Posted in episodes

Episode 25: Formative Media

The homework for the episode:
Martha: Princess Mononoke, the 1997 Studio Ghibli animated classic (specifically the English dub featuring Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, and more)
Pete: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the 1950 novel by CS Lewis
Josh Brown: The 1983 children’s tv show Reading Rainbow, specifically the episode for “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and two more episodes of our choosing (find them on YouTube here)

A prince in exile journeys to find a corrupting power, destroying the natural world, and meets a lost girl who complicates the story.

Four siblings fulfill a Biblical narrative by saving a magical country trapped in never-ending winter.

LaVar Burton makes reading fun and accessible, and teaches you something in the process.

I use the words “formative media” so often on the podcast that we decided we’d better to an episode about it so I could explain what I mean! Today we’re talking about the stories and media that helped shape who we are as media consumers, and we do so with an expert on pop culture nostalgia: welcome guest Josh Brown!

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: Phantom Thread soundtrack by Johnny Greenwood
Martha: Stardew Valley video game for Nintendo Switch
Josh: Banished video game on STEAM

I’m still riding my video game high, but I have traded in the high stakes world-saving of Breath of the Wild for the much more serene farming sim Stardew Valley (I have a cow now! She’s neat.) Pete extols the virtues of Radiohead’s foray into film scores, and there’s a super brief digression about whether Phantom Thread will drive me insane or not (I’ll report back). Josh is into a super crunchy Civ style world builder, and I have mixed feelings about him sharing it with my husband.

I use the phrase “formative media” a whole lot because I’m fascinated in how one gets from Point A to Point B in their media consumption. If Point A is The Last Unicorn and Point B is Neal Shusterman’s Scythe series (an arbitrary choice from me, as that’s what I’m currently reading), what are all the steps in between that led there? We explore that as well as how we incorporate our pop cultural touchstones into our identities, and how that can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

Some of the questions we examine are:

  1. What do we mean when we talk about “formative media”?
  2. How well did our homework hold up?
  3. How did these stories shape us as media consumers?
  4. What place does nostalgia have in our personal media consumption, and why do we think it’s gotten to be such a huge factor in pop culture at large?

(Spoiler alert: I loved recording this episode.)

Because I am a good person I did not make Josh and Pete read IT, even though it’s the most recent thing on the podcast that I referred to as being formative for me – whatever that may or may not say about me as a person, I dunno. We’re all three of us huge nerds, so it’s a super fun discussion on the media we consumed as children that led us to bigger and more epic stories, to lifelong loves of reading, and to a tolerant fondness for the now-dated media of our 80’s and 90’s childhoods. (I didn’t talk about morning cartoons on Nickelodeon, but I super could have.) I throw some shade at nerd manbabies who can’t handle women in their Star Wars, and Josh brings some insight to the whole nostalgia question.

Next episode, we are joined again by friend of the show Maren Hagman! Maren is going to be helping us discuss Body Image, which is a super broad topic but I think we’ll be handling it in an interesting way.

The homework for February 14:

Martha: The Art of Starving, 2017 novel by Sam J. Miller
Pete: Zoolander, 2001 film directed by Ben Stiller and starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Christine Taylor
Maren: Hairspray, the 2007 film directed by Adam Shankman and starring Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Queen Latifah, among others

Josh runs a podcast called 40 Going on 14 that you can find wherever you get your podcasts (I was a guest on episode 156, which was all about women in comics! It was a fun time). Find Pete on Twitter @piko3000, and find Martha on both Instagram AND Twitter @magicalmartha.

Follow us online @DYDYHpodcast, e-mail us at show@homeworkpodcast.com, and find us on Facebook.

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in supplementary material

Episode 22 Follow-up: Villainous Revelations

(Written by Martha S.)

I almost assigned homework for this episode that was very much not heroic in nature – ultimately, I did not, because I liked that our discussion was learning towards those moments in media that make you want to stand up and cheer, not that make the bottom drop out of your stomach. I am, however, fascinated by this kind of face-heel turn, particularly when I as the audience get to realize that a narrator or protagonist I’ve been following is not the person I have been lead to believe (in short: I love a well-written unreliable narrator).

The homework I almost assigned is a novel by Laure Eve title The Graces, with a narrator you come to realize is incredibly unreliable. We don’t even get to know her real name – the first person narrator chooses the name River, and not only refers to herself as such through the whole novel, but only relates when others call her that as well. Her name remains a mystery to us even when her past is revealed, which is perhaps the point: River’s chosen name, and the narrative she chooses to tell about herself, is more revealing than any name given to her by a parent.

In The Graces, River is a new student at a high school dominated by the Grace siblings, three high schoolers that occupy the upper social echelon that we’re all familiar with via teen dramas. The Graces are beautiful, popular, witchy, and a little bit other – people are just a bit afraid of them. Through the course of the book, River desperately tries to work her way into their inner circle, becoming a friend, confidante, and eventual parasite to their familiar dynamic. River, you see, has a secret: for all their talk of magic and ritual, the Grace siblings are mere pretenders to the magical throne. River has real powers, in that she can make things happen just by wishing them.

She wishes a girl would shut up. That girl gets laryngitis. She wishes a boy, competing for the affections of her crush, would go away. That boy is swept out to sea.

The reveal of River’s power, and her awareness of this power, is a remarkable moment in the book, because of how unassuming and meek she has made herself seem to the reader. I think there is a manipulative way of pulling off this reveal, that feels cheap and like the author has been hiding information from the reader; there is also the reveal that makes you go back through the book to look for all the clues that lead to this place, and realize it’s not so out of the blue after all.

The other example that I want to bring up is Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which manages the character crystallization moment for both its hero and antagonist characters, in a way that neatly swaps your expectations of both of them. Doctor Horrible is an essentially good guy who aspires to villainy; when he finally has his determining moment, it is hollow and riddled with despair. Likewise, the “heroic” Captain Hammer, who has been a vainglorious scoundrel through the whole story, finally achieves his crystallizing moment for us all to realize: he’s a coward.

One of the things that a crystallizing moment can do for a character is not only show you who a character truly is, but cause you to reflect on your expectations for a story. It’s always satisfying for a story to fulfill what you want from it; I would like to posit that it can be just as satisfying for a story to fulfill a desire you didn’t even know you had.

Posted in episodes

Episode 22: Moments of Character Transcendence

The homework for the episode:
Martha: The Wee Free Men, 2003 novel by Terry Pratchett
Pete: Serenity, 2005 film directed by Joss Whedon and starring Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyck, and others
Caitlin: Wynonna Earp, 2016 TV show, episodes 1.02 (“Keep the Home Fires Burning”) and 2.12 (“I Hope You Dance”)

A nine-year-old girl faces down a cruel, immortal queen who dares invade her home and steal her family.

A ragtag crew of mercenaries stands against the ruling power in the universe, determined to confront them and make right an act of abject horror.

Two women (and a few determined men) chase the legacy of a legendary gunslinger by defeating his demons, and they do it while a baby is being born.

We are joined for this episode by friend of the show Caitlin Flynn! Welcome, Caitlin! Caitlin also happens to be Pete’s cousin, and yet another Oak Park native.

This may be our most ethereal topic we’ve covered yet, but it’s a good one to look at in the framework of a narrative (and we try to at least define what we mean by “character transcendence” before getting too in the weeds on it). Basically, we’re looking at stories where a character has a defining moment that tells us who they are and what they’re about. But first….

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Martha: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Caitlin: The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan

It’s a very literary edition of credentials (probably because we’re all trying to meet our Goodreads reading goals at the last minute). Caitlin and Pete are both frustrated by the lack of a third installment in Patrick Rothfuss’ series, while Martha has only amazement for anyone willing to commit to the Wheel of Time novels at this point. She’s also abandoned her professional TBR pile in favor of Mira Grant’s newest watery horror expedition, and she has no regrets about that.

So, what DO we mean exactly when we say “moments of character transcendence”? It’s a lofty phrase, but what does it mean? The characters we’re examining – a witch-in-training, a lost and damaged super genius (and her various protectors), and a pair of feisty demon hunters – all have a moment that crystallizes who they are, what they stand for, and what their stories are trying to say.

The two main questions we drive at in trying to pinpoint these moments are 1. Where in the story do the characters achieve this crystallization, and 2. What do these moments say about the characters? Additionally, we delve into how these moments help us as the audience understand what the narrative is trying to say.

A warning: Martha gets incredibly emotional pulling out a quote from The Wee Free Men, and everyone braces for an argument over Serenity that doesn’t end up going down. We also don’t address in the episode that we all picked stories featuring women, who are all strong but not Strong Female Characters, which in retrospect was probably deserving of some kind of mention!

We’re taking a bit of a break for the next release day – due to holiday travelling schedules, Pete will be responsible for making sure you all have something to listen to, although what exactly that will be is TBD! After that, on January 17 it’s DYDYH’s one year anniversary! We will be joined by our very good friend and original co-host Calee Schouten to discuss something that is also TBD (but we’ll get you that info as soon as possible).

Happy holidays to all of our listeners! We appreciate every download, view and share. See you in 2018!

Follow us online @DYDYHpodcast, e-mail us at show@homeworkpodcast.com, and find us on Facebook.

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in episodes

Episode 18: Tabletop RPGs

The homework for the episode:
Try out an RPG (or join your regular table for a session)!

We’re geeking out hardcore this week with a discussion on tabletop gaming – specifically pen and paper RPGs (although Martha will be the first to admit to you she now games with a laptop and tablet handy, since it’s WAY too much work to remember all the spells on her Cleric’s spell list). Prior to recording this episode, Martha played in and GM’d at two different Pathfinder tables, which tells you all you need to know about how she spends her free time, really.

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
Martha: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork on audio book
Rachel: The Girls Next Door tv show

Welcome, Rachel!

Pete tells us about the book he’s reading currently, demonstrating that he has more of a tolerance for historical nonfiction than anyone Martha has ever met in her entire life. We all detour for a bit to talk about audio books, which Martha can’t live without and Rachel’s never tried (hint: the key is a good narrator). And then Rachel sends us back to the mid-2000’s with the reality comedy TV show The Girls Next Door, and we all take a moment to be righteously indignant about the Playboy Mansion.

Look, I (Martha) have already spent too much time telling you all that she’s trash for reality TV, so this shouldn’t shock you, really.

We are leaving our three-media homework model to the side for a moment to try something different! This ep, we share our experiences with tabletop roleplaying games, and discuss the values we think they have, particularly in an academic and educational environment. We share games that are particular favorites, what we grew up playing, why we enjoy them – and how we’ve passed that on to the students we interact with.

In an interesting plot twist, it turns out that we all pretty much got started gaming seriously because of Martha’s husband (my path is a little murkier and started earlier than we were actually together, but it is a true fact that many of my early high school gaming memories involve my husband in some way).

Martha mentions Risus, the Anything RPG, which you can find totally for free here.

On October 25, we’re back to the standard format and talking about Sound and Music in Media with friend of the show Dan Karlin! Here’s your homework:

Pete: Blade Runner, 1982 film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford
Martha: American Horror Story: Asylum, season 2, episode 10, “The Name Game”
Dan: Mulholland Dr., 2001 film directed by David Lynch and starring Naomi Watts

Follow us online @DYDYHpodcast, e-mail us at show@homeworkpodcast.com, and find us on Facebook!

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Pre-Reading

Prelude to Episode 17

Episode 17 is a banger, y’all – our guest host Elizabeth Buehler joins us for a discussion on Ambition and how it drives a narrative, what it costs our main characters, and a whole bunch of other stuff (specific, I know – you’ll just have to listen to the episode!).

Some of the questions we seek to address are:

  1. When we talk about characters having “ambition,” how do we differentiate that from goals or drive? Or do we?
  2. Is ambition a positive or negative force in the homework?
  3. How does ambition get gendered in these narratives?
  4. What is the cost of ambition? Does ambition inherently require sacrifice or loss?

As a refresher, the homework for the episode is:

Pete: The soundtrack to a little 2016 musical Hamilton
Martha: Glee episodes 1.01 (Pilot) and 3.22 (Goodbye)
Lizzie: 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson film, There Will Be Blood

As always, you can reach out to us at any time with questions, comments, or ideas at show@homeworkpodcast.com; find us on Twitter @DYDYHpodcast; or chat us up on Facebook.

Posted in supplementary material

Episode 16: Follow-Up, Finally

(By Martha S.)

Good morning, all. This INCREDIBLY DELINQUENT blog post is coming to you courtesy of writer’s block, which is not an excuse – any creative worth their salt will tell you that writer’s block is for amateurs, and that true professionals will strap in and work their way through it. Let’s never mind the fact that I am not actually a professional podcaster, merely a pretender to that throne, and actually get on to the meat of the matter.

We started posting follow-up blog entries to our episodes to explore questions, topics or media that we don’t have time to cover in our hour-and-change episodes. Sometimes, those posts are easy for me to write – the topics we pick are rich, and the constraints of mortal time mean we can’t cover everything we may want to talk about in only 60 minutes. Sometimes, the topics don’t resonate with me as much; not because they’re not Good Topics, Brent but simply because every person has different things they find deeply relevant and can talk about for hours.

Clearly, “You Can’t Go Home Again” is a topic I find interesting, but not resonant, otherwise this post would have gone up on Thursday like it was supposed to and I wouldn’t be sweating like I had a list-minute school essay to write (see what I did there?). I’ve been trying to understand why that is – certainly it is an idea that I, as a 30-year-old woman who went away from college and has moved through four different apartments post-living in my childhood home, have a familiarity with. And I think I have finally come to some sort of understanding about why I find it difficult to write about: I think all stories, in some way or another, include an aspect of this, which makes it almost overwhelming to examine under a microscope.

Think of it like this: changing identity is a core theme in YA literature. Frequently, this involves our main character realizing that the things that have been familiar and comfortable to them (their home, their family, their lifestyle, their sexuality, whatever), is not actually who they are. Cue their search for themselves, whether that’s an introspective or outward search. When they find themselves, the familiar is no longer comforting. Home is no longer home.

Literally all Epic Quest stories feature YCGHA(tm). Literally all Hero’s Journey stories feature it. Any story with a character growth arc will have an element of it. Like the Hero’s Journey (or perhaps in conjunction with? Discuss in the comments), YCGHA is a pervasive theme throughout storytelling.

Where am I going with this? I’m not sure. But it’s interesting to think about, because overthinking things is what we do around here.

(To make this entry not completely a self-indulgent wankfest, here are some supplementary things to read/watch on our theme. They are all excellent stories and I hope you enjoy experiencing them, even if they give you existential angst.)

Exit, Pursued by a Bear, 2016 novel by E.K. Johnston
Firefly,
2002 TV series created by Joss Whedon
Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997 film directed by George Armitage
Outlander,
novels by Diana Gabaldon and TV series developed by Ronald D. Moore
Runaways, 2003 comic series originally by Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona
Stardust
, 1999 novel by Neil Gaiman and 2007 film directed by Matthew Vaughn

Posted in episodes

Episode 15: Forgiveness

The homework for the episode:
Martha: The Walls Around Us, 2015 novel by Nova Ren Suma
Pete: Doctor Who S9 e6 “The Girl Who Died” and s9 e7 “The Girl Who Lived” (2-parter)
Maren: Atonement (2007 movie directed by Joe Wright, starring Kiera Knightly and James McAvoy)

Amber is in a high security prison for violent girls. Violet is a dancer on the path to Julliard. Orianna is the strange girl who unites them both, in a story about the walls we build and that are built for us.

The Doctor saves a girl, and a Viking town, and realizes he has duties beyond simply saving a life.

A girl sees something she thinks she understands, but what she says afterward causes grief and heartbreak for many in this World War II drama.

Our theme this week is forgiveness as we plumb the depths of some…pretty strange stories, to be honest. Stories that we have a lot of strong feelings about!

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: Iron & Wine’s new album, Beast Epic
Martha: Season 4 of Top Chef
Maren: CityLab article by David Lepeska: “How Bon Iver Saved Eau Claire

Let’s get this out of the way: Martha is a garbage reality tv show fan and at some point she’s going to make her hosts watch some episodes of…something. For now, she’s basking in the glory of Stephanie Izard’s win on Top Chef as the first lady winner. Pete thinks Martha probably has heard a lot more Iron & Wine than she thinks, and both he and Maren lose it a little when she mentions she may have seen him at Jazz Fest? Maybe? Maren gets to school everyone on how Bon Iver is revitalizing Wisconsonian territory.

And then…and then we all had a lot of feelings.

Big Questions for Forgiveness

    1. How successful are characters in achieving forgiveness?
    2. Should characters pay a price in their quest for forgiveness? What price do they pay?
    3. Does forgiveness need to be reciprocal?
    1. What function is forgiveness playing in the narratives?
    2. Are forgiveness and absolution the same thing?

Martha’s not a Doctor Who fan, don’t @ her. We dig deep into semantics here, and it may be the first episode where that’s a good thing! Across all three media, we encounter characters who are seeking forgiveness in some capacity or another: from their loved ones, from themselves, on behalf of themselves. Are they successful? What defines success? Is, perhaps, the act of seeking forgiveness enough to warrant it? We also get meta and look at what role we as an audience have in being able to forgive characters. This is a good ep for looking at how an audience interacts with a narrative, and how that may or may not effect the way in which you interpret a story – having more emotional cache with a character from a serial narrative, for example.

On September 13, we’re talking about how You Can’t Go Home Again with special guest Cory Ruegg. Your homework for next episode:

Pete: The Fifth Elephant, 1999 novel by Terry Pratchett (part of the Discworld series
Martha: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014 film directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Chris Evans
Cory: Gone Home, 2013 PC game available on STEAM

Follow us online @DYDYHpodcast, e-mail us at show@homeworkpodcast.com, and find us on Facebook!

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in supplementary material

Episode 14 Follow-Up: A+ Leaders Who Are Also Women

(By Martha S.)

You may have deduced by now that gender portrayals are important to me in the media I consume – I am very prone to loving things that feature fully-realized, interesting, multifaceted women (notice I did not say “strong” – strength means many things, and I am just as likely to love a female character who is whiny and evil as I am to love one that is strong and likable). The gender disparity in the materials we talked about last week is bugging me, because I do try to pick media for the show that presents a range of experience and characters and obviously I need to do better. With that in mind, here is a bevy of women who lead in some way, whether successful or not, charismatic or not, likable or not. Because it is important to remember that while there are obviously brilliant and inspiring women leaders in fiction, there are also women who fail, and their failure as leaders does not equal their failure as characters.

Wynonna Earp, Wynonna Earp (2016 tv show by showrunner Emily Andras and starring Melanie Scrofano)
Long have I searched for a show that could ease the Supernatural-shaped hole in my heart, ever since it went to hell and I realized it hated women. Wynonna Earp seems to be doing just that. In brief, the titular character, the great-granddaughter of the infamous Wyatt Earp, is back in her hometown with Earp’s gun and a mission: kill the outlaws Earp originally laid to rest, who are cursed to come back from the dead every time the heir to the Earp name dies and the mantle is passed to a new heir. Wynonna is a booze-soaked, vulgar, rude, and frequently selfish character and I love her – she’s also becoming an increasingly more effective leader of her ragtag support group with every episode. The qualities that make Wynonna worthy of following? Pragmatism, street smarts, efficiency, and a strong sense for when her people need to take a break (also her little sister Waverly is the best and cutest exposition-fountain anyone could ask for).

Mirabel, Arsinoe, and Katharine, Three Dark Crowns (novel by Kendare Blake)
This fantasy YA novel features three wanna-be queens engaged in a fatal battle for supremacy. In the world of the novel, when the queen of Fennbirn dies, the crown is passed on to one of three sisters – each has a magical gift that they use to try and eliminate their competition. In Three Dark Crowns, the perspective rotates amongst the three sisters, who each are raised by a different group of people and trained to rule. It’s an effective story about the people who shape leaders, the influence they can have, and how a potential leader can either mitigate or succumb to that influence. By the end any one of them could be an effective Queen (although you’re getting very different flavors of leadership: clear and direct from Arsinoe, traditional and regal from Mirabel, cunning and grabbing from Katharine).

Eadlyn Schreave, The Heir (novel by Kiera Cass)
Gonna put this out right in front: The Selection novels (of which this is technically #4) are cotton candy novels. They are wonderful fluff. They are full of romance and pretty dresses and sometimes occasionally Cass remembers there’s kind of a story? This is more true in The Heir and its follow-up The Crown, wherein Princess Eadlyn is conducting her version of The Bachelor and also learning how to be Queen. I will also put this out front: Eadlyn is a TERRIBLE leader. She has no sense of how to inspire loyalty, is incredibly entitled, has no work-life balance, and can’t read a room to save her life. She’s intellectually intelligent and completely people-stupid. I would argue that the novels she stars in are actually the story of someone realizing they should absolutely not step into a leadership role, finding an alternative, and implementing that, rather than the story of someone learning how to be Queen.

Dorothy Vaughn, Hidden Figures (2016 film directed by Theodore Melfi and starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae)
I’m singling out Octavia Spencer as Vaughn in particular because she’s in charge of the team that Henson and Monae begin the film working out of. She’s overworked, underpaid, and has no guarantee that she’ll ever get the recognition she deserves – but she still identifies a threat to her staff, learns its ins and outs, teaches her staff the skills necessary to operate the giant computer, and makes them all instantly indispensable. Not only is Vaughn capable, intelligent, and resourceful, but she cares about the women who work with her, and goes extra lengths to ensure they have job security as well. Everyone in Hidden Figures is admirable, but Spencer brings a steely determination to Vaughn that I found incredibly admirable.

Posted in episodes

Episode 13: Fandom in Media

The homework for the episode:
Martha: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Calee: Fanboys, 2009 film directed by Kyle Newman
Pete: Galaxy Quest, 1999 film directed by Dean Parisot

A new freshman in college finds refuge from all the change in her life in the book series she’s loved for years, and the fanfiction she writes for it.

A group of friends embark on a cross-country road trip to break into Skywalker Ranch so their dying friend can see The Phantom Menace before he goes.

The cast from a classic sci-fi tv show are recruited to help a very real group of aliens defeat the nemesis that slaughtered their people.

Today’s episode is brought to you by fanculture everywhere. Join us as we take a deep dive into fandom and how media portrays it, from the perspective of male and female fans and even a bit from the creator side.

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: Two YouTube videos: Angelo Badalamenti describes creating “Laura Palmer’s Theme” from Twin Peaks and Alex Jones as Bon Iver
Martha: Watching her husband play Serial Cleaner
Calee: Mouseguard: Legends of the Guard by David Peterson

Pete cheats YET AGAIN, Martha is basically living inside a Twitch stream, and Calee has discovered the wonderful world of anthropomorphized mice. (J/K she’s probably read Redwall before.)

Thoughts to Think on for The Hero’s Journey

  1. Is fandom portrayed generally positively or negatively in the homework we discuss?
  2. What does fandom add to the conversation surrounding a piece of pop culture?
  3. What, if any, responsibility do creators have toward their fans?
  4. Why is fandom relevant? Why should we care?

We are all fans of something, but it is fair to say that we were NOT fans (ha) of Fanboys, although it provides a rich vein in which to explore toxic fandom and how deeply, deeply dated pop cultural humor can be. We get a little side-tracked and don’t fully explore the idea of plagiarism, copyright infringement, and fanworks, although Martha is willing to admit she’s a big ol’ hypocrite when it comes to Teefury t-shirts. We do finish strong by touching on the relevancy of fandom and how it has moved out of the dark corners of geekdom and into the light because hey, we’re all fans of something around here. (We also get through the entire episode without talking about The Big Bang Theory, which I’m counting as a win.)

Next episode, Pete’s taking us on a guided tour of what it means to be a good leader, what being a bad leader means for a group or organization, and in general, Leaders and Leadership. Plus Martha’s making you read ANOTHER book (but this one’s for kids, and it’s great). Have fun doing your homework!

Your homework for August 2:
Martha: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
Calee: Firefly, episode 1.09: “Ariel”
Pete: Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in supplementary material

Episode 12 Follow-Up: The Hero’s Journey Goes Digital

(Written by Martha S.)

One of the things we talked about in Episode 12 was why the particular story structure of the hero’s journey has endured for basically the entirety of time – I posited that it’s because basically, this is it, this IS stories. With few exceptions, the hero’s journey stands in for the journey we all travel through during our lives, taking benchmarks and moments we all hit and beefing them up with the fantastic, over-dramatic, or magical. We may not all journey to the underworld or cross a magical threshold, but we do all experience crossing different barriers and boundaries and emerging as changed humans. The hero’s journey gives us a story structure we can relate to almost instantaneously, while also making it fantastical and interesting enough that it feels new or exciting every time we experience it.

I want to explore a medium that we haven’t really had the chance to in our episodes, because our podcast structure makes it very difficult to fairly assign and complete homework of this nature: video games. Video games offer a unique experience in the world of pop culture because they’re not just something you experience, they require your interaction and involvement, whether it’s something as simple as a Mario sidescroller or as complex as a Bioware choose-your-own-adventure. Because of that, they can provide us with the opportunity to not only read about or witness a hero’s journey, but to experience it vicariously yourself through your protagonist.

Troy Dunniway, a video game designer who has worked for Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Insomniac Games, among others, wrote a comprehensive article entitled “Using the Hero’s Journey in Games,” where he breaks down how this story structure is beneficial to game designers laying out a game for development. Read the entire thing here, but also pay attention to this quote:

“As a game designer it allows us to utilize a known mechanism or formula within our games that people will understand and associate with easily. This allows us the ability to spend less time explaining ourselves and more time developing the story. The formula for a hero’s journey has been refined over thousands of years, so there is no reason to try and improve it. Instead you should spend your time trying to figure out how to make it new and interesting.”

The hero’s journey is a wheel that doesn’t need reinventing. It’s the actual storytelling that makes the difference.

Supplementary Materials

Mass Effect 1, 2, 3 (Xbox 360, PS4, PC)
The original  Mass Effect trilogy is an interesting animal because not only do each of the games demonstrate many of the hero’s journey story beats, but the trilogy as a whole becomes one massive, 90-hour hero’s journey that you complete. I think one of the reasons so many players had a problem with the end game is that perhaps, they couldn’t see how the fatalistic ending plays back into the mid-game of your Shepard’s HJ; we all made choices along the way, but in the end, the changes Shep went through after passing their event horizon meant there could only be one ending. (For what it’s worth, I enjoyed it, and still don’t think it earned the amount of ire the gaming community flung at it – although without all the ruckus, I wouldn’t have started playing them at all.)

Pokemon, pick your poison (Various generations of Nintendo hand-helds)
A good two-thirds of any given Pokemon game exists in the space between the call to action (receiving your first pocket monster) and crossing the threshold (the point at which whatever legendary beast you’re about to catch changes the world in some way). Most of the gameplay exists in between HJ story beats, and you can put hours of training and catching into the game before the plot rears its head at all – but I do love that each game pretty perfectly encapsulates the “master of two worlds” sub-stage.

Tomb Raider (Xbox 360, PS4)
Lara Croft’s evolution from archaeology student to titular tomb raider. This series pretty successfully achieves an open world format without the freedom of choice that you get from a Bioware game; you have a whole island to explore, and the game won’t stop you from doing that at your own pace, but you will trigger story events when it needs you too. Seeing and participating in Lara’s journey also retroactively gives the older Tomb Raider games more depth of flavor.

Sidebar: I think one of the (many, many) reasons that Dragon Age II doesn’t work is that it can’t decide if it wants to be an HJ or not. Ostensibly, your Hawke is becoming the hero of Kirkwall, but the reality is that the game pretty much forgets about the stages a hero is supposed to go through in any compelling way. By the time the event horizon is even introduced, I wasn’t invested and I didn’t care.

I wanted to include a fighting game here to demonstrate the myriad ways that the HJ can fit into a video game, but I’ll be honest with you: I don’t play that many fighting games and did not feel like I could properly comment on them! Please speak up in the comments: Do games like InjusticeMortal Kombat, and Street Fighter adhere to an HJ structure? Or are they all panache and no depth?