Assemblies

ENG 101 in a Virtual Semester: drawn by me

It has been repeatedly established that 2020 has been an extremely strange year. I was thinking back about how my semester has been, and it’s impossible to do so without visualising my laptop screen. Therefore, for this assignment I chose the represent my learning in the class as a function of my laptop screen. The main takeaway from this drawing, according to me, it just the sheer variety of things I’ve learnt. Each application resembles a different part of the class, and consequently, a different skill I have acquired over the course of the semester. Together, they showcase what the class is all about– “Play Make Write Think”.

Podcast Reflection: Catan

Listen to the episode: Time To Settle This With Catan

Ever since my group began ideating for our first podcast episode, we wanted to do one on Catan. However, we couldn’t do it because not all of us had played it, and we didn’t have enough time to play it. When it was time for the last episode, we blocked 3 hours of our weekend just to play Catan on the online emulator, so that we could base our last episode on this wildly popular game. Our excitement was short-lived because the online emulator we used was a disappointing substitute for the board game. We considered changing the game, but eventually stuck to it because we knew how interesting the board game actually was. I’m glad we made that decision, because after having a couple of discussions, we came up with several unique ways to think about Catan.

A large portion of the episode was dedicated to the game being a model of capitalism. We focused on trying to find out why Catan has been a lot more successful as compared to other games that have a similar premise. We believe that a large reason for this was because Catan is a more realistic depiction of this concept. It accounts for the drawbacks of capitalism too, like its unfairness, and the inherent privilege enjoyed by a certain section of society.

Catan is a game that is really close to me personally, and I had played it many times before recording this podcast episode. Hence, it was difficult to look at the game from a purely objective gaze. This was something that I probably better for Hidden Folks, as I had never even heard of the game before, and thus I had no preconceived notions about it. Working on this particular episode, I think that I was really able to develop my skill of looking at things from a different perspective. It’s very important for me to be able to find new ways to think about things, and thus constantly evolve my thinking capacity. I believe that all of us pushed ourselves to think of such fascinating aspects of the game, and I’m proud of what we achieved through this process. An example of this would be the angle about Catan resembling Colonialism, which is something we came up with only through deep and detailed conversations.

Since this assignment was done in the latter part of the semester, I had a sufficient amount of knowledge about things like rhetorical situations. This allowed me to think of the game as a channel of communication between the creator of the game and the player. It was interesting to think about what the creator was trying to say through his chosen medium (a game), as compared to what we (the consumers) inferred from it, and also how different these two probably were.

I have to say, at this point in the semester, virtual school and 10-hour time differences had finally caught up with my group members and me. It was difficult to find the motivation to work on this podcast, especially so close to finals and several other assignments. Still, I think we did manage to put our best into this work, and eventually created an episode that touched upon several interesting characteristics of this complicated and multi-faceted game.

Twine Game Reflection

The basic premise of our Twine game (Covid Disparity Quest) is to highlight the difference in the way the pandemic has impacted various sections of society. The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm this year, and it has disrupted the lives of almost everyone on the planet, especially in populated and containment zones like New York City. However, it is undeniable that it has disproportionately affected marginalized sections of society. This disparity was something Mudita, Pratyush and I noticed in India, and Anusha noticed in the United States. Class disparity transcends borders, and we found this to be very interesting. So, we decided to base our game on this concept.

One of the main objectives of our game was to create a sense of empathy for those who are different, or less privileged than those playing the game. Games are very effective in creating this sense of empathy as compared to things like written texts, as games are interactive, and allow the player to actually ‘live’ the experience in some way. In How To Do Things With Videogames, Ian Bogost says, “If a game […] is meant to foster empathy for terrible real-world situations in which the players fortunate enough to play videogames might intervene, then those games would do well to invite us to step into the smaller, more uncomfortable shoes of the downtrodden rather than the larger, more well-heeled shoes of the powerful.” He talks about how a large number of popular videogames allow players to gain powers, and play characters have more strength that they do in real life. However, there is a certain merit in games that force us to play powerless and oppressed characters. It is only these games that can truly invoke a sense of empathy.

The disparity is highlighted by the choices the player had to make. Rebecca is a college-dropout, an aspiring actress, and a recently-unemployed bartender. She is struggling to makes ends meet, and the pandemic has only worsened her financial situation. As players goes through her story, they are expected to make life-altering decisions for her. She has to choose between risking her health and safety to take a job, and risking exhausting all her savings. There is no winning. This has been the reality for millions of people across the globe in the pandemic. In complete contrast, Crest is an investment banker and a UPenn alumnus. When players choose to play his story, they must make comparatively insignificant choices. For example, Crest must choose between living in his penthouse in NYC, or moving to the Hamptons. His privilege ensures financial stability, and thus he has the freedom to make choices to remain completely safe from contracting the virus. This stark difference in the kinds of options presented in each storyline would drive home the main message of our game.

Creating this kind of game was a great learning experience for me. The writing I had to do for the game was non-linear. There wasn’t just one path the story could take. This was different from anything I had ever done, and it was an interesting experience. This assignment helped me to understand the working of chronology in writing. Each choice the player makes affects the direction the story takes, and so it was essential to recognize how certain actions in a paragraph would affect the actions in future paragraphs. I think this would be a useful skill to have while writing regular essays too, as it would ensure a more coherent and logical sequence and structure of paragraphs. Another important learning point in this experience was the understanding of rhetorical composition. Before writing anything, it was important for us to decide what we’re trying to say through the game (purpose), and who we’re trying to say it to (audience). We also had to take into account our limited knowledge of coding, and thus make the game as technologically simple as possible. Only after considering these factors could we begin creating the game.

I think that this assignment was a good way to put together everything we’ve learnt in the semester so far. After analyzing and discussing several games in class and in our podcast episodes, it was extremely interesting to switch roles and actually be the one creating the game. It was slightly surprising to know how difficult this entire process of making a game is, and by the end of it I definitely had newfound respect for all the game-creators. Lastly, teamwork was an extremely important part of the whole exercise. I think Mudita, Pratyush, Anusha and I worked well together, and complemented each other well. We were able to build on each other’s ideas and produce an adequate end product.

Game Comparison Reflection


My Game Comparison essay mainly focuses on how Gris and Gone Home, despite being so obviously different, provide players with an authentic and real experience of what trauma does to the brain, and thus give a deeper and more meaningful understanding of what trauma is.

When I started writing this essay, I wasn’t sure about what my thesis was going to be. I had a pretty clear idea about which aspects of trauma I wanted to focus on, however, and so I decided to begin writing. The first part of three talks about the lack of direct linguistic representation of trauma in Gris and Gone Home. The second part is about the relationship of characters with their surroundings, and the space around them, and how trauma impacts this. I had spent a whole day just replaying both the games, and continuously taking notes about any thoughts I had, or anything I found interesting. So, for the first two parts I had sufficient content, I just had to organise it. Even after I finished these two parts, I did not have a clear idea for what I wanted my thesis to be. It was close to 4 AM and I really had to finish it. Out of ideas, I opened a fresh page in my notebook and in block letters at the top I wrote– “WHAT DO I WANT TO SAY?” I tried to answer this question as honestly as possible without thinking about how I would articulate the thoughts into my essay, and managed to fill a whole page within just a few minutes. I assimilated these raw thoughts, along with other observations I had made throughout the process of writing the essay and honed it into a thesis statement and also gave a broad overview of what I was trying to say in the final part.

On the whole, it was difficult to break away from the standard 5 paragraph, intro-body-conclusion structure, as that is what I have been programmed to do ever since I can remember. But, it was interesting because I think that this new format allowed me to analyse and think about the games in greater depth than I would otherwise.

Podcast Reflection: Hidden Folks

The beginning phase of the making of this podcast episode was pretty bumpy, especially when compared to our first episode on Secret Hitler. This was mainly because we could not figure out which game we wanted to analyze. This was worsened by technical difficulties, like not being able to download certain games. After much consideration, we finally decided on Hidden Folks.

The thing with Hidden Folks is that it is a seemingly very simple game. ‘Here’s a drawing. Find stuff.’ So, our overarching challenge was to look at the game in a different light and try to identify the implicit messaging and objectives of the game. What exactly did this game do to our minds, and how it is relevant in our everyday lives. These were not particularly obvious answers, but after having a couple of conversations and discussing our experiences playing the game, we found an angle, and some direction. We then created a Google doc to formulate a basic script for what we wanted to say.

One of the aspects we touched upon in the episode is how the game rekindles childlike fascination and wonder. As we grow up, we lay too much emphasis on ‘getting stuff done’ and being productive. We tend to not (intentionally) waste our time, energy and attention on something unless we have to, or it may directly benefit us. We try to block that unnecessary information out. Hidden Folks needs you to do the exact opposite, which definitely seems out of character and uncomfortable initially. It lets you just be in this monochrome landscape of dancing monkey-villagers, it lets you look around freely and explore it. All this for no apparent reason. It helps you to just slow down and take a moment away from the chaos and craziness that has swamped this world, especially this year. Every time you find one of the objects and a tiny celebratory sound is made, you feel satisfied, almost as if you are a child once again– excited about little things in life.

We were also interested in why Hidden Folks is different from Where’s Waldo, despite a very similar premise. Where’s Waldo is a game that has been immensely popular for decades. So, there has got to be something about Hidden Folks that makes it stand out and attract so many players. We think that the interactive nature of Hidden Folks was one of the key differences.

Additionally, we spoke about how the absence of a ticking clock enhanced the experience of the game, the visual and audio design, and what skills we can hone by playing Hidden Folks. At the end, I have to admit that I was pretty surprised about how many facets of this game we were able to uncover and talk about.

The last part of the production was editing the audio. This was much simpler than the previous episode as I was now well-versed in the workings of Audacity. We were also mindful to make fewer mistakes while recording the podcast, and this made the editing process easier.

On the whole, I think the task of creating the podcast episode was definitely not without obstacles. But I did learn a lot from it, including working with my teammates, how the audio medium is very different from the written word, and technical skills like sound editing. Most importantly, though, the experience taught me how to articulate an experience (in this case, the game-playing experience) into words, and how to interpret this experience as well.

Recreating an Iconic Movie Scene

Shot by, edited by, and starring me:)

I love watching movies, still it was impossible for me to think of an iconic movie scene to recreate from Hollywood. When it came to Bollywood, however, it took me less than 2 seconds to think of this scene from the 20-year old film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, which in many ways, defines Bollywood– the drama, the slow motion shots, the music, and the over-the-top visuals. Of course this video is technically catastrophic, and the only thing it does perfectly is embarrass me. I am pretty proud of it nevertheless. (Also shoutout to my aunt for singing the background music for me!)

Visual Note Taking

These are notes from a recent class in my Linear Algebra course. Subspaces aren’t particularly hard to understand, but they form the foundation for most other advanced topics in Linear Algebra. Thus, (as we have been reminded several times by our professor) it is imperative to understand them extremely well.

Creating these visual notes helped me to understand and visualize concepts a lot better. In fact, since I had already studied this section, I tried to create these notes from memory as far as possible. This actually proved to be very effective because it allowed me to put forth my thoughts in a clear and (somewhat) organized manner. Initially, I thought this whole process would be time-consuming, and so it seemed definitively impractical and almost certainly impossible to create such notes for all my classes. However, this one page took me only about 30 minutes. This is the same amount of time I would probably take if I chose to revise the material by reading. Creating the notes not only made Math fun (not two words you hear in the same sentence every day), but also helped me to make these concepts almost intuitive– which is the goal with Math. It’s obviously a win-win situation, and I’m definitely going to try to make visual notes more frequently in the future.

Throwing a Piece of Paper into a Bin

Video recorded by me

The pieces I used as Dominos for my video are blocks used in one of my favorite games– Quirkle. There was this 4-month-long phase last year where my mom and I would spend 30 minutes every evening playing this game, which is a memory that I truly cherish. But the important part of that story is that every day, after the game got over, I used to make satisfying patterns using the blocks. That is where I got the idea to use the Quirkle (which is a word I love to say, by the way) pieces for my video.

According to me, this amateur video is pretty spectacular. I knew I wanted my ‘throwing of the paper’ to be fun, and also make it seem like a game, and so I think this Quirkle-Domino idea seemed to fit well. Besides, the whole trend of visually ‘satisfying’ things on the internet is something I really (really) got on board with. I’ve watched, re-watched, and re-re-watched tons of Kinetic Sand, slime, hydraulic press, smooth cutting, and cleaning videos on Instagram. So, the coordinated descent of Dominos was right in the ballpark. Still, I won’t lie– the main reason that I think my video is spectacular is because I took 17 tries to get it right! It’s really not as easy as it seems.

Liveblogging Gris

10:15

I am going to liveblog playing Gris today. (Mostly irrelevant information, but still felt like putting it out there– I’ve spent a huge chunk of my evening trying to download the game on my laptop, and then getting it to work. I’ve had to disable all sorts of firewalls and firevaults and other things I don’t understand the meaning of, so hopefully it’s all worth it.)

Beginning of the game

10:23 PM

When I saw the opening scene of Gris, the first thing that struck me was the animation. It was beautiful. Even when the girl free fell downwards, it was beautiful. I thought to myself, “This game is supposed to be about grief, right? Why does this seem almost peaceful?”

10:24 PM

This feeling didn’t last too long though.

I try to move the character forward, but her walk is sluggish, and her feet are dragging across the floor. Each step seems cumbersome, and every few seconds she plops down onto the ground. I’m already frustrated within a few seconds.

10:33 PM

All of a sudden, much to my relief, the girl gets a blast of energy and soars across the landscape. This gives me a chance to take note of the environment. The place is in ruins. Every thing is destroyed, there are broken sections of buildings around. It looks like the aftermath of a devastating battle, one without any survivors. Still, there is something poetic about this destruction. It’s almost painfully beautiful. As I continue moving forward, I find myself actively probing the extent of this world, and trying to figure out what my character can and cannot do. I discover that the pressing the space bar allows her to jump. At a certain point, the path was blocked by a huge boulder and I could not move forward. Eventually, I discovered that I was actually supposed to go back and climb onto a certain structure to continue this journey. This path probably isn’t going to be as straightforward and linear as I anticipated.

Ruins vs More Definite Structures

10:51 PM

At some point, I am told that the color red is introduced, and the monochrome is replaced with shades of red. As I progress further, the ruins are replaced with more manufactured structures. I make the mistake of thinking that this would make the world easier to navigate. It is quite the opposite. Passing each obstacle becomes a little more difficult than before. There are new deterrents in my way, including sand storms which throw me off course every few seconds. However, as the conditions become harsher, I feel the character becoming stronger too. This is probably a combination of me (the player) becoming more accustomed to the game, as well as the character gaining new skills (like the ability to turn into a huge block of stone to resist storms, and to break things).

11:07 PM

I’ve been playing this game for a while now, and given the fact that I am still in the red zone, I’m not going to finish any time soon. It all seems a little overwhelming, and so I notice myself telescoping while playing. The final goal is likely to unlock all the colors, but before that, I need to make it past each ‘structure’, like a cave, or a collection of platform-like things. Before that, I need to collect each of those shooting stars to create a constellation-bridge-type thing to cross certain sections. Doing this makes the goal seem a little more realistic and achievable.

The cave where I’m stuck

11:32 PM

Currently, I am stuck inside this cavern filled with gears and rotating platforms. For some reason, it reminds me of the inside of a huge clock. I’ve been trying to advance past it for more than 20 minutes, but despite my frustrated groans and annoyed whining, I can’t do it. I don’t have enough shooting stars to build the bridge I need. Now, I think my only option is to start the game all over again.

Liveblogging Gris

10:15

I am going to liveblog playing Gris today. (Mostly irrelevant information, but still felt like putting it out there– I’ve spent a huge chunk of my evening trying to download the game on my laptop, and then getting it to work. I’ve had to disable all sorts of firewalls and firevaults and other things I don’t understand the meaning of, so hopefully it’s all worth it.)

Beginning of the game

10:23 PM

When I saw the opening scene of Gris, the first thing that struck me was the animation. It was beautiful. Even when the girl free fell downwards, it was beautiful. I thought to myself, “This game is supposed to be about grief, right? Why does this seem almost peaceful?”

10:24 PM

This feeling didn’t last too long though.

I try to move the character forward, but her walk is sluggish, and her feet are dragging across the floor. Each step seems cumbersome, and every few seconds she plops down onto the ground. I’m already frustrated within a few seconds.

10:33 PM

All of a sudden, much to my relief, the girl gets a blast of energy and soars across the landscape. This gives me a chance to take note of the environment. The place is in ruins. Every thing is destroyed, there are broken sections of buildings around. It looks like the aftermath of a devastating battle, one without any survivors. Still, there is something poetic about this destruction. It’s almost painfully beautiful. As I continue moving forward, I find myself actively probing the extent of this world, and trying to figure out what my character can and cannot do. I discover that the pressing the space bar allows her to jump. At a certain point, the path was blocked by a huge boulder and I could not move forward. Eventually, I discovered that I was actually supposed to go back and climb onto a certain structure to continue this journey. This path probably isn’t going to be as straightforward and linear as I anticipated.

Ruins vs More Definite Structures

10:51 PM

At some point, I am told that the color red is introduced, and the monochrome is replaced with shades of red. As I progress further, the ruins are replaced with more manufactured structures. I make the mistake of thinking that this would make the world easier to navigate. It is quite the opposite. Passing each obstacle becomes a little more difficult than before. There are new deterrents in my way, including sand storms which throw me off course every few seconds. However, as the conditions become harsher, I feel the character becoming stronger too. This is probably a combination of me (the player) becoming more accustomed to the game, as well as the character gaining new skills (like the ability to turn into a huge block of stone to resist storms, and to break things).

11:07 PM

I’ve been playing this game for a while now, and given the fact that I am still in the red zone, I’m not going to finish any time soon. It all seems a little overwhelming, and so I notice myself telescoping while playing. The final goal is likely to unlock all the colors, but before that, I need to make it past each ‘structure’, like a cave, or a collection of platform-like things. Before that, I need to collect each of those shooting stars to create a constellation-bridge-type thing to cross certain sections. Doing this makes the goal seem a little more realistic and achievable.

The cave where I’m stuck

11:32 PM

Currently, I am stuck inside this cavern filled with gears and rotating platforms. For some reason, it reminds me of the inside of a huge clock. I’ve been trying to advance past it for more than 20 minutes, but despite my frustrated groans and annoyed whining, I can’t do it. I don’t have enough shooting stars to build the bridge I need. Now, I think my only option is to start the game all over again.