All posts by Jennifer Lareau-Gee

Bring a Series Narrative Together

Once in a blood red moon, a series will come out where, to the naked eye, the books are not related at all. It’s not until halfway through a series, or occasionally even later in the series, that a ribbon will come along and connect all of the books and make the reader have an “ah ha” or light bulb moment, which looks something like this: tumblr_m8zpiu1gBS1r231xw

This isn’t just something that happens with book series, it happens in video games as well. Sometimes, they (the developers and writers) never write a narrative that connects the games. This isn’t a common plot move in video games, but it is something that happens. Just as with a book, when the narrative is over, the reader/player may feel unsatisfied with the ending and feel that they are left with a huge cliffhanger. Then, something wonderful may happen in the world of video games, the developer will release downloadable content (DLC) for the game that usually adds another portion of the story and even some extra items to play with. This year, this exact thing happened with one of 2013’s best games, Bioshock Infinite; and not only did the DLC add extra story play, but it tied together the most recent game with the very first game of the series.

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On Graduation

It’s that time of the year where everyone is excited. Classes have finally ended, finals will be over soon, and a new class of seniors will be crossing the stage to accept their “diploma” from MSU. I will be one of those people. Everyone asks me, “Are you excited? What are you doing after you graduate? Do you have any plans? Do you have a job? Are you nervous? Are you sad?” Well, in short: not sure, not sure, kind of, no, yes, kind of.

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Everyone expects seniors to have everything planned out to a T and be excited. In reality, it’s terrifying. Thinking about the fact that my undergrad college career is over is mind blowing and unbelievable. My entire life has been school. It’s what I’ve been good at. The cycle of summer job, school in the fall, winter break, school, repeat , is ingrained in me. School is what I’ve always been good at. I can’t imagine not feeling the need to go back to school in the fall. Not only that, but finding a job is hard. I know that seems obvious, but I think it’s something that all incoming freshman think isn’t true; I think it’s something we all expect to happen because, well, why wouldn’t it? But it’s hard, especially if you want the kind of job that is directly related to your major. It’s literally like sending out 20 resumes to get five rejections, two callbacks, and no responses from the rest. It’s disheartening and depressing and it just adds to the anxiousness of everything.

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But things are starting to change. School is getting exhausting, and I’m starting to get tired of being in a classroom and writing about “what I would do” and not having the opportunity to do it. I want more actual experience at a company doing a job so I can know what specifically to improve on. I think I’m starting to get tired of school. I’m not saying I would never come back to it (I want a Ph.D eventually), but I’m hitting the point that I need a break from it. I want to know what it’s like not to have to worry about schoolwork.

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My time at MSU has had its ups and downs, but overall I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend my college career. I love everything about this campus. I love the river, the rock, the Spartan spirit, the friends I’ve made, the self growth I’ve gone through, and all the experiences. Graduating is going to be hard, it’s going to be an emotional week coming up to graduation, but it’s necessary and it’s a good thing. I refuse to cry about it, though I know I will eventually, but I will smile and continue smiling as I cross the stage. All the money, time, tears, all-nighters, and caffeine was worth it. It’s finally done, and I’m more than content about it.

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However, on behalf of all students graduating please, PLEASE, stop asking us those anxiety creating questions. We’re freaking out enough about them.

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The Complicated Story with Sequels

With sequels, you either love them or hate them. It’s always scary when it comes to making the decision of writing a sequel for a book, movie, or game. There’s a lot of pressure to make the sequel as good as or better than the first. It’s not always successful. Sometimes it flops completely, other times the hype is good but the delivery is awful, and occasionally it comes out perfect. This doesn’t just apply to sequels, but to all games in a series because the pressure keeps building up either for redemption or continual success. Two great book series to talk about sequel success are the Hazelwood High series by Sharon Draper and the Princess series by Jim C. Hines (who is a resident writer). Both of these series are at a young adult reading level, but are definitely great reads for anyone.

The series by Draper starts with the first book Tears of a Tiger which focuses on the life and reaction of a high school basketball player after his best friend is killed in a car accident. While reading this book, you feel what he feels. Everything is from his point of view, so you hear the thoughts that linger in his head, you feel the anxiety and guilt growing in his heart, and you feel the genuine pain from the loss. This book works in every way to bring the reader into the story and connect them with him. Forged by Fire, the second book in the series, is from the point of view of one of the main characters’ best friends from the first book. It is a completely different story line but the enticing works just the same. In this book, you get the home life of this character and his little sister. You also get to see the other things he’s dealing with at the same time as trying to balance school and be a protector for his sister. This book, and the third one in the series Darkness Before Dawn, live up to the greatness that the first book creates. In a way, they build upon one another and you can’t have the full story without the second and third books. This helped prepare the success of the series.

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The series by Hines is one of my favorites simply because he breaks and recreates the traditional princess story that Disney creates. He breaks cliches and brings the story of the princesses back to the original fairy tale story that was written. In the first book, The Stepsister Scheme, the author has to build up the knowledge of his readers, so there is a lot more history that has to be explained. Not only is he having to redefine the history that people know about these princesses, but as well as set up his own story line as well. For these reasons, this book is critiqued as being slow and not as “good” as the sequel. In some ways, this prepared the sequel for success. However, for me, I always love the books with back story, it helps me grasp a well rounded history of what I’m reading. The sequel had more action and “drama” so to speak, and was received better than the first. In this case, the sequel built on the foundation of the first book and excelled past it. Continue reading

Character Development and The Sims

When you write a piece of nonfiction, you don’t necessarily have to worry about developing the character from scratch, but you still need to make sure their actions are intriguing enough to keep the audience’s attention. Let’s say that you’re writing a piece where you aren’t sure how that nonfictional character would react, what do you do? What about fiction writing? When you’re trying to tell the story of a character you created, how do you figure out what their genuine reaction would be?

These aren’t easy questions to answer. In fact, character development is one of the most difficult aspects of writing because the success/failure of a story relies on it. Luckily, there are free writing activities that can help, but there’s also a video game where the entire focus is character development: The Sims.

The Sims is a video game franchise that has been around for years. The video game focuses on a character that you create and customize everything about, and then you put them in a house, get them a job, and control the actions they do, such as: when they eat, what they eat, when they sleep, who they talk to, how they talk to them, and so on. As the game develops further with time, the makers enabled more aspects that the player could customize. The Sims 3 is the most up to date with The Sims 4 being developed now. In the Sims 3, one can customize every aspect of how a person physically looks from how high their cheek bones are to how short/tall their legs are. You can pick their personality, zodiac sign, customize their clothes color, give them piercings and so much more. You can completely make the characters your own. You can also create their partner, or have them flirt with who you choose, give them a car and hobbies, have them get a job and so much more.

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Working at The Writing Center Creates Amazing Possibilities: An Interview with Dr. Marilee Brooks-Gillies

There are many different people who work as consultants for The Writing Center at MSU. We are graduate and undergraduate students with a variety of backgrounds and majors as well as a variety of ages. Most of the skills that you gain from working at The Writing Center can be used in a variety of jobs. No matter how cliché it sounds, The Writing Center opens so many doors with endless possibilities behind them.

As an undergrad consultant, it’s really an amazing thing to know that after I graduate, there will be so many opportunities for me as a result from working here. In order to really get an idea for what opportunities are, I interviewed former graduate consultant, Dr. Marilee Brooks-Gillies, who is now a Writing Center Director. Here’s what she had to say:

JLG: What did you do while you were working at The  Writing Center?

MBG: I worked at The Writing Center for 5 years. I co-coordinated the BCC, coordinated the Graduate Writing Groups, redesigned the Navigating the PhD workshop, co-developed a stand-alone workshops series called Learning the Lingo, attended Mentored Meetings, consulted one-to-one, facilitated many workshops, facilitated several graduate writing groups, helped redesign WC handouts, participated in dissertation research collection, conducted research about graduate writing (as a member of the Graduate Writing Research Cluster), developed many conference panels and presented at many regional (MWCA, ECWCA) and national conferences (IWCA, IWAC, WPA, CCCC IWCA Collaborative, NTCE IWCA Collaborative) with WC colleagues, and served on the Assessment Committee.

I taught WRA 395: Writing Center Theory & Practice. I took an independent study with Trixie about WAC and Space/Place. I cut scrap paper, photocopied handouts, cleaned tables, made and dumped out coffee. I filled the candy bowl. I hid chocolate from the candy bowl in my mailbox. I had conversations about writing with clients and consultants. I sometimes walked around the WC in my slippers. I made cookies and cucumber sandwiches and attended parties and (sometimes) open mic nights and game nights. And probably a lot more that I’m not remembering. I never made a ceiling tile. I regret that. If I visit, I’ll ask Trixie if I can make one. The WC was an important place to me (it still is).

JLG: Were you planning on taking any experience you gained at The Writing Center towards a future career? For example, being a teacher/tutor, web content manager, etc.

MBG: While at MSU, I was a graduate student in Rhetoric & Writing planning to become a professor of Rhetoric & Writing, so I always knew that WCs could be part of my future and that they were definitely an important part of the discipline I was studying. I am now the Writing Center director at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Continue reading

Jam of the Week – Q.U.E.E.N by Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu

“Are we a lost generation of our people?”

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of music these days focuses too much on sex and the events that circle it. Although it’s cliché, back in my day, music had thought and meant something when you read the lyrics. I’m not old enough to say that, but it doesn’t matter because I’m standing by that statement. Every generation will always have those pure “sex songs” but there has to be a limit. This song, this entire album, came out just in time to save the world.

Janelle Monae is an amazing singer/songwriter. Her album The Electric Lady is her second album, and features the popular hit “Primetime” featuring Miguel, which is amazing on it’s own. This album also features 19 (I think) other singles & interludes. Though there is no denying the great rhythm and movement to her music instrumentals, her lyrics are so powerful that it’s hard to avoid them in the song. They aren’t words you want to ignore because they’re repeating over and over a part of the body or something a girl should do, or what have you.

In her song “Q.U.E.E.N,” Ms. Monae is writing about oppression in society from a variety of forms. From being talked about for how one dresses, to a person’s gender, Janelle Monae is speaking up and giving the music world exactly what it needs: good, quality lyrics. Writing takes on many forms, and song lyrics are a branch of poetry. Writing about personal experiences is one of the greatest forms of expression and can create some of the best music. This album, this song, is a great form of expression and is something that will attract music lovers of all kind. It’s a great mix of R&B, Rap, and Pop. The song will end and you will feel so inspired to do something amazing with your life in the world.

“Will you sleep, or will you preach?”

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Point of View & Video Games: Part 3

The time has finally come for the final segment of Point of View & Video Games. PoV in Video Games are really determined by how you see and interact with the environment around the character you’re playing as. If 1st person is looking direct through the character’s eyes and “feeling” what they feel, and 2nd person is you seeing that character and controlling all of their actions, then 3rd person is when you are seeing that character and controlling them (from an unreliable narrator perspective) but the “world” around you will keep going on if you’re there playing or not.

Essentially, 3rd person is just like 2nd person. You’re still able to develop your story and gather information that is relevant. The key difference between 2nd person and 3rd person is the game space you’re playing in. For example, in Assassin’s Creed 2 (which I talked about in Point of View & Video Games: Part 2) you are the sole player. When you decide to stop playing the game, the world that the game is taking place in stops. The game starts back up and stops when you want. With 3rd person, there is a world that continues and your character presence isn’t required for it to keep going. These 3rd person games are mainly online and multiplayer games. To relate this idea, think about a Tamagachi pet. Whether you were directly doing something with it or not, it was still aging, using the bathroom, getting hungry, and it’s emotions were changing with time. This same logic can be applied to 3rd person video games.

A great example of this type of game is World of Warcraft. This MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) is a perfect embodiment of what a 3rd person game is like.
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With this game, you modify your character as much as you want and choose what they focus on when it comes to a “story.” However, if you decide to log out of the game for the day, there are still other people playing so the game will not stop when you do. Even if by random chance there was no one on the game at all, of all the many players that their are on WoW, the game would still not stop. The world would still be functioning and continuing alone. Continue reading

Pen of Jenn – Visual Design & Its Importance

Everyday, we are flooded with images, specifically in the form of ads and logos. They do so much work on our brain that we don’t know it. A lot of logos and ads are so well known that most people don’t even need certain elements to know what it is. Here’s an example: “Bah dap bop bop bah, I’m lovin’ it.”  One guess: McDonald’s! The legendary golden arches are known throughout the world. The McDonalds’ red & gold are so well known that maybe you don’t even need the arches. But why do the arches exist? What’s their significance? Why red and gold? These are all decisions that were made intentionally and not at random by a visual designer. All of these things were intentionally selected to evoke something from people who see it.

Step right up ladies and gentlemen. For my first trick, I will be analyzing the Starbucks logo. For most of us, we grew up with this Starbucks logo:

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This logo has the Starbucks name in it, along with their top selling commodity, coffee, in front of a dark green background, and their trademark Siren in the middle in front of a black background. The dark green represents “nature, trustworthy, refreshing, cool, restful, quiet, traditional, and money.” Though Starbucks sells more than coffee, it is known for its coffee. The Siren in the middle is possibly the most significant decision for the logo. A Siren, from greek mythology, is known for its powerful voice and luring sailors off of their course and to death. They’re hypnotizing and it’s hard to resist their call. By Starbucks having a Siren, they are saying that their coffee is luring and hard to resist (though the death thing probably isn’t included in the meaning). Though this may seem a bit stuck up, it’s hard to deny the bounty of people who love Starbucks and drink their coffee faithfully (I may or may not be included in this).

Below is the new Starbucks logo that was introduced in 2011.

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With the new logo, they’ve completely omitted the “Starbucks Coffee” around the Siren and zoomed in to focus on the Siren. Not only are the same meanings still applied to the color Green and the Siren itself, but now, Starbucks is implying that they are so well known that you don’t need to see their name to know it’s their coffee.

There you have it folks! I bet you’ll never look at the Starbucks logo the same. Not that I’m bias, but you should still go buy their coffee because it’s great. Logos have so many different implications that aren’t even considered when we view them as consumers. It’s amazing what can be deciphered. Until next time from the Pen of Jenn, I leave you with this meme of where the Starbucks Logo may go in the future.

 

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Point of View & Video Games: Part 2

With 2nd person PoV, this is essentially every video game from the literal sense. As I said in Part 1, all video games are written for 2nd person PoV but played through a different PoV. If 1st person if looking direct through the character’s eyes and “feeling” what they feel, then 2nd person is you seeing that character and controlling all of their actions.

The Arkham Series (which I previously talked about in “It’s All About the Details“) is a great example of a standard video game PoV. Most games with this PoV, but especially games in a series like Arkham, do a better job at drawing the player into the storyline and game in my opinion. With first person view, I always think of just shooting games. However, as you may know, Arkham has nothing to do with shooting (at least, not done by ‘you’ aka Batman). For me, being able to move around, gain knowledge, and truly become part of the story. However, since I previously talked about the Arkham games and their awesomeness, I will use a different series.

A wildly popular series that is perfect for what I’m talking about is the Assassin’s Creed series. It has exploded in popularity. There are currently five AC games (I own and have beaten them all) with a sixth one being released next month. The storyline of the games is a little complicated, but basically you are a young man in the present who has to go back in time to learn the skills of the Assassin’s from his ancestors in order to stop the Knights Templar. That’s the most basic description that I can give and I know it’s not that basic.

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The detailing in this are very similar to how in depth the Arkham series goes. The cool thing is that you’re learning information with the main character Desmond. Although we aren’t looking at anything through his eye sight, through the use of 2nd person, we are learning all the facts about this “mission” just as he is. This applies through all the games. The other cool thing is that with this PoV, you can see the actions you’re guiding happening. So, for example, if you’re going to jump off the roof of a building to assassinate someone, you have to set it up and be in the perfect position. Continue reading

Point of View & Video Games: Part 1

One of the main dilemmas that a writer can encounter is trying to determine the best way to tell a story. In my “Intro to Fiction” class last year, we had various writing activities where we had to experiment with different points of view. However, one thing I learned is that you can’t just give any story a point of view because that point of view may not fit that story.

In video games, point of view is an entirely different task. PoV in video games is a very complicated subject, which is why I’ve decided to address each in their own post to hopefully avoid confusion. While there are three different points of view in narratives, most video games are written for the same PoV but are played through different PoVs.

The most obvious PoV to figure out with video games is first person. You are playing directly from the character’s perspective. So, in essence, your eyes are their eyes; you can see as far as they can, and you control every aspect of their body just as if it was your body. Two examples of games that really help understand this view are: Doom & Bioshock (the entire series).

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The cool thing about the above screenshot is that the character, “you,” have been hit, so your screen goes red to represent it. The picture of the character also shows you what you look like and will show scars/scratches when you’ve been “beaten up.” Continue reading