Emory University outside Administration hall. Photo taken by me.


PLAY .MAKE. WRITE. THINK. Four seemingly unrelated words, yet somehow in the past 4 months in professor David Morgen’s English101 class, amidst the pandemic, I completed all four of these tasks. For those who did not know, English101-section 5 is a freshman writing seminar at Emory University where we explore different genres of games (often video games), how games operate, their importance, their uses, and their impact on our well beings. We accomplish those goals through playing the games on our own, liveblogging the experiences, reading several texts, discussing the games, writing analysis, among a multitude of other methods. In this final reflection letter, I present the learning outcomes I acquired in the class this semester, how I have grown as a writer, and more importantly, as a thinker, and how I will apply these skills in the future.

4 components of a “game” cocktail. Made and pictured by me.

The first learning outcome addressed is rhetorical composition, which translates to the ability to produce content across different modes and genres hence showing a deep understanding of audience and purpose. Indeed, the works I produced thus far collectively require mastering in all of my senses. In playing and live blogging games, for example Gris, I looked for visual and audio cues and tried to decipher the message which means my sense of sight and hearing work at all times. When making the episodes for the Longest Rainy Sunday, I presented analysis of three distinct games verbally. In creating my Twine game: A day in the life, I told a story through visual cues, drawing out branches of possibilities on how the game evolves. And finally, with essays such as Game Comparison or Writer Narrative, I provided insights with written texts. Moreover, I have become much more aware of my targeted audience and my intention in producing each piece of work. For example, since my Player Narrative essay was a personal account of my experiences being a game player, I searched for stories and events in my life and used the first person point of view to make it more relatable and personal. On the other hand, in broader projects such as making podcast episodes where my audience is anyone on the internet, I covered all aspects of a game step by step from its origins to the mechanics to analyzing its significance in depth in order to maintain an informative tone. Finally, it would be incomplete not to mention the weekly readings, class discussions, and side quests I did in this class. They collectively enriched my learning experience as I was learning something new every week, from using Pixlr for photo editing to using Audacity for audio recording. 

One of the creative side quests I made this fall.

Although Think is the last term in Play-Make-Write-Think, it should be regarded as most important. In this class, critical thinking played a pivotal role in all of our works, which is why professor Morgen puts it as one of the learning outcomes. Perhaps I developed my critical thinking skills the most from the weekly readings and from searching for evidence to incorporate into my own writing. Works of Ian Bogost, Steven Johnson, and Flanagan not only set the framework for the class, they liberate my thinking. After this class, I no longer limit the impact of video games to a binary argument, of whether it is good or bad, or whether it helps me do well in school or not. Video games, after all, is a form of digital art, a form of entertainment. And similar to other forms of art, video games provide us with a multitude of benefits and uses, as well as harms, of course, if used inefficiently. The impact of gaming is rather fluid, just like with many other things in life. Through the weekly readings and class discussions, I learned to look at a problem from multiple sides, to look for recurring patterns instead of what is up front, to take a step back and see the broader scope. And to me, that is critical thinking. 

The beauty of video games. Pictured: Gris. Screenshot taken by me.

Equipped with a better understanding of games and learned to be critical of conventional notions, I quickly elevated my writing. Though I already know that writing is a process before taking this class, my definition of writing was truly broadened this semester. Writing as a process is not only about finding the ideas or researching for the right evidence before starting, it is also about being to reflect, to revise, to talk about completed works and find ways to improve. In this sense, writing a piece never ends. I can always go back to revise, improve, or add more things as I see fit. 

One example is my Game Comparison essay. When I first read the assignment, I was a little worried because professor Morgen asked for a specific structure and that I had to analyze and compare two video games, both of which I had never done before. However, I faced the assignment head on. My first step was collecting evidence and ideas. I replayed both Gris and Gone Home and jotted down everything I found particularly intriguing about the two games. Not satisfied, I rewatched the class recordings on the two weeks we discussed Gris and Gone Home for more inspirations. My initial document consisted of many disorganized ideas and comments on the games, but they gave me more than enough to work with (unfortunately I deleted the document after finishing writing the essay). Since the main theme is trauma, I then read closely Cathy Caruth’s work on trauma, which ultimately led me to choose fragmentation and linguistic representation as my main comparison points. Doing this helped organize my essay and ease the writing process later on tremendously as I only needed to pick out details in the games that fit my talking points. Before digging into the games, I also analyzed what fragmentation and language use means. Below I explain my interpretation of fragmentation.

One of the central ideas that revolves around trauma, according to Cathy Caruth, is that trauma “fragments the psyche.” The psyche is essentially our conscience: the mind, soul, spirits, memories, feelings, things that constitute the “beings” in “human beings.” Hence, to “fragment the psyche” is to break our conscience into pieces, to cause someone to be distraught, bewildered, not knowing what to do or how to do. I interpret fragmentation in Gris and Gone Home as pieces, more specifically pieces of physical objects in the game environment and pieces of memories a character keeps. 

Explaining the concepts provided me with a strong framework and definition to rely on when I was looking for evidence in both games. For example, I assigned fragmentation in Gris to these images: “Could the birds represent her hope that one day she would be able to fly freely? Could the ground mirrors represent reflections of her past when she used to be happy and carefree? Maybe the little white stars that follow her are products of her own imagination.” Categorizing and organizing my ideas helped me turn a seemingly challenging assignment familiar. However, as writing is a never-ending process, I was far from finishing. Upon consulting with professor Morgen, I figured I had a lot of filler, introductory sentences that drifted away from the main analysis. I then made an effort to go to the Writing Center to get it fixed. After talking it over again with my tutor, I skimmed the introductory paragraph and added more analysis relating to the games. I also took a step back from the mechanics of the games to look for the broader messages, as I observed “in Gris, the lack of linguistic use is intentional, as it would be repetitive and unnecessary of the game authors to deliberately tell us what is happening in the game with all the other subtle clues lying around.” Here I looked at Gris under the author’s perspectives, not just as a player. I became much more aware of the purpose and genre and audience of a digital product. 

The last two skills I acquired in this class are collaboration and digital citizenship, and they appeared most apparent while I was making the podcast episodes with two other students. As I took on a different role for each episode we made, from main producer to assistant to line producer, I now have a more complete view of the process of producing a digital podcast and each member’s job. Even though the finished product is only an audio file, there are several other components behind a successful episode. Deciding on what to say, who says what, and how much in depth the content should be are only a few of many questions we went through and negotiated every time as a group. Furthermore, writing a podcast episode script is completely different from other forms of writing I had done before taking this class. I was not only stating my opinions about a game, I was also asking others their opinions, making compromises, and coming to a conclusion together. I was also not writing for myself, or for my teacher, or my friends, but virtually everyone on the internet. I had to take the perspectives of someone who has never played the games I talked about to judge the effectiveness and success of my podcast. Finally, being able to learn and accomplish so much while being physically distant from professor Morgen and my groupmates is an incredible feat that I take pride in. We would not have achieved the results above without discipline and resilience in these trying times. 

English101 with professor David Morgen might have ended for me, however the skills I learned in this class will remain with me forever. Thanks to professor Morgen and the class, I am now a much more proficient and versatile writer as I had experimented with different types of writing and produced content across various mediums: written texts, verbal presentation, audio projects, and so on. I am now also more confident in using technology as I learned to use various tools to facilitate my learning that I did not know of before. Armed with so many advantages, I am propelled to be successful in future classes at Emory University and later on. 

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