Playing in Stories — Now that the holiday season is upon us, I am reminded of the opening chapters in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. In these chapters, the March family is celebrating Christmas, and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress figures prominently in their celebration. For the March sisters, Bunyan’s religious allegory has playful associations. In the chapter titled “Playing Pilgrims,” the sisters recall acting out scenes from the book and turning the upper reaches of their house into a “Celestial City.” As Alcott makes clear in these opening Christmas chapters, reading stories and playing games often go hand in hand.
More and more English professors are conducting research on the relationship between stories and games, including several members of our English Department. Beth Gargano was one of the first members of our department to conduct scholarship in this area. In 2007, she presented a conference paper titled “Distraction and Destruction in Back to Baghdad: Images of Iraq in a Current Video Game.” A few years later, she published an article in the American Journal of Play titled “Broomsticks Flying in Circles: Playing with Narrative in Eleanor Estes’s The Witch Family.” More recently, Balaka Basu and Aaron Toscano have embarked on major research projects related to gaming.
Balaka is currently working on a book project for which she received a research support grant from the Children’s Literature Association. Tentatively titled Playing the Game: Reading Digitally with Children’s Literature, this book will examine how accounts of child readership and play in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries reveal a mode of reading where the textual world is fully participatory and immersive, thus serving as the perfect model for “reading digitally.” In discussing this project, Balaka writes, “The digital ideals of enhanced, accessible, and multi-dimensional textual experiences have been part of children’s literature since long before the internet was invented, for the stories of childhood have always traveled easily from classroom to playground, from print to performance, and back again. Young readers continually resist, rewrite, act out, and play with the various narratives to which they’ve been exposed and thus, with the aid of toys, games, costumes, and props, as well as the power of ‘pretend,’ young people have historically managed to extend textual universes well beyond the covers of their books, just as digitizations seek to do.”
Like Balaka, Aaron is currently working on a book project related to gaming. Aaron is researching the claims that watching violent media (specifically playing violent video games) leads to real world violence. In discussing this project, Aaron writes, “There’s a ton of research about this claim, but, considering the drop in violent crime and youthful offender crime from the 1990s—when video game violence started becoming more and more realistic—this idea is bogus. I’m comparing it to other witch hunts surrounding children’s entertainment, such as comic books in the 1950s, Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s. My goal is to show how these peer-reviewed articles get filtered to mainstream, sound-bite media, which regurgitates the findings and doesn’t critically analyze how the research was done. This is going to be an article and, hopefully, chapter one of my book project.”
In part because of the efforts of Beth, Balaka, and Aaron, our department is on the verge of becoming a major player in the world of gaming scholarship.
Commencement Report — Last Saturday the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences held its winter commencement ceremony, and for 70 of our students, this ceremony marked their transition from current students to graduates. A total of 14 of our graduate students are listed in the commencement program, and 56 undergraduate students are listed. I should also point out that two of the students who received doctoral degrees in the Curriculum and Instruction Program had Lil Brannon for their academic advisor. These students are Anthony Iannone and Ryan Charles Welsh.
I was especially impressed with how many of our BA students fall under the heading of “Graduation with Distinction.” Of the 56 students, 7 earned the distinction of Cum Laude (GPA between 3.4-3.7), 4 earned the distinction of Magna Cum Laude (GPA between 3.7-3.9), and 3 earned the distinction of Summa Cum Laude (GPA between 3.9-4.0). This total comes to 14 students, which means that 25% of our graduate seniors earned this special distinction. I am very proud of all of our graduating students, but I want to mention by name the 3 students who earned the distinction of Summa Cum Laude. Their names are John Stuart Cloer, Katrina Lawson Holmes, and Monica L. Jackson.
Kudos— As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of our department. Here is the latest news:
Paula Connolly’s Slavery in American Children’s Literature, 1790-2010 continues to receive glowing reviews. Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers just published a very strong review on the book in which the the reviewer concluded by describing the book as “an excellent volume that will be a touchstone for scholars and teachers for many years to come.”
Juan Meneses has been awarded a Faculty Research Grant to continue working on his book in which he examines the role of dissent in a series of modern Anglophone novels.
Upcoming Events and Deadlines— Here is a date to keep in mind:
December 18 — The Dean’s Office in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences will hold its Celebration of Faculty Achievement reception on Thursday, December 18 at noon in the Harris Alumni Center in Johnson Glen. This annual event recognizes faculty who received external funding in the prior fiscal year and who published books since last December. Refreshments will be served.
Quirky Quiz Question — In the world of gaming, what does the abbreviation RPG stand for? For extra credit, what does the term cosplay mean?
Last week’s answer: Belladonna Took