“Traveler’s Notebook: Monster Tales”: A Video Game to Encourage Cultural Empathy

by Kaley Rittichier, Ball State University

“Traveler’s Notebook: Monster Tales” is a two-player digital game in which players travel the globe encountering monsters, piecing together stories, and acquiring new skills. They can travel to Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, North America, and South America. Each one of these locations has monsters specific to that location; these monsters exhibit something about their cultures. The goal of the game is to foster in children empathy for different cultures through monsters, who are engendered by their cultures.

This game is a product of a Ball State Immersive Course, created by a multidisciplinary group consisting of myself, nine other undergraduates, and a mentor. The game was inspired by a certain form of narrative gameplay which is exhibited in the board game Tales of the Arabian Nights. To us, the interesting aspect of the board game was its ability to represent the culture that appears in the renowned book of the same title. The question arose as to whether this same idea could be stretched further to include more cultures. This is how we began our project.

Using monsters as the theme wasn’t decided at the beginning, but a few weeks into the project. We decided on monsters as a theme because a) they are especially interesting to kids, and b) we realized that monsters have a quite unique unifying aspect to them, in that, although each culture has its own monsters, there can be, not only differences from, but also similarities to the monsters of other cultures.

It is important to note the level of empathy that we hope to achieve. There has been much research devoted to fostering empathy, especially in children,, none of which sets it up as an easy task. It  can’t be achieved simply by hearing a few facts about a culturally different  person/group. It is, therefore, important for us to note that we simply want to put a foot in the door regarding this

phenomena and give kids the idea that different people have different customs and views. This goal may seem small, but the understanding is crucial to a child’s ability to more fully empathize with people.

Jeffery Cohen, in his paper “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” offers terrific arguments about how monsters represent the culture that they reside in, specifically the cultures’ fears and customs. Cohen argues that a lot of the fear of monsters can come about because they challenge customs. This gave us some dimensions to work with when it came to writing the stories. On the one hand, the writers were able to have the monsters demonstrate their cultures through the way a player must deal with them. An example from the game is the way in which the player is supposed to deal with the Kappa. The Kappa, a monster from Japan, exhibits certain features of that culture by requiring customary mannerisms, such as traditional Japanese bowing to show respect.

The other way we can familiarize the kids with the cultures is through the fear that brought about the monster. An example of this is the New Zealand monster Taniwha. This monster shows the fear small villages had. The monster could be viewed as being good/helpful to the villagers because it would protect the village. The fear exists in that it might turn bad/hurtful, especially if villagers do not do certain things. This demonstrates to players some of the fears of living in a small village, leaving the players to wonder what it would be like to be one of the villagers.

One of Cohen’s main theses is  “The Monsters Dwells at the Gates of Difference” (7); that is, monsters represent differences, which makes them scary. This can obviously be seen as a drawback to our project. If we are showing other cultures through what is scary about them, are we just further instilling the scariness of otherness? Yet the stories in the game are written so as to showcase the sameness of a lot of the monsters. Some might be scary in different ways, but none of them are necessarily scarier than the others. All of the monsters incite fear, demonstrating a unity amongst the differences.
You can play–and find more information about–the game, including our paper in Game Learning Society (GLS), at:

www.travelersnotebookgame.com

Work Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Cultureedited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. University of Minnesota Press, 1996. pp. 3-25.

The DLR’s Gala: You Don’t Want to Miss It!

by Troi Watts

The Digital Literature Review will be holding our annual gala on April 26th from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in room 301 of the Student Center. The gala will be a celebration of the completion of the fourth edition of the Digital Literature Review. This year’s theme of monsters will set the stage for our gala activities. What will you see at this monster mash?

Come learn how the Digital Literature Review is created! Our publicity, design, and editorial teams will be giving presentations that will demonstrate this year’s process. Publicity will discuss their successes with promoting our various events and managing our social media presence. Design will display the spooky artwork they have created for our special events and this year’s edition. Editorial will talk about the process of choosing and editing submissions. We want to inspire faculty members and current students to join our DLR team and help us create more awesome editions in the future. Come hear about the professional experience you could gain and see if that’s something you’d be interested in.

Get a sneak peek of what will be included in this year’s journal! Every member of the DLR team will be giving a presentation over the research they’ve been doing this year, meaning you’ll learn all the deep, dark secrets of popular monsters, like zombies, while getting a new perspective on creatures that you might not have considered monsters previously. Learn about the complexities of being a monster while you listen to a presentation that examines cancer as a monster in the popular novel-turned-movie, A Monster Calls. Go deeper into mythological tales, like Medusa, and ask yourself, who are the real monsters in these stories? As you can see, both film and literary monsters will be covered, from Mad Max and Spirited Away to the Chronicles of Narnia series, so there’s something for every monster enthusiast. These presentations are sure to be thrilling, and you’ll get a chance to meet members of the DLR team personally.

There will be food! We’re not monsters; we just like to talk about them. Munch on yummy snacks as you peruse student presentations—that is, if you can stand eating while listening to an analysis of the gory events of the horror film The Witch or while hearing about the cannibalistic dining habits of wendigos.

Come to the Digital Literature Review’s gala on April 26th! We’d love to have company as we celebrate the completion and launch of our fourth edition. It’s sure to be a spookily fun time.

 

Monster Poetry with Brian Morrison

by Keith Jackson

If you were one of the unlucky ones that missed the Digital Literature Review’s monster poetry reading, you can still read about it here! The reading featured Ball State English Department’s very own Brian Morrison and his manuscript of poems on monsters. He works as an Assistant Professor of English at Ball State University. He agreed to be the star of this semester’s first “DLR Presents” reading, a themed event held once or twice every year, showcasing professional work from Ball State and abroad. Our second event was held last Friday (March 31st) with Jeffrey Weinstock, Ph.D. You can expect a blog about Weinstock’s talk on vampires soon!

Before the reading, I asked Morrison a few questions. He discussed his writing process, how he chooses what topics to explore, what his inspirations were for writing monster poetry, and the project he would be reading from. Morrison was very open in his answers, and I have provided a few below. I will discuss the actual reading a bit later on.

Morrison first talked with me about how he approaches a poem. He does not always know what he’s going to write about beforehand, but he focuses on an image, or sometimes a line, to start things off. The poem forms over time,  over the course of two or three drafts. The ones that he read for the DLR were the result of a project he had started a few years ago. He did not know exactly where it was going at first, but he followed the idea of ‘false history,’ which means that he rewrote classic stories or historical moments. For example, he began to rewrite movies, like Frankenstein, in which the creature is a farmer in the Midwest.

After monsters entered Morrison’s life, he never let them leave. Writing has been a way of life for Morrison, and he used it to help cope with a difficult childhood. Writing helped him navigate through life and make sense of how chaotic it can be at times. To some extent, he says he is still doing it now. Like most of us, his love of monsters stems from movies he had watched. When he was a boy, he and his father found common ground in their love of horror films. They both loved the genre and movies like Jaws, Predator, and anything with werewolves. They bonded in this way, watching monster movies. Brian still watches them, and writing about them has been the most fun he has ever had. This passion resonated well with quite a few of his poems.

Right off the top, the very first poem he read reminded me of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, the monster expert, and his seven theses. Though Morrison’s poems explored several ideas, at the forefront was the political climate in America. Cohen’s first theory in particular resonated strongly throughout the entirety of the reading. In the first theory, “The Monster’s Body Is a Cultural Body,” Cohen says the “monster’s body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy (ataractic or incendiary), giving them life and an uncanny dependence” (4). In this way, the monster exists to be read, to reveal, and to warn the reader. The monsters in the first few poems (which work together to convey one cohesive idea) manifest themselves in many ways. For example, in the second poem, fear morphs into a monster Ms. McCready keeps hidden in her basement, bringing it with her to city hall to vote. Though it is easy to blame Ms. McCready for allowing the monster she has only just revealed to influence her ideas, Morrison asks the question, “Can you blame them for caring more about the roads and the children? The taxes and the donors?” The monster Ms. McCready keeps in her basement represents a broader cultural anxiety – the anxiety of a country split into two poles.

Near the end of the reading, Morrison read the poem he had referenced in our discussions – the ‘false history’ poem about Frankenstein’s monster being a farmer in the Midwest. This was perhaps my favorite poem out of the whole collection, partly because of the setting (think rural and cornfields; think Indiana) and partly because this poem was false history. In the poem, which was hilarious and disturbing all at the same time, the monster expresses grief over his unruly appendages and the hard work of tilling a field. The life of a farmer is a lonely one, and Frankenstein’s monster is not devoid of emotion. He longs for friendly connection but knows he is a monster. The townsfolk shun him, consider him “Other,” something that does not belong. The poem closes as Frankenstein disperses his appendages throughout his fields to help the crops grow, ultimately accepting his role as farmer and nothing more.

Whether it is the monster we hide deep within us, the being that controls some of our deepest beliefs, or a twist on a classic story, Morrison’s poems were terrifyingly monstrous. The poems asked us to look within ourselves as a community and as a country. Within them, monsters were created to answer cultural fears and anxieties, to help make sense of the wacky world we live in. “Monsters ask us why we have created them” (Cohen 20). Morrison’s creations asked those in attendance to propose the same question: Why do we love monsters so much?  

 

Work Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Ed. Cohen. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 1996. pp. 3-25.