Lit 80, Fall 2013

Rememori Critique

November 4th, 2013 | Posted by Matt Hebert in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

 Rememori is an online matching game/interactive poem which deals with the degeneration of the brain in the face of Alzheimer’s Disease. For each level, the player is able to choose an avatar from a list of users ranging across the spectrum of intimacy from “Father” to “Doctor” to “Stranger”. The player’s choice of avatar will affect the text generated during gameplay. The actual body of the game is a memory game involving matching pairs of cards with identical images. Everything is neurological in nature, either depicting the anatomy of the brain, or embodying an idea which the sick character must struggle to hold on to.

In “Electronic Literature: New Horizons For the Literary”, Katherine Hayles describes electronic literature as “a hopeful monster… composed of parts taken from diverse traditions that may not always fit neatly together” (Hayles 2008). Rememori is unquestionably a hopeful monster, though a highly successful one. It utilizes a combination of poetry, hypertext, gaming and moving art to present the player with a compelling depiction of Alzheimer’s disease which the player must experience firsthand. For simplicity’s sake I will refer to Rememori as a game, although to be more precise it is a piece of electronic literature without a clear genre.

The “poetic” portions of Rememori meet with Hayles definition of hypertext as text “characterized by linking structures” (Hayles 2008). Each click will produce a randomly selected piece of text which floats in the air for a few seconds. These components do not blend seamlessly with the gaming portions of the piece, but the dissonance between the hypertext and the gaming serve to make each as impactful as possible. If the player is playing the matching game in earnest, then this sea of disembodied phrases should barely register, acting initially as an emotional backdrop to the task of matching images. Of course, once the player recognizes the thematic importance of the text, the text explicitly distracts the player from the goal of completing the level, since completing the level means being unable to read more of the text. The disjunct nature of the text and images ensures that together they will always present the player with a chaotic blend of ideas that mirrors the fragmented nature of actual thoughts, particularly those in the disordered brain. With each advancing level, the interface incorporates multiple methods to portray degeneration of the mind. The card placement becomes more erratic, the images more volatile, the phrases less complex. In conjunction with one another, these components form an intuitive shorthand for the state of the mind at different stages of the disease and allow the player not only to understand it, but to feel it for himself.

Rememori is very effective as a game because it is based around forcing the player to experience distorted version of the familiar. Most people have played a memory game at some point in their lives. Even if they have not, the first level presents a very typical version of the classic matching game for the player to become acquainted with. Fragments of text appear with every upturned card, but this is otherwise a very ordered game. Of course this cannot last. The impact of each subsequent level is built upon its ability to distort the norms of the previous one. The second level has the images shake and turn. The third replaces images with questions. By the fifth level, the screen is a disorganized mess of misspelled words, poorly drawn clocks, and unanswered questions. These levels are not just visually jarring, they are more frustrating to play after having learned to play the game with more simple structure. Rememori is powerful because it mimics the experience of neurological disease by taking the familiar and turning it into something noticeably distorted.

The game is especially poignant in that it gives the player a small amount of choice, only to steadily remove that choice near the end of the game. Users begin to blend together as relationships lose meaning, cards become blank as thoughts fall apart. Nothing the player does really matters once the sixth level is begun. The player can make the arbitrary distinction between “Stranger” and “Visitor”, but in either case there is nothing left to do but click each circle one last time and watch the brain fade away. In the same way, life is sometimes unfair, uncompromising, and unwilling to wait. When a degenerative disease takes hold, one can no longer hold back the inevitable just by wanting more time. At some point, it is necessary to simply let go.

The final portion of the game, seeing the brain turn to white and fade away, is oddly serene after the more blunt, garrish imagery of the levels preceding it. The cross-sections of brains and jumbled misspellings of words are very agitating images for the player to be bombarded with. The plain white circles, while disturbing on an existential level, are in contrast very placid, allowing the game to end on a less violent note. And after feeling the frustration that comes from struggling to make sense of once simple concepts, I felt oddly calm when I resigned myself to the fact that oblivion was the only outcome. By removing the player’s ability to struggle back, the game forces the player into acceptance of the inevitable, which could prove very cathartic for players coming to grips with the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease.

At its core, Rememori is a meditation on death and loss. Things that we take for granted now – order, identity, continuity – may soon be gone. We may lose something that we didn’t even need a name for until we had to describe the world without it. The internal mechanisms of the mind are difficult to conceptualize and even harder to convey, which is what makes Rememori so clever for finding a clear “language of the mind” through which to communicate with the player. As a game built around random elements, it has no well-defined message, but its emotional tone and impactful finale are unavoidable. It is a rare game that wants to be ruminated on far more than to be played.

Video Games: A Critical Analysis

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by Zhan Wu in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Very much from the occurance of colossal computers that filled rooms in the early 1970s to the ultrabooks super thin laptops we have nowadays, video games have existed to fill our needs for entertainment and maybe even learning. Video games have increasingly become sophisticated as newly operating software were produced and better-performing hardware were invented. Indeed, the digital information boom at the end of the 20th century engendered a series of ultrafast developments that led from the creation of multi-pixel 8-bit video games such as Pacman, to the open world non-linear games such as Grand Theft Auto, which take on several gigabytes on the computer’s hardware storage capacity.

With the sophistication and proliferation of games, people have engendered more complex and mixed reviews about them. Computer games were originally for entertainment for those very few who could afford computers only. As software became cheaper to manufacture, the word “PC” (personal computer) emerged, and families were already buying PCs and software (including video games) in numbers.

Before we go deep into the societal impact video games have for the generations around this time, a choice must be made of whether video games are mediums or not. A simple look-up in the dictionary tells us that mediums are “an agency or means of doing something.” Ian Bogost, in his book How to Do Things with Videogames, claimed that: “ games are models of experiences…we operate these models…our actions [are] constrained by their rules…we take on a role in a videogame, putting ourselves in the shoes of someone else…” (Bogost 04) Simply said, video games are a means for people to immerse themselves in information models to assume a role in a certain environment. Therefore, according to Bogost, (and I would strongly agree) video games are a medium.

It is not untrue that video games caused quite a dilemma for families in the 80s and 90s. In fact, many families reported that their children were virtually addicted to video games and did not put enough attention on the family. The problem persists till today as a main family and societal issue. This is also why “All-too-familiar questions arise about whether games promote violent action or whether they make us fat through inactivity.” (Bogost 05) In his bestseller, however, Bogost talks about how parents and people alike have simply misjudged video games as a dichotomous choice of good or bad, which he dubbed as the “media ecological approach”, rather than seeing games as a medium which is able to influence culture in numerous ways (microecology). I generally agree with Bogost’s idea. Games act as a medium by impacting people’s daily lives continuously, both in communication and perception. I will explore this along with examples in the next three paragraphs.

YouTube, a large video-sharing website as you might know it, has a very large gamer community. And many game commentators post game walkthroughs and reviews for the large audience on YouTube for a living. In fact, according to YouTube statistics, gaming commentators and reviewers alike will upload up to 75 gigabytes of video data to the website every ten seconds. Each gaming video might have more than a million comments (many of which the commentators rely to) and there are plenty of private discussion and public Q&A sessions. From this perspective, I believe that these videos undoubtedly have a large impact on the lives of millions of people who are watching the videos on a daily basis in terms of communication. Again, the gaming content of those videos are irrelevant compared to the impact the videos have on collective communication in gaming communities, as Bogost would have it: “The things a medium does to a culture are more important than the content it conveys.” (Bogost 04)

On the other hand, video games can alter our perceptions dramatically. How our perceptions are changed depend on the type of the video games and our perceived cosmopolitan view of the world. When engaging in video games, we are both acting out the role of the protagonist according to our general perception of the world while simultaneously abiding by the rules of the “model” (the gaming environment) that were created by the game developers.

A good example would be the Portal series created by Valve Corporation. The protagonist in the game is a test subject who has to navigate across numerous test chambers with her portal gun, which can created interdimensional space. Her goal is to flee the “unethical” testing facility, but is constantly stalled by the facility’s main AI computer, GLaDOS. Each test chamber is unique, and there are several ways to finish a particular level. It all comes down to how the video game player perceives the level. Also, there are many moral decisions to make in the game, further altering the gamers perceptions about certain aspects. In one level, for instance, after using the Companion Cube extensively, the player has to make a choice of whether incinerating the cube and pass the level or get stuck in the level with the cube. And it again depends on how the player perceives the game. In fact, many players on the Steam Community Hub reported feeling extremely emotional at that moment.

To acquire a more comprehensive view about video games in our society, we must think more critically about them, not just dismiss them as superficial objects that someone might get addicted to. Parents and families, along with other people who are in presence around video games, need to regard games as a medium which has multifaceted uses rather than only one or two. That said, games are currently used not only in entertainment, but also in medicine, psychiatry training sessions, tools for soldiers to simulate real combat and even placebo means in hospitals etc..In terms of communication and perception, as aforementioned, video games acts as an indispensable means to a medium by encouraging all sorts of discussions and perceptual alterations. The various uses of games cannot be overstated, and most of them have profound impacts in different sections of our society.

Last but not least, I definitely believe that it is vital for people to study gaming behavior. There are myriads of reasons for doing so. Social-cognitive psychologists could research brain pattern behavior when people are playing games. I personally have always wondered  why people’s body do physical movements when they are actually playing games set in virtual reality. Furthermore, researching possible changes in perception of thought would be a great basis for developing our understanding of human behavior. The bottom line is, as games become more and more a part of people’s daily lives, the necessity to study them extensively is ultimately of extreme importance for the comprehension of human physical and psychological behavior to our community.


[1]Bogost Ian, HOW TO DO THINGS WITH VIDEOGAMES, University of Minnesota Press.

[2]Portal, Valve Corporation, Accessed Sep.29, 2013.