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Jamie Brandon Dr. Bethany Shepherd English 101-11 19 January 2014 Empathizing over Criticizing In high school, my English teacher would take offense when we asked her why we needed to read the assigned book. Bewildered, she looked at us and asked, Cant you see that literature is more philosophical than philosophy itself? Over and over she would emphasize how important it was for us to understand fictional characters and their interactions with others. She left the reason behind this importance open to our own interpretations. With hindsight and inspirational thoughts from various authors, I can see that through literature we are able to see life through another individuals eyes. As readers, we begin to feel what they feel, understand what they understand, and above all else, feel sympathy for them. Once an individual can feel sympathy for others, she or he is more willing to help those around him, thus creating a better society. The art of literacy, the magic of sharing and understanding someone elses emotions and motivation, is essential for a working, enjoyable society. In the high school classroom, Mrs. Hebert demanded honest, genuine hard work out of her students. In AP English literature, anywhere from one to three hours of homework would be done nightly--no excuses and certainly no exceptions. Homework would range from reading upwards of fifty pages to writing and revising an eight page paper on Hamlets sanity in a format students were unfamiliar with--due in the next two days. The expectations were high, and anything less than best effort was nowhere near good enough. I was foolish enough to think I was skilled in English. My perspective soon changed.

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After almost two full semesters of painstaking hours of reading and novels I had frankly lost care for, we were finally allowed to use our creative side. The objective was to write a short story. That was it; no more rules than the one. Finally, English was fun again instead of a chore. I could create; I could manipulate; I could make character interactions with meaning. I jumped, ready to begin a tale that would mean something, a tale with philosophical meaning. My inspiration did not come from the oversized novels we read all too quickly, but rather from an alternative source: video games. The high school had given each student an iPad to use for schoolwork and such, but did not restrict which applications we could or could not have. So, thanks to the A+ review from a friend, I downloaded Adult Swims Robot Unicorn Attack 2. The game was a one-player side-scroller, similar to the early Mario games. I played as a unicorn, running and jumping over scarce land, dashing through obstacles like stars or giants. From this supposedly meaningless game, I wrote the best short story I had ever written. Someone elses creation reached me through technology. Then, I gave morals, a backstory, ethics, even a family to a fictional unicorn. I made him personal to me, and I sympathized with the struggles he (fictionally) went through. I sympathized with him because I wanted to experience exactly what he experienced. I gained a better understanding of the game, and I learned to sympathize with those around me. This sympathy--being able to rationalize and understand someone elses thoughts and motivations-- is key in traditional literature. Traditional literature, a book or novel, was the only way to learn to sympathize with others. In Gioias news article, On the Importance of Reading, he presents facts about the declining rate of literacy in America (18). Gioia sends a red flag up, stating ...there is something fundamentally intellectual and spiritual that happens to readers through the combination of the sustained focused attention that you bring to reading, the use of

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our imagination to create pictures of the scenes versus being passive and having the images, pacing, tone and everything given to you (19). In his eyes, reading fiction is the only way to have this concentrated energy that causes readers to be more active in their community. Reading fiction brings something out of a person that nothing else can do. However, in Robot Unicorn Attack 2, everything was given to me. The pictures, highlights and hues were presented to me. A strangers thoughts inspired me to be intellectual and spiritual about the matter at hand: a video game--just like the thoughts of an author inspire the intellect and spirit of a reader. Instead of being passive, I took an active role to rationalize the unicorns thoughts and actions--similar to when we created character charts for literature. In each case, I gave meaning and value to another persons creations. Without that creator, I would not have been so inspired to empathize with mere, robot-unicorn; just as a reader is inspired to empathize with characters. Because I lived through this unicorn, I was able to understand and even feel his struggles--just as a reader, after living through a characters eyes, is then able to feel compassion for a character. The reaction readers and those who enjoy other forms of media hope to obtain when they delve into a novel or video game is exactly the same. Though media works a little differently than literature, both readers and gamers hope to gain similar outcomes. In books with alphabetical texts, one must actively keep themselves engaged in the story to understand and, in a way, earn the empathy that they feel. This comes easily with reading because the individual is already engaging in so much thought to make sense of the mere squiggles on a page, the thought to empathize is simple. They invest hours of their life into understanding the characters struggles, intentions and feelings, hoping they will gain the experience the character gains by the end of the book. With media that is spoon-fed to the audience, there is no need for thought, so empathizing (by comparison) seems like a lot of work.

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However, in role-playing video games, the player invests hour after hour getting to know the character and the struggles he goes through. Instead, the struggles are literally handled by the player and character simultaneously--as if they are one. This unity leads to an inevitable sympathy that bonds the two. In the end, the player gains the experience the character does. When one takes an active role in engaging and understanding the media they receive, the gained experience is similar to that of a reader. The audience must take an active role--just as they do in reading--to gain the benefits of sympathy from media. Rather than Gioias literature-only viewpoint, Wesch and McGonigal point out some crucial forms of media that allow for empathy. Wesch sees the countless possibilities that are now open to the population through media. He lists many instances in which people were able to collaborate online in order to achieve something great, for instance, forming a choir with over 100 individuals singing from across the globe. Instead of communication being one-way (from the source to the recipient), media allows us to have conversations between the source and many recipients (Wesch). This two-way communication allows us to decipher the meaning and motivations behind the comments of others--just as Gioia expects a reader to do with characters. More so, it allows us to write back. It lets the individual express himself or herself and show the world what there is to say, hoping that others will see his point of view. With media, we begin understanding individuals in reality rather than fiction. McGonigal narrows this possibility to her area of expertise: videogames. As a video game designer and an avid gamer, McGonigal views video games as a way for the youth to prepare for their lives in reality. She creates a game in which the virtual world has hit an oil shortage. Players must find ways around this problem to survive with similar lifestyle choices. Gamers are eager and ready to tackle this challenge in the game, but not-so-ready to finish their math homework. This is because, in game-world, we

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become ...motivated to do something that matters: inspired to collaborate and cooperate (McGonigal). Gaming inspires collaboration to solve problems, a strategy that involves seeing the issue from another players viewpoint to understand his or her corresponding solution. Empathizing is a skill that must be developed. Todays youth is learning to do this through video games and social networking, and occasionally reading literary novels from the ease and luxury of their smartphone. Technology has not replaced what Gioia refers to as literature. It has made his literature more accessible as well as creating new forms of literature, new ways for practicing empathy. While Gioia criticizes the present population for their lack of literacy, Wesch, McGonigal and I see that literacy is changing as technology changes. Before, humans read for a creative outlet that allowed insight into the stories of other individuals. By reading the story before them, they were then able to realize and give value to the stories of the people in their life. Today, stories are not limited to paper, ink and tatterable binding. Stories can have pictures, sound, even video. With additional forms of media, alternative ways of learning to empathize emerge. As long as the human population can empathize, there will be progress towards a collaborative, understanding, universal society.

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Works Cited Gioia, Dana. "On the Importance of Reading." Commonwealth. Jun 2006: 18-24. Print. Wesch, Michael, writ. From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able. TED, 2010. Web. 21 Jan 2014. <>. McGonigal, Jane, writ. Gaming Can Make a Better World. TED, 2010. Web. 21 Jan 2014. < tml>.