Pause: An Advocacy Project

Mental disorders that lend themselves to learning disabilities are often stigmatized unfairly in schooling environments. While certain classes and allowances are specifically established to accommodate people who struggle with said conditions, these are often seen as handicaps that inherently suggest a lack of potential in the students they accommodate. Could there be any possible means of showcasing the talents that those who struggle with learning disabilities have? If these were emphasized more strongly than the struggles, would people with learning disabilities receive less stigma from their peers? These are considerations that I firmly believe deserve greater attention and exploration through a variety of media.

As such, the goal of the pieces within this puzzle is to reinforce a step forward in solving the dilemma at hand: given the fact that practically all children learn most adequately through a variety of different means and styles, children with learning disabilities need to be given more opportunities to realize their potential rather than being deliberately held to a low standard and possibly stigmatized for it. This message is meant to reach two audiences: those with learning disabilities and those without. With regards to those with learning disabilities, the aim is to encourage a sense of confidence and the necessity of self-awareness; that is, the ability of each learning-disabled child to determine for himself/herself how s/he learns best and thereafter apply that awareness to slowly but surely determine whether or not s/he is capable of performing consistently to the best of his/her ability. With regards to those without learning disabilities, the aim is to encourage a sense of empathy in noting that children who struggle with learning disabilities needn’t be dismissed outright; rather, they should be given the chance to succeed in schooling environments and elsewhere as their abilities dictate.

In order to most effectively and cohesively reach both groups, I designed three pieces to communicate the message. The first piece, an interview conducted with a friend of mine looking to become a teacher with a focus in special education, is primarily meant to appeal to those who don’t struggle with learning disabilities. I published it publicly on Sound Cloud for easy accessibility, using the tags #education, #learning, #disability, and #outreach in order to reach users on the site interested in those particular subject matters. The interview documents my friend’s responses to a series of considerations I offered her. These were primarily rooted in the aforementioned opening points, but occasionally branched out into other ideas, particularly her recollections of the time she spent in special education growing up. In order to ensure my audience of the validity of my points, I made an effort to characterize my voice as carefully as possible according to Theo Van Leeuwen’s criteria for culturally formed communicative means. Following the descriptions of said criteria articulated in Heidi McKee’s Sound matters piece, I attempted to give my voice a calm and collected tone, minimizing the breathiness in order to establish an intimate and engaging effect. Furthermore, by making my voice less airy, I avoided falling into a trap that McKee describes regarding Western cultures, noting the airy voices tend to carry less authority; as such, I was able to provide a solid indication that I knew what I was talking about. However, I tried not to speak with a booming loudness; instead, I kept my volume level and casual in order to avoid coming off as overbearing. My interviewee sounded a little louder than me as a result, but that was more due to the nature of the recording equipment we used. More importantly, I intended for her voice to be louder than mine since she was the one supplying the actual information during the interview: I was merely the messenger and the guide as to what content she ought to touch on. As a final note, my voice does take on a slight vibrato near the end of the interview as I reflect on everything that’s been discusses. This is done in order to leave the listeners with a lasting impression that the material means something to me and that I hope it can mean something to them as well. Prior to that shift, the bulk of the audio centers around conveying one’s life while dealing with learning disabilities, outlining the process of transitioning from one learning environment to another and identifying what ought to be improved within said process. The shift itself reminds listeners that people with learning disabilities do indeed feel in the same ways that others do even if they don’t necessarily think in the same way: they deserve the chance to better themselves intellectually all the same.

The second piece is meant to appeal more to those who do struggle with learning disabilities. It resembles something of a hybrid between a poster and a map: a visual documentation of compared paths, as it were. The entire piece—a depiction of the two halves of a child’s brain being reworked to resemble the dichotomy between the thought process of someone with a learning disability and someone who doesn’t have a learning disability—is handwritten and drawn on paper in an effort to identify with younger audiences. Rather than being professionally polished, it harkens back to one’s childhood with a somewhat crude yet altogether more honest presentation, one that could have possibly been made as an art project in a classroom. As such, I’ve hung the piece on bulletin boards throughout areas on the university campus, starting with this classroom and the Student Services Center in Turner Hall (it hasn’t been officially hung, just propped there). This is a common practice for groups that wish to advertise to the student body (as I do, hopefully reaching fellow students that may struggle with learning disabilities): every time I’ve seen an ad in a classroom, it’s typically the first thing that catches my eye upon entering the room. As such, I hope to mimic the eye-catching effect here. The piece is composed with pencil, pen, and colored pencil, each serving distinct purposes. Pen was used to write out the large text on the top and bottom of the piece, indicating the permanence of the themes described in the text. Pencil was used to write out the thought processes present in the halves of the brain, suggesting the impermanence of each: they might be touched on regularly, but as thoughts, they’re subject to change, just as they do throughout the paths outlined in the brain. Color was used to make certain aspects of the piece pop (stand out visually) with different meanings behind each color: green is used to depict positive affirmations in the learning process, associating the words ‘solutions,’ ‘you,’ and ‘can’ to encourage children to keep working through their struggles with learning disabilities; red is used to outline the actual brain, resting in the center of the piece to serve as a visual hub that sticks out for viewers (particularly as the only hot color in the piece) in an effort to consistently center their thought process on the idea of navigating one’s mind to work through a learning disability; blue is used as an ‘aha’ color, signifying when a solution (represented by a bright yellow star) has been discovered to whatever problem is being dealt with in the picture. The problem in question ends up framing the divide between the left and right halves of the brain in the piece. Playing on the idea that ‘left-brained’ and ‘right-brained’ people are inclined to learn differently, each half of the brain approaches a dilemma with a different process. The left half, that of someone who doesn’t have a learning disability, has a clear progression of thought: moving from left to right, the text passages that run through the sections of the brain suggest that the problems that arise can be solved methodically through acquiring more information and applying it. Upon solving the problem–that is, the path clearly points to the yellow star of a solution–messages of confidence follow. The right half, that of someone with a learning disability, doesn’t have orderly thoughts arranged in neat columnar paths. Rather, the paths of the brain twist all about, jumping from one seemingly unconnected thought to the next amidst frustrations and uncertainties as certain phrases are repeated over & over (suggesting that the person in question is trying to constantly reinforce his/her bearings within the process of problem solving) and the text supplies stronger emotional impacts. However, the ultimate difference occurs when the learning disabled individual arrives at a solution: the path describing the solution is actually shorter than the path of the non-learning disabled individual, suggesting that if not for the anxious mess of thoughts brought on by trying to learn the problem through inadequate means (in this case, visually), the learning disabled individual is actually more skilled at solving the problem than his/her peer. The other key distinction between the two halves is the font in which the penciled text is written. The left half of the brain consists of text written in clear lines and sentences, essentially like those that would be found in books and other texts. This is meant to imply that as a reader, the left-brained person is a visual learner, something that’s also indicated in the phrasing the s/he uses in his/her thoughts. On the other hand, the right half of the brain consists of text written completely in capital letters that turn freely to their own paths and give off the impression of being loud. This is meant to imply that the right-brained person is an auditory learner, one who needs to hear things rather than to see them in order to understand them, something further indicated within the jumbled thoughts. Overall, despite the fact that the two halves of the brain offer very different learning styles, the point remains that both sides are capable of arriving at a solution to the problem they face: the important reminder, as the penned text indicates, is that learners must understand how they work best in order to have a clearer grasp of problems and solutions, reinforcing the need for self-awareness in the learning disabled as a means of drawing out their potential. In doing so, children gain a deeper level of understanding about not only how they learn best, but how they can apply said learning style effectively as opposed to another child who learns best in a different way. In effect, this process encompasses an observation made by writer Stephen Hall in Katherine Harmon’s You Are Here. In considering the transitional applications that maps have been used to execute over the past few decades with regards to more abstract concepts, he notes that “…by rearranging the lines we privately knit, we enable and expedite our own exploratory thoughts; and while the world is changing much faster than it did for Mercator, at the same time it provides many more possibilities for connection, understanding, evolution” (Harmon 19). This is the core of the self-awareness process, the realization of how to navigate one’s thoughts in order to come to an understanding of the process and the output. Challenges may certainly exist within the navigation, but if children aren’t given the opportunity to learn how to navigate the trickier scopes of their mind, they’ll be limited to refusing to explore the possible techniques that could indeed reveal the depth of their potential.

The third piece represents the unity of the first two in a sense, the combined presentation of audio and visuals as well as the combined intended audience of both the learning disabled and the non-learning disabled. I opted to use Facebook as a platform to offer a video of a fitness expert describing his experiences with dyslexia, mainly doing so thanks to the fact that my greatest amount of social media presence (blogs notwithstanding) occurs there. Furthermore, an algorithm has been developed at the social media host known as Buffer that determines what kinds of Facebook posts are likely to go viral as opposed to others; I attempted to apply this algorithm in as many ways as I could within the presentation of this video. One of the first key elements is to simply post a video: Facebook posts that contain links that go beyond spam or memes are likely to be promoted, especially ones that offer videos. Not only that, but the video is sponsored by a reputable source—TEDx, the locally organized branch(es) of TED Talks—that has its own Facebook page, one that can be tagged to increase traffic (especially since the page has over 1,000,000 likes). The video itself has received a fair amount of traffic already, amassing over 130,000 views and nearly 300 comments. Furthermore, drawing from a personal study conducted by Baraa Hamodi, a student writing on behalf of Stratford University, I officially created the post at 8:00 pm on Monday, August 3, 2015 (given that the time frame in question was the most productive one for her, I decided to see if the case would be the same for me). Facebook also provided the opportunity for me to write additional text along with the link, text that I used to maintain the informative tone of my other pieces with a slight emotional tinge. The presence of the video enhanced the use of text (given that Facebook is typically not fond of promoting posts that contain test alone) while the text itself wasn’t limited to 140 characters (which is why I declined to use Twitter) and thus offered enough room to establish the proper tone. The tone is generally carried over into the video: Scott Sonnon, a world-renowned martial artist and fitness expert, recalls his experience of dealing with dyslexia as a child. The topics he describes are quite emotionally heavy at times, touching on periods of abuse from his father, teachers, and fellow students. However, Sonnon balances this tone with some humorous anecdotes as well, tying the talk together with an informative look into his brand of ‘physical’ learning—that is, the process of applying motion and movements to solidify them mentally when reading about them won’t suffice. Sonnon essentially had to devise this method for himself since his teachers weren’t too keen on providing him with any guidance, labeling him as a hopeless case and a disturbance. Despite facing limitations, Sonnon took it upon himself to determine how he learns best, tapping into a deep-seated sense of self-awareness that allowed him to withstand the abuse he received from others and to develop his talents, a process that he explains further by detailing the key fact that there are reportedly over seventy different known learning styles. As such, the video and its presentation as a whole are meant to deploy certain messages to both camps of viewers. For the learning disabled, it is indeed possible to succeed and develop oneself even with a learning disability; one can be limited in certain ways yet brilliant in others. For the non-learning disabled, success doesn’t come solely from those who have an unhindered mind to work with; a stronger sense of empathy would do well in nurturing talent that might just come from unexpected people.

Just as all three pieces find unity through the audiences they appeal to, their connections run even deeper stylistically. As mentioned earlier, each piece carries a similar tone: primarily informative with emotional undertones. This is meant to inspire clarity and empathy regarding children with learning disabilities. Their situations can be understood, but only if they are approached with the right mindset from all parties. The same logic can be applied to stimulating their otherwise dormant talents. Furthermore, every piece places a great deal of emphasis on pausing—that is, a deliberate break in the observation process in order to stimulate periods of deeper comprehension and understanding. The interview features a number of pauses between certain passages, the largest one coming before my emotional shift near the conclusion. The poster/map requires viewers to take in a great variety of strong colors; in order to do so most effectively, viewers must pause and observe each aspect of the piece on its own, moving through slowly in order to receive the full message and considering the impact of each aspect before moving to the next. The social media outreach inspires pause in a variety of ways: the catching of one’s attention on the platform to observe the post, the pause in the test to plant an idea in the viewer’s head before continuing, and the expressive use of pauses that Sonnon employs during his speech to allow listeners time to reflect on his story. This motif of pausing serves to encourage a tendency to stop judging people with learning disabilities on their outward situations. Rather, these people deserve the time for consideration and understanding as they take a closer look at how to better themselves while their peers take a closer look at empathizing with them and helping to create an environment that allows them to flourish. Despite having the three pieces hang together as such, I would definitely try to think of a more cohesive method of branding if I had the chance to redo the project. As I composed each piece, I was primarily concerned with making sure that each one communicated the core message well and hung together stylistically; however, I didn’t take the time to think of a cohesive label that I could attach to each in order to further solidify that they are a sum of parts and not merely the parts. Given the opportunity to take another stab at the project, I would explore deeper methods of connection between the pieces, most likely through a logo, title, or perhaps a catchy slogan.

Of course, composing each piece of the project required specific frames of mind and awareness of the target audience in order to execute effectively. The interview not only incorporated the techniques of adequate vocal delivery, but did so with intentional regards to format. While the map and the promotion can each be explored at their own pace, the interview is structured: it supplies information in a straightforward and no-nonsense manner, requiring that listeners are invested in the piece for the seven minutes that it plays out. Although seven minutes might seem rather long, the breadth of information necessitates a runtime of that nature, especially since the piece is directed towards those who don’t have a learning disability. It requires them to take the first step of empathy in taking the time to clearly hear about their learning disabled peers and what they might be able to do in order to possibly guide them. The map not only incorporated a great deal of subtle psychological cues, but it did so with the intention of allowing multiple ideas to bloom at once, standing in contrast to the interview and the promotion (which each tackle the ideas they present one at a time). Considering that the piece is aimed at people with learning disabilities, these ideas can take roots depending on what captures the attention of the viewers first. All of the possible takeaways are intended to be positive. Focusing on the green text creates a small but empowering message that viewers can keep in the back of their minds. Focusing on the presentation of the brain not only reminds viewers that what they experience compared to other people can be conceptualized, but also that they still have the potential to succeed in learning environments if they tap into the right tools. Focusing on the large penned text creates a louder takeaway for viewers, one that’s firm in its message but nevertheless encouraging; it continues to suggest the viability of self-awareness as the primary tool of empowerment for dealing with learning disabilities. The social media promotion offered the dynamic ability to be interpreted in a multi-sensory manner by utilizing both visuals and audio as opposed to the unimodal media employed elsewhere. As such, not only does its dynamicism allow it to appeal effectively to both the learning disabled and the non-learning disabled (as elaborated earlier), but it also allows observers to tap into the aspect of the presentation—visual or audio—that best fits their style of understanding. The visual aspect allows observers to dwell on the considerations I posit in the post and the evolution of Scott Sonnon’s emotional cues as he recites his story while the audio aspect allows observers to take in his words and trace the fullness of his journey. Granted, the piece is most constructively viewed when both aspects meet; in that sense, perhaps observers could inspire one another to consider each aspect in a spirit of harmonious learning. That may very well be the greatest step that anyone could take towards creating a learning environment committed to opportunities for those who struggle with learning disabilities.

References:

Hamodi, Baraa. “How to Find the Best Time to Post on Facebook.”Curious. Stratford University, 10 July 2015. Web. 03 Aug. 2015. <http://curious.stratford.edu/2015/07/10/how-to-find-the-best-time-to-post-on-facebook/>.

Harmon, Katherine. You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination. Princeton: Princeton Architectural, 2005. Print. <https://wamsummer2015.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/2015-harmon-1.pdf>.

Lee, Kevan. “Inside the Facebook News Feed: A List of Algorithm Factors.”Buffer Social. Buffer, 04 Nov. 2014. Web. 03 Aug. 2015. <https://blog.bufferapp.com/facebook-news-feed-algorithm>.

McKee, Heidi. “Sound Matters: Notes toward the Analysis and Design of Sound in Multimodal   Webtexts.” Computers and Composition 23 (2006) (n.d.): 335-54. ScienceDirect. Web. <https://whatisanedcafe.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/computers-and-composition-2015-mckee.pdf&gt>.

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Intertwined: Composing With Video Games and Branching Narratives

Within a great deal of composition media, users are presented with immersive experiences. These experiences appeal primarily to our senses of sight (books, paintings, etc.) and sound (songs, films, etc.), attempting to create a frame of mind in which we can interact with characters and concepts in order to receive a message or impact of some sort. One of the more interesting limitations of each of these media (in their standard mainstream formats) is that while they potentially offer entire worlds to explore through an engaging narrative of some kind, said narrative is often contained to communicating messages that users themselves don’t have any control over. A book or film might provide stories revolving around large casts of characters, but viewers don’t get to have any say in the stories; the direction that the stories go in is determined by the writers. This is where video games offer a diversion from the typical narrative presentation in media. Video games are primarily written, as it were, with the clarifier in mind that players will receive the alluring power of choice. Players will designate where they go in the game’s world, when they’ll do so, and what they’ll do when they get there. They can work towards goals, create aspirations of their own, or purposely chase failure for entertainment purposes. Regardless of the angle taken, choice in video games acts upon the human desire for agency, a term referring to “the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices” (Fendt et. al 2) among other things. As such, my goal for providing a lesson on constructing narratives inspired by video games—that is, branching narratives with multiple options and outcomes—was to explore the driving forces behind agency to determine what influences play into it. Furthermore, my hope was to appeal to a small audience composed of my classmates in order to offer them insight into how the availability of choice (and, therefore, the presence of agency) in a narrative or message can motivate people to respond to it more thoroughly, drawing from a sense of agency to create immersion and motivation to interact. They could choose to integrate a choice-driven narrative into their future projects or they could choose not to—the freedom to act on either possibility is hopefully incredibly appealing.

With the responsibility of leading the class on my shoulders for a day, I decided to give my classmates the weekend to read through my proposed article and answer some questions in a blog post. I aimed for this specific timeslot in order to give my classmates plenty of time to read through the article and to develop significant insights on the material presented therein. While this didn’t cover all of the potential pitfalls—one student missed class and the other didn’t have computer access over the weekend—the discussion was still full of the insights I was hoping would be present. Upon starting class (a tad late at that), I refreshed the class on the questions from Friday. I did this without the use of any kind of script, mainly in the hopes of appearing open to insight from my peers as the primary means of leading the discussion. While I provided the framework, my peers ultimately did lead the discussion; I was pleased with the fact that some of their insights touched on concepts that I hadn’t considered as deeply before this session. The thoughts on shattering the illusion of choice by not differentiating between endings (what I coined ‘narrative laziness’), expanding the proposed definition of agency to include trivial choices for immersive and/or comedic purposes, and the odd pieces of the article (the focus on gender-based perceptions of the participants and the abrupt conclusion) were especially helpful, expanding the scope of the article and reflecting the assurance that the weekend did provide adequate time for a deep reading of the piece.

Following the initial discussion–one that hopefully provided the class with a wider variety of insights to draw from when composing stories–I transitioned into the creative process. My goal was for each of my classmates to compose a brief story in the program Twine—a story-creating program that specifically focuses on branching narratives—in about 20-30 minutes. Based on the order that my peers arrived to class, I assigned each of them a specific number of branches that they had to include in their stories, but I didn’t limit the number of choices that they could factor into each branch. This was a key aspect of my intention for the composition process: my hypothesis was that limiting the number of branches that each person could factor into their stories would drastically change the style of the narrative and the impact of each branch. On top of that, allowing freedom in the number of choices would provide my peers the opportunity to experiment and deem for themselves how many choices would be truly necessary at each branch. I also sought to provide an objectively observable framework to determine whether or not the number of branches or the impacts of the choices made within those branches contributed more to the reported agency experienced by my peers as they explored each story. During the composition process, I made a point of walking through the room and checking in with my classmates to see how their creative trains of thought differed depending on how many branches they needed and what sorts of stories they wanted to communicate. Furthermore, I wanted to communicate the fact that I was engaged in understanding where they were coming from, periodically taking notes and staying invested in the material in order to provide tips and advice if necessary.

As they completed their stories, I instructed my classmates to rotate and read through everyone else’s narratives and consider which ones were the most immersive and why. As it turned out, the number of branches didn’t affect the immersive nature of the stories all that much. Instead, my classmates reported that other factors contributed more heavily to their senses of agency. The stories varied in content—one described a journey through the UIUC Quad, another a mission of a secret agent, another a perilous quest through space, and yet another a horoscope-based collection of advice on selecting a meal—but the most immersive ones were reported to be those that provided a sense of physical activity in their choices (i.e. the users were doing something in the narrative) and those that were working towards a satisfying goal (and thus avoiding less satisfying outcomes). In effect, the theories presented in the article were proven in part. A greater deal of agency came about from the feedback and impacts provided in the available choices rather than the number of choices present in each story. Beyond that, some unique uses of Twine proved to expand the experience: the aforementioned horoscope advice didn’t tell a story per se, but it did offer a playful take on the branching narrative that allowed for an engaging experience nonetheless, one that ultimately found itself rooted in the user’s choices. Furthermore, some of my classmates considered that Twine could be useful for future projects in highlighting aspects of lifestyles that people can adopt or turn away from; others mused over the possible implications of offering a lack of choices in branching narratives to inspire a sense of helplessness in users. Overall, using Twine paved the way for considerations on the impact of choice-driven narratives, effectively fulfilling my intended objective.

Unfortunately, the process of said fulfillment was not without occasional bumps in the road. Since I opted not to script my questions or responses for the discussions, I struggled slightly with delivery, stammering a bit and getting lost in thought on occasion. Furthermore, although I was able to adequately explain the basics of using Twine (which was especially helpful when it came time to help out my classmate who didn’t have access to the material over the weekend), I hadn’t familiarized myself with the more programming-intensive aspects of using the software. When one of my peers attempted to integrate HTML commands into her work, I was admittedly lost as to how to provide suitable guidance for her. As another point of concern, I ended up having to rework my planned schedule a bit, spending less time on the opening discussion in order to give my classmates more time to get acquainted with Twine and to write their stories. Unfortunately, the forced reshuffling of class time cause me to forget to reinforce the necessity of including a moral choice in each story (although, given the results of the presented stories, this doesn’t seem like as great of a loss; the direction that the creative process took for my classmates allowed for the discussions to expand beyond the article’s claims, which provided room for their ideas to flourish). Given the opportunity to teach the class again, I would make a point to try to become even more familiar with Twine than I am now, taking advantage of its deeper programming aspects in order to provide as much guidance as I possibly can. I’d also rework my schedule a bit (allowing for more time to play with Twine) and perhaps practice speaking a bit beforehand in order to avoid flubs during the actual presentation if at all possible.

Composing a piece that uses agency as its primary motivation forces the composer to be more keenly aware of their audience(s) than composing with other media. While books and films, for example, typically appeal to a specific demographic, the input of those demographics doesn’t directly affect the progress of the medium’s message once it is being observed/consumed. The same can’t necessarily be said for video games and other media that rely on branching narratives. Given that the player is fully in control (for the majority of instances), constructing a narrative that reflects the player’s choices and impacts on the virtual environment force composers to not only be deeply aware of the structure of the environments they allow players to operate in—effectively deciding how choices impact said environment in different ways—but also how to communicate meanings through choice. These meanings don’t always have to be deep and emotional; rather, as I learned in the discussion, they can be silly and lighthearted. The ultimate goal is to reinforce the idea that the player is responsible for observable changes in the virtual worlds they explore. This extends to how any given player chooses to progress through a game. Perhaps a player can guide a hero through a quest to recover an ancient artifact, but will the story be as meaningful if the hero fails to save a damsel in distress along the way? What if the meaning changes entirely? What happens if the meaning doesn’t change at all? Will players feel as invested in the game? These questions and others do allow for plenty of experimentation for video game scenario writers, but the core concept that must be kept in mind for the most productive output is the degree to which the agency of players drives the narrative within the game.  Striking a balance between two of the key factors in this intention—the number of choices and the impacts of those choices—is indeed tricky, but when it is struck in creative ways, the result is an immersive experience that acts on a number of senses to convey a message. Despite being the teacher, I learned that four times over while leading the class. It appears that the choice to explore video games and branching narratives was an altogether productive one.

References:

Fendt, Matthew, Brent Harrison, Stephen Ware, Rogelio Cardona-Rivera, and David Roberts. “Achieving the Illusion of Agency.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 27 July 2015. <http://www.csc.ncsu.edu/faculty/robertsd/papers/icids12-agency.pdf&gt;.

Scratch Impressions: Noelle

Having been exposed to the programming language Scratch in an applicable (albeit limited) scope, I explored projects on the site knowing generally what to expect. Little games and animations were strewn all about the projects page, but one animation project stood out to me: despite its long & involved title, I’ll call it Noelle.

The project allows the user to use the arrow keys to cycle through the steps that the programmer took to create a cute animated character, highlighting specific aspects of her creative process. As simple as the project is on the surface, it definitely caught my attention thanks to a variety of factors:

  1. Clarity of instruction: the artist not only took the time to meticulously sketch out the character, but she also focused on individual details in a very understandable manner that was easy to follow.
  2. Merging of programming skill with artistic skill: by blending her two skill sets together, the artist was able to reach both the programming community and the artistic community.
  3. Freedom of control: the user can observe each step for as long as s/he desires, but the ability to quickly scroll through all of the steps as one would read through a flipbook is also available, providing interesting means of observing the artist’s creative process.

For Monday: Video Games & Story

Homework: read ‘Achieving the Illusion of Agency

Write a blog post to work out some discussion points regarding the following questions:

  1. Do you think that a story becomes more interactive if it offers more choices for the reader? Does this change upon reading the article?
  2. Do you agree with Murray’s definition of agency? Why or why not? Do you believe that any of the other provided definitions fit better in the given context?
  3. Did you find any of the results of the study unexpected or odd? Why or why not?
  4. Which do you believe is more important for a branching narrative: the number of choices or the impacts of the choices?

Initial Thoughts: GIS

  1. As a data-driven spatial medium, GIS is ideal for presenting specific arguments through the mapping and analysis of Big Data. Not only is such data present at a wide variety of levels thanks to the continual expansion of social media and other data-rich environments, but one of the most important and fundamental understandings of Big Data lies in the ability to uncover correlations and relationships through them. This provides a clearer indication as to which relationships are likelier to be present (and therefore mapped out).
  2. Using Big Data to reinforce a worldview is not erroneous on its own: as a foundation, the trends uncovered in Big Data can be incredibly useful and indicative. However, even with large amounts of data, there are no surefire guarantees of relationships. To invent an idiom, a 75% chance still implies a 25% misfire. That being said, a Big Data-centric worldview ought to be balanced with other sources to avoid over-reliance.
  3. The affordances of GIS are rooted in its ability to make far more than just geographical maps. As the information age continues to unfold, humans venture out into increasingly unknown regions (abstract and otherwise) that benefit from frames of order. The ability of GIS to accurately map out relationships in a similar manner as geographical spaces (with specific regards to SNA) offers incredible dynamicism in the face of the evolution of maps and their purposes.
  4. Having access to new varieties of “geographic” data allows people to begin to establish clearer cycles of cause and effect in the things that they are interested in or curious about. This can lead to not only a deeper understanding of how certain processes work, but also a greater awareness of the availability of the data at their fingertips. This can cause social media platforms to evolve from platforms of communication to platforms of genuine insight: bits of data mined for all sorts of informative purposes.

No Country For Anybody: A Modest Film Project

This piece was written with my classmate and friend Katie Coyle. Check out her blog sometime; it’s worth a look!

Also, we produced, wrote, and directed this short sequence together.

No Country For Anybody

Written words may be composed with a singular message or emotional impact in mind, but encountering those words through the medium of film presents a wide variety of opportunities for interpretations that inspire entirely different messages or emotional impacts altogether. Further combining those words with camera angles, additional sounds (or lack thereof), and stylistic impressions lend themselves admirably to dictating the intended impact of a film sequence. To best illustrate these phenomena, we selected a particularly tense and brooding scene from the film No Country For Old Men and reshot it in hopes of a achieving an over-the-top comedic sequence that pokes fun at the delivery and timing of the dialogue. In doing so, we suggest that words alone–that is, dialogue of a film–only tell part of the story. The deeper impact comes from the presentation of those words and the stylistic choices that accompany them.

With the obvious limitations facing us in regards to camera choices, locations, and time, we attempted to recreate the scene to the best of our ability by choosing a location that would allow for the almost eerie silence in the original scene and the separation between the two characters by a countertop or table. Though there is little establishment that the space should be interpreted as a store, that is not the important distinction the viewer must make to understand the scene. The scene, as we directed it, focuses on the two characters experiencing the dialogue and how off-putting the dialogue is. Furthermore, using a closed-off setting that vaguely resembles an office conference room harkens stylistically to the comedy show The Office, as does the occasional ‘talking head’ shot. The intended effect is to inspire subtle references to the show’s style and its tendency to feature characters engaging in rather quirky conversations in a rather dull space, as is done in the scene from the movie in question; this version, as stated earlier, is more focused on drawing attention to the dialogue by making the setting even more nondescript.

In the original piece, the dialogue is not regarded as odd, it is performed as a normal conversation. Upon closely looking at the conversation between the two characters, we decided this format, with the additional commentary and camera-glances, would draw more attention to the odd and awkward conversation being had in the scene. As such, we further isolated the dialogue for the sake of observing its quirks by rarely including both characters in the shots. The original scene typically featured both Anton and the shopkeeper in view, only briefly cutting to shots of just one of them in order to highlight key lines of dialogue. As referenced before, the scene was shot as though the conversation was normal, a simple dialogue between two participants. Our reshooting goes for the opposite effect: very rarely are the two characters seen on-screen together. Instead, a series of quick jump cuts bounce the dialogue back and forth between the two, leaving viewers to essentially see the lines as isolated occurrences as they are said. Without any additional foci to draw the attention of the viewers, the individual lines of dialogue can be heard in quirky isolation, allowing each to be clearly heard, dissected, and identified as rather odd coming from each character.

Perhaps the most noticeable stylistic shift from the original scene, however, is the stark reworking of each character’s personality. Where Anton was once an unfeeling and formidable figure, he is now an incredibly hyper and decidedly frantic (in an unsettlingly happy way) character, arguably comparable to performances given by the actor Jim Carrey. Where the shopkeeper was once a meek and uncertain figure, she now emulates something closer to Mindy Kaling’s character on The Office, Kelly Kapoor, who comes off as mildly annoyed with everything and generally unfriendly. Specifically choosing these personality types serves to give the scene a more comedic feel, one where less seems to be at stake (given the characters’ new personalities) and therefore relies on less tension; instead, the dichotomy between the two altered personalities plays expressively on their respective quirks to make the exchange seem all the more ridiculous. In effect, the entire tone & impact of the sequence is deliberately altered, as is the focus.

With the choices we made, we also decided not to engage the viewer in certain ways. Making the reshoot a comedic bit quite nearly ruled out the possibilities of providing any sort of serious interpretation that the original piece did. Even if we chose to approach the scene from a darkly comedic perspective, certain absurdities in the dialogue might be lost (giving a scene a darker feel typically draws attention away from the dialogue and redirects it to the atmosphere), so the style seems reasonable to keep. Given a do-over, however, we would most definitely make the piece longer. There were a lot of cuts that had to be made in order to limit it to around two minutes, forcing us to leave out entrances and whole sections of the script. Presenting the scene in its entirety would provide for even more comedic distinctions to better serve our purposes.

The planning process of filming the piece allowed for us to dive deeper into the ideas of character, concept, and dialogue. If we were just to have read the piece for the class, we probably would have stayed closer to the original source material. Our interpretation came out of the time and planning we had before we pressed record in hopes of reworking the original concept by adding in extra bits for humor and the creation of a different atmosphere. Said atmosphere is the result of far more than the dialogue–the driving words–alone. As elaborated, it relies on deliberately utilizing the affordances of sound and sight that film offers in cohesion with one another. An awareness of individual pieces of presentation (How will I say this line? What angle is best suited to capture my face for this shot? Should I be on camera or off camera?) plays into the aforementioned planning process and dictates the flow of the final product. Composing a piece to be encountered forces composers to achieve a specific type of immersion, one made of a collection of parts that work in tandem to create a sum, as it were, that amounts to an atmosphere imbued with an intended impact–one that combines the reception of senses for a fuller and deeper impact.

Advocacy Proposal

Mental disorders that lend themselves to learning disabilities are often stigmatized unfairly in schooling environments. While certain classes and allowances are specifically established to accommodate people who struggle with said conditions, these are often seen as handicaps that inherently suggest a lack of potential in the students they accommodate. Could there be any possible means of showcasing the talents that those who struggle with learning disabilities have? If these were emphasized more strongly than the struggles, would people with learning disabilities receive less stigma from their peers? Would their contributions to learning communities be seen through a fair and balanced lens? These are considerations that I firmly believe deserve greater attention and exploration through a variety of media.