideas like this was way different than a science fair presentation. This actually made me feel legitimate and original. If I had the chance to do it again with another topic choice, I would do it all over!

The Difficulty of My Research…

Finding scholarly work to reference for my research project has been extremely difficult. Unfortunately, due to other assignments in other classes I haven’t had the time to extensively look for data and file through the countless links of useless articles. Although I have been somewhat setback by this difficulty, I may have stumbled across some textual gold. Looking at an article on Marketing Charts, it talks about all of the best sellers in general in 2010. Skimming through the first half of the article, I thought that this was another lost cause but then as I continued to scroll down, I noticed some very intriguing information; Horror and Thriller authors had been very well paid in 2010 according to Forbes. This was a very surprising coincidence and I wondered if this would affect my data, since horror books were so popular in 2010. The post reads as follows:

Thriller, Horror, Romance Authors Well Paid

The highest-paid authors of works sold in the US primarily write in the thriller, horror and romance genres, according to a recent ranking from Forbes. Thriller author James Patterson was the highest-paid author between June 2009 and June 2010, earning $70 million. Two other authors primarily associated with thrillers also made the top 10 pay list: British author Ken Follett came in at number five and John Grisham, a former attorney specializing in legal thrillers, was ranked eighth.

While more authors in the top 10 pay list are primarily associated with the thriller genre than any other genre, three other genres were represented by two authors each. Horror was represented by Stephen King (number three) and Dean Koontz (number six); romance was represented by Danielle Steel (number four) and Janet Evanovich (number seven), and young adult was represented by Stephanie Meyer (number two) and J.K. Rowling (number 10).

Hopefully I can find more substantial information in the future, but as of right now, I feel that I am on a wild goose chase due to my information being so specific, and I feel as if I have hit a dead end. My intentions are to gather enough information to prove the correlation between book length and popularity, but now I am just trying to have enough data to even support a paper.

Horror & Thriller & Sci-Fi, Oh My!

Horror, Thriller and Sci-Fi are all genres that have intrigued me. I love how stories develop and the elements that make each element what it is. When dealing with books, there are a plethora of factors that dictate what book ends up in your hand at any given moment. They can be factors as simple as a friend donating books to the library and you seeing one that you want, receiving a gift from a family member, friend or acquaintance, or even going to the library and picking up a book from the recommended list.

Surrounding the “recommended list”, per se, is where I intend to formulate my thesis for this research project. The books that we own are often decided by what’s popular, happening, “in”; the things that are decided for us due to who wrote it and by other factors. The research that I have decided to partake in is much deeper than the question of the bestseller list directly affecting influence of book purchases; it does. But rather in my research project, I plan on evaluating the relationship between book length and success to show if there is any relation between popular books and certain range of pages.

By looking at this specifically, I feel that I may be able to uncover some secret truth behind the best seller list. In this research project, I plan to analyze the New York Times best seller list and the Amazon Best Seller List for Horror, Thriller and Science Fiction texts during September-October of 2010. This is a very prevalent time for things “spooky” and should give me a great data set. I may end up focusing on one particular genre, possibly horror, and I may also decide to look at the best seller of the year list for the genres.

Getting back to the topic of book length and popularity, I feel that this is an extremely specific research question, and I am unsure that anyone else has thought about this connection. Maybe there is a subconscious feature of the brain that not only recognizes quality work, but also recognizes a certain rage of pages that makes a book optimal. What I am trying to iterate is maybe the brain says, “Hey, this is too short to be good” or “Hey, this is far too long to hold my interest” , figuratively speaking of course; we all know that brains can’t talk independently.

In summation, I hope that this topic proves to be as interesting as I perceive it to be. If there is a relation between page length and success rates, authors may choose to write shorter or longer books and this would be interesting to follow up my initial thesis with. By looking at the relation of book length and popularity, I hope to uncover a new truth that could explain a subconscious input into what we consider to be “Best Sellers”.

The Life of A Hashtag

This topic may seem like one that wouldn’t be traditionally graphed, but in the category of data visualization I feel “The Life of A Hashtag” is a perfect example of the power of data visualization.

 

Taken from Visual.ly, “The Life of A Hashtag” is an interactive infographic that takes the hashtag that you input in real time and tells you multiple statistics about it. According to Google Dictionary, an infographic is “a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data”. This infographic tells the viewer (referring to the past month) the number of tweets including the hashtag selected, the most influential tweet and the current most influential tweet to date as well as others. For the sake of this blog post, I decided to input the hashtag “#GoBlue” into the function input and was very interested with the results. So if you’re wondering what the life of “#GoBlue” looks like, it is something like this:Image

Interpreting the data, I found this infographic very effective. “The Life of A Hashtag” told me things about the hashtag “#GoBlue” that I would have never known, such as the most popular person to tweet it this month was @ParisLemon, who surprisingly has more followers than The University of Michigan Men’s Basketball Team. The infographic also has a line graph that shows the spikes in activity in the past month of “#GoBlue” and there is a large jump around February 23. This shows a limiting factor of the infographic because there is no explanation, other than common knowledge. By common knowledge, I simply mean that if the reader lives in Ann Arbor, or follows Michigan Men’s Basketball, they would know that the men’s team played, and beat, Michigan State University by 9 points with a final score of 79-70. 

My final thoughts on this infographic are that I believe this is a great tool for representing data. I really enjoyed the fun colors, texts and graphs, and specifically in this example I enjoyed the interactiveness. Although this is a great tool, all data visualization has its limits and nothing is 100% without text to help explain it.

Surprise! It’s Table 8-2!

Piggybacking off the ideas of my classmates, I would also agree that Table 8-2 was very easy to interpret and understand.

Table 8-2

Table 8-2

Reading through the accompanying text by William J. Gilmore (276) his textual evidence helps to support the chart presented. The table presents the Composite Size of Family Libraries in the years 1787-1830 and it is clearly presented in a concise form by the chart presented. The chart shows that as the libraries increase in size, the number decreases and vice versa. The graph also tells the viewer that the majority of the libraries in that time period were between the sizes of 1-9 volumes as those groups make up a majority of the libraries. I would also like to note that this particular chart is limited by the range in which is selected, 1787 -1830. Why this time period? Why not start with 1780 or 1785? I feel that by presenting the data in this specific and detailed range, Gilmore is misrepresenting data in a way.

Looking at this chart, I’m not even sure if there needs to be a graph. I feel that all of the information presented in the chart effectively tells me about what libraries were in the time between 1787-1830. But, if I were to present this graph in a way that would represent what I had interpreted from combining the textual evidence with the chart, I would select a line graph. I would select a line graph because the line graph would show most efficiently the inverse relationship between volume size and libraries. I believe that by presenting the data this way, there is an easy visual representation of what I took from the chart and Gilmore’s text.

My Not So Representative, Representative Book Data

As I began to prepare to catalog my books, I realized that my passions for fiction and fantasy would not be properly represented by the collection of texts that I have present in my college apartment. The biggest problem that I had with this process was that yes, the books that I had most recently used or decided to bring to college with me would be included and are a great representation of class material, course topics, and slight recreational material, the books did not reflect my interests as a reader. I mean this in the sense in which one would take my data to recommend a purchase for me in the future and nine times out of ten, the book recommended would not be one that I would actually like to read. 

Relating this personal experience of mine with book history and it’s processes, I really wondered how accurate some representations were of different book data. I feel like things can be even more easily corrupted by a misrepresentation as it so easily happened to my data.  I have books, they are mine, they are at my residence, they are books that I choose to use; all factual things. But those facts should not infer that those books are books that I find interesting unless specified. This book data process really shows that just because you have a group of facts, doesn’t always make them true together. 

From a general view, I expected the processing of my books to be tedious and very time consuming. Alas, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the process did take a little bit of time but was pretty fluid and did not take as long as I had initially perceived. The most difficult part for me would have been discovering the Dewey decimal number, current/first edition, and also determining what to count as “the final page” when determining page totals. Out of the three,the Dewey decimal number was the most consistent problem. I noticed from my data sheet that the most recent edition, or recently published texts had an easy to find/interpret Dewey decimal number, where as the books that were older or older editions either had a different location for the number or didn’t have one at all. 

From this observation, I  wondered how prevalent the Dewey decimal number was to those other than librarians and who used them in contrast to the role of the Dewey decimal number today and the reader as well as the librarian. From my observations, I would like to assume that the Dewey decimal number plays a larger role in the life of the reader than it did in the past and also that the book publishing process was altered to represent that change by the more unified Dewey decimal number.

In conclusion, I originally approached this assignment with the expectation that it would be about me, and would represent or not represent my tastes as a reader. I did not, however, anticipate that the project would allow me to think more critically about the book data collection process as well as trends and patterns with the Dewey decimal numbers in books. I really have a better grasp of how things sort of work in the coding process and came to the gist that things aren’t always as they seem to be, which isn’t a new topic, but one that I’m able to see better as it has happened to me.

Oral vs. Print: The Previous Role of Text

In Chapter 2 of An Introduction to Book History, the focus is determining what the role of texts were in the past, understanding what changed, and establishing the new role of text and print works. Finkelstein and McCleery describe this major shift in textual purpose as one hugely impacted by cultural practice. Specifically focusing on Western European society, the challenges experienced by the two groups; the established oral community and the developing written, literary community. The difference between print works and written work was also established within Chapter 2 “From Orality to Literacy”, meaning print works reached a larger audience and written work was more local.

Up to this point in history, the purpose of written work was to be read aloud. Texts were meant to be shared and ‘felt’. This would dramatically influence the writing style, voice, and language that would be seen in written works at this point. As mentioned in the example on page 38 of An Introduction to Book History, the behaviors of St. Augustine in 383 AD was unheard of; he read in silence, alone, with his eyes only. It was also explained on page 35, how the transition from oral to written culture was accelerated by the new availability of materials that could be readily used for creating texts. These new technologies were also a major factor in the transition to written culture. Parchment, paper and codex really helped preserve these new texts, as elaborated on page 36. 

Most interesting to me was the fact that the oral communities main argument, (or one of the big arguments), was that the written text would give others more knowledge and coincidentally, power. They simply believed that by creating written text that would be used in different cultures, with equal access, would allow others to gain the secret knowledge that orators contained and they would have access to it without the orators control. 

I was happy to see the chapter conclude with the statement “Such issues faded as individuals and institutions capitalized on the opportunities for using writing to reach a wider audience.”, directly referring to the arguments of the oral community and the contemporary supporters, page 43. This part was important to me because it is important to understand how reaching the masses only helps to create a new universal level of knowledge. It didn’t worsen the world, but bettered it, contrary to the beliefs of the oral community. By utilizing the new reach of the book, social behavior was adjusted as well as the styles presented in text. No more was writing limited to being spoken aloud, but a new ‘genre’ of book was born. 

A General View on Book History

Taking a step back from the specifics of book history and its many branches, I just wanted to take a second to discuss the bigger picture. It seems to me that book history is a very complex practice and seems to have a plethora of routes that one can take to view the practice.

As discussed in class on Monday, book history has the potential to loose control, in a sense, and become more than just book history, but rather general history. After reading “Theorizing the History of Books”, I found the title quite ironic. Ironic because the theories presented seemed to work together but the topics, processes and purposes seemed to all go in different directions. This was different to me because there is generally normality in a specific field of study.

For example, mathematicians all follow the same rules that apply regardless of the style of math. If an old rule is needed to complete a mathematical equation it is used. Reading about the forerunners of book history, D.F. McKenzie thought ‘sociology of the text’ was the best route for historically notating books and focused on textual meaning, but Robert Darnton found the ‘communication circuit’ the best bet for establishing the “History of the Book” and focused on analyzing the process of book production, creation and distribution.

Looking on the inside as an outsider, I wouldn’t group the two separate processes as book history. I would say that those two processes accomplish different goals, but not one of the same type. Also with the individual approaches different specifications create generalizations that have to be proven, for example Darnton’s involved the ‘communication circuit’ but this would include things like book smuggling, which could turn into history of man and not just books.

Book history, as I am beginning to dive into it, seems like a very complicated style of history and I am interested to see if there is one concrete model that is currently used for book history, or if the practice of “finding your own interpretation” is still the popular choice. Hopefully, these questions are answered as I continue through Writing 410.