Posted in episodes

Episode 29: Niche Communities

The homework for the episode:
Austin: Awesome Games Done Quick-sponsored Speedrun of Star Wars: Jedi Knight Academy by gamer CovertMuffin
Another AGDQ speedrun of your choice
Pete: Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (2014 novel)
Martha: Fursonas, 2016 documentary (available to watch for free here)

Gamers join together and use their powers for good, in friendly competition and the sharing of secrets to beat games fast and raise money for charity.

A man, isolated by disfigurement and attitude, runs a play-by-mail RPG out of his apartment, and imagines what his players are like in the real world.

A documentary digs into the sometimes-secretive furry community, giving members of that community the chance to speak for themselves.

Pete’s friend Austin Delmond joins us today to discuss Niche Communities and all the baggage (good and bad) they bring with them. Quick content warning on this one: we keep things pretty PG, but there is some discussion of sex and kink that happens in this ep!

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: Goths by the Mountain Goats
Martha: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
Austin: Stardew Valley

Martha waxes nostalgic about His Dark Materials and glories in the chance to revisit that world. Pete “Only Listens to the Mountain Goats,” and Martha gets to nerd out about Stardew Valley again when Austin admits to being just as addicted as she is. On to the episode proper!

We all belong to some kind of niche community: a group of people organized by a shared interest, to perhaps oversimplify it. Our topics of discussion in this episode range from what exactly defines a niche community, examining the good and the bad (spoiler alert: everything run by humans is fallible!), how the internet has aided in the formation and development of niche communities, and how our homeworks reflect (or don’t!) that sense of community. I think we’re pretty respectful, but please let us know if we stick our foot in it at any point. It’s the only way we’ll learn.

The articles cited in the episode:
Games Done Quick website
Interview with John Darnielle
A review of Fursonas by a furry community member with quotes from the filmmaker

We’re going a bit broader next episode with a discussion on Toxic Masculinity, which we’ll be following up with a part two in the coming weeks (more on that in the episode). For now, I can tell you that friend of the show Caitlin Hofert will be on with some good TED talks for all of us to experience.

The homework for April 11:

Martha: Devils Within by S.F. Henson (2018 YA novel)
Pete: The Sopranos, 1.01 (“Pilot”)
Caitlin: TED talks from Jackson Katz and Tony Porter

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 syllabus

Hero’s Journey: Syllabus

Chapter 19 of The Silmarillion, Beren and Luthien (1977 novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien, and edited by Christopher Tolkien)

The Book of Life (2014 movie directed by Jorge Gutierrez)

The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949 book by Joseph Campbell)

Mass Effect 1, 2, 3 (Bioware video game series first released in 2007)

Pokemon (Series of Nintendo video games first released in 1996 for the Nintendo Gameboy)

The Power of Myth (1988 documentary and subsequent book published in 1988)

Shrek (2001 movie directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson)

Star Wars (1977 film directed by George Lucas and starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher)

Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics video game released in 2013)

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?