That’s all for now, folks.

This website, the course blog for the 2016-2017 version of the History and Future of the Book at the University of Saskatchewan, is now more or less static. The course is over. However, this site will remain available for your reading enjoyment, so please feel free to browse.

Yin Liu

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Documenting Poetic Text in a Tweet

Samuel B.

I will be discussing a poetic text by Beth Moore documented as a “tweet.” A tweet is a digital document that can contain a text of at most 140 characters, and optionally images or a video. On October 2 2016, Beth Moore tweeted a poem (Fig. 1.) As far as I know, this tweet is the only document on which this specific text was published. The form of a tweet is a one-dimensional block of pixels displaying a text that can be clicked on and expanded to reveal further information about the tweet such as the date and time that the tweet was published and responses to the tweet. Additionally, tweets are presented in a timeline which is a vertical list of tweets presented to a user of Twitter containing tweets from other Twitter users they follow or that Twitter wants them to see.

Fig. 1. Moore, Beth. “Bewildered traveler poem,” Twitter.com, 2 October 2016. Author’s screenshot. 21 March 2017.

One of the major ramifications of the form of a tweet on Moore’s intention for how her text is to be read is that because of the date and time feature of Twitter, users can search for tweets published within a certain time frame (including from when Twitter began to the present) by a specific user, a specific group of users, and/or containing a specific word or phrase. Thus, any twitter user reading Moore’s poem is able to use Twitter’s search features to investigate tweets sent by political and/or religious leaders close to the same time as Moore’s tweet to understand the historical context of Moore’s tweet. Essentially, Twitter has something like a built in history book available to anyone who reads Moore’s tweet. Not only this, but also the responses to Moore’s tweet can lead users to useful information related to the tweet’s meaning and reveal how Moore’s audience received the tweet which provides insight on the meaning and purpose of the text.

As mentioned, the design of a tweet is essentially a 140 character message. The succinctness of a tweet illustrates Moore’s intention for her text to be read briefly, understood unambiguously, and retained by the reader. This is perhaps contrary to traditional poetry which is often intended to be meditated on and analyzed critically for meaning. The clarity of the poem’s meaning is made evident by common Christian allusions such as “Zion” and the metaphor of the Christian life being like a literal path. Moore’s desire for the poem to be retained is evident by the rhyme and rhythm of the poem. The combination of the search functions of Twitter and the brevity, straightforwardness, and rhyme and rhythm in the tweet suggest it was intended, much like a catchy song on the radio, to be understood contextually, heard briefly, and remembered.

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The Intimacy of Junk Mail

T. Fentiman

We have all gotten junk mail before. Opening up your mailbox, with that glimmer of anticipation for that letter from grandma, the cheque you’ve been waiting for or the unexpected surprise card from uncle Carl. There is the flip side too; That dreaded feeling of, “I hope that bill isn’t in there today.” However, snuck in-between those hated debt letters and small delights are the print ephemera no one asked for and most often don’t want. Colourful little booklets meant to draw you in with words like “SALE” and “90% OFF”. These infiltrators to our personal mailbox often seem annoying and even aggravating. They are planted into OUR mailbox by no doubt a master spy whose only goal is to bother us.

Hundreds of flyers litter the streets in South Beach, Miami. Image: (cc) Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, although many of us today go about our day not noticing the constant bombardment of ads and displays vying for our slightest glance, we often don’t think of the good old flyer as a more personal way to vie for our attention. Ask yourself, what do you think has a more personal quality: the ten second ad that is simply in your way at the beginning of that youtube video your best friend sent you that everyone has seen and you look foolish because you’re always the last one to see these things? Or the flyer that someone took the time to place in your mailbox? The flyer that you read while sitting down at your kitchen table; The same table you spend every holiday sitting at with your closest (and not so close) family, and flip through casually with nothing better to do than to day dream about all the stuff you didn’t know you needed until you discovered it on page 3. Surely in your own home, sitting at your own table, paper in hand is more seductive to our sensibilities than a viral bombardment of subliminal messaging?

Paper flyers may seem like junk, but when you slow down and think about how you interact with paper verses digital advertising, paper is simply more inviting to the way people have interacted with print for centuries. I find that I even make a ritual out of going through the “no good junk mail flyers” and take my time examining each page as if there were a secret treasure only I could find.

Flipping through pages, having you search for that right page for that right thing you just have to have if only you could find out what it is. Paper flyers draw you in with their sense of familiarity similar to the way everyone reads their favorite books.

Now those of you who are reading this, saying to yourselves “ I don’t even look at flyers, I just throw them out,” may have a certain point. You are forced through those online ads to reach the promise land of that new pop music video, but ask yourself this: when the power goes out, the heat is off and your phone and laptop batteries are dead, are you going to burn them to stay warm? Probably not, but you may just reach for some of those print ephemera flyers and set them on fire, and I would bet that you may just read one or two before the night is over.

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Morals, Choice, and Immersion in Video Games

Jordan Clifford

Since their popularity began in the 80’s and 90’s video games have been seen as by many as a waste of time, a corrupting influence to children, and mindless entertainment. There are endless sensational news articles talking about the detrimental effects they have on people and how they are replacing the book in modern society, what is the reason for the popularity of video games? It’s hard to imagine that an industry that’s existed since for over two thousand years could be overthrown in a couple of decades. In this post I will be looking at the things video games do better than books, but I don’t want to give the impression books are inferior to video games; they each have their strengths and weaknesses.

One of the most discussed issues in video games, especially by the news, is morality. Of course when you think of morality in video games it’s easy to immediately think of games like Grand Theft Auto or Halo,which generally focus on the gameplay and not the morality of the player’s actions. For instance in Grand Theft Auto V there is a torture scene the player must go through on another character and there is no option of not doing it, you are expected to not care about the moral implications of it.

The Walking Dead Season One. Telltale Games. 30 Mar. 2017. Video Game.

However, a game that does consider the player’s actions is The Walking Dead Season One by Telltale games, a game based on a visual novel that was made popular by the TV show. In The Walking Dead you are faced with the moral issues of a zombie apocalypse; while there is of course the blood and gore that is typical of the genre, it also shows the moral side of things as well. In the game you play as Lee and take care of a child named Clementine whose parents were killed in the ensuing apocalypse, and the story makes your moral choices count. Throughout the story you are made to care about her and the other characters, then when you are given choices you must also remember that Clementine is watching you and certain actions you take will affect her. For instance, you could kill a man you think might be about to turn into a zombie, but that would also emotionally scar Clementine and could come up later in the story. Of course there are people who would argue that they aren’t real and so why should you care about them? The same could be said for books; the same empathy that makes a person connect to a character in a book makes a person connect with a character in a video game. Of course both have to be believable and well written, something I will admit video games have trouble with.

Video games have been getting more and more advanced graphically as of this generation of console; however, with the advent of indie game studios the stories they tell have also become much more complex. One such example is The Stanley Parable, which is a wonderful game that I highly recommend. Books can have quite a complex story, some going as far as having branching paths, but few are as inventive as The Stanley Parable is. You play as the silent Stanley whose story is narrated by the Narrator, and those are the only two characters in the story. It has fairly simple gameplay and graphics, you explore the abandoned office Stanley works at as the Narrator tells you where to go and what to do. However as you play you discover you can either follow the Narrator’s directions or leave the narrative and go your own way. This interaction between such meta components to a story is a very original concept and something that’s quite difficult for books to do. The Stanley Parable may be a shining example of choice in media you consume, and many games now have multiple endings to make the player feel as though they had an effect on the world the game presents. This, I feel, is a unique thing a video game can do with a plot; I’ve never felt as though I’ve changed the plot of a novel just by reading it, although I might just be reading the wrong books.

Papers, Please. 1.1.65. 3909 LLC. 30 Mar. 2017. Video Game.

This feeling of immersion that a game can present is somewhat innovative as well, most games have you play as the main character and thus try to immerse you in the world as much as possible to make it feel real. While some games try and give you a power fantasy, others do the exact opposite, an example of this can be found in a game called Papers, Please. In Papers, Please you play as an immigration officer checking people’s papers as they try to cross the border in a dystopian world. The game is as grinding and dull as it sounds, the colors are muted and the sounds are muddy, each person that comes into your booth has indistinct features that you forget as soon as they leave. It’s a game that makes you feel as though you are a cog in a system, you make just barely enough money to feed your family and pay rent. This raises the question of why on earth you would ever want to play such a game when you could go out and shoot aliens and win at things. Of course the same could be said for books: why read something that gives you dread and makes you feel bad when you could read a cheesy romance or action-packed spy novel? Books and games and other media exist as escapism, a way to experience things that don’t exist, they exist to make a person feel things, which could be happiness, sadness, or dread. A novel could talk about how you sat in a toll booth day after day, hoping you do a good enough job to feed your family, but with a game there is something more to it, the feeling of looking at the clock and realizing you aren’t going to make enough money, or the sound of the buzzer telling you that you did a bad job. Games bring all these things to the story they are trying to tell and more that books cannot. Of course I could write another post all about why books are better than video games at telling stories, but in the end it’s good to understand that they both have strengths and weaknesses, and if used correctly either can immerse you in the story it presents.

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The Merit of Video Game Narratives in Academia

Ashley Wawryk

Elyn Achtymichuk’s lectures about the video games inspired a plethora of passionate discussions regarding the nature of video games and whether they should be studied in a university-level English class.  As an avid gamer, I found the lectures and the discussions that emerged intriguing.  I decided to analyze the narrative of Bioshock Infinite through an academic lens, as I believe certain video games possess rich narratives that can be beneficial to academic practice.  In order to properly discuss this topic, I will provide a brief summary of Bioshock Infinite.  Spoiler alerts will appear well in advance of any discussion regarding the ending of the game.  Additionally, I will spend time unpacking the numerous themes found in the game’s narrative and discuss how they might aid students’ comprehension of narratives.

In order to adequately analyze Bioshock Infinite’s narrative, I thought it would be wise to play through the entire game to give myself a refreshed view of the plot.  The game takes place during 1912, and the player takes control of Booker DeWitt.  He was once employed by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and carries emotional baggage from his service at the Battle of Wounded Knee.  His wife dies in childbirth and he turns to gambling to numb the pain of losing both his wife and his daughter.  With a rapidly accumulating amount of debt, Booker is forced to pay off these debts by travelling to Columbia in search of a young woman named Elizabeth.  However, nothing about this job is conventional, as Columbia is a steam-punk themed metropolis that, through scientific innovation, sits suspended thousands of miles in the sky.  The game’s main antagonist is a man named Zachary Comstock.  He built Columbia on a set of twisted beliefs where former presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are revered as deities.  Racial segregation is severe, as African-American, Irish, and Chinese people are viewed as less than human.

Therefore, it is not surprising that a rebellious group known as the ‘Vox Populi’ emerges as a resistance to the white American bias that founded the city.  Upon rescuing Elizabeth, Booker comes to the realization that she is not a normal young woman.  She possesses the power to open and produce ‘tears’, which are ripples in time that lead to different dimensions.  With that in mind, it is clear that Elizabeth’s abilities could be used for malevolent intentions.

On numerous occasions, the player is confronted with participatory situations where they must make choices.  In the first Bioshock, the choices you make throughout the game directly influence the ending.  An example of the participatory nature of video games can be drawn from the Lutece twins in Bioshock Infinite.  The physicists appear randomly throughout the story and they are crucial to the advancement of the plot, as the player cannot progress further in the game without interacting with the twins.  A short cut scene ensues where the Luteces demand Booker to choose heads or tails in a seemingly random coin toss.  Additionally, another encounter involves the Luteces offering Elizabeth one of two necklaces.  Both necklaces have a pendant, one of which has an image of a cage, and the other an image of a bird.  Although these moments lead the player to assume that these choices will change the ultimate outcome of the narrative, as seen in the first Bioshock game, they do not directly affect the outcome of Bioshock Infinite; however, the decisions one makes throughout the game do influence various conversations that emerge in the narrative.  The videos below display a moment where the player is allowed to make one out of three choices which lead to a miniscule change in the plot.  Be advised, the clip contains graphic images and language that might offend some viewers.

Link to the video clip (1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEhLqvGsiMs

Link to the video clip (2): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfSMn5B8GAY

As previously mentioned, the themes found in Bioshock Infinite relate to ones that have sparked conflict in the history of the human race.  These themes include racial segregation, religion, the uprising of the marginalized against the established order, and questions of morality regarding scientific advancements that manipulate the laws of nature.  In his article “Exploring the Boundaries of Narrative: Video Games in the English Classroom”, Jonathan Ostenson outlines how his English class studied video game narratives by playing several different games.  He concluded that studying video game narratives allowed his students to become more critical about multiple platforms of storytelling, including novels, films, and television shows (76).

***  I will now discuss the ending of Bioshock Infinite.  SPOILER ALERT.  You have been warned!  ***

The ending of the game reveals the true nature of Bioshock Infinite.  The aforementioned Lutece twins are not siblings.  They are the same person but from two different dimensions in time.  Through their research, they reached the conclusion that Booker DeWitt and the antagonist, Zachary Comstock, are the same person.  Booker quickly changes his name to Zachary Comstock after he decides to be baptized, as he wants to absolve himself of his past sins and start fresh.  It is Comstock who longs to use Elizabeth’s powers to stage an attack on New York City.  Ultimately, his plan is to wipe out all major cities in the United States for the sole purpose of Columbia claiming the title of the only great American city.  Therefore, the Luteces take it upon themselves to conduct experiments manipulating the fabric of time to achieve an outcome where Comstock is defeated.  Unfortunately, Booker and Comstock are the same person.  Elizabeth realizes that, in order for change to occur, Comstock must be killed before he was ever born.  As Comstock came to life during Booker’s baptism, it is Booker who must make the ultimate sacrifice.  He chooses to end his life to break the infinite loop for good.

As discussed during the debate that was held during class, there are numerous drawbacks that can hinder the study of video game narratives in the classroom.  The largest issue is accessibility, as some students might not own a video game console or a computer.  With the growing popularity of video games and the continual advancement of technology, the study of video game narratives in class will become more commonplace in the near future.  The themes found in Bioshock Infinite can be related to past and present day events.  The most blatantly obvious example is Donald Trump’s presidency, and numerous movements that have recently emerged, such as Black Lives Matter.  Ultimately, Bioshock Infinite reinforces the fact that history often has a nasty habit of repeating itself.  The Bioshock trilogy is not the only video game series to present audiences with narratives that use societal issues that we can recognize and analyze.  As long as technology continues to advance and the demand for video games remains steady, it is safe to assume that video games with complex narratives and deeper themes will continue to be produced, as the value of video game narratives will prove useful to students and academics in the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels of education.

Works Cited

Ostenson, Jonathan. “Exploring the Boundaries of Narrative: Video Games in the English Classroom.” The English Journal 102.6 (2013): 71 – 78. Web.

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Impact of a Story

Nicole Clampitt

Image: Nicole Clampitt

My parents read The Velveteen Rabbit to me and my sister at bedtime so often I still could tell you the entire plot of the story with ease. My family has read and reread that book so many times that it is nearly falling apart. The story is what affected me the most, or so I thought. I later discovered that my copy of The Velveteen Rabbit, that I loved so dearly, is actually a simplified version of the original and longer story with the same name.  The longer story is still and children’s book and has the same basic plot just expanded.

The Velveteen Rabbit tells the tale of a stuffed velveteen rabbit that is given to a young boy as Christmas present. In the chaos of Christmas morning the rabbit is soon forgotten and for a time lives in the boy’s room unnoticed. His only friend during this time is an old toy horse who tells the bunny a myth that if a child really loves a toy, that toy can become real. One day the boy suddenly decides to take the rabbit to bed and from then never goes to sleep without him. One night the rabbit gets lost in the garden and the boy insists his nanny goes to find it because it is not just a toy. It is real. The rabbit is overjoyed when he hears this because he believes the boy finally loves him enough that the rabbit become real. He even argues with two wild rabbits that he is in fact real despite what they say. The boy then suddenly gets very sick and the doctor tells the nanny to burn all the boy’s toys in order to get the germs out of the room. The bunny is obviously saddened and begins to cry. From his tear a flower grows and out of the flower comes a fairy. The fairy kisses the rabbit and makes him real. The rabbit feeling confused replies that he thought he was real before. The fairy explains that he was real but only to the boy because the boy loved the rabbit so much but now everyone would know he was real.

Stories have a much larger impact on people than I think they are given credit for. In our culture, most stories are delivered to us in the packages of books and so I would argue that many people allow books to hold the same level of importance but in reality it is the story that holds the value and lessons, not the book itself. Just as the Velveteen Rabbit could only become real because of the boy’s love that was now part of him, so books only hold importance because of the stories and lessons that they hold inside them. This should affect the way in which we read though I think every few people are even aware that there is a difference between the story or lesson and the book itself.

Knowing what I know now about my book being a modified version of the original story, I can’t help but wonder about the difference between a book and a story for me. Every time I see the story book that my parents read to me I get a warm fuzzy feeling from all the memories of my childhood. However, when I read the original story the same feelings came up just in a slightly different way. The longer version of the story still reminds me of those times curled up with my parents and sister as I slowly fell asleep. The story, even when told in a different way still triggers the happy childhood memories that I have always associated with the story of a stuffed rabbit becoming real because a child’s love for him. The book will likely fall apart someday and be unreadable but I’ll still be able to go back and relive those happy memories through a different version of the story.

WORKS CITED

The Velveteen Rabbit. New York : W.H Smith, 1990. Print.

Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real. Garden City: Doubleday and Company, n.d. A Celebration of Women Writers. Web. 1 April 2017. <http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/williams/rabbit/rabbit.html>.

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