życie jest piękne

When Jess Meets Europe…

Travel Journal, Seminar Development, and Other Links

This is a compilation of all of the electronic blogging and publishing I’ve done during the conceptualization, development, implementation, and reflection upon my professional development seminar, “Holocaust Education and Technology: A 21st Century Responsibility.”

Blog Entries from My European Excursion (Blog Title: “Zycie Jest Piekne”)
June 12, 2011-June 29, 2011


The following links will take you to the numerous blog entries I’d written while conducting field research in Europe:

Entry 1:  June 12, 2011 (Preparation)  “History Day for Grownups

Entry 2: June 13, 2011 (Background Info) “In the Heart of Hell: Dr. Miklos Nyiszli and the 12th Sonderkommando

Entry 3: June 14, 2011 (Scheduling Info) “The Day After Tomorrow

Entry 4: June 18, 2011 (Chicago, Berlin) “Day One… On the Streets of Berlin

Entry 5: June 19, 2011 (Berlin) “Day Two: Salmon for Breakfast

Entry 6: June 20, 2011 (Warsaw) “Day 3: An Old Woman Cradling a Newborn Infant

Entry 7: June 21, 2011 (Warsaw) “Day 4: Putried Pennsylvania Pierogies”

Entry 8: June 23, 2011 (Krakow) “Day 5: Krakow

Entry 9: June 26, 2011 (Auschwitz) “Day 6: Arbeit Macht Frei

Entry 10: June 27,  2011 (Prague) “Untitled

Entry 11: June 28, 2011 (Prague) “The Final Day in Prague

Entry 12: June 29, 2011 (Stuck in DC) “Between Zloty-Potty and Free-Pee


Follow-up Analysis Entries:

January 09, 2012: “Most Offensive Game… Ever?

(Video Game Culture and Theory; Analysis of “Super Columbine Massacre” video game and modern-Day applications of the Holocaust)

January 26, 2012: “And Back to the Capstone

February 03, 2012: “Schedule



The Blog that Resulted:

Holocaust Education and Technology: A 21st Century Responsibility” (March 3, 2012 Workshop at Seton Hill University, Greensburg)



Presentation Link:

Prezi: Holocaust Education and Technology: A 21st Century Responsibility (March 3, 2012; Also transformed into Honors Capstone Presentation)


Teaching The Younger Generation

Prezi: “The Holocaust” (Presented to 10th graders at Saint Joseph High School, Natrona Heights, PA)


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Hello everyone!  I’m in the process of creating a new blog for the purpose of workshop updates.

For now, here is a schedule for the workshop:

Holocaust Education and Technology: A 21st Century Responsibility
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Seton Hill University

8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.: Registration/ Meet/ Socialize (2nd Administration)
9:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.: Opening Remarks and Introduction (Jessica Orlowski)
9:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.: Speaker 1: The Crucial Curriculum ( Sr. Maureen O’Brien, SC; Former Educator of Holocaust Education curriculum)
10:00 a.m. – 10:05 a.m.: Introduction to Speaker 2 (Jessica Orlowski)
10:05 a.m. – 10:40 a.m.: Speaker 2: The Resources Available (Wilda Kaylor, Director of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education)
10:40 a.m – 10:45 a.m.: Wrap-Up (Jessica Orlowski)
10:45 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.: Break; Share Resources and post suggestions on workshop blog
11:00 a.m. – 11:05 a.m.: Introduction to Speaker 3 (Jessica Orlowski
11:05 a.m. – 11:40 a.m.: Speaker 3:  The Ethics of Technology in Teaching the Holocaust (Dr. Dennis Jerz, Associate Professor of English, Seton Hill University)
11:40 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.: Whole Group Discussion: If we could make a video game…
12:00 p.m. – 12:45 p.m.: Lunch and “Table Talk” (Greensburg Room)
12:45 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.: Return to Cecilian Hall
1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.: Media Literacy and the Holocaust (Josie Rush, Seton Hill University student)
1:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.: Panel Discussion
2:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.: Feedback
2:15 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.: Closing Remarks and Distribution of Materials

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And Back to the Capstone

Hello everyone!

I know it’s been a few months since I’ve used this blog for Capstone-related information; I’ve used it for two courses (News Writing and Video Game Culture and Theory).  Therefore, the material in the middle of the blog may be a little different from its original intention.

As I look at the temperatures in Warsaw and Berlin at the right side of the screen, I feel a sense of empowerment.  I have plenty of memories regarding my trip to Europe and plenty of photographs.  Yet, it still seems surreal that I was able to attend.  I’m very grateful that I was able to use my trip to compile my research.  Now, in the final stages of my project, I’m beginning to see that trip come to fruition.

In order to update you…

I had originally wanted to create a Holocaust Education seminar for teachers using Children’s Art, Literature and Music.  These three disciplines encompass most of my interests, so I thought it to be ideal.  However, as I did more brain storming, I found that technology might be a more suitable discipline on which to focus.  It is everywhere.  In school districts, teachers have to become more and more technologically literate in order to keep up with their students’ level of expertise.  This is where I come in.

Obviously, with this blog and with the amount of writing I’ve done to create the project, I’ve used my English major in its facilitation and completion.  I’ve used History because of the nature of the content I’m presenting.  However, what about technology?  Why can’t it be its own discipline?  Just because it’s a seamless part of our every day lives does not mean that there isn’t more to learn about it.  We also, as teachers, have a responsibility to become technologically literate.

The new title of my Seminar:  “Technology and Teaching the Holocaust: A 21st Century Responsibility.”

I’ve been struggling with a title, but I think this encompasses what I’m trying to say.

Stay tuned for more frequent updates as I enter into the final planning stages of the project.  Look for a tentative schedule soon.

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Participation Portfolio 3

This is the third and final installment of the Participation Portfolio we’ve had to compile for Video Games Culture and Theory.  The work I display below depicts my ability to engage with not only peers’ work, but also with my own work.  It displays how I made connections between what I’ve learned in this class and other classes, and what I’ve learned about my own abilities.  The portfolio includes links to my presentation, a project which I believe demonstrates the cumulation of my efforts in this course.

This Participation Portfolio provides links and explanations of some of my most comprehensive coursework in these five categories: Depth, Interaction, Discussion, Timeliness and Coverage.


Depth:   Entries in this category display complex thinking, extra analysis and an advanced level of thought.

As the course expanded, so did my ability to deepen my understanding of my own work and the work of others.  For instance, in this analysis of Angry Birds, entitled “Angry Jess,” I draw on my knowledge of the Myers Briggs Personality test and the various functions of the brain in order to explain why the game’s popularity does not excuse its overemphasis on physics.  In this second part of the Quiz for Bogost 1, I examine how The Sims relates to music, movies, and the effects these areas have on the brain. This entry also inspired my Presentation, an analysis of the use of music in horror movies and games, which I believe is the assignment that displays my highest level of analysis.

Interaction: Entries in this category perhaps mention classmates’ blogs or draw on outside class material.

As I mentioned in Participation Portfolio 2, it is difficult to avoid interacting with classmates in an online environment.  In fact, interaction is crucial.  I’ve been able to build blog entries by taking the opposing viewpoint to some of my classmates (e.g. when I argued against DJ’s opinion of Interactive Fiction games).  Also, I was able to engage with my classmates’ ideas by further expanding on, supporting, or defending them, such as in a comment I left on Jennifer’s blog or when I used Allyssa’s ideas to inspire my Presentation.  Perhaps the most extensively I interacted with my peers was in the Presentation Responses assignment.  In it, I used my peers’ presentations to synthesize my own presentation with the course content.

Discussion: These entries were posted on the class website and sparked detailed discussion between myself and my classmates.

Whether my comments on peer’s blogs opened the potential for discussion or whether they actually led to discussion, I made an effort to bring the class into discussion whenever possible and to continue the discussions.  In her blog entry, Jennifer talks about the positive effects that music can have on our experience of a game.  Though my comment does not lead to discussion, it synthesizes Jennifer’s point with a new point of my own, and opens up the potential for discussion. On the contrary, my response to Jen’s presentationopened up discussion, as did my comment on DJ’s Presentation.

Timeliness: Entries in this category demonstrate my ability to post on time and the development of my time management skills in this class.

As many of my classmates and I have discovered, it is more difficult to keep up with the “Timeliness” category in an abridged course.  This is why I am proud to display part 2 of the quiz for Bogost 1.  One of my biggest struggles in this class was keeping up with the quiz deadlines, but I’m happy to say that this was finished well in advance.  This component of the quiz for Bogost 2 was also completed on time.  Moreover, despite some technological difficulties, my presentation was completed well before the deadline.   These three assignments in particular helped me to manage my time in an effective and fruitful way.

Coverage:  These entries didn’t fit into any other category; they demonstrate that I blogged when I was asked.

Since the beginning of the course, I’ve transitioned from having a good portion of entries in the “Coverage” and  “Timeliness” categories to having more blog entries in “Depth” and “Interaction.”  Therefore, I’m not disappointed that I only have a couple of entries in the “Coverage” section, including my blog for the Bogost 2 quiz  and my reaction to Sample’s “What Comes Before the Platform: The Refuse of Video Games.”


What I’ve learned: 

Time management- it’s a beautiful thing.  When it comes to an abridged course like EL250: Video Game Culture and Theory, appropriate time management is crucial.  Incoming freshmen are taught that good time management skills are almost as important as intelligence level.  I never really believed these words, despite nearly four years of college, until I took this course.

On a deeper note, I’ve learned a great deal about not only video games, but how games in general may either make a culture better or worse depending on how people utilize them.  Games, like  chain saws, are just tools.  Will you use the chain saw to cut down a tree? Or, like Leather Face in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, will you use the tool to harness your power to create in a destructive way?

Games, too, allow us to harness our power to create.  We can create alternate realities or we can use games to create a better world.  It’s all about the appropriate use of an awesome tool.

via Participation Portfolio 3.

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Sample, What Comes Before the Platform: The Refuse of Videogames

“Yet read ahead in Herodotus and discover a part of the story that McGonigal leaves out: “…In this way they passed eighteen years. Still the affliction continued and even became more grievous.” The story ends with the king exiling half of his people from the country, forcing them out to search for food on their own” (Sample).

I recall saying, in my comparison of McGonigal and Bogost, that McGonigal is a perpetual optimist; she basically asserts that things can be fixed by games.  Everything. Can be fixed.  By games.

This ignorance does a violence against a reality that McGonigal says is broken (although she doesn’t tell us exactly how it’s broken).

This article brought an interesting point to the surface: it’s never a good thing to ignore the sad truth behind something, even if that destroys how we perceive reality.  That’s… selfish.

Sample’s argument sort of reinforces the perspective that gamers are detached from reality, and that their attachment can’t be reinforced because they’re too far gone from the real world to ever come back.  McGonigal (and Bogost) says that all people will become gamers.

Is this a good thing?  Isn’t it a bad thing to sweep everything under the rug?

via Sample, What Comes Before the Platform: The Refuse of Videogames.

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Presentation Responses

Sex, drugs, Rock ‘n Roll…

All ‘art,’ right?

As DJ displayed in his presentation, the definition of ‘art’ is subjective.  Whether this subjectivity relates to a video game designer’s freedom to create the gaming atmosphere or to a player’s ability to create their own gaming experience, art is in the eye of the beholder.  Since the development of video games, the definition of ‘art’ has been redefined.  According to Bogost,

“expression arises primarily from the player’s interaction with teh game’s mechanics and dynamics, and less so (in some cases almost not at all) in their visual, aural, and textual aspects.  These games lay bare the form, allowing meaning to emanate from a model.”

Indeed, Dylin describes how art has transitioned from a spectator sport to an interactive sport in the form of gaming.  Whether this interaction is with the art itself, or in a collaborative environment, art is no longer singular and exclusive.

Then again, as Jennifer writes, artistic elements of games are different in different places. Yet, these elements usually have a widespread and collaborative effect.  After all, culture is not just for a singular person.

Like the nude statues that are prevalent in European countries, nudity and sexual content is prevalent in Japanese games yet not quite as prevalent in American games.  American games, however, display violence much more readily than Japanese games.  Of course, all art can be seen as a mirror that reflects a culture’s trends.  For instance, most John Steinbeck novels reflect the depression and the farming culture of the 1920’s in Salinas, California.

That being said, what do video games with violent or sexually-explicit content reflect?

I believe that violence and sexuality has become so commonplace in our media, that this reflects a desensitization to violence.  Allyssa discusses how games can desensitize us because of their addictive qualities.  We become used to what they’re presenting, sort of like how we become used to a game and become bored with it.

Most of the time.

In my presentation, I discuss horror movies and horror games and how they  use music to create a psychological effect in the viewer/player.  Terror, like the themes of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll that are prevalent in many games of today, is universal.  While the power of artistic interpretation lies in the hands of the viewer, some things are beyond our power.

via Presentation Responses.

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The Gaming Final Solution: Genetic Engineering in “The Sims 3”

In order to provide a reference to something I write in my Presentation, I have posted the text to the rough draft of Paper 2 below:

The Gaming Final Solution: Genetic Engineering in The Sims 3

“We have to prevent the rise of the idiot masses. This goal isn’t new at all, and some countries started implementing political measures to reach this goal. They were stopped for political and ideological reasons; even though they showed promising results.”
            — From the Diary of Dr. Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death” (Lyons)


Social Darwinism, or “survival of the fittest,” asserts that “the strongest or fittest should survive and flourish in society, while the weak and unfit should be allowed to die” (Flaherty).  Because of the work of Herbert Spencer, traditional Darwinian ideals of evolution and natural selection were morphed to include elitist and ethical implications. Eventually, Spencer’s idea of Social Darwinism was used to justify Colonialism, the American Eugenics movement of the 1920’s, and the German Eugenics movement in Nazi Europe  (Flaherty).

The Sims, designed by Will Wright and released for Windows in 2000, is a life simulation game that allows players to create characters and homes and attempt to keep them alive.  A more recent version of The Sims franchise, The Sims 3, was released in 2009.  In both versions, players can foster relationships and build virtual neighborhoods.  The Sims 3 differs from its predecessor in that players can build characters’ physical and personality traits in great depth.  Though the games offer players a creative outlet to implement power they perhaps lack in their real lives, the players’ abilities to orchestrate social situations for the progression of a simulated neighborhood reflects a modern implication of the concept of Social Darwinism.  Furthermore, the players’ abilities to engineer their characters’ personality and physical traits are reminiscent of the Nazi Eugenics movement.

It is a wide misconception that Charles Darwin’s theories influenced Adolf Hitler’s development of the Final Solution.  “[When] you turn to Hitler himself, the story is murky. To put the matter politely, he was not a well-educated man. There is no evidence he studied Darwin’s writings or much about them” (Ruse).  Rather, Spencer’s theories of  Social Darwinism were influential in German culture as early as the 1920’s.  “Following Germany’s defeat in World War I and during the ensuing political and economic crises… racial hygiene or eugenics began to inform population policy, public health education, and government-funded research” (Science as Salvation).  In order to benefit the war-ravaged Germany, scientists began to believe that the Nordic Aryan race was “eugenically advantageous” (Science as Salvation) and this concept laid the foundation for the implementation of the Nazi Final Solution.

Dr. Josef Mengele, geneticist and head doctor at Auschwitz-Birkenau, used camp inmates as subjects for experimentation.  Mainly, Mengele forcibly sterilized patients who were unfit to reproduce and who would be unable to carry on the health of the German nation.

“In most cases, doctors gave “feeblemindedness”—a condition that was vague enough to include a host of mental illnesses and disabilities—as the justification for the procedure. That so many received such a generalized, unscientific diagnosis reflects the underlying fear, ignorance, and prejudice that drove this aspect of Nazi policy” (Nazi Ideology 81).

Aside from forced sterilization, Mengele’s experiments ranged from those performed on pregnant women to those performed on twins.  He experimented with patients’ hair and eye color, and attempted to medically create the blond-haired and blue-eyed superior Aryan race.

While The Sims and The Sims 3 both reflect the concepts of Social Darwinism, The Sims 3 also reflects the genetic engineering of Nazi Eugenics.  In both games, players have the ability to create general simulations of themselves or people they know; they can create families, provide clothing, build shelters from a certain allotment of money, and enter into a simulation of real-life activity.  The job of the player is to keep his or her Sims alive by meeting the Sims’ basic needs.  If this cannot be done, the game is over.

Between 2000 when The Sims was released and 2009 when The Sims 3 was released, numerous expansion packs were developed and released that made the Sim world as realistic as possible. “The Sims gives players godlike powers over the daily lives of individual people” (McGonigal).  These “godlike powers” include the ability to manipulate characters’ movements and relationships.  Players can choose characteristics for their characters that will make them more suitable for their environment.
For instance, players can dictate the astrological sign of their characters.  Typically, the social aspects of The Sims imply that Sims who are a friendlier astrological sign (i.e. Leo, Aries, etc.) and thrive on interaction with other Sims survive and prosper during the span of the game more than Sims with less friendly astrological signs.  This concept aligns with Social Darwinism, a theory that advocates the “survival of the fittest.”

The Sims 3 also implies the theory of Social Darwinism.  Players still have the godlike ability to choose the personality traits of their Sims.  Nonetheless, the player’s powers to manipulate their Sims’ lives are intensified and align the newer version of The Sims franchise with the concepts of Nazi Eugenics.  In The Sims 3, the player can not only choose Sims’ personality traits, but he or she also has the ability to manipulate and create a person from scratch from face shape or body shape to hair and eye color. Sliders let you determine skin color and tweak various facial features, color wheels let you settle on exact clothing hues” (VanOrd). While the game may just be a tool through which players enact their godlike powers to create, the game gives players the freedom to act upon their preferences.  Someone with a tabula-rasa-like perspective on the game could say that the game supports a viewpoint that human beings are blank slates.  However, the player of the game is not a blank slate and unavoidably transfers his or her preferences to the creation of his or her Sims.

The Sims 3 and its ability to allow players to engineer the physical traits of their Sims reflects the shallowness of American society, as well as the Social Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest. Players “can turn aging off entirely if you wish, or adjust the length of a Sim’s lifetime directly in the game options” (VanOrd).  This is similar to a growing trend in science, Genetic Engineering.  “Genetic engineering refers to a set of technologies that are being used to change the genetic makeup of cells and move genes across species boundaries to produce novel organisms” (What is Genetic Engineering).  This type of engineering is being performed in plants, animals, and other natural organisms for the purpose of manipulating traits to help these organisms adapt and survive within their respective environments.

Genetic engineering in human beings, however, has raised both ethical questions and awesome possibilities.  Pregnant women can utilize genetic counseling and test their unborn children for genetic diseases.  Also, in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), parents can create a designer baby and choose any trait from the baby’s eye color to their height and weight. “This technique allows for the selection of healthy babies, but also to create a baby to treat a sick sibling.  Similarly, it is possible to select for certain traits, such as eye color or the sex of babies, though this is forbidden in many countries” (De Magalhães).  In the pursuit of creating one such designer child, embryos deigned unsuitable are destroyed.  This is ironically similar to the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring, enacted by the Nazis on July 14, 1933.  The law stated that “people with certain congenital… conditions were by definition ‘hereditarily diseased’ and must be sterilized” (Nazi Ideology 76-77).

Moreover, The Sims 3 provides the public with a way to create designer characters.  By fulfilling the player’s fantasy of creating characters, the players can simulate and replicate genetic engineering on a miniature scale. Rather than reflecting a player’s fantasy to replicate his or her every day life, the game is similar to a murder simulator, or the phrase commonly used for First Person Shooter games.  Rather than promoting murder, however, The Sims 3 allows a player to take part in a twisted scientific process that results in a different kind of murder.  “All media exert influence on their audiences.  But it is almost always the core of the medium that exerts the most influence because the rest is, well, dressing” (Koster).  On the surface, The Sims 3 is a simulator in which players can create their fantasy world.

In an age that is scientifically and technologically moving forward, cures for cancer and other positive impacts on humanity are imminent.  For the positive impacts that science and technology have had there are also numerous morally-questionable implications.  Parents are able to genetically-engineer the color eyes or traits they want their babies to have.  If medical technology indicates a baby will have Autism or Down Syndrome, parents can choose to eliminate these children altogether.

Perhaps this growing phenomenon in medical science can be dismissed as a facet of a culture that has the ability to choose the identity and fate of its children.  Or, like the scientifically-advanced Eugenics movement of Nazi Germany, we will start to choose who lives and who dies based upon an ideal national standard.  Though The Sims 3 is simply a piece of technology, it, too, has moral implications and those who use it are obligated to use it responsibly.  Are these implications simply a mirror of our world’s desire and fervent attempts to continue the human race?  Or, in the hands of the children who may dictate our nation’s future, will the game become a tool by which theoretical simulation becomes terrifying reality?


Works Cited

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

De Magalhães, João Pedro. “Genetic Engineering: Defining Our Children’s Traits.” Science, Thoughts, and Dreams of the Future.      1997. Web. <http://jp.senescence.info/thoughts/genetics.html>.

Flaherty, Joseph. “Social Darwinism.” Social Darwinism. Think Quest, 2000. Web.          <http://library.thinkquest.org/C004367/eh4.shtml>.

Lyons, Paul K. “Mengele’s Vile ‘diary’.” The Diary Review. 10 Feb. 2010. Web.             <http://thediaryjunction.blogspot.com/2010/02/mengeles-vile-diary.html>.

McGonigal, Jane. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin, 2011. Print.

“Michael Ruse: Charles Darwin and Adolf Hitler: Rethinking the ‘Links'” Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 7 June 2010. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-ruse/charles-darwin-and-            adolf_b_601718.html>.

“The Quest for Racial Purity: Germans with Mental and Physical Disabilities, African Germans, and Roma.” Nazi Ideology and the Holocaust. USHMM. Web. <http://www.ushmm.org/education/foreducators/resource/pdf/naziIdeologybook_            part2.pdf>.

“Science as Salvation: Weimar Eugenics, 1919-1933.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. USHMM, 6 Jan. 2011. Web.             <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007062>.

VanOrd, Kevin. “The Sims 3 Review – GameSpot.com.” Video Games, Video Game Reviews – GameSpot. CBS Interactive, 1 June 2009. Web. <http://www.gamespot.com/the-sims-3/reviews/the-sims-3-review-6210540/?tag=summary;read-review>.

“What Is Genetic Engineering?” What Is Genetic Engineering? Union of Concerned Scientists. Union of Concerned Scientists, 18 July 2003. Web. <http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/what-is-genetic-engineering.html>.

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The Horror… The Horror! How Music in Horror Games Effects Player Experience

Do you feel that? Your pulse starts to beat a little faster; you can feel sweat slowly slide down the back of your neck; goosebumps tiptoe along your forearm.  Are you scared?

You should be.

My Research Questions:   How is the music present in horror movies similar to/different from the music present in  video games of the horror genre?  Does the type of music in horror games instill a positive or negative effect in their players?  How does the music in “Silent Hill” edify a gamer’s experience with this medium?

How I Came to this Topic:

Mirror:  I. Love. Horror Movies.  Maybe it’s the fact that I wanted to be a bloody body part when I was two years old, or the fact that I saw Child’s Play at age 4.  Now, at the college level, I find horror movies to be the most intellectually stimulating genre.  In order for something to be truly scary, it must display proper understanding of psychology.  Face it- psychological thrillers are so much more terrifying than a visceral gore-fest simply because it is unknown (Uncanny, if you will…).  When I discovered that there was a horror genre of video games, I was fascinated; the genre paradoxically combines a player’s ability to control his or her environment through game play with the helplessness that many people experience while watching a good horror movie.

Window:  The first step in analyzing something is to know that something deeper exists.  According to Zach Whelan in his article on music in video games, good video game music will blend seamlessly into the game’s action and draw the gamer into the game.  Affirmatively, music is a powerful tool present in most movies that edifies the viewing experience.  Some people do not know how important music is in creating a gaming environment.  For example, most people know the theme from Jaws when they hear it.  Also, most people will recognize inappropriate music when they hear it (like this… interesting… twist on the trailer to The Dark Knight).

Lens:  When we entered this course, many of us found the concept of theory to be difficult.  First, we began with a Reader Response Theory in which we applied our own reactions to the analysis of a game.  Then, we transitioned to a higher level of theoretical application, perhaps applying Formalism (studying the formal aspects of a game, including design and sound aspects).

In my project, I’ve decided to apply the theories of Psychoanalytic Criticism (which is largely inundated by the principles of Freudian Psychoanalysis) and New Historicism.  Freud’s theory of “The Uncanny” is a popular theory that is used in analyzing why horror movies and games are scary.  New Historicism asserts that works are, inevitably, a part of the historical movement from which they originated and should be analyzed as such.

“While much of the history of music takes place in the public space of ritual or diversion, videogames enter the picture at a time when more and more cultural activity began to take place at home” (Bogost 31).  Additionally, more recent trends indicate that a gamer can insert his or her own musical playlist into a game.

So, in an age of technological advancement and a world in which video games are becoming commonplace in every home, where will music fit in?  Moreover, as Jane McGonigal demonstrates, “Reality is Broken.”  She says that “games gave a starving population a feeling of power in a powerless situation, a sense of structure in a chaotic environment.  Games gave them a better way to live when their circumstances were otherwise completely unsupportive and uninhabitable” (McGonigal).

Can games and movies of the horror genre, a genre which is categorized by the innate feelings of helplessness that it can give viewers/players, give participants the control they need to conquer the fear that penetrates their own realities?

The Heart-Racing Truth Behind the Genre:

Fear: “Apprehension; dread; alarm; by having an identifiable stimulus, fear is differentiated from anxiety which has no easily identifiable stimulus” (Web MD).  Human beings may have rational or irrational phobias.  From an arachnophobic fear of particular eight-legged insects to a fear of drowning, each phobia may cause a variety of symptoms, including increased heart rate, sweating, goosebumps, etc.

Medical research by Purdue University’s Professor Glenn Sparks suggests that the sweaty palms and racing heart produced in many people while watching a horror film is no different to the brain than if the person were being chased by an axe-wielding maniac.

The Amygdala, the blue portion highlighted in this graphic, is the part of the brain activated while watching a horror movie or playing a horror game. The Amygdala is connected with various emotions, especially with fear.

So, why do people still watch scary movies and play scary games?

“For adults, morbid curiosity may be at play — the same kind that causes us to stare at crashes on the highway. . . Humans may have an innate need to stay aware of dangers in our environment, especially the kind that could do us bodily harm, she says. . . Yet another theory suggests that people may seek out violent entertainment as a way of coping with actual fears or violence” (Sine).

Training to Survive in an Ugly Reality:

As I wrote in the rough draft for my paper 2 assignment on The Sims 3 and its relation to Genetic Engineering,  simulation games like The Sims give players the opportunity to simulate every day life.  This could be a simulation of good aspects of life (e.g. a happy family life) or of bad aspects (e.g. games like “True Crime” that simulate realistic murders occurring on the streets of LA).  The Sims and other Alternative Reality Games allow this simulation to take place.

In an Alternate Reality Game (ARG), players participate in order to “get more out of [their] real life” (McGonigal).  The purpose of these games can range from the building of an entirely new Civilization to killing zombies to improve typing skills, such as is the premise behind The Typing of the Dead.

Jane McGonigal refers to ARG’s as “small-scale probes of the future… a showcase for new possibilities” (McGonigal).  Indeed, horror movies and horror games typically include fantasy elements that provide viewers/players with a way to escape their every day lives and to be scared for a short period of time.  Because games are a distorted reflection of reality, we can test our limits by examining our ability to progress through a game.  These games “mirror back to us a positive sense of our own capabilities” (McGonigal) to escape and to cope when appropriate.

While Horror games and movies remind us of the helplessness we can encounter during our every day lives, viewers/players always have an escape when they leave the theatre or turn off the game console.  Perhaps people continue to return to horror movies and games because it gives them the power to cope with their fears in a safe, enclosed environment.

The Horror… The Horror!”

Regardless, safety in ARG’s may not necessarily diminish the game’s terror-effects.

Many horror movies and games are based upon the principles of Freud’s theory of The Uncanny, or what makes something scary (Helene Cixous, a literary critic, gives an advanced yet interesting overview of the topic).  “The Uncanny,” can include subjects such as haunted houses, ghosts, dolls, ‘animatrons,’ etc., and  Allyssa discusses this further in her Gaming Culture Presentation.  For instance, in the Konami game Silent Hill 2 (2001), the presence of a ‘double’ is a very uncanny concept because a double is familiar yet strange.  Something is just… off.

There's something wrong with Maria...In the following clip, the main character, James, meets Maria, a double of his deceased wife, Mary.

In the following clip, the main character, James, meets Maria, a double of his deceased wife, Mary.  There is something uncanny about “Maria”… isn’t there?

In more recent years, movies and Literature aren’t the only media in which “The Uncanny” can be seen.  Art forms, as some would say, video games like Silent Hill belong in the horror genre as much as do movies like The Exorcist and Psycho.  The cultural acceptance of video games as transmitters and interactive analyzers of the most horrifying aspects of human life have become prominent in games like Silent Hill.

Scary Music for a Scary Genre:

In addition to the elements of “The Uncanny” that make movies and video games scary, the music used in the Horror genre plays an important role in how we experience these forms of entertainment.

Major characteristics of music in the horror genre:

1) Atonality: The lack of a tonal/harmonic center in music

2) Dissonance:  The impression of tension or clash some listeners experience when two or more tones or notes are sounded together.

3) Music is typically in a minor key.  The minor key typically provides the feeling of sadness or negativity as opposed to a happier major key.

4) A gradually-increasing tempo mirrors the increased beating of the heart.

5) The lack of resolution in the music instills a nervous feeling in viewers/players; they don’t feel safe, but must continue viewing or playing in order to solve an inherent puzzle.
Listen to this scary clip and then listen to this neutral clip.  Notice a difference?  In the scary clip, did you hear the screeching violins and the clashing, dissonant sound?

For example, watch this clip from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining .  In the movie, “the music will often rise steadily to a cacophonous crescendo to parallel a character’s escalating terror or psychosis” (Whalen).

Music in the Movies:

The well-renowned movie franchise, Halloween, depicts a masked Michael Myers as he lurks in the shadows in close proximity to whomever he’s plotting to kill.

A malevolent Michael Myers from the popular horror movie franchise, "Halloween," lurks in the shado

Most people are familiar with the Halloween movie musical theme, an atonal mash-up of high-pitched violins, a crescendo that begins eerily quietly and builds to include the low-pitched drone of bass synthesizers, and a continuing motif of pulsing piano music.

WARNING: THIS CLIP BECOMES RATHER BLOODY AT ABOUT 3:55.  Most of the film footage leading up to this is based on the psychological thriller motif that is common in many horror films.

Classics like Halloween and The Shining play on our basic fears of being chased.  Plenty of scholarship has been written on “The Uncanny” in The Shining, by the way… Check Reeves’ Memorial Library’s Literature Resource Center for more information.

Horror Games:

Music has two functions in video games: To “expand the concept of a game’s fictional world or to draw the player forward through the sequence of gameplay” (Whalen)

A screenshot from "Silent Hill." Players encounter uncanny elements, a dreamlike atmosphere, and haunting music In this walkthrough of Silent Hill 2, pay attention to the way the clip uses atonality (no tonal center), silence, and sound effects to produce an effect in the viewer/player.

Horror games, according to a Narratology perspective (we studied this in class) typically contain a story into which players can be drawn.  The player’s immersion into the story allows him or her to get lost in the game and to live the adventure of the game vicariously without having to suffer the inevitable deadly results at the game’s end.

While both Horror movies and horror games typically provide a light at the end of a hopeless tunnel for viewers/players, there is a fundamental difference between movies and games:  Games allow us to control our own destiny, albeit under unsafe conditions that are edified by the unresolved nature of the games’ music.

Not only does music in a horror game help us to follow the story in an interactive way, it also helps to draw us forward through the game.  This drawing-in is accompanied by a player’s distinct ability to manipulate characters’ actions using a joystick or computer mouse.

Silent Hill:

The premise behind Silent Hill is that the main character, Harry Mason, is taking his daughter Cheryl on vacation to Silent Hill, a resort town.  Harry undergoes an accident and awakens to find himself alone in the foggy and abandoned Silent Hill.  The player has to follow a shadowy figure (who may or may not be Cheryl) in order to progress in the game and solve a puzzle.

In Silent Hill, composer Akira Yamaoka provides no music in a major key.  This creates a sense of urgency in which there are never safe moments of exploration, and players “must sustain a consistent and pervasive mood of terror or apprehension” (Whalen).  Some music present in the game is rather uncomfortable to listen to, such as this version of  “My Heaven” present in the first Silent Hill.

In this walkthrough of Silent Hill 2, pay attention to the way the clip uses atonality (no tonal center), silence, and sound effects to produce an feeling of being unsafe in the viewer/player.

The other music in the game begins as a “faint, atmospheric ambience barely above the clarity of white noise” (Whalen).  As monsters come nearer, the music gets louder and more dissonant.  The puzzle is difficult to solve because of the various obstacles that get in Harry’s way (e.g. monsters).  Yet, the player knows when the obstacles are coming by the crescendo and burst of orchestral music in the background.

This mood motivates the player to move forward, to either solve the puzzle or escape the uncomfortable and unresolvable feelings the music creates.

Conquering Our Fears:

Like the resolution of a song from a minor key to a major key, most horror movies resolve  into either blissful reunion with loved ones and/or the promise of a new beginning.  Of course, there are exceptions in certain horror movies, such as The Descent, the ending to which is terrifying because of its lack of resolution.  The music at the end of this movie also portrays hopelessness.

A Happy Ending for the Main Character in "The Descent"?

In video games of the horror genre, however, players have the power to manipulate the game and emerge victorious over both the game’s puzzle and their real-life fears.  In the ending of Silent Hill 2, James and Laura are able to leave Silent Hill, a technical happy ending.

So, I return to the question I posed at the beginning: Can games and movies of the horror genre, a genre which is categorized by the innate feelings of helplessness that it can give viewers/players, give participants the control they need to conquer the fear that penetrates their own realities?

Obviously, if we were to apply Freud’s theory of “The Uncanny” to the study of horror films, we’d see that Freud’s theory reflects a fear that people supposedly feel in their own realities (reality —and Freud— are subjective, by the way…).  This is what makes a horror movie/ game either a masterpiece or a flop.  Movies give viewers the ability to walk away from the film at the end and analyze how wonderfully they have it compared to the movie’s characters.

Games, on the other hand, always contain that possibility of loss, a possibility that could be more damaging than the refracting of reality present when playing a video game.  The lack of control over not being able to win a game could magnify a player’s fear if he or she fears failure.

However, “human activity may be driven by selfish genes, by the phantasms of inaccurate  perceptions, by reactionary tribalism and shortsighted dominance moves” (Koster). As a society driven by the desire to win and compete, a true manifestation of Social Darwinism‘s concept of survival of the fittest, could it be that horror movies and horror games like Silent Hill are training us to survive in a real-world horror movie?

She'll run up the stairs... they always do.

Just think— every time you roll your eyes when a girl runs up the stairs to get away from her potential killer, you’re receiving a training guide for a life time of success.

Works Cited

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

McGonigal, Jane. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin, 2011. Print.
Sine, Richard. “Why We Love Scary Movies.” WebMD – Better Information. Better Health. Web MD. Web. <http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/why-we-love-scary-movies>.
Whalen, Zach. “Game Studies – Play Along – An Approach to Videogame Music.” Game Studies – Issue 1103, 2011. University of Florida, 2004. Web. <http://www.gamestudies.org/0401/whalen/>.
“What Is Fear? Find the Definition for Fear at WebMD.” Online Medical Dictionary at WebMD: Find Definitions for Medical Terms. Web MD, 2006. Web. <http://dictionary.webmd.com/terms/fear>.
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Gaming is a Choice

Bogost and McGonigal seem to be making the same argument, albeit using two different lenses.  As I wrote in another blog entry, Bogost is nearly a pessimist, asserting that the division will be blurred when the term “gamer” goes away.  In essence, gaming won’t be a big deal because it’ll be something that everyone does.  McGonigal, on the other hand, seems to be the perpetual optimist; she asserts that eventually, everyone will be a gamer.

Personally, I don’t believe that the title of “gamer” can be compared to a racial or gender title.  Gamers, various races, and genders have stereotypes attached to them.  However, being called a gamer is not nearly as offensive as being called a racial slur.


Gaming is a choice.

I’m Italian.  I can’t choose to be Italian or whether or not I’m a girl.  I can’t choose these things because they are inherently a part of who I am as a person.  Likewise, my personality could motivate me to be a gamer.  Mine doesn’t, but I could choose to play more games.

Do I really think court cases will be initiated over the division between gamers and non-gamers?  No.  Gaming is a fairly recent phenomenon that has come up over the past 40 or 50 years.  I anticipate that none of us will be alive long enough to see the same severity of division that race or gender has caused.

Then again, gaming is a form of technology.  With the speed at which technology moves (we have a new version of the iphone every 2 months…), the controversy could move just as quickly.  Also, technology is a choice; game creators can choose how they use games.  Court cases may be initiated over the games’ content- not over the games themselves.

.via Bogost 3.

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Ineffective Awareness?

Where will games draw the line?  And, realistically, how much can games really do?

In her book, McGonigal asserts that games can, and will, save the world.  How can this be true?
She states: “Humanity is now stuck with a planet stewardship role… We are as gods and have to get good at it.”

There is only so much human beings can do to cultivate/save the Earth.  Most of our time has been devoted to destroying what has been given us.  Additionally, more and more human beings have developed a “god complex” in which they believe they can rule the world.

It’s all about power struggle, friends.

I played all of the games, but two of my favorite were “Darfur is Dying” and “Food Force.”  These games both empowered the player by allowing him or her to control a miniature world (much like other video games).  They both have positive impact on humanity.  Food Force, however, offers immediate positive feedback.  The goal of “Darfur is Dying” is similar to the goal of any Holocaust Education program… to raise awareness.  Therefore, I believe “Food Force” is a more effective game for making a concrete impact; “Darfur is Dying” is more effective in raising emotional awareness.

As a supporter of Holocaust education, I am in no way diminishing the work that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (or the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at SHU) has done to raise awareness.  But, what is a practical way to transition from awareness to action?

Well, first of all we need to see actual pictures of the events; we need to examine primary sources; we need to stop pretending that there is no gap between the graphics of video games and what is reality.

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