Following a Writer: Joshua Rothman

Having gotten comfortable with The New Yorker as a venue, I decided it was time to break away from topic of video games while sticking to that same venue – mostly because nothing new or interesting had been published on that topic since my last post. I returned to the Culture section and browsed for a bit, but finding nothing on the front page that interested me I resorted to digging through writer’s archives for something more to my taste. This led me to the work of Joshua Rothman, namely his article “How TV Became Art” from last August (new enough for me). The early parts of the article mainly cover the early history of television and how journalists went about covering it, including The New Yorker‘s history of television coverage. The article gets interesting once it gets past these simple historical observations and onto the question of how TV was perceived by the press and the world at large, Rothman noting The New Yorker‘s own struggle in deciding what television was and could be. Was it “the decline of civilization” or “a new frontier for dramatic and civic life,” a new form of art? This question and the history of how it was tossed around is important to me as it is currently being repeated with how we talk about video games – I know I said I was getting away from that topic but I could not help but point out how this article connects to the larger canon of my posts here. Eventually, as is evident with the advent of widely acclaimed shows like Game of ThronesBreaking Bad, and The Sopranos, TV entered the realm where it could be considered art. Rothman also writes about TV news and the major impact it has had and still has today, and how this is still very much an open debate and unresolved, ever evolving along with the technology and public perception and such, but that is less interesting to me and only mentioned here as it would be a discredit to Rothman’s writing to ignore it completely.

Rothman is able to capture the essence of a massive body of work in only a few paragraphs, covering the magazine’s coverage of TV since its inception through to the present. It helps that he (along with the article’s co-writer, Erin Overbey) is the magazine’s archive editor, so no doubt has extensive experience perusing the extensive catalogue of material that the magazine has accumulated over the years. His expertise on the magazine’s overarching trends and attitudes comes through impressively in this piece, and looking over his other work appears to be a staple of his voice. Given how much I enjoyed this article, I will likely return to read more individual work of Rothman’s, as well as that of Overbey, who I can definitely see myself covering in another post in the near future.

Following a Writer: Hua Hsu

Returning to The New Yorker, one of the first articles I spotted in the Culture section was titled The Sports Video Game That’s Not About Sports. Given the subjects of my past few “Following a Writer” posts, this felt in line with what I have covered so far, so I opened the article despite not having any particular interests in Sports Video Games. Of course, as the title suggests, that interest was not necessary to understanding and appreciation the article. Written by Hua Hsu, the article is essentially a love letter to an old simulation game called Football Manager, where the player takes up the role of manager for a football team. Opposed to contemporary successful sports games like FIFAFootball Manager involved no actual sports-play and instead is about managing emails, scouting for recruits, and grooming players to success, and, as Hsu describes it, is mundane in its gameplay more often than not. Hsu praises the game’s diversity of statistics and deep capability for immersion despite being mostly text and blocky graphics, as well as its achievement of the developers’ desire to create a simulator in which the player is not at the center of the world but merely a part of it, largely unable to control the events of the game and forced to adapt to whatever circumstances arise.

Hsu successfully kept me invested in his article despite my initial disinterest and overall lack of experience/knowledge of his subject matter, so I feel he has definitely earned a spot on my list of writers to follow. Hsu has been a contributor for The New Yorker since 2014 and was hired as a staff writer just this year. He has been previously published in The Atlantic, Slate, The Wire, and other respectable venues, as well the author of a book titled A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific about the struggle for Chinese-American writers to establish American perceptions of China among differing opinions and experiences. Hsu does not appear to typically write about video games, but his one article about that topic brought him to my attention, and even though he deals mostly in areas outside of my realm of knowledge, he’s certainly earned himself a new reader.

Tone of Past Experiments

Both of my experiments so far have been more informal than my usual writing. For the first, this style was mostly the result of my broad approach to the subject I was tackling. If I had tried to be more serious with my thoughts and structures, it would have opened the piece up to some obvious criticism given the intangible nature of the topic. The best way I could make order out of that chaos was to allow my ideas to flow without much careful construction, and that approach lends itself to the informal tone the experiment has overall. Still, I do not interject with my own voice so much and keep my opinion out of the discussion, so it is not as informal as my second experiment. For that, I tightened up the borders of the subject and made a more concise argument, though the subject is still one best taken with a tone similar to the first. This is further softened by the experiment’s shift to an audio medium, as I believe that the sound of a voice – when performed as I would perform in this instance – has a more fluid and informal feel than words in a text, which are stagnant and usually interpreted by default as stern.

Taking this into consideration, I feel that I should attempt to have a different tone for my next experiment, for the sake of experimentation, if nothing else. I was thinking of going forward with a more creative approach. The subject of my past experiments having been essentially about discussion fiction, I figure why not make fiction of my own that reflects the ideas I’ve been playing around with. Since my topic is about characters who garner audience empathy despite their bad morals, I think the tone of this piece would likely be darker and more serious than my past experiments. Taking the darker ideas of the first experiments and removing them from the abstract will no doubt have this effect, and I think it will make for a good change from what I have done already, allowing me to keep the inquisitive nature of the subject while adding a more confident, formal tone.

Trustworthy vs. Authoritative

To find writing that I knew I would trust while reasonably questioning its authority, I turned to CNN. One of the headlines on CNN’s site was an analysis on the latest moment of controversial behavior on part of our president by Chris Cillizza (Donald Trump just hit a new low in the La David Johnson fiasco). The report centers mainly on how Trump reacted to a recent widow of an American soldier’s claims that his condolences call to her went very poorly. Trump responded by claiming the widow lied, a decision that was in obvious poor taste. It was this poor taste that CNN really hammered into its report, doing what they could to make what is becoming a regular story of Trump-being-Trump into “a new low.” The articles is full of language like this, saying “it’s staggering to consider what Trump is doing here” and that “there’s simply no other way to read this” than how they are. I trust CNN. I do not believe that they are delivering inaccurate information here, but this report’s language makes me question their authority. Trump’s actions speak for themselves. I don’t need CNN to express how messed up this whole situation is, and the fact that they do just makes me doubt if their reporting on Trump is accurate since they display such a clear bias. I do trust them, but that’s more because of what I believe, not because this article demonstrates authority on the subject.

To find the inverse of this dynamic, I took a trip over to Fox news. I found an opinion piece by Ari Fleischer, who, based on Fox’s profile of him at least, seems like a writer whose experience grants some immediate authority. The piece, which was on tax reform, read with authority as well, citing numbers to make the point that the rich shouldn’t be as so disproportionately taxed as liberals suggest (Taxes and the rich — yes, they pay their fair share, and they will after tax reform, too). Of course, there was no direct accounting for the numbers Fleischer cites. His links mostly all lead to the same IRS page packed with different documents, never taking the reader directly to the source of his statistics. Then there is the fact of my own liberal bias. I walked into this article with a grain of salt ready to go, and that remained my attitude throughout the piece. Fleischer’s confident voice gives him the appearance of authority, but I cannot help but not trust him.

Following a Writer: Simon Parkin

Returning to the venue of the New Yorker from my first post but following on the more interesting (to me, at least) subject matter of my second, I eventually found Simon Parkin. Simon is a contributing author at the New Yorker and has also been published in The Guardian, the Times, and many other respectable venues. While the list of his contributions to the New Yorker spans a variety of topics, his articles are most consistently about video games. I discovered him through an article titled “Could Ms. Pac-Man Train The Next Generation of Military Drones?” which caught my attention pretty immediately. The articles explores not only how Ms. Pac-Man improved the AI from the original maze-runner, but how that technology would be a good fit in developing AI for military use. Ms. Pac-Man is not currently being used in this capacity, but Parkin makes the argument for why it would be a good fit, or at least a good model for how an AI like that in a military drone should function.

This article shows the trend in Parkin’s pieces to pull video games into reality in relevant ways, aiming to prove that there is more to games than mindless entertainment, be that through powerful narratives or practical application. As we have discussed extensively in my class on video games this term, there still exists some major stigma against video games as both a respectable form of media and gamers as more than white-teen-homophobes. Parkin’s work across the New Yorker does much to dispel this stigma, proving that video games are not only a respectable, but a major step towards our future.

Following Writers: Stephen Totilo

This week, I came across another writer through a class I am taking on Social Sciences in Video Games. The writer is Stephen Totilo, who wrote an article for Kotaku in 2013 titled “A Note About ‘Brutal’ Comments and a Kotaku for Everyone,” where he addresses the site’s intended audience, stating that Kotaku is for those who are open to the wide arrange of experiences that video games offer, and that those sects of the video game community who refuse to be inclusive or are downright disrespectful towards other groups do not belong in the Kotaku community. He writes “Kotaku is for gamers of any ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Kotaku is a site where I would like gamers of any type to feel welcome,” solidifying the site’s position against the often more publicized side of the video game community. These words also solidified him as a writer I wanted to follow.

Totilo is currently the editor-in-chief at Kotaku, and besides that he has written on the topic of video games and video game culture for several other sites, such as IGN, The New York Times, Newsweek, and Time. I looked up another article of his, this one written for The New York Times, titled “Game Theory: Challenging The Industry,” where he challenges the stigma that all games are violent war-simulators by highlighting that this stereotype is a concern to many in the industry. He makes the point that whenever games attempt to more seriously cover diverging, complicated topics, it is often faced with backlash and attacked as offensive or incorrect, that risks were required on part of both the developers and the community to make more well-informed, unique, and important video game experiences. As someone who plays a fair amount of video games, Totilo’s writing resonates with me. It feels relevant to my interests in a way that few other writers’ work does, and for that reason, I consider him worth following.

Following A Nonfiction Writer: Atul Gawande

To start my search for a writer worth following, I turned to the ever-reliable New Yorker. Keeping to the nonfiction, I came across an article about the dilemma many Americans face regarding the question of health care. The article was aptly titled “Is Health Care A Right?” and followed the stories and perspectives of multiple people from the writer’s hometown. That writer was Atul Gawande, and after enjoying this first article of his that I read, I looked into him to find that he is a writer of some repute. Atul has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1998, and has written many articles in that time, mostly following issues of health and medicine (he has an extensive background in the medical field, as well as writing). I looked over another article of his from The New Yorker, titled “States of Health” from 2013, analyzing the variations of health care across different states. Even between these two articles, Atul shows his ability to explore a topic in a more fact-based fashion as well as highly personalized vignettes, in either case showing his extensive understanding of the subject while elaborating its more complex characteristics in a consumable way, even to a woefully uninformed reader like myself.

His personal website has links to all of these articles, as well as a few from Slate, though the number of articles from him here seems to have died down after getting hired at The New Yorker. Aside from his impressive history of essays, Atul has four published books, the most recent of which – Being Moral – having become a New York Times bestseller. So, the good news is that if I ever need a well-written opinion on the health care debate, or simply feel the need to experience Atul’s lax yet informed style, I have plenty of avenues through which to do so. The bad news is I have a lot of catching up to do.

Toelentino and Small Staid Response

Jia Toelentino

The piece I read was titled “What Should We Say About David Bowie and Lori Maddox?” which was published by Jezebel. The essay explored the controversial story of Lori Maddox, who famously retold her story of how she had sex with David Bowie when she was underage. Toelentino acknowledges the various factors that make this scenario problematic, sensitive, and complex – worth noting as well, the article was published soon after Bowie’s death in early 2016, as a sort of response to the dichotomy between people who wanted to praise Bowie’s work and those who refused to ignore the more scandalous elements of his past. Toelentino is likely targeting a female audience, as much of the paper discusses how women like Maddox may have played a role in defining the contemporary identity of women and how important – if controversial – that is to her. As a man, this section of the essay went mostly over my head, but for the most part I appreciate Toelentino’s analysis of the situation as a whole.

Mairead Small Staid

The piece I read was titled “Girl in a Country Song,” which was published by The Point. It analyzes the lyrics and music of a female country duo who purposefully deflects the stereotypical image of women in country music. She praises these artists while also looking at how few other country musicians are capable of showing the same progressive attitudes, highlighting how even contemporary and popular country songs still fall into defining women as needing to look, behave, and think in a certain way. Like Toelentino, Small Staid seems to be writing to a female audience, perhaps one that had previously rejected country music for the feeling that it had alienated them for its sexist tendencies. She aims to show that there are artists within the genre that are true to the musical roots of country without falling into the pits of it. As a man – and not a huge fan of country – I am certainly out of this audience, but I can respect Small Staid’s respect for these women who are able to defy norm for the sake of their art, and Small Staid’s writing on this is engaging.

Introduction to the Minor

Hey everyone! My name is Henry Milek, and I am a Junior English Major currently in the Gateway course for the minor in Writing. Whenever people hear that I am an English major, they always start asking me about books, assuming that I read a lot. The truth is, I’m probably one of the least well-read people in the department, not for the lack of joy of a good book, but simply because it is not my go-to choice of entertainment. The real reason that I’m an English major is because I love writing, and I can think of few other programs that allow for the kind of writing I enjoy than English. I’ve always felt that I communicate better through writing, and have received much encouragement from family and teachers throughout my life that has pushed me into pursuing a profession in which I could use that skill to its full potential, which brings me to this program. Whereas my major coursework is more of a practice of my skills on an academic level, I hope here to enhance my technical skills as a writer, preparing myself for a more diverse array of situations in both “real world” situations as well as my future coursework. More than anything else, though, I’m here to expand upon my passion, and in that regard, I’m quite grateful for what this program has to offer.