Welcome to my research blog. I am in the process of working on two extensive and complicated projects, which either really love my work or I am some kind of masochist: probably a bit of both. This blog not only covers my research interests, but also the research my students perform. I often bring my research into the classroom, which has made my research more robust and, I hope, offered students insight into the process and even importance of research. To show you what I mean, in a class in modern American fiction, we discussed the conventions of the western and film noir in video games. One students explained that he felt much freer playing video games over reading because he could perform characters. He also said that reading in print form offers little in the way of choice whereas video games provided opportunities to shape the narrative to the player’s interests. Other students disagreed, stating that games only seemed to offer choice but the opportunities to actually express difference and diversity from normative culture was very limited or nonexistent. This kind of debate has helped me to think through how durable American genres have been remediated into video games, thereby reinstating certain ideals of American identity and nationhood.
The following offers insight into what my research interests are:
My primary area of interest lies within the field of genre studies, particularly in terms of how narrative genres can function to accommodate, affect, oppress, and even liberate different reading audiences and negotiate multiple traditions of communication in varied social contexts. I am interested in how narrative genres stratify and categorize race, class, and gender in order to sustain long-standing systems of power and oppression. In addition to and expanding on my expertise in digital postcolonialism and genre studies, I also work in the intersecting fields of digital humanities, pedagogy, and video game studies.
My current research comprises two key areas that are connected by virtue of their interdisciplinary nature and engagement with digital humanities:
- A book-length project entitled Manifest Destiny 2.0: Genre Trouble in Video Games, which is under contract with the University of Nebraska Press.
- A collaborative digital humanities project, located at digitalcommunitas.org, that explores how digital technology and media are changing the postsecondary classroom.
Manifest Destiny 2.0: Genre Trouble in Video Games
While video games provide a completely new medium for storytelling, most game narratives do not offer new ways of understanding the world. Quite to the contrary, most videogames with complex storylines are based on enduring American literary genres that disseminate problematic ideologies transnationally. Stories are fueled by the dynamic engines of genres, which dictate the form of the story, and this power is also apparent in video games, but none more so than in games that narrativize the frontier myth. Through intensive analyses of two case studies, Red Dead Redemption (2010) and L.A. Noire (2011) that are, respectively, a western and a detective noir thriller, this book-length project shows that the frontier myth is still performing its cultural work in the twenty-first century. Indeed, when these primarily print and film genres are remediated as video games, they not only continue their original purpose to circulate exceptionalist, neocolonial versions of the U.S., but also create a new form of embodied, performative literacy that, I argue, intensifies the power of literary genres (of any kind) and their rhetorical purpose.
Both games require players to perform as a failed yet heroic protagonist whose main goal is to repair the fractures in the American dream of property ownership. For example, the main character in Red Dead Redemption, the reformed outlaw John Marston, reluctantly leaves his ranch – the symbol of his recuperation from outlaw to ranch owner – to rescue his family. However, his main mission, which is to hunt down his former gang members to appease the government agents who are holding his family hostage, is often sidelined as he consistently protects the property of others from rustlers and “savages.” As Marston, the player performs “missions” or narrative sequences that mostly involve Marston admitting that the government and corporations are to blame for making life difficult for small ranching and farming operations; however, instead of attacking the corporate culprits, he punishes the rustlers, Indians, and banditos (in other words, lower class and raced characters) for these fractures in property and ownership.
Similarly, the protagonist in L.A. Noire, detective Cole Phelps consistently states that he “wants to make the world a better place by enforcing the law,” but he can’t understand that the law does not apply to those of a certain class and wealth level. Much like Marston, Phelps is disillusioned by his discovery of corruption, but he still supports and sustains the corrupt status quo rather than fight against economic disparity and other social ills. While both characters are disgusted by the corruption they witness, they do not see an alternative to sacrificing themselves to support a neoliberal and neocolonial American system that ultimately views them as expendable. Indeed, in both games, political apathy is promoted as the best choice while those who try and gain equal access to economic advantages, social mobility, and other aspects of the “American Dream” are framed as criminal and subversive. Much like their print and film progenitors, these games quell anxieties over economic, racial, and gender inequality through the performance of Anglo cultural, racial, and economic superiority.
The book manuscript is currently under contract with the University of Nebraska Press.
The Cogewea Project
More to come soon!