Undertale as Digital Literature: Initial Thoughts

Yesterday I finished a run-through of the Steam platform game Undertale, created by Toby Fox. Of course, even before then I’d heard of and fallen in love with the characters and story—thanks to friends, and then numerous fan animations/comics online. Going into my full experience thus far with Undertale would take a great deal of explanation and digress from the topic hinted at in the title for this piece. For truly, what struck me the most while playing Undertale was that it had all the features of digital literature.

I got introduced to the emerging area of digital literature during a creative writing workshop in graduate school. Our professor there strove to help us understand recent developments in literary studies, on top of the usual feedback and group discussions on our creative pieces as writers. For one of our sessions, he gave us links to the “Electronic Literature Collection,” hosted by the Electronic Literature Organization (http://collection.eliterature.org/), and told us to have fun reading through the texts provided in those archives. In other words, our professor asked us to get a taste of what digital literature included, in its various shapes and forms.

Digital Literature, I found, meant more than placing written narratives online. They were works born from our digital era, which often combined video clips, photographs, music, or other media to tell a coherent narrative. In the “Electronic Literature Collection,” I came across examples of digital literature sweet and simple as Robert Kendall’s Faith—a poem that got revealed bit by bit as you kept clicking the screen—to very complex adventurous narratives like Kate Pullinger’s Inanimate Alice (which deserves its own blog post sometime in the near future). All these texts counted as digital literature, working to tell narratives in unique ways and placing their readers in more of an active role within narrative.

Undertale provides a narrative experience that has all the appearance of a conventional game, at least on the surface. The player (or reader) controls a child character who falls into an underground realm of monsters—sealed behind a barrier there after a war with humans—and must then journey to the monster king’s castle to find a way out. Along the way, the child character encounters various monsters, and must choose how to handle them. But the player gets encouragement almost right away (by a motherly goat monster) to Act or communicate with each monster, rather than Fight them. Choosing to Act often involves reading the dialogue of the monsters in the encounter, learning their motivations (reading comprehension), and choosing appropriate actions to take in order to appease or befriend them. And when the monsters no longer consider the child a threat, they allow the player to Spare them (which is different than simply running away or fleeing from the confrontation; you even still get money from it). By befriending each monster in such a fashion, known as the “Pacifist Run,” the narrative plays out very much like a fairytale.

Treating Undertale like a convention RPG game, however, where the player fights monsters to earn experience points and levels, provokes a “Genocide Run” and a much different narrative. Characters who would have been your best friends in the Pacifist Run turn into often unwilling enemies. Meanwhile, your own child character gradually transforms into a serial killer figure. Rather than simply tell a different narrative about the child triumphing over scary monsters if you choose to fight them, the narrative stresses the player as a destructive force in the underground. An awful creature that the main monster characters (in either run) must defend against. Thus the narrative for player who completes a full Genocide Run quickly spirals into a tragedy.

The focus on narrative that Undertale takes, in the semblance of a conventional RPG game, only scratches the surface of its many layers as a text. But it is one of many features that marks Undertale out as an example of digital literature.

 

What does everyone think? Do you agree with me?

Please feel free to comment below!

Writer’s Journal: 16 July 2017

Happy Sunday, everyone! I must admit, Sundays are among my favorite days in the week. They lay like bookmarks between the initial excitement of Saturday, and the busy week right around the corner. In other words, they can act like cool-down periods or transitions from one chapter in life to the next. For some reason, out in the countryside, it seems even quieter than usual as well. It’s as if even the natural world slows down or takes life just a bit easier than at any other time.

But Sundays are also fine takes for tidying up around the home, I’ve also found. For instance, today I wound up rearranging all the books on the shelves throughout my bedroom. I’m sure many people can relate to having rooms where they have books at least somewhere on every wall, almost like a nest of texts. And while re-organizing, I kept coming across books I had completely forgotten about, and kept pausing to read at least a chapter or two from each one.

Richard Adam’s Watership Down, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, and Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story—they were among the various titles that I rediscovered again. Isn’t it wonderful how certain books can keep astonishing us, or fill us with such delight when we come across them again after many months or even years?

Do you understand what I mean? What do you think?

Feel free to share your thoughts below!

Thanks, and hope everyone is doing well. ;3

Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Certain books have a way of finding the people who need the messages they contain at just the right moment. I found Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist on the shelves of a Salvation Army, an edition with an interview from the author at the back, a little after entering an undergraduate program in Literature & Writing Studies a few years back. It was a time that stirred as much excitement as trepidation. For while I loved the idea of studying literature and creative writing, since they filled me with endless delight, I was also quite conscious of the newspaper articles that told of students who wound up in minimum-wage jobs after college.

In such a rough economy, could I follow my passions and still have a bright future?

Coelho’s The Alchemist is a fairytale all about the many challenges and rewards of pursuing personal dreams or goals. The narrative follows an Andalusian boy named Santiago who, in the midst to tending to his flock of sheep, begins to have a recurrent dream of visiting the pyramids in Egypt. After his interactions with a fortune-teller, who tells him the dream reveals a treasure he must find at the pyramids, and a mysterious self-proclaimed king, who stresses everyone must follow their own destinies, Santiago embarks on a quest to seek out his treasure.

The above really sets up the entire narrative for The Alchemist, and as Santiago progresses on his journey, the morals and messages Coelho wants to convey come across with graceful ease. Most of them have to deal with pursuing aspirations that, to the individuals feel right, and adhere to what Coelho’s king character terms, “The Heart of the World.”

For instance, at one point Santiago meets a glass merchant who longed to make a religious pilgrimage. But due to financial circumstances, he opened up a shop and—in many ways—wound up stuck there because it seemed easier to do than fulfilling his dream. There is an extra thoughtful layer to his own hesitancy, which is interesting but I won’t reveal here, just because I do not want to spoil the subtle twist at this particular moment in the narrative. Needless to say, however, the glass merchant’s situation is one of the many variations of how people deal with the pursuit of their dreams.

Yet the strongest message of all—and one Santiago uncovers bit by bit—is if people pursue dreams or passions that fill them with joy, and they continue to do so even when challenges arise, they will eventually reach their goals. This uplifting message is one of my favorite aspects of The Alchemist, and among the reasons I return to read Coelho’s story again and again. The prose is gentle and easy to read (with additional thanks to the translator Alan R. Clarke), and the characters are both memorable and sympathetic.

The Alchemist is also a relatively quick read, being just a little over 150 pages (depending on the edition). During my first session with it, I was able to sit down and read through the entire narrative in a few hours. And I’m glad to report that afterwards I felt invigorated and encouraged in the pursuit of my own dreams.

Thank you, Coelho!

Have any of you had uplifting or interesting experiences with Coelho’s The Alchemist? Please feel free to share your experiences by commenting below. ^_^

Book Review: Under the Covers and Between the Sheets

As a shameless bibliophile, I love discovering the historical background behind my favorite literary works and their authors. So coming across C. Alan Joyce and Sarah Janssen’s Under the Covers and Between the Sheets, released through Reader’s Digest, was really promising. Reminiscent of the Uncle John’s The Bathroom Reader’s Guide series (which include quirky information on all sorts of subjects), Under the Covers and Between the Sheets emphasizes, “The inside story behind classic characters, authors, unforgettable phrases, and unexpected endings.” It was also clearly meant to be a present for friends or family members who love books (judging by the “A gift for” and “Presented by” section at the very front)—although I found my volume on the shelves of a thrift shop.

What kind of facts or books do Joyce and Janssen cover? Well, the categories are as follows:

  • “Shot Out of the Canon”-Focuses on facts about literary classics, the impact they had on history, and their authors.
  • “Guilty Pleasures”-Includes information regarding the sci-fi, horror, mystery, and romance genres.
  • “Young at Heart”-As the title suggestion, this section is all about children’s literature like A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
  • “Stranger than Fiction”-Delves into a variety of topics such as literary hoaxes, famous authors who were pen pals with each other, and influential diaries.
  • “Off the Page”—Gives facts specifically about literary characters, how certain authors came into the writing profession, and even how several authors passed away in peculiar ways.

Under the Covers and Between the Sheets is simple and straightforward in its delivery, which makes the work the perfect read for a lazy day (or even to calm down a bit after a hectic one). The book is exactly what it claims to be. At times, I would have liked to see even more information provided about each topic Joyce and Janssen discuss, but such an observation is more a compliment than a complaint.

So if you want to take a fun literary romp, you might just like to check it out.

 

Are there any similar gift books you know of that are perfect to give bibliophiles (besides novels, poetry, etc.)? Please share below!

 

 

Writerly Tips: On-Line Writing Communities

On-line writing communities are important to take note of during our digital era. They are convenient for people who have mobility issues, lack physical writing groups in their area, or need to build a little confidence before showing their writings elsewhere. My experience with them is as low-stress environments to get feedback on your work, and to offer helpful advice or encouragement to fellow writers.

A Few Important Tips and Advice:

-Find a writing community that accommodates the genres or types of writing on which you would like to focus. Most of them will accept a wide range of selections, including poetry and novel chapters. However, some sites might prefer their participants to contribute in one particular vein of writing (to specialize). So make sure you are aware of the on-line writing community’s guidelines or submission rules.

-The writers who participate in these communities come from all walks of life and levels of experience (just like any other writing group). So please be gentle when giving advice and strive to give constructive feedback. It is nice and just fine to give or receive praise for posted writing. But commenting a piece simply “doesn’t work,” for instance, fails to provide any suggestions for improvement (and is also very discouraging).

-If someone comments on your work, try to do the same in return!

-As with any other online site, be wary of giving away too much personal information. Writing communities can provide a great opportunity to build professional connections, especially with writers who have done other writing work (particularly if they have on-line portfolios or can verify their identities somehow). But, in most cases, the writers on such sites remain anonymous to each other or maintain a professional distance (though you can still make friends, of course).

-Have fun! The good thing about writing communities is the fact they are so laidback. You set your own deadlines for posting writings, can read and share your reactions to the stories of other writers, and help encourage an overall love for creative writing.

Below is an article that gives a helpful list of writing communities to get you started [NaNoWriMo is a personal favorite of mine]:

-https://nybookeditors.com/2015/11/11-top-writing-communities-you-should-join-and-why/

Please share your thoughts regarding on-line writing communities, and other great ones to join, by commenting below! ^_^

Summer Reading Hits from Smithsonian.com

Among my favorite sites to visit on-line is Smithsonian.com, which for someone unable to see its actual museums in person is the next best option. They also have a steady stream of book-related articles, ranging from pieces on Thomas Jefferson’s writings to the tales about early librarians who carried around texts on horseback.

One of their latest articles by Austin Clemens focuses on the most popular reading material here in America during the summer:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/which-books-americans-take-on-vacation-180963677/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20170627-daily-responsive&spMailingID=29558382&spUserID=NzQwNDU4MzE4NDMS1&spJobID=1063473934&spReportId=MTA2MzQ3MzkzNAS2

Apparently Sci-Fi and Fantasy are the most popular literary genres to enjoy on a nice summer’s day.

Is anyone surprised by these findings, and what books are on your reading list for the summer? Please feel free to comment below!

 

Book Review: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl has earned his reputation as a brilliant children’s book author. Growing up, I can remember loving to read such tales as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, The BFG, and Matilda—each filled with memorable characters and quirky storylines refreshing in their originality and playfulness. The ability to add an extra splash of imaginative excitement to someone’s life (and perhaps even spark a love for reading) is the trademark of a talented writer. It is also what makes Dahl’s narratives fun to read for both children and adults alike.

Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More is a short story collection perfect for anyone who shares fond childhood memories of his stories, or who wants to discover (or rediscover) him as an older reader. I happened to stumble across this amazing find at the Friends of the Community Bookstore at my local public library (where you never know what rare gems people will denote). While many of the selections are appropriate for children, especially “The Boy Who Talked with Animals” and “The Mildenhall Treasure,” adults would probably get the most of the anthology as a whole.

Almost all the seven stories included in the collection use the framing device of a Washington Irving-like writer narrator (maybe Dahl himself) who either experiences or hears about them, and which he then relates to the reader as if to a confidant. And one is an autobiographical tale focused on Dahl’s early career and development into a writer. They are as follows:

  • “The Boy Who Talked with Animals”—A writer goes to a resort in Jamaica on vacation. At one point, he witnesses a great commotion over an enormous turtle stuck on the beach, and more amazing still, a young boy named David who can communicate with that turtle (and all animals).
  • “The Hitchhiker”—A writer takes out his new car for a drive and picks up a mysterious, ratty-faced hitchhiker who pushes him into a high-speed chase on the highway.
  • “The Mildenhall Treasure”—Gordon Butcher is a British farmer who also helps to plough the land of other farmers to survive. When he comes across odd objects in a field, which a fellow farmer named Ford asked him to plough, Gordon Butcher finds himself at the unwitting heart of a major historical find.
  • “The Swan”—A young boy and bird enthusiast named Peter Watson gets bullied by two older, brutish boys, who attack the birds on a nature preserve. Peter Watson must then figure out what to do when faced with dire circumstances that test his own passions and character.
  • “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”—An idle, wealthy man called Henry Sugar (which isn’t his real name) learns about a man who learns how to see without his eyes. Thinking to use the same ability to get more money, Henry Sugar decides to gain the ability himself, only to wind up on a personal quest that changes him in unexpected ways.
  • “Lucky Break: How I Became a Writer”—As the title indicates, Dahl relates the events leading up to his transition into professional writing.
  • “A Piece of Cake: First Story—1942”—When asked by author C.S. Forester for one of his most important experiences as a pilot during War World II, Dahl wrote this story entitled, “A Piece of Cake.” Credited as his first published story, it is what helped push Dahl become a fulltime writer.

 

Summaries can only reveal so much about the stories that appear in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. They are a fun romp into Dahl’s short works and touch on his development as a writer. He clearly had fun in their writing. As noted before, though, the stories included in the collection have the most to offer older readers. They all have the fanciful quality found in Dahl’s classic children’s stories, but they can sometimes get much darker than them (such as “The Swan”) and have a greater focus on delving into Dahl’s background as a writer.

In other words, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More is a great collection to explore a classic children’s author from a fresh angle.

 

Helpful Writing Tips and Resources: Freelance Writing Job Board and Payment Rates

To get started . . . .

If you’re searching for a variety of freelance writing possibilities on-line, lists of reliable job boards are always a good thing. A while back I came across one such list composed by Kelly Gurnett for The Write Life, with her list “9 Online Gold Mines for Finding Paid Freelance Writing Jobs.” Check out her article at the link below if you are interested:

https://thewritelife.com/find-freelance-writing-jobs/

I have found several nice writing and editing positions through the links Gurnett suggested, including a steady contract transcription gig. However, as Gurnett also brings up in her article, be mindful while applying for any freelancing opportunities. Make sure you know what you are applying to do, that the payment is clear and fair, and if the hiring business (or individual) is reputable. Content mills, for instance, tend to ask writers to produce several articles for low amounts (around $5 to $10 each), when more reputable businesses might pay upwards of $35 or more for well-researched, thoughtful pieces). In other words, know what your writing is worth!

The Editorial Freelancers Association has an excellent list that details average rates for particular writing and editing projects, which might also help you out (found below):

http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php

Another publication that is sure to steer you in the right direction is Writer’s Market (which updates each year).

Happy writing!