The Correct Answers in the Heather Section of the SATs

Wigleaf publishes short-short stories and was one of the jumping off points for my paper.

The Lydia Davis stories were taken from here:

While I didn’t get to talk much about how short-short stories relate formally to poetry, the following poem by Chelsea Martin appears in her collection The Really Funny Thing About Apathy, which contains both short fiction and poetry and doesn’t much distinguish between the two.

Happy Finals.


Continuity in In The Shadow of No Towers

Considering that Spiegelman worked on these pages one at a time, for months at a time, I’d like to discuss the continuity, or lack thereof between pages.

To begin with, there’s the use of the different art styles. Page 4, the scenes of Nadja’s school, stood out to me the most as having the art style most distinct from the rest of the book. The pastel colors and soft lines contrast significantly with the generally sharp or harsh lines and stark colors used throughout. 


On the face of it, this seems like an attempt to channel the feelings of disorientation and un-realness stemming from his experience and the process of piecing memories back together after a trauma. In invoking the different art styles, Spiegelman is also bringing up his relationship with those segments of the comic world, which Colin talks about in his post. The use of different art styles also seems to be a way to break past the two dimensional barrier. The different styles juxtaposed over each other suggest a collision of multiple sources from outside the page.

This push against the two dimensional boundaries of the page is reflected in the way that the panels are placed. On every page, Spiegelman uses the gutters between the panels to give depth perception to the comic: the panels look like they are pasted over a background. Page 8 provides an example of him turning this around, by showing the foreground Art in the panel take a jackhammer to the forehead of the Art in the background upon which the panel is placed, resulting in an M.C. Escher-esque impossible geometry.


This use of the third dimension in the two dimensional medium draws upon the architectural aspect of comics that we have mentioned. The reader not only goes up and down, left and right, but in and out of the page as well. This depth also emphasizes the disparate collection of sources that the panels have been assembled from and the disorientation that is inherent. The image in page 2 of the frame rotating to become a burning tower uses the third dimension to demonstrate how the trauma has broken the existing structure:



However, this ability to move along the third dimension is hindered by blocked panels, by barriers that are impossible to move past. At once this provides possibility and frustration to the reader, reflecting perhaps the structure of memory.

While the varied art style and three-dimensional layering suggests tendencies towards discontinuity, one thing to notice is that the image of the burning skeleton of the World Trade Center is on every page somewhere, sometimes in foreground panels, sometimes in the background, but always there. This seems to me to be a conscious effort by Spiegelman to maintain an ongoing coherent thread from page to page.


Subversion of Expectation in Gone Home

Looking at the Metacritic scores for Gone Home, there is a huge divergence between the critic reviews, which give the game an 86, and the user reviews, which give it a 53. From one particularly harsh example: “Arguably, a book has more interactivity and skill involved, since you need to possess the motor skills necessary to turn the pages.” Most of the negative user reviews seemed to stem from disappointment in actually experiencing a “game” that they felt was overhyped, while the positive reviews seem to appreciate being exposed to what they felt was something different. From this and what we discussed in class, much of Gone Home seems to hinge upon one’s expectations. There is the expectation of a survival horror that is brought up and then gradually dissipated. This goes hand in hand with the revelations in Sam’s story, as we are shown that it is a love story rather than one of psychological abuse. Gone Home plays with your expectations regarding video games. In your menu, you have the inventory system on the first page, the archive of collected journal entries on the second, and a map of the house on the third, and this primes the player to expect an adventure/exploration game in which items are stored in the inventory and are used to navigate a “dungeon” as displayed on the map.

However, it turns out that this is really not the case. There are many items in the game that you can interact with but have no significance whatsoever. Personally, when I was still under the impression that this was a ghost story, I found myself scrutinizing the leaf coasters, thinking that put together they would unlock a portal to an alternate dimension. Or something like that. And there there were the tapes and TV’s. Playing on this expectation of Gone Home as a conventional puzzle game, I felt that the difference in the combination locks in Terry’s office and Sam’s bedroom was a demonstration of the shift in mindset that was demanded of the player. Unlocking the safe in the study required going into the next room and finding a folder that was conspicuously hidden in the back corner, and within was a four digit number that, as someone used to playing adventure games has been taught to think, unlocked the file cabinet. When we encounter the locker in Sam’s room, the instinct is to do the exact same thing again: look around the room to try to find any four digit number, because that number would be the code to the locker. Obviously. Because we are in a game, obviously. And we find a collar with the old address on it in Sam’s closet, so the instinct is to think that that would be the combination. But it’s not. Instead, to open Sam’s locker, we are sent across the house, looking behind hidden panels to try to piece it out. The failure to open the door using the number from the collar may be an attempt to send the message that this is not the same as before, that the developers know what you’re thinking, and its wrong. This could also be perhaps a metaphor: Sam’s situation is much more complex than Terry’s, so unlocking it, getting to the bottom of it, will not be so straightforward.

I was wondering how well this worked, the creators designing the game as to be one step ahead. It is expected that you go down the hallway on the left first, and consequently get exposed to the haunted mansion dimension first. However, as we raised in class, there is the question: what if you went up the stairs first? Once I got in, I blew by the front door, dismissing it as unimportant, and immediately set forth with the mindset of exploring the house. As a result, the first journal entry was actually one of the last ones that I found when I was stuck and doubling back to see what I may have missed. By placing this story in an interactive medium, the developers lose some control over how the story is told and the experience that is conveyed, by they can still try to guide players by design. So the question with Gone Home becomes, how long can they stay ahead of the player for? At a certain point, the player catches on, and it is not so easy to subvert their expectations, so what then? There comes a point at which the player decides that this experience is not novel, but merely “different.” If Gone Home’s “newness” comes from this subversion of established expectations, can it be sustained once my harsh Metacritic user has realized this? Does this actually meet the threshold of what we might consider “new?”

The Inexpressible Found in Games

I linked this interview with Braid creator Jonathan Blow in my response to Maia’s post about the narratives presented by games. In it, he addresses the question of interpretations of the narrative by saying that the narrative represents a part but not the whole of what he is attempting to express through the game. He wants the game to be an art form, something that goes beyond experiences of fun or narrative. He expresses similar views on video games as art as Jason Rohrer in the Critical Inquiry interview, in that games should be used to communicate certain feelings and situations. 

We talked about genres in video games today, and in this interview with Blow, he touches upon the fact that video game genres are characterized by their mechanics in contrast to literary or art genres, which are characterized more by the experiences that they attempt to convey:

I also found interesting the emphasis that Blow places on “discovery,” of figuring things out. Playing a puzzle game like Braid, there is only one correct way to figure out the levels, and any solution concepts that fall outside the intention of the creator result in frustration on the part of the player. While Blow expresses his disdain for Japanese games handholding the player, his game also restricts the player to one predetermined path. I noticed when playing Braid that in the menu, there is a speed run option, where a timer starts and measures how long it takes for someone to beat the game. Blow clearly recognizes that the game will be played in that fashion. Performing speed runs well requires perfect knowledge of the levels and is more a challenge of hand-eye coordination and timing perfection, and it completely neglects the discovery of puzzle solving that is central to the game. Speed running passes over the intended and specific art nature of the game in favor of a different experience that could be almost zen-like of inputting commands perfectly. So I was wondering if there was a reason that Blow decided to include a speed run mode beyond the recognition that there were players who preferred to engage with his work in that manner.

Returning to the views of video games as art, in these interviews there is a theme of attempting to touch upon something that is difficult to verbalize, something that the game creators find inexpressible or something that they are not sufficiently able to articulate. Are these things that are specific to them as artists? That is, are these inexpressible ideas things that they themselves could not express in another medium, but someone else could, or are they able to get to something that could not be captured through other forms and media? Some people write poetry and other people write novels, and yet others produce TV shows. This is somewhat related to my question two weeks back about whether In Treatment could have been told anywhere but on a TV screen. Certainly what is unique about video games as a form is the interactivity. As Ranjodhd mentions, the players could be thought of as performers, being led through specific motions, and this relates well to the Critical Inquiry piece, in which Rohrer talks about how games express ideas through “mechanical metaphors.” However, are these mechanical metaphors necessary? Are there ideas and feelings that can only be expressed through mechanical metaphor? Another aspect that comes out of interactivity is ownership. While the players might have an idea of what the creator is intending it is ultimately up to them to make the choices. But this sense of ownership or agency seems challenging when we consider the fact that Braid’s puzzles only really have one solution, or that in Dys4ia, it doesn’t really matter what you do, you’ll ultimately end up going through the motions that creator Anna Anthropy has set out for you.

Is there some other aspect of video games as a medium that makes them uniquely appropriate for some ideas? So I pose a question similar to my In Treatment post: why choose video games as a medium or form?

The Form of In Treatment

What I found interesting is the way in which In Treatment seems uniquely suited to television. We touched a little upon the medium in which it is presented on Tuesday, when we talked about how it might be distinguished from radio shows of yesteryear. To me In the first week, looking at the way in which the show was written, staged, and shot, it could have been written as a play. It relies completely on the dialogue between the two characters in the room and to a lesser extent their facial expressions. We are forced to rely on what they say and how they say it to learn about their character. Each of the sessions in the first week seemed like they could very well have been staged as single act plays, or the whole first week could have been staged as a five act play. In the first week, things like body language and space are used in ways that are very reminiscent of theater. If each of the sessions was a one-off affair, with subtle developments to the character of Paul that culminate in his Friday session with Gina, a play would be a suitable form. 

However, now that the second week has rolled around, it is clear that the story could only ever have been told on subscription television. The return of the characters from the first week is what adds narrative complexity, and in contrast to week one, the narrative momentum is too much for things to end after the Friday session with Gina. The camera comes into play. The characters seem to be starting to break out of the set that is Paul’s office. 

One of the things that the show uses the medium of television on is the perspective that is established with the shots. With the first week, the camera was really only ever in one of three places: facing the therapist, facing the patient, and on the rare occasion a wide shot of the two. In week two, there is a clear intention to subvert the convention established in week one in light of what happens in the session with Gina. The camera is now sometimes looking over the shoulder. Sometimes it is in a close-up that is positioned from one side of the room and other times in a close-up from the opposite side. There are more panning shots, more zooming in. 

In the first week, the moment that jumped out to me in the first episode with Laura was when she was in the bathroom. It is the first time that the two characters are not in the room together, and the camera chooses to show both of them, so this put me in doubt as to whose point of view we were supposed to adopt. It is also a moment that takes place outside of the office, outside of the established set. In the second week there are more of these voyeuristic shots and more moments that take place outside of the office. As mentioned today in class, we see Jake and Amy outside. There are also shots through the window: Jake and Amy leaving for the hospital, Sophie getting into the car with Cy. There is a much more liberal use of the camera in the second week, and the effect that is created is something that would be difficult to replicate on stage or in a novelistic form.  

Long story short, could this story have been told through any other medium? 

Intentionality and the Author’s Foreword

The one thing that stood out to me in our discussions of The Pale King was the amount of intentionality that we attributed to the text e.g. “What is David Foster Wallace saying about boredom?” “How is David Foster Wallace using memory?” etc. What I was wondering is how much intentionality we should attribute to this as a posthumously published text, especially given our discussions about truth in the narrative and the way in which DFW inserts himself into the novel. For example, within the first two pages of the Author’s Foreword, great pains are taken to present real, factual information like the social security number and street address. However, DFW gestures at a disclaimer that would not have been written at the time and the “publisher” in vague terms. In the footnote at the bottom of the page, page 69, David Wallace discusses the foreword “having now been moved seventy-nine pages into the text”(69). But it hasn’t. It’s been moved sixty-eight pages in, and you can’t get to that seventy-nine number if you include the Editor’s Note and assorted pages. So what does this do to the conception of truth that we have discussed?

There are certainly sections like Chris Fogle’s Chapter 22, which can stand more or less on their own, in which discussions of intentionality would follow a traditional line. And, as has been mentioned, due to the fractured nature of the subject matter it might not matter that we have an unfinished work: in his note, the editor Michael Pietsch concludes “Everyone who worked with David knows well how he resisted letting the world see work that was not refined to his exacting standard. But an unfinished novel is what we have, and how can we not look?”(xiv) However, the way in which to novel is edited together and way in which the chapters are meant to work alone and together makes the question of intentionality interesting, at least to me personally.

We could start by looking at form, which is used consciously to induce an effect. Chapter 10, following the Author’s Foreword, is one paragraph long. Chapter 11 is literally a list of claimable medical symptoms. Chapter 25 is laid out in two columns per page.

The same conscious use of form is present in the footnotes, so it would be interesting to know to what extent the way they are place on the page is intentional. For example, footnote 3 of Chapter 9 runs from page 70, includes a footnote nested within at the bottom, to the end of page 71, ending on “You sort of have to pick your battles, as far as nonfiction goes.” This is followed by footnote 4, “(excepting the ‘All rights reserved’ part, of course),” which refers to “The reason why such protections are especially required here … is the same reason the disclaimer is, when you come right down to it, a lie”(70). Now, footnote 4 explicitly refers to the disclaimer. However, one could easily move to that line from footnote 3, in which case the condition that is placed through footnote 4 could be slyly referring to the veracity of nonfiction mentioned at the end of footnote 3. It is also interesting to consider the way in which that might be read, a long dense footnote spanning two pages followed by the second footnote, which isn’t even a complete sentence. Something similar might be read into the footnotes on page 87:

26 (which is, after all, memoir’s specialty)

27 (whether or not we’re consciously aware of it)

28 (again, whether consciously or not)

These footnotes, placed together like this, seem to be more in dialogue with each other than with the main body of the text, so the degree of control that DFW had over their placement on the page seems important to both the way in which the real David Foster Wallace has written the novel and the way in which the fictional David Wallace is represented and the “contract” that is created with the reader.


On a somewhat completely unrelated tangential aside, Chris Fogle, influenced by his psychology classes, is constantly referring to things that occur in something along the lines of “that’s the normal thing, right?” Thinking about psychology and normality, with intentionality thrown in to boot, I came serendipitously across this article, which reads the DSM-V as a dystopian novel: