Walter Ong: Writing is a Way of Being

Lecture notes on Ong:

Below are my lecture notes on Ong. Here’s the quick version: Ong, along with Eric Havelock, were among the first scholars to argue that literacy was more than a tool that simply communicates what human think. Rather, literacy is a transformative agent that shapes how/what I think. And, in turn, what I value (and even, at worst, who I value).

Below Ong details 14 different ways writing changes our brains, and the corresponding shifts to reason, ethics, subjectivity. Basically, writing affords us far more nuanced vocabularies–whereas the oral Greek culture might have 2 words for death, a literate culture might have 50 (I do an exercise with students where I ask them for all the words they know for anger. Then remind them that ancient Greece had just one word).

Writing also individualizes us: speaking brings us in proximity. Writing distances.

Writing also leads to a different, more exacting, sense of Truth.

Similarly, writing transforms knowledge into an object distinct from a person. It objectifies.

Finally, by increasing memory, writing allows for a kind of syllogistic reasoning that would be almost impossible in a purely oral world. While dialectical argumentation might have its roots in orality, it is only in literacy that we can dissect premises (clauses) and generate conclusions.

  • Writing separates the knower from the known (24). In articulating this, Ong means that writing not only serves to generate objectivity (in the scientific sense), but also leads us to conceptualize knowledge itself as an object, a thing, a materiality.
  • Writing separates interpretation from data (25). Oral cultures do not have the sense of precision and exactitude literates expect (transcription).
  • Writing distances word and sound (25).
  • Writing distances the source of the communication (the writer) from the recipient (the reader), both in time and in space. (25-26)
  • Writing distances the word from the plenum of existence. (26) In other words, writing decontextualizes.
  • Writing enforces verbal precision of a sort unavailable in oral cultures. (26)
  • Writing separates past from present. (26)
  • Writing establishes “administration” (26). See below for an explication.
  • Writing separates logic from rhetoric (27).
  • Writing separates academic learning from wisdom, making possible the conveyance of highly organized abstract thought structures independently of their actual use or of their integration into the human lifeworld (27).
  • Writing creates high and low languages (27).
  • Writing creates expansive vocabularies in the high dialects (28).
  • Writing intensifies abstraction as it becomes more abstract (28).
  • Writing separates being from time. (28)

Basically, “administration” refers to hierarchy. Literally, Ong means that administration produces officials in charge of overseeing (top-down) different elements of society. There’s not one homogenous collective, or one total ruler. “Rule” begins to be organized, ontologized, broken up into categories. This gets complicated pretty quick–but if you think about Aristotle’s metaphysics, then you see what Ong is talking about. Aristotle began to think ontology/reality by creating categories, hierarchies, thought trees, for things (the whole genus/species thing). That is, according to Ong, a product of the way that literacy helps organize[administer] thought. So for thought, so for social-political organization.

Decontextualization is also in play here. Put simply, oral thinkers think associatively. If you say “tree,” they will begin seeing the tree in connection to all the other things that inform tree (bird, grass, sun, wind, leaves, etc). Literate thinkers don’t do this. They pull the tree out of its environment to focus on it as an individual entity. They “divide” (one of Ong’s favorite words) the tree from its lived environment. And–here is the connection to hierarchy, metaphysics, ontology, Aristotle–they start to break the isolated tree into its various parts.

Literate thinkers are very good at this kind of critical analysis: breaking things into parts. Determining what parts are essential to the object, and which are accidental (determining essential and accidental qualities is the foundation of Aristotle’s metaphysics and all modern science/thought; my own research argues that purely “literate” or “essentialist” thinking is bad and that, hopefully, technology can lead us to retain literacy’s benefits while also rediscovering the ethical compassion/associative thinking of orality).

One thing to mark here, too. Ong is often attacked by multicultural scholars as dismissing the intellectual capacity of oral cultures. This is probably true. I read Ong as a theorist rather than an anthropologist. He isn’t articulating how people actually thought as much as detailing two different ways of thinking about thinking. And he is trying to make us realize that the way we think isn’t “natural,” but rather a learned, evolutionary, technological, cybernetic process.

Which means, of course, that we can learn to learn otherwise.

A good example of “administration” would be law. In ancient Hebrew culture, law was administered by a judge in the moment. He would hear both sides of a case and make a reasonable judgement.

But, once you have literacy, you start writing laws down. Now the judge has a much different function s/he applies a previously determined set of codes and procedures (abstract principles) to a specific situation.

In oral law, there is no pre-existing procedures. Sure, there’s codes and commandments, but compare the ten commandments to the legal libraries of today. Boom. Ong in a nutshell.

Lifeworld isn’t fancy. It just means the world in which you live. If there’s anything tricky to it, it would be that as literate westerners, it is impossible for us to appreciate how much the process of abstraction impacts the way we negotiate the world.

For instance, when a literate person encounters a tree, they don’t simply encounter the tree. They begin to think through the tree, to dissect it, to administer/organize it. ALL. THE. TIME.

High dialects means something like “academic discourse.” He is acknowledging that English isn’t one homogenous language. There’s a big difference between someone like me and a student in your class. Sure, we are both literate, but could you really say we speak/write the same language?
Or, in Aristotelian terms, we are of the same genus, but are very different species.

Which gets into how this kind of thinking can quickly become genocidal. Because, at some dark unconscious level, we can come to understand that those who don’t “write” the “right” way are a different species. A sub-species. Less than Human (with a capital H). But that’s another lecture for another time.

Rhetoric and Gaming 8.2 Bogost, Rhetoric, and Procedurality

We’ll talk more about Bogost next week, after you have completed Project 2. In today’s class, you’ll take a quiz that will highlight some key terms. But I wanted to take a minute to explicate what I see as a problem with Bogost’s treatment of rhetoric, and, consequently, his framing of procedural rhetoric. This isn’t a “problem” in the sense of “Bogost’s theory doesn’t work.” In fact, I think he provides us with a valuable way of seeing (as Burke would call it) procedural arguments. Rather, because he defines rhetoric according to a logocentric Aristotelian tradition, and pays too little attention to Burke’s concept of identification, he misses an opportunity to address a wider scope of rhetorical effects than simply “to change opinion or action” (29).

Briefly, I would reduce the debates Bogost traces regarding rhetoric (and especially visual rhetoric) to a discussion as to whether rhetoric has to advance arguments. Bogost reads classical rhetoric as built on the back of dialectic and argument (via Aristotle’s response to Socrates’ and Plato’s condemnation). Contemporary rhetoric, he argues, is more invested in style. He writes:

In contemporary rhetoric, the goal of persuasion is largely underplayed or even omitted as a defining feature of the field, replaced by the more general notion of elegance, clarity, and creativity in communication. (20)

Let me go on record as saying he is half right. Contemporary rhetoric isn’t always concerned with persuasion (though much of it still is). But the second half of that sentence makes me want to pull my hair out. To be fair, Bogost isn’t a rhetorician by trade–his work lies at the intersections of philosophy and technology, and I would excuse him a bit if he is not completely familiar with the nuances of another field. But I get the sense, especially from his cursory review of Burke, that reviewers likely suggested that there is more depth to contemporary rhetorical studies than he acknowledges.

So, if contemporary rhetoric isn’t concerned about persuasion or style, then what is it’s concern? I would argue that rhetoric, inspired by Burke and 20th century philosophy/theory (a number of kinds here: phenomenology, continental, postmodern, poststructuralist, feminist, postcolonial, critical, etc.), has taken the process of identification as its central concern. Full disclosure: my work takes identification as its central concern (though I refer to it as “ethics”) and I consider myself a contemporary rhetorician. But I do not think I am alone in this endeavor by any stretch of the imagination.

Let’s look at Bogost’s discussion of Burke:

The influential twentieth-century rhetorician Kenneth Burke marks an important change in the understanding of rhetoric. Because people are inherently separate from one another, we seek ways to join our interests. Burke identifies this need as the ancestor of the practice of rhetoric. He extends rhetoric beyond persuasion, instead suggesting “identification” as a key term for the practice. We use symbol systems, such as language, as a way to achieve this identification. Burke defines rhetoric as a part of the practice of identification, as “the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or induce actions in other human agents.” While rhetoric still entails persuasion for Burke, he greatly expands its purview, arguing that it facilitates human action in general. Persuasion is subordinated to identification [...] and using rhetoric to achieve an end is only one possible use of the craft for Burke. Rhetoric becomes a means to facilitate identification and to “bridge the conditions of estrangement that are natural and inevitable.” (20-21)

This is an admirable summary of Burke’s work–though I will argue it underplays some of the more radical dimensions of Burke’s rhetoric. First, though, I would suggest that the “other ends of rhetoric” suggested by Burke disappear from Bogost’s book after this paragraph. A few pages later, (procedural) rhetoric is summarized thusly:

Following the classical model, procedural rhetoric entails persuasion–to change the opinion or action. Following the contemporary model, procedural rhetoric entails expression–to convey ideas effectively. (29).

Notice how identification has disappeared.

What I would emphasize is that Burke’s concept of identification isn’t necessarily a conscious product of authorial intent or agency. Burke, influenced by psychoanalysis, Marxism, and phenomenology was interested in the unconscious (his work anticipates Zizek’s sociological reading of Lacan). Rhetoric becomes the study of how a collective group of individuals becomes a “we.” Without a prior sense of a “we” (such that persuasion isn’t subordinated to identification as much as identification is prior to persuasion), there can be no exchange dialectical or otherwise. And, in the wake of the holocaust, Burke’s work was particularly attuned to the ways in which any creation of an “us” by necessity operates by engendering a “them.” Identification is impossible without its counterpart, division. Burke’s rhetoric is an attempt to attend to this process It is not necessarily an attempt to stop the process (for Burke it is indispensable), but an effort to create increasingly inclusive senses of “us” and to minimize the violence identification wrecks upon “them.” This for me is “ethics” in its most basic sense.

Again, my point here isn’t to bash Bogost or his concept of procedural rhetoric. As we will see in the coming weeks, I find both to be interesting, innovative, and useful. But I do want to highlight his rather impoverished sense of contemporary rhetoric, and to suggest that we can better understand procedural rhetoric once we attend to how videogames always operate by placing us within particular identities (particular senses of “us”). This, I believe, compliments Bogost’s discussion of videogames and ideology (3, 71-79).

Reading Notes/Quotes

Traditional take on classical rhetoric (17-19).

Problems with Visual / Digital rhetoric (21-28; 34-35).

Procedural rhetoric isn’t about “content” but “processes”; distinction between procedural rhetoric and serious games (48, 54-59)

Example of an enthymeme as a truncated syllogism (36). Bogost makes a direct connection between the enthymeme, interactivity, and procedural rhetoric (43).

“This is really what we do when we play videogames: we explore the possibility space its rules afford by manipulating the game’s controls” (42-43). Games like SuperBetter or sf0 attempt to refashion the real world with the expanded “possibility space” we afford game worlds: making it easier to experiment with new ways of operating or interacting with reality.

For videogames as artistic expression meets interesting choices, see 45.

Key to understanding Bogost’s definition of rhetoric is how he differentiates himself from Fogg: 60-61. Compare to his discussion of the processes that interest him (5).

Rhetoric and Gaming / 8.1 / Bogost and Reading Theory

Via request, I have extended the due date on the second project to next week, providing you with one additional weekend to work together. But I will start on our next units this week: both the unit dealing with rhetoric in the real world and the unit focusing on research.

To get us started, I want to work with Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games and his focus on procedural rhetoric. While not an overly dense or intentionally opaque book, it is difficult, and I imagine, for some of you, this might be the first time you have encountered a theoretical text.

Working from that assumption, I want to introduce a few procedures for reading more difficult prose.

Identify the Problem

All texts are responses to problems, usually multiple problems. A key to penetrating and appreciating an academic text is to identify the problems it addresses. Sometimes, these problems will be explicit and easily identifiable. Other times, they can be more implicit. But as you are reading–and particularly as you are reading introductory material, be on the look out for the problem an author hopes to solve.

Have Google at the Ready

When you are reading theoretical texts, it is extremely helpful to have a search engine and/or wikipedia at the ready. You’ll want to search quickly for key terms and names you don’t recognize.

I emphasize “key” because you don’t want to fall into a hole searching for every term you don’t recognize. Try to focus on the one’s the author emphasizes.

Searching for names can be particularly important because it can help you to identify the author’s problem. Often, writers are working with or against other writers. Being able to map the relationship of an author to other writers/movements/problems/solutions can be extremely helpful.

Read with a pen, never a highlighter

Studies have shown that reading with a highlighter does absolutely nothing to increase retention. Reading with a pen, however, can be extremely beneficial. I recommend using the pen for two things:

  • First, either underline or mark the margin in any significant place.
  • Second, at the top of any page that contains a mark, write a few word that indicate what the mark is about–even if it just repeats words from the marked passage. The idea is to create a “flip index” of main ideas across the top of the page.

Preparing for Class Discussion

When I prepared as a student, I would try to mark off three things as I read:

  • A passage I didn’t understand
  • A passage of critical importance to the author’s problem/solution
  • A passage that got my attention, made me laugh, made me growl

If you come to class with even two of these three passages, you will rock any class discussion.

Write it Up

A final point: when you finish reading something, you should always write a brief 3-5 sentence summary of it somewhere.

New Media Production / Week 7

Editing Audio

In terms of sound editing, it seems like Audacity is still the best choice. It is a free, open-source project available for both PC and Mac:

Here’s some tutorials for working with Audacity. I’m sure you can go to YouTube to find some screencast tutorials as well.

If you have a Mac, then you also have the choice of Garage Band, which (if I remember correctly) is still included for free with any Mac computer. Here’s a few screenshots:

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 11.10.08 AM

The image shows a project in Garageband. I created this project from the new project screen, using “vocal” as my input choice. I can easily adjust the volume of the piece. Using the “browse” tab on the right, I can find a number of filters. I can then double click on the small selection in the top section to open the audio region area on the bottom. This lets me manipulate the sound track (cutting parts out, stretching them, adjusting volume, etc).

One more image:

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 11.10.36 AM

Notice the blue button in the bottom right corner? That opens my media browser. So here’s the really cool part: Garage Band will open the audio file for any movie you have in your media browser. You can edit (and layer, if you want background tracks!) in GarageBand, and it will make the changes automatically in iMovie. Like a God Damned Professional! Here’s a tutorial for creating voiceovers in Garageband for iMovies (5 minutes). Here’s a link that walks through this a bit on an iPad.

And, while it doesn’t have anything to do with the project, this “create your own ringtone” demo is pretty cool.

Unfortunately, if you are using a PC, you don’t have free access to a program that can emulate iMovie/Garage Band. You can use the USF Apps portal to connect to Adobe Premier and Adobe Soundbooth, but I don’t recommend it (definitely not if you use Brighthouse Cable for your Internet provider, you might be able to swing it with Verizon). While the USF Apps portal gives you free access to any program, Premier is incredibly large and taxing; past students report that it crashes frequently when you try to access it online.

You can still edit movie audio in audacity. The Audacity project site has some information on how to do this. It requires you install and additional download, called the FFmpeg library.

File Formats

A final word on video file formats: there is a variety of them, but it is helpful to know which ones are the most agnostic and compatible. Generally speaking, if you have the option, then you should save/convert/export (whatever) using the .mpg (or .mp4) extension. This is the universal standard.

iMovie, if I remember correctly, will by default use the .mov extension. This is less universal, and unless someone has a video converter program or quicktime on their computer, they may not be able to view the video (almost every computer has one of those things, but not *every* computer).

MovieMaker, if I remember correctly, will by default use the .wmv extension. This extension is no longer supported by Mac, so unless they have downloaded FlipForMac converter, Mac users will be unable to watch your video.

Here is an obnoxiously long list of video file formats.

New Media Production / Week 6

On tonight’s agenda:


Rhetoric & Gaming: 6.1 Project 2 Proposal

In today’s class I want your groups to produce a project proposal. The following should be a google doc that is shared with me. The proposal should include the following elements:

  • Group Names
  • Project Description: medium, a 2-3 sentence summation of your aims. What is your research question (and, if you can’t frame your goals in terms of an open-ended question, then we might have a problem).
  • Methodology for selecting games to be included in your study. You should point to the methodologies of another study if possible.
  • A tentative list of games that this methodology has produced.
  • Methodology for analyzing games. Give me a description of what you will look at/for, whether you will play the games, how you will collate your data. Your methodological discussion should point to other articles/studies. At this time, you should include a list of things you have read or will read to help validate your findings. In the final project, I will ask for you to justify why you looked for what you looked for–are your results valid?
  • A hypothesis: what are you expecting to find?
  • A project time chart, outlining goals, due dates, etc. I will ask each group member to keep a log that charts the hours they have invested on the project in this document starting today until you turn it in. The log should be the last section of the document. I have attached a sample proposal and log that you can copy/paste.

In terms of playing the games, I expect each of you to invest about 4-5 hours a week into this project for the next few weeks (this is due the Thursday of week 8, so that’s a total of 12-15 hours of work). So, while I understand that you can’t play every game in the study, I expect you to play some games.

Also, there’s an approximation for how much time you will spend researching and writing about the games you don’t play. If all you are doing is looking at character models, then this might take 10 minutes a game. I would expect, then, that each person would look at 25 games or so. A group of 4 would look at 100 games.

If, beyond appearance, you delve into the script to look at dialogue, then that will take more time. How long is difficult to estimate. This is something I will take into account during final grading.

New Media Production / Week 5


First, I want to let Michelle present her MEmorial.


Second, I want to spend time thinking about Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole. I got the page numbers wrong in the homework section last week (I meant for you to read to page 38), but I still think we can trace out what Shipka means by making composition whole.

In a few weeks, when we are finished with the Kalman project, I will ask you to design a “wholistic” assignment (preferably for FYC, but it could also be for any other class you teach). The assignment sheet will have to include a discussion of Shipka (so be on the look out for quotes that might serve as the basis of an assignment).

On delicious, I have been keeping a tag with this project in mind, my inspiration tag. This is where I store project ideas, things I might try here or in my undergraduate new media class. As we are working on the Kalman project, I will ask you to keep your eyes open for projects that inspire you. Tweet them to me (or, if you use delicious, just tag them and share with me).

A few very different projects to stimulate your imagination:

Kalman Project

First, I want to watch something. Or somethings.

I am drawn to Kalman’s work because I am interested in the extent to which new media can help steer us away from “thinking” and toward “feeling.” By us, I mean to frame both scholars and teachers (K-Grad School). In short, I believe our institutions place too much emphasis on the power and importance of thought (research, knowledge, etc) and not enough on feeling, which I would connect, via Levinas, rhetorics of pathos, Ulmer + Barthes’ “sting” of the punctum, feminism’s validation of subjective experience (the ME of a MEmorial). Ultimately, I believe cultivation of feeling is key to developing an ethical rhetoric, one less based on agonism/argument and more sensitive to cooperation/tolerance.

But that’s my spin on Kalman. Today, I want you to think through her work in order to develop what you have read into a “wholistic” assignment. To help do this, I am going to ask that you play a little bit of code switching, translating Kalman’s products into a potential process: specifically, I want you to create a recipe for how to make a Kalman. Use the genre of the recipe as literally as you see fit.

So, right now, working in groups of two, I will ask you to make a short video (2 minutes) detailing your recipe. The video needs to have at least one audio track. Preferably two (one track of dialogue, one track of intro/outro music). The video should involve at least one still image. The video needs to follow Stockman’s rules for video that doesn’t suck.

OMG I DON’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE A VIDEO. Yes, you do. It is easy. If you are on a PC, then you have Windows Media Maker. If you are on a mac, then you have iMovie.


Hi all, I ran out of time last night, and I realize things might be confusing. Let me try to clear things up. Right now, we are working on 4 things.

  • First, keep up with SuperBetter and with sf0. Our 4th project is Rhetoric, Gaming, and the Real World. Next week, we’ll open class sharing what quests we have done.
  • Second, there is the Kalman recipe–the assignment we worked on in groups last night. This project has two aims: 1) to get you thinking about what Kalman is doing, and how you might do something similar, 2) to get you working with a video editing software. These videos should be 2 minutes. We will look at these in next week’s class.
  • Third, there is Project 2, the Kalman project. This is a longer project, in which you will make a Kalman. You may follow the recipe your group made, or you can make something new. You will have until October 17th to make something. That something could/should involve:
    • A place
    • A dominant narrative
    • A subjective experience / a walk
    • Details
    • Whimsy
    • ?
  • Fourth, and finally, there is the Shipka project. This is project 3. We will start this project after the Kalman project. Project 3 asks you to design your own project. I want to plant this seed early, so you are looking for inspiration and thinking about possibilities for the next few weeks. If you were teaching a course in new media, what might you teach?

Rhetoric & Gaming 5.1: Race and Gaming, Tricky Terms

This week I wanted to open our discussion of race and gaming by explicating out a few important binary terms. This is my response to Factual Feminist’s response to Sarkeesian’s video, in which I flush out a bit of what is covered in Jonathan Mann’s response to the response to Sarkeesian’s video. Here goes.

Factual Feminist – Are Gams Sexist?
Auto-Tune Rebuttal

First, it is important to recognize a distinction between causation and correlation. In her response, Factual Feminist points to a study that concludes there is no causal relationship between video games and violence. It is true that there is no definitive consensus as to whether video games cause violent behavior. As far as I know (and I don’t claim definitive knowledge), while most studies suggest there is a causal link many studies that claim it does as there are claims it does not, there are others that suggest there isn’t (though the methodology on some of these are questionable at best). But, for the purposes of argument, let’s admit that one has proven any causal relationship between playing violent video games (or watching violent movies or playing “cowboys and indians / cops and robbers / knights and dragons”) and committing acts of violence.

Even if there is no causal link, this does not mean there is not a strong correlation. In quantitative and qualitative research, correlation speaks to how likely something is to be associated with something else. If you find pancakes, there is a .97 correlation chance that you will find syrup (hey, some people like chocolate chips and/or whip cream). And it should not be surprising that the correlation between violent video games and violence is very, very high.

What do we make of this? Why, if the correlation is so strong, isn’t there a causal argument? Because it is impossible to determine whether you are drawn to violent video games because you are violent or are made violent by exposure to games. It is something of a chicken and the egg scenario. There is also, of course, the fact that the overwhelming majority of people exposed to violent media won’t transform into serial killers or school shooters. Put quickly: since Columbine, video games have made a great scapegoat whenever there is a public tragedy. If we just blame it on games and bad parenting, then we don’t have to confront either 1) the dark horror in human nature that drives us to kill or 2) the political and material conditions that provide easy access to firearms.

1 and 2 are meant to be provocative. And they introduce the second binary I want to work through before we begin talking about race: essentialism or materialism. This morning, I found the following article on my facebook feed: “The Best States for Raising Black Children Have One Disturbing Thing in Common.” The article created an index for raising all children and featured graphs that displayed the best and worst states according to the index.

When you look at the data, you will probably instantly invent a rationale for what you are seeing. I would argue that this rationale will likely fall across one of two poles:

In an essentialist argument, you would argue that there is something essential to black people (whether natural or cultural, nature or nurture) that produces these economic conditions. These conditions are caused by their essence.
In an materialist argument, you would argue that these economic conditions are the result of the institutional, political, cultural, and racial forces surrounding black people. These conditions are caused by the world around them.

To recall Thursday’s discussion: part of my job is training you to recognize and dissect arguments, to evaluate evidence, and to recognize logical fallacies. That’s rhetoric. Part of my job is also training you what will get you fired, and what you cannot, in our contemporary cultural context, say without causing a shit storm. So let me be clear in indicating that what I say next is not an expression of my personal convictions (which I would rather not expose) but rather a warning regarding our current cultural context: making any kind of essentialist argument in our contemporary culture is quite likely to get you fired.

New Media Production / Week 4

Mea Culpa // Cyberduck

Deepest apologies for the FileZilla mishap. Sourceforge used to be a reputable site, and FileZilla used to be a respected project. I failed to do my due diligence here and I apologize.

Apparently, Cyberduck is still free (but only if you visit their website, it sells for $24 on the Mac Store…). Here is a link to the Cyberduck download page.

MEmorial Showcase

Much of our evening will be dedicated to watching your MEmorial projects. I am excited!

Rhetoric, Games, Gamification, and the *Real* World

I want us to get started thinking about games and gaming. At the same time, I want to continue using new media composing tools. I want to do these things by playing a different kind of game, an ARG (Alternate Reality Game). The game in question: sf0. Originating in San Francisco in 2009, sfZero describes itself as

…a Collaborative Production Game. Players build characters by completing tasks for their groups and increasing their Score. The goals of play include meeting new people, exploring the city, and participating in non-consumer leisure activities.

Players document the completion of these tasks in the form of text, photographs, audio tracks, and/or video. Players then upload their documentation to forums on the sf0 site and are awarded experience points by other players based on the creativity and sophistication of their task’s execution. As players level up within a particular character class, they earn points for that team (the game frames the various classes as in competition), the right to tackle more challenging tasks, and eventually the right to develop and submit their own tasks.

In class we should have time to set-up sf0 accounts. Think of your super hero name. Let’s come up with a team name.

Also: SuperBetter

Time to begin.


For next week:

  • Complete the postmortem on Canvas for the MEmorial project (this should take about an hour)
  • Complete any two quests for sf0 (the player photograph and one other quest)
  • “Win” at least 4 days in SuperBetter; come up with a power-up, a quest, and a bad guy
  • Read Kalman, …And the Pursuit of Happiness, April and any 3 other months
  • Read Shipka Towards a Composition Made Whole, 1-29
  • Write a blog post about something you read somewhere
  • Tweet something to #enc6422
  • Celebrate the fact that you have made Internets

Rhetoric & Gaming / Week 4 / Class 2: Project Day

Quickie: SuperBetter

I’ve gotten a few email questions asking “what should I be doing with SuperBetter?” My quick answer here is: us it. If you go through the introductory process, then you have already selected or articulated a personal problem you want to address: willpower, procrastination, weight loss, exercise, confidence, etc. SuperBetter will give you a bunch of quick things (power-ups), daily routines (quests), and big challenges (bosses) that you should “battle/complete” everyday. You’ll find them on your to-do list. You can also download “quest packs” (at least I think that is what they call them). All together, you should be clearing your to do list everyday, starting today. That means 3 quests, 3 power-ups, and 1 boss. Don’t cheat. And, seriously, start doing this everyday. At the end of the next month, we should all be at least level 10. And, I get a daily feed of who has done what (since you all friended me).

Welcome to the Panopticon.

Prepping for Project Two

We will spend much of today talking about your projects: listening to theories of art and celebrating successful and interesting games. That should be a fun conversation!

But I want to take a minute to have what is a bit more somber conversation, in preparation for the weekend’s readings and Tuesday’s class. As I touched upon last week, we will be discussing race and gender. These can be difficult conversations. I want you to feel comfortable to ask questions–I am not attempting to police thought. I often think what makes people hesitant to join these conversations is the ire with which “Social Justice Warriors,” such as myself, will rain fire down upon people who might, out of innocent ignorance, say something that mortally offends their liberal sensibilities. So, up front, I am warning everyone to take a deep breath and extend charity and tolerance to everyone else’s perspective.

I also want you to take a look at this picture:

If you think this picture is funny, that’s ok. Maybe. Often comedy operates by transgressing imposed social norms, giving us a moment of respite from the hard work of being civilized human beings (hey, Archer is one of my favorite shows).

If you don’t realize that this picture is mortifyingly wrong, and that it is socially unacceptable to think this is funny, then we have a problem. And if you think me thinking that this picture is mortifyingly terrible is me making a big deal out of a little joke, then you need to keep that opinion to yourself.

It might seem as if I am not willing to extend charity to your perspective, that I am policing you. In part, yes. Part of my job, especially as someone teaching in the Professional Writing, Rhetoric, and Technology program, is to teach you the social boundaries that discourse should not cross. Transforming genocide, or domestic abuse, into a joke is one of them.

I’m pretty sure that if a bunch of black students from a northern university made a sign that said “Let’s March ‘Em Like Sherman All the Way Back to the Sea,” then southern white people would lose their minds. And I know that if a bunch of muslim students made a sign that said “Let’s Blow ‘Em Up Like the Twin Towers,” then people would go absolutely crazy. You don’t get to make a joke about another culture’s tragedies. Period. Being a sophisticated Professional Writer or Rhetorician requires a measure of cross-cultural awareness.

As the fallout of the recent #GamerGate nonsense hopefully shows: you don’t get to purchase your identity, or just have some fun, at the expense of others–especially at the expense of groups that have been historically victimized, enslaved, suppressed, lynched, or disenfranchised.


There’s a fairly significant amount of reading for next class, so please budget 2-3 hours. As you read these articles, pay particular attention to their methodology, as well as their findings. In Tuesday’s class, I will ask you to use these articles to specify the dimensions of your next assignment. In other words, project 2 will be a response to these two articles (in the form of Sarkeesian’s video). So: