Lit 80, Fall 2013

I really enjoy reading graphic novels. I prefer them to any other literary experience, because their format allows me to almost instantly immerse myself in the different visual worlds on the pages. The first graphic novel I read in full was The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore; since then, I have spent many hours poring through the artwork, frames, and dialogue of all types of graphic novels. However, Daytripper, by Ba and Moon, is a one-of-a-kind experience that I have not had before. The story follows the entire lifetime of Bras de Oliva Domingos, starting from his birth to the final days of his life. This ten-issue novel presents different stages of his life in chapters in a non-chronological order. At the end of each chapter, Bras suddenly and unexpectedly dies. However, each chapter follows the previous with no acknowledgement of the death that immediately precedes it. Each death is thus a hypothetical scenario that ends that particular stage or event in Bras’ life.

One of the most powerful tools that graphic novels have at their disposal that traditional literature does not is the artwork. It often has visual subtleties or stark imagery that can affect the reader both mentally and physically on a subconscious level. Among other things, these annotations highlight the importance of one element of the novel’s graphics within the frames: lighting.

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What makes this work so profound is the emotional introspection it evokes in the reader. The deaths that occur happen at very pivotal moments in Bras’ life, asking the heavy question “If I died today, what would I have to show for my life?” It is not until the final chapter of the novel that the reader understands what each of these deaths represents – Bras considers how his life, legacy, and the lives of those around him would be different had things ended during the moments he considers the most important his life. This made me think about my life from a larger perspective; stepping back from the microcosm of a college campus and the daily grind of academia, I wonder if the way I choose to live my life may merely scratching the surface of the potential life experiences I could be living. The book’s keen ability to make its audience think about such profound topics is a testament to the power of graphic novels as a medium and its value as a method of storytelling.

Graphic novels act as a medium that can portray stories in way that conventional novels cannot. The artistry of the pictures do the job that descriptive writing would do—setting the mood, invoking emotion, and revealing interactions between characters and delving deeper into the characters themselves. However, with the graphic novel approach, the reader is able to connect on a different level with the character. Viewing the scenes rather than reading them allows for a more perceptive experience—you are still employing your imagination, yet are being guided by the colors and positions of images on the page. Much like how word choice plays a role in interpretation of a literature work, placement and artistic decisions play a major role in the emotions that are evoked by the graphics. It is not to say that one medium is necessarily better than another, but rather they provide different experiences. For a novel such as Moon and Ba’s Daytripper, a graphic novel was a far more effective medium than a conventional novel. The images make it easier for the reader to follow the confusing timeline of the Bras de Oliva Domingos’ life, while also allowing us to get to know him without his life being laid out for us in a description. Most of the text is dialogue or thoughts, not background presented by a narrator. As we travel alongside Bras, we get to know him through his actions and by visually experiencing his emotions through the colors and facial expressions. Through this method, we are able to relate to Bras on an intimate, yet detached level, one that allows us to connect the attributes of his life to our own. We feel for Bras, yet we are also able to relate the different stages of his life—his hardships, his defining moments, and his emotions—to our own. We are able to do this because we are following him along through his life and know just as much as he does about what is going to happen next. We can die at any moment—and it is through the uncertainty and twists of Bras life that we are able to experience this concept. We don’t need to be told things through descriptions—we are guided through the journey. Moon and Ba tactfully produce certain emotions through their artistry—from subliminal clues that we may not even pick up on and the relative colors of the background to the body language and facial expressions of the characters. Similarly, the “silence” brought on by the minimal dialogue used works powerfully to form relationships between characters and between the reader and the character. Through this silence we are able to feel the characters, and it is through this interaction that we learn about who they are, what they desire, how they perceive the world. We learn more from these still images, there frames shots of life, than we could from spoken word or physical description. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and Moon and Ba’s novel couldn’t have depicted this any better.Ba and Moon, 189Ba and Moon, 197

Ba and Moon, 227-230

Daytripper Novel Response

October 25th, 2013 | Posted by Sheel Patel in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Before reading Daytripper, I had never read a graphic novel or even stumbled across one, for that matter. So before delving into Daytripper, I really had no idea what to expect as the only conception I had of graphic novels and comics pertained to super-heros fighting evil.  Never did I imagine that this graphic novel would move me in such a profound way. The novel itself is structured in a very unique way. Initially, each ‘chapter’ or installment of the book was released separately to the public before being collected together to create the graphic novel. The story follows an aspiring author named Bras de Oliva Domingos, the son of a famous Brazillian writer, who writes obituaries for a Brazillian newspaper. Initially Bras feels the burden that comes with his fathers fame and often resents him for it. In the first installment of this novel, Bras eases himself with a drink at a local bar before attending a gala celebrating his fathers achievements. All seems well, before a drastic plot twist takes Bras life at the hands of an armed robber. Right off the bat, this novel causes an uneasy feeling in the reader, but that is what makes it beautiful. Each installment that follows, continues to explain more of the realities that may have been Bras’s life, with his death ending each chapter. Just as the reader starts to become attached to the young writer who’s trying to figure out his life, he is taken away by the hands of death. This unique plot, elucidates far more than just the life of Bra’s.

Death is often a subject that most societies look down upon. A topic that is correlated to darkness, pain, and melancholy. It is a subject most people chose to avoid until it directly effects them. Why is that the case? Why should we shun the idea of death and do everything in our power to prevent it when simply stated, death is part of life. If there are two things that are certain in this world it is that there is life, and life is followed by death. Death is inevitable and necessary to facilitate future life in all realms from humans to plants to single-celled organisms. Death is simply part of living and will be part of everyones life. That idea is what makes Daytripper beautiful. Death is often portrayed as a very saddening event and something people try to avoid, but in the case of Bras, death reaches him at sad times in his life but also at happy times. We may have peaks and troughs in our lives, but together they constitute to our experience on earth and can be ended at any moment. The story of Bras in Daytripper, takes us through these highs and lows of his life and with his death, makes us appreciate these moments in our own lives even more. Through heartbreak, love, success, and pain, we follow Bras de Oliva Domingo’s life and his realization that death will be just a single part of those life experiences, rather than the end. Through heartbreak, love, success, and pain we follow our own lives as well, and hopefully come to a similar conclusion.

This idea of the acceptance of death as part of life can be vividly seen towards the final chapters of the novel, as shown in the annotated pages below.

Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Game(r) Critique

September 29th, 2013 | Posted by Kim Arena in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Just like many other technological elements, video games act as a medium that are capable of portraying themes, emotions, lessons, judgments, truths, and many other factors that can teach us things about the world, ourselves, and others. In the introduction to How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogot states, “We can understand the relevance of a medium by looking at the variety of things it does” (3), and games play a much larger role than just providing entertainment, whether we are aware of this or not. Games can be used as to train people—more emotionally and mentally than physically—for real life situations. Army soldiers play video games to prepare their reaction times and emotions for battle and astronauts utilize virtual reality for flight simulation. In both cases, the participants are able to undergo real life experiences minus the reality, thus ultimately removing the aspect of death. And it’s not to say that this doesn’t have an affect on their experiences, as there is a survival element within all of us that is activated in the presence of near-death situations. Yet, being able to prepare for the other emotional aspects tied into such scenarios can prove advantageous. But games don’t have to be “educational” to prove a point, and the point that they prove may not even be intentional.

I know from playing games I have experienced real-life emotions—such as an increase in heart rate, sweaty hands, an increase in concentration—in response to situations, regardless of whether or not those situations are considered “realistic”. In that moment, you are immersed in the game, you are the avatar, and it is that life that is your focus. But just because you are removed from reality doesn’t mean that you cannot learn from these “artificial experiences”. In fact, games provide a means for us to explore the world (or worlds) and experience perspectives that reality may inhibit us from perceiving. There are elements of a game, such as multiple dimensions or “power-ups”, which do not exist in our reality yet that still allow us to connect to the world in ways similar to how we would connect to our world, to aid us in challenges and direct how we approach problem solving. The study of games and reflection of ourselves—within the constraint of the rules of the game’s creator—could offer interesting insight into us as humans and the way we approach different situations and react to scenarios.

Games don’t have to be “life-like”, such as Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, or the Sims, all of which simulate real-life situations. I found that I learned more from the ones that removed me from the realism and placed me in a situation where I didn’t feel like I was in a game, or even experiencing it. Take for instance Storyteller, a relatively simple game that involves moving three characters around a fixed setting. The game seems simple, yet it became more interesting as you began to realize how moving the characters affected the ending. As I continued to play around with the characters, I began to see a pattern of which combinations would produce which endings. I had become a “god”, capable of manipulating the fate of the three characters. This is how the game became more than just a game; this is where it became a medium. It provides us with an interface through which we can examine our own morals and the consequences—without having to “actually” experience them. But just because it isn’t “real” doesn’t mean the game doesn’t invoke emotions. As I toyed with the characters, I realized that I was experiencing different emotional reactions to the different endings, and these reactions demonstrated how I perceive relationships and the subsequent actions that I took. Once you have created one story, and thus generated an ending, you can continue to manipulate the characters to change that ending. I found that the endings the included the death of one of the characters (usually marked by a blackened sky) made me go back and automatically try combinations that would reverse the black sky. However, in the relationships that ended with two of the characters alive (and with hearts and a blue sky), I was content and almost reluctant to change anything, regardless of whether the third character was dead or alive. These characters do not have names, do not have a back-story, are not portrayed as good or evil, and do not speak. I was judging them based on how I had placed them within the setting and on the resulting outcome, an outcome dictated by an algorithm. Though I was the “god” I was still confined to the rules of the game. It didn’t matter who they were or the intricate details that would play a role if they actually had “lives”. Yet I still cared about them, and sought to have a happy ending, even if that required the death of one. What does that say about me as a person? Am I that quick to judge, that quick to take sides? Am I that indifferent towards one life if it means the happiness of two others? These are all things I began to think about as I continued making combinations, and it was through the medium of this game that I was able to recognize these aspects of my self.

Storyteller is a simple game, a prototype even, and yet I was able to discover traits and think differently than I had before. If such a simple medium were able to provoke such an outcome, it would seem that the game as a medium holds truths and insights that go beyond beating an algorithm. You don’t just play a game, you experience it, and just as you learn from experiencing life, you learn from the game.

The same can be said for “The Company of Myself”, through which you learn the story of a lonely character’s life as you progress through levels. Each level begins with a quote from the character, aimed at giving you a hint for completing the level but also depicting the sad reality of the characters isolated life. The character is alone for most of the game until he falls in love with another character, Kathryn. For a few levels, you work with both of these players together, and through this you experience the bond between them as they help each other, and thus the gamer, progress to each level. However, at one point you are required to sacrifice Kathryn in order to complete the level. When I was playing, I experienced a sense of guilt for having been responsible for her death, yet conflicted because there was no other way to complete the level and continue going with the game. This guilt that I felt is shared by the character, as demonstrated through his quotes at the beginning of the levels. The game portrays a story in an interactive way that forces you to experience questions and sympathize with emotions in ways that another medium, such as a book or medium, could not. While those allow you to feel emotions and connect with the characters, you are detached from the story, whereas the video game element allows you to immerse yourself in the story, to be the one making the decisions–and it is that factor that affects how we perceive and reflect on the story we are given.

Games reflect elements of our lives and are models of our experiences, thus they will be different for each person who interacts with them. Games serve as a medium through which we can reflect on ourselves based on the reactions and decisions we make through game play. Life itself can be considered a game—both have goals, achievements, rules, challenges, and consequences and require contemplation of morals and values. When we play a game, we are playing a role with our actions, constrained by the rules of the game, yet free from the confines of death, as death is not as absolute in a game. But just because we have a reset button doesn’t mean we don’t treat a game as we would treat our own life.

Bogot, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Print.

Neuromancer, Life, and Identity

September 6th, 2013 | Posted by Matt Hebert in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

A recurrent theme within Neuromancer is the nature of life. Can a program be alive? What provides a being with its identity? Does identity demand a body?

Case resents his physical body, and is plagued by its shortcomings. He suffers from a physical dependency on stimulants, SAS when arriving in space, and all the natural limitations of a corporeal body. He resents this “meat” that he is contained within, suggesting that his identity is defined by his mind, and his body is an accessory. And yet, for most of the novel, Case cannot escape from his body. He is still affected by adrenaline, still feels the aftershocks of his stimulant hangovers, still risks critically damaging his brain. No matter how he dissociates, he remains tied to his body. It is, after all, the vessel his brain was built to fit.

But what about a being which has no body? Neuromancer exists only as a sea of information, yet he insists that he has developed his own identity. He and the personalities he cultivates are able to grow and develop, to think independent of the parameters established around them. They are certainly closer to human than the Dixie Flatline, who cannot create new ideas or store long term memory. Even the Flatline is on the cognitive level of some humans following serious injury. We dismiss him as a program because we know why he cannot create or remember, but he appears by all rights to have a sense of identity just as a human would. He thinks, he remembers, he even desires to be erased. Whether or not these things are human, it is obvious that they are cognizant entities, discrete from the world around them. That could be justification enough to call them life.

And indeed they appear to be as real within their world as the flesh of ours. It is while trapped in cyberspace with Neuromancer’s Linda that Case rekindles ties with “the meat” which he so often dismissed.

“It was a place he’d known before; not everyone could take him there, and somehow he always managed to forget it. Something he’d found and lost so many times. It belonged, he knew– he remembered–as she pulled him down, to the meat, the flesh the cowboys mocked. It was a vast thing, beyond know- ing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read.”

As he is rekindling these feelings, supposedly unique to flesh and bone, his physical body is in fact dead. It is unlikely, then, that Case’s physical body is reacting to this at all. Neuromancer built his world from people’s memories, so it stands to reason that what Case is feeling originates from something he once felt in the physical world. But if an AI can recreate even these most “human” aspects of life and emotion so convincingly that Case himself cannot tell the difference, then what, if anything, differentiates these entities from humans? Would an existence in that world be any less fulfilling than the physical world we inhabit? Perhaps the entities are simply new life, with new minds housed within new bodies of data. Who are we to judge?