“Heaven Is a Place on Earth”

Please comment on any of the readings attached to this week’s class on narratives, narratology and interactivity and on “Black Mirror”, season 3, episode 4 “San Junipero”. Here is a link to a nice reflection on this episode.

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8 thoughts on ““Heaven Is a Place on Earth”

  1. It is amazing to see how far gaming has come in the last 13 years. As I was reading “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” by Henry Jenkins I kept having flashes of recent games flash through my mind that are narrative masterpieces. The Last of Us, God of War, Prince of Persia, Final Fantasy XV, The Last Guardian, just to name a few. Each game has back-story, lore, emotion, climax, and conclusions that can be extremely emotional. As I was reading I couldn’t help to wonder how different the article would be if it was written in the more current world of gaming that we are experiencing. It is more and more common for games to be created as interactive narratives, where there is a story mapped out and revealed to the player as they interact with the world and reveal its secrets. Bits of the story, backstory, mythology, and lore are also revealed to the player through cut-scenes that can be a flashback, a memory, a secret conversation, etc. While the way a player gets through the story may vary slightly, the overall story and ultimately the ending is usually the same for each game.
    This idea of interactive narratives is portrayed interestingly in the episode of Black Mirror “San Junipero”. It seems to be virtual reality on steroids. It is like entering a fully digitized chatroom where you get to decide whatever you want to do; you create your own narrative. The two main characters of the episode create a brand-new life for themselves in this limbo-like, digital city. It is interesting to imagine being able to design your own afterlife and do all of the things you had never done in your actual life. While the conclusion of your story, when you decide to pass over, is probably not all that interesting, it was still a journey through events, meetings, laughter, tears and everything else that makes up a story.

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  2. I have never been a “gamer”, yet the discussion of narrative and storytelling in these readings still was a relevant and interesting topic to read about. I especially found Jenkins concept of “Spatial Stories” to be the most interesting, because it is not something that I have ever really thought about before. His example of how in Disneyland the surroundings leading up to a ride tell a great part of the story that is being put across was what resonated with me the most, as the most “gaming” that I have done is Mario Kart. Jenkins really brought forth the importance of that facet of game design, and even theme park design that I had always taken for granted before.

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  3. A Book Lover Longs for Cyberdrama:

    This introduction struck me as a sort of transformative piece moving through Janet Murray’s relationship with computers. At first Janet see’s her relationship with computers as being a means to an end in which she found no deep purpose this is enhanced by the way she describes the machine “mammoth arrays of cumbersome appliances… dealing with this machine was an unpleasant daily necessity”. Janet is then drawn back in by her love of books for a time, but is frustrated with the constraints imposed by the format of the book. Disenchantment and circumstance lead Janet back to the computer with her students as guides once again she delved into the digital world, this time with more purpose as she had a view to digitize teaching methodologies. Janet was involved in creating narrative microworlds for immersive language learning among other projects. I identified this as the turning point when Janet realized the potential for this digital learning realm, she states “computer based microworlds need not be mathematical but could be shaped as a dynamic fictional universe” shortly thereafter she goes on to say that computers are able to offer a “thrilling extension of human powers”. Throughout the piece the elements of fear and excitement ebb and flow, Janet identifies key points as to why there is fear surrounding the technology, the first being fear of change as often discomfort and displacement comes with change, next the uncertainty surrounding what this technology could become. The excitement in the piece is built on possibilities new ways to tell stories, to share, to experience and analyze information. Janet is optimistic about our future with computers, which will be “shaped by the hacker’s spirit and the enduring power of imagination”.

    I particularly enjoyed this line “we cling to books as if we believed that coherent human thought is only possible on bound numbered pages” as I think it embodies our deep but floundering relationship with print media.

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  4. My blog post will provide insight on how I interpreted Jenkins take on narrative expansions, along with examples to help explain my definition.

    1.) Spatial stories and environmental storytelling
    My take: That the complexity of the story is unique to each individual gamer, designers build environments, not just focus on plot
    Example – customization board games that can have unique environments each time you play (game of life board game).

    2.) Evocative spaces
    My take: Physically move towards things that you feel you have experienced before or are familiar to you.
    Example – Are attracted to playing a roller coaster game and know how the story and space should work because you are familiar with them.

    3.) Enacting stories
    My take: The designer focuses more on the environment then a defined story line and allows each gamer to experience their own adventure based on what elements they choose to explore.
    Example – Exploring the nearby lake or mountain range of a new town. Talking with a variety of computer character while progressing through the game.

    4.)Embedded narratives
    My take: The players uses the clues laid out to connect the dots and solve the problem them selves.
    Example – Playing the game Clue, and using hints to solve which character was the murderer.

    5.)Emergent narratives
    My take: Having character templates and the freedom to customize each character you play.
    Example – The computer game Skyrim. You choose your race, what class you want to play, and have specific skill trees you invest in as your character grows, but freedom to roam the world as you please.

    In conclusion, by defining each element in my own words, and attaching examples I was familiar with, I was able to gain a much better understanding of Jenkins narrative expansions.

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  5. I really enjoyed reading the intro to Janet Murray’s, “A Book Lover Longs for Cyberdrama” and felt I could identify with her initial take on computers, and the feeling that they held no deep purpose. Although she was intrigued by them and found some satisfaction whenever she successfully “communicated with [what she calls] some recalcitrant, stupid beast deep inside the refrigerator cabinet … [her] real work was waiting for [her] somewhere else, in the form of a long, thoughtful walk down an endless shelf of books” (Murray, 3). While she obviously has a much deeper understanding of digital technology than I do, having got into it on the ground floor, I have had similar thoughts/feelings about my “real” work lying elsewhere. I did not grow up with access to the technology that most people my age did, which is probably a big reason why I do not feel as comfortable or proficient with it as most of friends are. I often feel like I’m struggling to adapt to the new forms of technology that are constantly changing, multiplying and being upgraded; as soon as I’m comfortable with one format/platform, along comes another, better/flashier version, and so the cycle continues. As a child, books were my escape, my refuge from the outside world, and I still am passionate about the printed word (thanks Gutenberg!), but I am realizing more and more, how important the digital world is as well. Especially when I think of the future and my passion for news, wherein lies my career choice – journalism – I cannot help but see that I must cultivate a closer relationship with computer technology in order to be successful. I’m very excited to get more fully involved and “learn” the machine, as it were, for it’s impossible not to recognize the huge benefits inherent in living/working in a digitized world.
    As for the Black Mirror episode we recently watched, titled “San Junipero”, I must say it was phenomenal. The happy ending was quite a change of pace for the show and a breath of fresh air – loved it! Since we have been reading about narratives and narratology, I’ve been thinking a lot about how narratives shape our lives, our perspectives and expectations. There are certain structures to different types of fictional narratives that we are all familiar with, and at many points within this particular episode, there was the feel of the fairytale. Fairytales always have happy endings – at least the ones I’m accustomed to – and “San Junipero” was no different in that respect, yet it was different in nearly every other aspect (characters, setting, context etc.). It was as if the show’s makers took the old shape of the fairytale narrative and brought it into the digital age, weaving together all the important components of the classic fairytale (fantasy, heroines, romance, and an escape that ends in “happily ever after”) and setting the whole thing within the digital world. Literally, the heroines “happily ever after” was set within a giant computer, quite a twist from the classic fairytale castle scenario, yet just as beautiful and moving. Instead of a handsome prince rescuing a damsel in distress, a gorgeous, kindhearted woman liberates (or “rescues”) her lover (another beautiful woman) from captivity (a life of paralysis and eventual death), then evades her own impending death and joins her lover (her “princess”) in the computer generated beach-town paradise of San Junipero. They drive off into the sunset in their convertible (the modern take on riding off on a beautiful horse), and will be young and in love forever (the “happily ever after” scenario). It’s the upgraded version of the classic fairytale narrative, and in my opinion, it’s a much more fitting version for the digital age we live in.

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  6. In reference to Henry Jenkins’ publication “Game Design as Narrative Architecture”:

    Spatial Storytelling

    Using the environment to help tell the story, and where one can even interact with the environment. In fact, in Jenkins article states that the environment in which a game takes place can often involve more consideration that the characters of the game. Relating this to the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” I felt this was true. Although the storyline was engaging, I felt even more engrossed in how each decade was depicted on screen. Opening the episode in the 80’s made the story feel more powerful than it would have been if it had been set in present day. I felt as if I had been transported back in time.

    Enacting Stories + Emergent Narratives
    From my limited experience of video games, I’d say game creators create a world where the gamer can create their own narrative, which Jenkins refers to as enacting stories. In games such as Grand Theft Auto, the gamer creates their own character, chooses which car they will steal/drive and the rest that happens in the game is up to the gamer to decide. They can roam different cities and engage in all kinds of criminal mischief that I assume the large majority of Grand Theft Auto gamers would not commit in reality. I’m guessing that’s why this game is so appealing to people because they can create their own narrative and behave in a way that they would not normally be able to in the real world.

    Embedded Narratives
    Jenkins explains that writers often create narratives that evolve as the time goes on, rather than putting everything out on the table at the beginning. Writers of Black Mirror do a great job of embedding narratives to keep me engaged and to figure out what is going on. Embedded narratives are typically the ones that draw me in and keep me guessing about why certain things are happening. At the end of the day we are consuming media, whether it be a video game or Netflix, to be entertained and embedded narratives lend to a captivating experience.

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  7. I don’t play video games now but I did when I was young; however, they were not very advanced yet. Mario and Street Fighter on the first Nintendo system didn’t have much of a narrative to them compared to the games that come out now. Games these days have multiple narratives. There are games within games. In Mario, you followed one mission and that was to save the princess but now you don’t have to follow a certain path, you can basically choose whatever path you want.

    I really enjoyed this episode of Black Mirror, I am not a religious person so the idea that your mind can stay alive after your body dies is very intriguing to me. This episode really plays into people’s emotions and fears where they hope for something after death and fear that there may be nothing there. Everyone wants to be remembered after death and to be able to see loved ones who have passed away.

    The episode does make me wonder how people would act if this was an actual option. It’s a digital universe where you can make life the way you want it to be. If you know that you will have a life after death does that mean you will be more likely to make drastic decisions or take risks in your real life? If you know that when you die you can go to a place where you can create the world you have always wanted then people may not care as much about their real life. People could decide that they dislike their real life and just become part of the digital world (would this increase suicide?). Or on the other side of that people may become more risk adverse because they know they can take all the risks in a digital life instead of chancing making a mistake in real life.

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  8. “San Junipero” was a nice change from the normal themes of Black Mirror. The entire series is based around making the audience feel weary of technology. This episode was the exception to the typical theme. I got a sense that the creators were trying to show that technology can provide an escape from reality, and if that is what you truly desire to be happy, then why not utilize it? With so many ways to interact online, there is becoming less stigma surrounding being overly attached to the internet. This episode took this idea that it just might be alright to live through the screen in order to be happy, and conveyed it through a romantic tale. As I watched this episode, my brain had trained me to prepare for a bleak ending, however I was more surprised by this ending than any other episode. Although it wasn’t my favourite episode, I was definitely able to sleep comfortably after watching it.

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