Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Nostalgia Factory

This post by Sara got me thinking about our nostalgia for childhood books and toys, and how the fond memories we have of these cherished items can distort our impressions of them. The Web is stuffed with so much retro content these days that it's usually very simple to track down an image and/or video of your favourite book, game, stuffed animal, or whatever. But when we do get access to such media, the products never seem to live up to our childhood memories of them. At least that's been my experience.

Recently I discovered the website, which has reproduced several of the old computer game adventures published by the software company Sierra On-Line in the 1980s. The owner of the site actually took the original code for each game and recompiled it in Javascript, so they are all about as close to the originals as you can get.

This screen shot is a bit of a classic, and comes from the original King's Quest game, originally released in 1984:

Basically, each game lets you control a character that walks through a virtual world, one screen at a time, solving puzzles using a series of simple word commands (e.g. "TAKE KEY", "UNLOCK DOOR") Eventually you'd solve the final few puzzles and "win" the game, by becoming king, arresting a master criminal, or whatever.

It's hard to describe how much these games meant to me when I was young. But looking at them now, I can see that they're all quite lousy. The puzzles are silly, there are a million illogical ways to die in each, the graphics are iffy, and they're really all just pretty boring. Now, as per a legal agreement the site's owner made with Activision (the company that currently owns the rights to these games), only the first in each series is playable. And the graphics and games do improve over the years, but only slightly.

As I said, these games were so important to me in my childhood, and playing them opened me up to many interesting concepts and ideas.  But I can see that my interactions were contingent on the particular contexts in which they took place.  There are probably all kinds of games that I ignore now that will be just as cherished by today's kids.

Anyway, I guess the lesson is to trust your research more than you trust your memory.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Upcoming Stubbs Lecture on The Creation of Literary Worlds

Of potential interest to some of you.....(reproduced in full from original)
Stubbs Lecture
Tuesday, 04 October 2011, 4:30pm - 6:00pm
2011-12 Stubbs Lecture
The Creation of Literary Worlds
Martin Puchner
Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Harvard University 
Tuesday, October 4
4:30 p.m., Room 140, University College
15 King’s College Circle, University of Toronto
Reception Room 240 following lecture

The talk develops an approach to literature centered on world creation. Particular attention is paid to genres that foreground the capacity of literature to create whole worlds, such as world creation myths and science fiction. Three aspects of world creation will receive particular attention: reference; scale; and model. While reference accounts for the status of the worlds to be found within literary works, scale and model capture the particular challenges world creation literature faces. 
Members of the faculty, staff, students and the public are cordially invited.
No registration necessary. Call (416) 978-3160 for more information.

Monday, September 26, 2011

From Porcelain Dolls to Virtual Dolls

My avatar? Or virtual doll? on BarbieGirls

Tomorrow in lecture, we will be discussing "The Politics of Dollhood: Texts, Toys and Socialization" through an engagement with the assigned (and recommended) readings, as well as discussion of contemporary trends and examples. In anticipation for how we might use the readings (many of which deal with historical rather than contemporary examples) to unpack current trends in kids' culture, you might want to check out this short Business Week article by youth trend expert Anastasia Goodstein, wherein she examines the then emerging phenomenon of virtual doll play. Here's an excerpt:
When you think about paper dolls, you probably think about children from past generations painstakingly attaching little outfits onto a cut-out female figure. Paper dolls have come a long way since then.

Teen and tween girls these days spend hours dressing up dolls—only these are online, in the form of avatars, or virtual representations. Consider Mattel's (MAT) Barbie, who was also a favorite paper doll. She now has a virtual world called Barbie Girls where girls can create their own avatars and try on clothes at a virtual mall. And Barbie isn't alone. A whole wave of avatar sites is hoping to capitalize on this age-old desire.

I've done quite a bit of research on Barbie Girls, and would be happy to share some of my findings and observations of the site and its players. I'd also love to hear your thoughts on the continuities and differences between paper and virtual doll play, as well as playing with actual dolls. As mentioned briefly in the first week, if any of you have dolls that you'd like to bring in to class tomorrow, for some hands on examples/object analysis, please do!!

You might also be interested in checking out last semester's post for this week's topic, Some Thoughts on the Politics of Dollhood, which contains a discussion of the subversive doll play described in Miriam Forman-Brunell's article and how we might use Bakhtinian notions of the grotesque feminine and the carnivalesque to think through phenomena such as doll mutilation (as touched upon in this week's reading).

See you tomorrow!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

CBC Archives Child's Play Exhibit

©1967-2011 CBC/Ernie Coombs/Mr. Dressup
The CBC Archives website just launched a new online exhibit of popular CBC children's television show hosts, spanning from the late 1960s to the present. Child’s Play: Popular CBC Children’s Show Hosts contains an assortment of photos, summaries, television and radio clips, and is a great way to either introduce yourself to, or refresh your memory of, some of the amazing talent that the CBC has showcased over the years within the area of children's television. We'll talk more about this particular legacy later on in the semester - until then, here's the link.

Monday, September 12, 2011

What Was Your Favourite Book?

©1981 George Mendoza, House by Mouse

This is an exercise that you might want to do in lead up to next week's class. The aim is to warm up your skills in balancing the affective/personal with the critical when thinking about kids' texts and artifacts, by looking askew at one of your own objects of childhood nostalgia.

Try to remember what your favourite book was when you were a kid. Find it (possibly at Lillian H. Smith). Read it. (If you can't find your top favourite, go with your second fave, or third, etc.).

Things to think about while reading:

  • How old were you when it was your favourite? Why did you choose that age range and not another (i.e. what made you gravitate toward that particular stage of life when thinking back to your "favourite" or of yourself as a "kid"?).
  • How long has it been since you read it last?
  • Does it live up to your memory of it? Why/why not?
  • Now that you're an adult - would you recommend it to a kid today? Why? What age range? Why?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Updates Coming SOON!!!!

Greetings incoming class of the fall 2011 iteration of INF2141 Children's Cultural Texts and Artifacts. You have indeed found the right URL and, despite all appearances to the contrary, this blog is (or will soon be) active. Please check for updates, new posts and links over the coming week as I get our course up and running. In the meantime, please feel free to peruse the archive of last year's materials, presentations and student blogs to get a sense of what's in store.