Star Wars Memories

Star Wars Memories

FILM AND NEW MEDIA

Star Wars Memories

 

December 2019

On the eve of the release of The Rise of Skywalker, we asked members of the NYUAD community to reflect on what the Star Wars films have meant to them. 

Bhrigu Kumar Bhatra, Class of 2021

Star Wars to me has always been about its world, rather than about the main characters and their stories. Of course, the Hero’s Journey is an important and critical part of the films, as seen in the stories of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Palpatine, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and the rest. But it’s the characters who are unsung, like the Bothans who died to deliver the Death Star information in Return of the Jedi and the heroes of Rogue One—those who make the silent sacrifices in the great war—that really pique my interest and really are the heart of Star Wars. The Force may be strong in the Skywalkers, but that is not what makes it remarkable. What is remarkable is its ability to rise anywhere throughout the galaxy, from a slave boy on Tatooine to a slave boy on Canto Bight.

Vishwanath Chandrasekar, NYUAD Class of 2018

Star Wars is not something you can go through life without hearing about. You will always have at least one person around you who sighs exasperatedly when you ask them, “Is that the same as Star Trek?”

I was properly “inducted” into the galaxy far, far away not too long ago, and it has become one of my favorite fantasy worlds. It is a most pleasant rabbit hole of highly imaginative content, that, at its best, treats your imagination with respect and gives you some of the best grey-area characters science fiction has to offer. The worlds within it are extremely rich with possibility, and occasionally, even Lucasfilm turns into an online fan fiction forum that asks, “What if we take this world, and this character, and this storyline, and come up with something absolutely different?” To me, Star Wars is and will be a continuous story, running parallel to our own world, and written by an army of daydreamers. And punctuated every two years by cinematic commandments from the canon.

Chani Gatto, NYUAD Class of 2014

Late in NYUAD’s first semester ever, I found myself halfway around the world missing my first (Canadian) Thanksgiving and my family back home. Yes, I was more than a little homesick. While brooding over images of Canadian autumn pics, an invitation popped into my inbox from Professor Patell, who was the faculty member I had had the pleasure of sharing crucial snippets and vital morsels of Sci-Fi with during my Candidate Weekend. His invitation included some of Professor Patell’s fellow faculty nerds and a few of my nerdish peers. We were all asked to share in the screening of the Star Wars Holiday Special. I arrived wearing my custom Darth Vader T-shirt with my Star Wars pillow tucked under my arm. It was a risk, but I was not disappointed: it turned out that Star Wars fandom ran deep in South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Who knew? Professor Patell apparently.

Cosmopolitanism was a keystone of NYUAD’s mission. We students had been lectured about the benefits of cosmopolitan learning in mandatory classes at NYUAD. A theory to be tried, we the first of an inclusive, immersive experiment that included a soupçon of all the world had to offer! And here I was, sharing with my peers and professors the pain and joy of the now-infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, and indeed, experiencing an invaluable manifestation of cosmopolitanism. A hilarious and a rare lesson was learned at the expense of the Holiday Special when a very cosmopolitan room agreed unanimously and internationally that the Star Wars Holiday Special was objectively awful. An easy win for Kwame Anthony Appiah’s rejection of relativism.

The much-maligned Holiday Special did, however, introduce the iconic character Boba Fett into the Star Wars universe.

Photo: Lucasfilm.

Isabella Peralta, NYUAD Class of 2018

A confession: I learned about the existence of Star Wars because of a video game. My brother and I played Lego Star Wars on our (now decrepit) PlayStation 2 during the summer of 2008, a time in which no one could explain to us why people despise Jar Jar Binks. Despite our lack of Star Wars knowledge, we spent hours flying Lego spaceships, collecting characters, and shooting stormtroopers. After finishing the game, we watched the original trilogy multiple times before the summer ended. More than a decade later, I still rave about Star Wars to my brother, who is now one of my best friends. And every time we hear the Mos Eisley Cantina theme, we’re taken back to the summer of 2008. 

Lego Star Wars.

Photo: Lucasfilm.

Carlo Pizzati, Visiting Novelist and Journalist

My fifteen-year-old son, Teo, and I have some things in common. One of them is that we both have tried to move objects with the power of our mind when we were apprentice Jedi during middle school. When I saw the first episode of the Star Wars saga, I was not aware of how deeply the idea of the power of thought and of will was being ingrained in my mind. So I was happily surprised to discover that Teo found his own path to this inspiring epic.

A few years ago, we decided to binge-watch the whole saga. There are different schools of thoughts on how to go about this. Some like to follow Lucas’s ordering of the episodes, starting with The Phantom Menace and ending with Return of the Jedi, thereby building a linear historical arc of the fall and redemption of Darth Vader; others prefer to respect the sequence of movie releases. We went for the latter, beginning with the 1977 Star Wars, only to realize how weak the fourth and fifth films were and how the series picked up again with the sixth, The Revenge of the Sith.

 Teo holds what he thinks is the unpopular view that the first Star Wars movie is actually one of the best B-movies ever made, with due respect and understanding, he says, of the limited scope of special effects in that era. Since I was actually 11 years old in that very era, I cannot share that view, having forever been in awe not only of the jaw-dropping space stunts of that first film, but also of the intensity of father-son conflicted relationship of in the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.

This is why, ever so appropriately, in the end Teo and I decided to settle our differences with an imaginary and protracted laser saber battle, making sound effects with our mouths.

THE scene.

Photo: Lucasfilm.

Matthew Silverstein, Associate Professor of Philosophy

One of my fondest childhood memories is from the day in May 1983 when Return of the Jedi was released. (I was eight years old.) My older brother and I were beyond excited and had been counting the days up to its release. My father actually pulled us out of school early on opening day so that we could see the very first screening. (I told my teacher why I was leaving early, and she did not object.) It was the ultimate “cool dad” moment.

Prof. S. thinks he might have seen the film at the now-demolished Forest Park Theatre, which was pretty new in 1983 and boasted a 70mm screen. 

Photo: Aaron77.

Josh Taylor, Associate Vice Chancellor, Global Programs & Mobility Services, NYU

I’ve been trying to explain to our kids recently about how much the original trilogy was a part of my life—especially in 1980 and 1983 (I was still a bit young when Star Wars itself came out, though I do remember being excited about going to see it at a theater while we were in New Hampshire in the summer of ’77). There really doesn’t seem to be a current analogue to explain how much it took over our worlds (though perhaps the release of new Harry Potter books came close?) But while I literally get a smile on my face thinking about playing with my friends my rather impressive (if I do say so myself) collection of Kenner figures, plus a couple of the giant dolls (Luke and Vader), what I think about most is when Return of the Jedi opened.

While it is one of my least favorite films of the canon, Return of the Jedi opened shortly after my grandmother died, and I remember being really conflicted, as a 12-year-old, about whether it was okay to be excited about it, if it was okay to go get in line really early for tickets, etc. And I remember my parents being wholly supportive, and saying something along the lines of “she wouldn’t have wanted you moping around the house, she would have wanted you to be enjoying yourself.”

Now, that all being said, I’m not sure if she would have given the same advice if she had known about Ewoks, but … 

Han Solo among the Ewoks.

Photo: Lucasfilm.

Jamie Uy, Class of 2021

Star Wars means coming home. Loving the sci-fi franchise is a family affair: my dad’s AT-AT replica stands proudly in the living room, my brother collects artisan lightsabers, and my mom would make us snacks from a Star Wars cookbook when we were little (and to be honest, even now—I had BB-8 pancakes for my eighteenth birthday). Star Wars and its characters were a huge part of my childhood. My dad even joked once that he should have named my brother and me “Luke” and “Leia”!

As I get older, I realize how just how much I owe to my family’s love for immersive fictional universes. For example, I strongly believe that my passion for Literature and Film Studies stemmed out of being a Star Wars fan. Close-reading films (did Han or Greedo shoot first?), analyzing the cultural phenomenon of a text (the feminism behind Princess Leia) and thinking about the political value of fiction (the fascism of The First Order) were things I was already doing, courtesy of media fandom. Star Wars even played a small role in my journey to NYU Abu Dhabi. Before I knew about the university, I visited the United Arab Emirates on a trip, realized that the Abu Dhabi desert was one of the shooting locations for Jakku, and made a budget Rey cosplay. I have photos of me on the sand dunes in Rey’s costume, even before I visited NYUAD for Candidate Weekend (these were the photos my Dad used to announce where I was going to college on Facebook).

Some things cannot be explained by anything but the Force—and I’m grateful that I’ll be back in Singapore with my family to watch The Rise of Skywalker this Christmas.

Abu Dhabi Star Wars Cosplay.

Photo: Jamie Uy.

If you have a Star Wars memory or anecdote that you’d like to share, please send it to us for consideration at nyuad.electrastreet@nyu.edu.
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VA-11 Hall-A and the Politics of Cyberpunk

VA-11 Hall-A and the Politics of Cyberpunk

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

VA-11 Hall-A and the Politics of Cyberpunk

Julián Carrera 

December 2019

Every shift at the VA-11 Hall-A bar starts with bartender Jill’s nightly line: “Time to mix drinks and change lives.”

The regulars at the bar, which is located close to the slums of Glitch City and endearingly referred to  as “Valhalla,” include a sentient robot AI, a hacker, a wannabe macho, the CEO of a newspaper, a cat-girl, a live-streamer, a disembodied brain, and a delusional art critic.

Jill talking to live-streamer Streaming-Chan.

Taken during gameplay on Nintendo Switch.

 

These personalities, and more, crop up during a normal playthrough of Sukeban Games’s visual novel, VA-11 Hall-A (2016). Subtitled “Cyberpunk Bartender Action,” VA-11 Hall-A is, according to the game’s website, “a booze ’em up about waifus, technology, and post-dystopia life.”

I have written previously about the characteristics of a “visual novel, which relies heavily on the use of choice-making moments, points in the narrative where the flow of the story stops for the player/reader to make a decision and alter how the story plays out. VA-11 Hall-A has the same mechanics, but hides it under drink-making.

So, for example, if a character asks for a drink that is sweet (taste-wise), cold (on the rocks), and big (with double the normal ingredients), the game runs different checks to see if the drink the player makes in the drink-making interface is A) sweet, cold, and big; B) sweet and big, but not cold; C) sweet and cold, but not big; D) sweet, but neither cold nor big; or E) neither sweet nor cold nor big. The drink made will have to fall under one of these 5 categories, and the character’s dialogue will be different depending on which category that is.

Virgilio, the delusional art critic.

Taken during gameplay on Nintendo Switch.

While that explanation clears up the “Bartender Action” part of the subtitle, it doesn’t acknowledge the “Cyberpunk” aspect that makes up most of VA-11 Hall-A’s aesthetic choices. Mechanically, the game is a visual novel; aesthetically, it belongs to the cyberpunk genre of science fiction, particularly as interpreted in Japanese anime, which places VA-11 Hall-A next to films and manga like Akira (manga, 1982–1990; film, 1988) or Ghost in the Shell (manga, 1989–1990; film, 1995) and anime series like Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995–1996) and Cowboy Bebop (1998–1999). Though the label of “cyberpunk” is wide enough to fit space mercenaries, the supernatural, biblical references, and giant robots, the core of cyberpunk usually lies on a depiction of the dark aspects of life and the struggle of living in high-tech worlds, with a particular interest in city life. This is not to say that the stories they tell are somehow base or unrefined, rather, they are grittier in their depiction of what dystopian life looks like.

Sei, a “Valkyrie,” Glitch City’s military police. Her looks are inspired by Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Taken during gameplay on Nintendo Switch.

Some of the films and anime I have mentioned, though focused on life’s struggles, ultimately dramatize large major societal issues: Akira, for example, depicts Neo-Tokyo’s social and class problems through the rise of the cult of Akira in response to constant police repression, while Neon Genesis Evangelion presents angels, massive alien creatures hellbent on destruction, and giant EVA units, the colossal robot suits used to fight them, highlighting the deteriorating mental state and relationships of its protagonist, Shinji. There is often something inherently abnormal about characters like Akira’s Tetsuo and Kaneda, Cowboy Bebop’s Spike, or Evangelion’s Shinji, Rei, Asuka, or Misato —but that’s what makes them special and interesting to the viewer. They are not “normal” people, but often the fate of a city (or even the world) lies on their shoulders.

Jill’s apartment and news about Glitch City.

Taken during gameplay on Nintendo Switch.

It would be easy to imagine VA-11 Hall-A as following in their footsteps, but it doesn’t. Rather than portraying the events that put a city or the world at large in danger on-screen, VA-11 Hall-A confines all action to the VA-11 Hall-A bar and Jill’s apartment. It’s not that nothing happens in Glitch City; in fact, there’s a lot going on: riots, military repression, the authoritarian power of a megacorporation, illegal bike races. But the game’s interests lie beyond the subjects that typically occupy cyberpunk fictions: it presents a different aesthetic of storytelling, more down to earth, less interested with large-scale problems and more interested in questions of survival and labour.

Jill’s problems are not related to stopping the destruction of the world, or to saving her friends from massive threats. Rather, her role is to help the people who come into the bar by talking to them and making them drinks, which helps her make money to pay her rent, utilities, buy new things, and keep from losing morale or motivation. As a result, VA-11 Hall-A advocates for an approach to games that deemphasises the wide scale of cyberpunk narratives in order to focus on a more localised story that is, like most visual novels, character-driven due to its reliance on conversation and dialogue. This change from the norm of cyberpunk resonates in interesting ways: there are no earth-shattering crises in VA-11 Hall-A, but every character that walks up to Jill at the bar has an interesting story to tell, and the frequency with which they visit the bar with different stories to tell makes them endearing. Their problems are relatable, even when it delves into the weird, like Dorothy’s existential dread at being a sentient robot; the characters feel real, relatable. Though the story is simple, everything adds up to make these characters feel alive, it makes the player/reader want to mix drinks and change their lives.

Julián Carrera is a Literature and Creative Writing student at NYU Abu Dhabi.
This article is part of an on-going series about video games and visual novels. Previous pieces make a case for the relevance of video games to the literary; investigate a video game retelling of Hamlet through Ophelia’s eyes in the game Elsinore; analyse dialogue conventions in Oxenfree, describe the nature of the visual novel, and take a closer look at one particular example, Bury Me, My Love, which tells a story about the global migration crisis.
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The Aesthetics of Dialogue in Oxenfree

The Aesthetics of Dialogue in Oxenfree

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

The Aesthetics of Dialogue in Oxenfree

Julián Carrera 

December 2019

Horror cinema has given us a wide collection of scares, from the fear of murderers to the fear of the unknown, passing through iconic films like Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween.

Out of the five examples I have listed, four belong to a particular subgenre of horror known as teenage horror, which is focused on telling its stories involving teens in one way or another, with perhaps its most visible representative being the teens of Camp Crystal Lake from Friday the 13th. To this list of teenage horror, one must add a member from another genre: Night School Studio’s 2016 visual novel, Oxenfree.

While Oxenfree takes inspiration from slasher teenage horror, it adds a paranormal twist to the formula while keeping an 80’s aesthetic.

Taken during gameplay on a PC.

Oxenfree is a weird video game to put next to these films. On the one hand, it takes inspiration from these movies, though these movies are solidly considered to be slasher-style horror while Oxenfree fits a more paranormal style of horror. And yet, there are similarities to be found. Oxenfree starts with a group of teenagers staying overnight illegally at Edwards Island, a decommissioned military base turned into a tourist attraction. As the night goes on, the story delves into the paranormal as Alex, the game’s protagonist, and Jonas, her stepbrother, tune into something on a cave with a pocket radio. Had the paranormal been substituted for a slasher, Oxenfree’s Edwards Island would have everything to be another Camp Crystal Lake.

The cast of Oxenfree, from left to right: Jonas, Ren, Alex, Nona, and Clarissa. An odd group of friends with weird social dynamics brought to light by Jonas, the newcomer.

Taken during gameplay on PC.

           But what, exactly, is Oxenfree? I called it a visual novel earlier, but this is not usually how the game is categorised. It is categorised as an adventure game, next to the likes of LucasArts’s Grim Fandango (1998), Amanita Design’s Machinarium (2009), and Sierra’s/The Odd Gentlemen’s King’s Quest franchise (started 1980, latest release in 2016). And yet, the label of “adventure” does not quite fit Oxenfree. Adventure games typically rely on solving puzzles, particularly using items: as players explore the world of the game, they find items that they can use to solve puzzles elsewhere. While Oxenfree has its own puzzles, they do not rely on item-collection. It is worth pointing out that, in recent years, the adventure genre has de-emphasised collecting items in favour of free-form exploration, particularly with the boom of so-called “walking simulators” like The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home (2013), Campo Santo’s Firewatch (2016), or Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch (2017), as well as non-item-driven adventure games like Infinite Fall’s Night in the Woods (2017). Where Oxenfree diverges from adventure games is in its reliance on dialogue.

An example of the dialogue choice-making mechanic in Oxenfree. Notice the static and the warping, too.

Taken during gameplay on PC.

This is not to say that adventure games do not have dialogue, they do, but it is dialogue of a different kind. Think, for example, of a game like Grim Fandango. It fits the object-oriented model of the adventure genre, but it has an abundance of dialogue. The main character, Manny, will say his thoughts about whatever the player interacts with. It will not be uncommon for the player to have more than 3 dialogue choices with every character Manny speaks with. Sometimes these conversations have some relevance to the puzzles, so, for example, in the beginning of the game, Manny needs a driver. A mechanic offers his help, but needs a signed form from the boss. So the player needs to get the form and the signature. Most of the dialogue, however, could be considered world-building: it does not add much to the game itself, but it helps players understand its world.

Despite having other game mechanics (like puzzle-solving and relatively free movement through the island), the core of Oxenfree lies on picking what to say from choices given to the player/reader, which puts the game, at least on a mechanical level, within the realm of the visual novel, a form that abandons most mechanics in place of dialogue. Instead of using other mechanics to progress through the game and using dialogue to establish the game’s world, visual novels turn the game into dialogue and text. The player/reader clicks through dialogue boxes to read the story without much input, but eventually the flow of the narrative stops, and the game offers different choices for the player/reader to make, and the choice has repercussions on how the story plays out.

 Oxenfree puts a twist on this system: it does not stop for the player/reader. Dialogue choices appear and, given enough time, disappear, making silence the result of not picking. The player/reader, then, has to be engaged with the narrative to know what to say, or if they should say anything at all. The stipulation in the realism of dialogue, however, does not take away from Oxenfree’s state as a visual novel, since the mechanic of the choice-making moment is still there. Silence, though not made visually evident, is also a choice available to the player/reader, and it turns the default state of not picking into a viable option. The time constraints make Oxenfree’s dialogue mechanic more like a conversation. Instead of being faced with dialogue boxes that wait for the player/reader to finish reading, Oxenfree is voice-acted to make it more real. Likewise, instead of pausing the narrative to choose certain dialogue options from time to time, Oxenfree is relentless in how many dialogue choices are given to the player, having the opportunity to interject or respond frequently. The stipulation on the realism of conversation makes Oxenfree feel more like a film, particularly those it takes inspiration from.

An example of the screen glitching.

Taken during gameplay on PC.

I want to return to this point now to bring up a formal feature of Oxenfree: glitching. Whenever the ghosts (Entities? Beings?) of the island show themselves, the screen shows visual glitches to signify that something is wrong, but they are not the glitches one would expect in a 2016 game: rather than showing more modern glitches like those in a visual novel like 2017’s Doki Doki Literature Club (which I briefly talked about in a previous article), which has character sprites breaking and turning into a mess of black squares and bits and pieces of other sprites, backgrounds distorting into computer errors, a simulation of a computer crashing, or sound files corrupting. Instead, Oxenfree relies on outdated glitches like static and warping. The game as a whole is interested in anachronistic depictions of technology, from instant photographs to pocket radios, passing through mentions of atomic bombs. Oxenfree hides most of its backstory on optional events, but it still retains its focus on a more film-inspired form of dialogue mechanic.

This article is part of an ongoing series about video games and visual novels. Previous pieces make a case for the relevance of video games to the literary; investigate a video game retelling of Hamlet through Ophelia’s eyes in the game Elsinore; describe the nature of the visual novel, and take a closer look at one particular example, Bury Me, My Love, which tells a story about the global migration crisis. In the next article, we will continue to analyse the limits of the visual novel as a form through an analysis of Sukeban Games’s VA-11 Hall-A.

Julián Carrera is a Literature and Creative Writing student at NYU Abu Dhabi.
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What are Visual Novels?

What are Visual Novels?

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

What are Visual Novels?

Julián Carrera 

November 2019

If one takes a market approach to the term, a visual novel is a video game. They are packaged as video games, they are sold in the same digital and retail stores as video games, they are advertised as video games, and they look like video games.

And yet, there is something odd about them: though they are video games, there is not a lot of “game” going on in them. Granted, “video game” itself is a blanket term for an abundance of different genres and different games played on computers, but even within that spectrum, the visual novel still sits at an odd place: the main allure of the visual novel is not to play it; rather, it is to read it.

A take on the visual novel,
from Doki Doki Literature Club!

Taken during gameplay on a PC.

So what are visual novels? Their lack of gameplay mechanics makes them hard to think of as games, but the addition of interactivity, visuals, and other form-specific tools make them not entirely fit literature, either. Looking through literary or game studies academia proves this, too: neither of these fields has done extensive work on the visual novel.

Another take on the visual novel, this time depicting the characteristic choice-making moment of the form, from Bury Me, My Love.

Taken during gameplay on a
Nintendo Switch.

To get some basics down: visual novels are a digital form, meaning they run on computers. Although many visual novels tend to add other forms of gameplay, the core gameplay mechanic is that of the choice-making moment: at certain times, the narrative flow will stop and options will appear, giving the player a choice to make, as whatever decision they take will alter the flow of the story. Onscreen, a common approach is to have a character in front of a background, with a dialogue box at the bottom of the screen showing narration, inner monologues, or dialogue pertaining to any of the characters on-screen. This approach is not the norm, however, as many visual novels take different approaches (like the screenshot from Bury Me, My Love above). The dialogue box, when it is used, can be a tension-building tool, given the fact that it mostly changes when clicked, and what limited text it shows allows for a form of enjambment where the player must click to progress. Like other video games, visual novels have save files where players can store their progress to resume at a later point or go back to in case they did not get the desired result from a choice; in a similar way, players/readers will often play through a story line then replay the visual novel from the beginning to make different decisions and get different results.

A choice-making moment in Oxenfree, a game that, although usually considered part of the adventure genre, shares the game mechanic of the choice-making moment.

Taken during gameplay on PC.

Even though visual novels are built around this specific choice-making moment, the form allows for variations of gameplay that either go beyond that or modify it in some way. The fluidity of the form, as it were, is a fluidity in categorisation. Video games are usually categorised in terms of genre, but the lines between genres are, at best, blurry. Visual novels themselves came into being out of the early form of the American text-based adventure game, yet they are not conceived of as adventure games.

A still from VA-11 Hall-A, a visual novel that hides the choice-making moment behind a drink-making mechanic. Notice the anime aesthetic.

Taken during gameplay on a Nintendo Switch.

I have pointed out that the origin of the form is the American text-based adventure game. Visual novels, however, are mostly made in Japan. Their history evolves from American adventure games into Japanese adventure games (a genre heavily marked by puzzle-solving mechanics), passing through a style that used different manga-style frames and dropped the puzzle mechanics to focus on narrative, becoming what it is today.

This article is part of an ongoing series about video games and visual novels. For further reading on visual novels, read this article on Bury Me, My Love. To read up on larger theorising of video games as literary, you can read these articles about a retelling of Hamlet through Ophelia’s eyes in the game Elsinore and a general discussion of literariness in video games.

The previous articles talk about Doki Doki Literature Club! And Bury Me, My Love, yet there are two visual novels here without articles: Oxenfree and VA-11 Hall-A, which will be covered at length in future articles as an attempt to better understand, through examples, what a visual novel is.

Julián Carrera is a Literature and Creative Writing student at NYU Abu Dhabi.
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Retelling Hamlet in Elsinore

Retelling Hamlet in Elsinore

LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING

Retelling Hamlet 
in Elsinore

Julián Carrera 

October 2019

Elsinore, Golden Glitch Studios’s retelling of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, starts on a familiar note, dramatizing a version of the play’s second scene. Instead of starting at the court, however, the game starts with Ophelia, near a pond. Polonius is asking for her help convincing Claudius, the present king of Denmark, to speed up the process for Laertes to leave. He wants to ask for the king’s blessing, but Claudius is busy discussing the risk that Fortinbras poses to Denmark. 

Ophelia sets the gears in motion by getting Gertrude to tell Claudius, and Laertes is given the blessing to leave. The day goes on. At night-time, Laertes, Polonius, and Ophelia get together to say a final goodbye before Laertes departs in the early morning. Once all is said and done, Ophelia goes to sleep. A horrible nightmare unfolds before her eyes: a ghost, a play, an uncovered murder, a madman, and herself in a pond, drowning.

The dawn of the first day: Hamlet in Ophelia’s room. Taken during gameplay on PC.

After her nightmare, Ophelia finds Hamlet in her room, speaking about the murder of his father. After this, he bolts out of the room, apologizing. The plot of Hamlet then goes on as it usually does, but some things are different at first sight, mostly in casting choices and the gender swap of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. On a deeper level, however, some things have changed. No longer is there a troupe of actors playing “The Murder of Gonzago.” Instead, there is a one-man troupe, led by a familiar character: Peter Quince, leader of the rude mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Peter Quince introducing himself. Notice his face. Taken during gameplay on PC.

Everything, at least during the first “run” of the game, plays out as it normally does. There are some more characters present, like Irma the cook and Lady Brit, Queen Gertrude’s lady-in-waiting, but apart from that, not much different happens. Quince puts on a one-man show of “The Murder of Gonzago” using masks, Hamlet kills Polonius, and Ophelia dies. However, she does not drown. Rather, at one point during the first run of the game, a hooded figure appears and, for no apparent reason, kills Ophelia. She then wakes up, only to find Hamlet in her room, once again speaking about the murder of his father, and once again bolts out of the room apologizing. Ophelia is trapped in an endless cycle that inevitably ends with her death and the deaths of the people who always die in Hamlet.

Ophelia has met with a terrible fate, and Quince somehow knows about it. Taken during gameplay on PC.

Something, however, is rotten in the state of Denmark. Time is looping, and it seems that no matter what is different in Elsinore, Ophelia always dies. On top of that, Quince seems to know much more than he is showing. No one else notices the oddness of time, and yet Ophelia can influence what happens every time.

Most —if not all— pieces of journalism about Elsinore end up comparing it to the film Groundhog Day, and with good reason: both are narratives that rely on the constant repetition of the same day (or, in Elsinore’s case, the same four days) to tell their story. While this comparison seems to have at least some ground, I think the comparison is not entirely accurate. Elsinore seems to be more akin to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, not because of any similarities in gameplay, but taking inspiration in repetition.

The Happy Mask Salesman from Majora’s Mask. Notice the similarities to Quince.

Taken from the listing for Majora’s Mask on Nintendo’s website.

Majora’s Mask has the player relive the same three days over and over while making progress in different parts of the game every time, under the premise that, at the end of the final day, the moon will crash on the fictional land of Termina and kill everyone, unless the player can do something about it. It is this game that Elsinore seems to draw the most from, considering the nature of the time loop and the knowledge the player accumulates as they go. Quince acts as a sort of guiding figure, giving the player hints on what to do, similar to the Happy Mask Salesman from Majora’s Mask, who starts the player’s quest to, first, retrieve what was stolen from them, and then to retrieve Majora’s Mask, an artefact that was stolen from the Happy Mask Salesman. The most important connection, however, seems to lie in Majora’s Mask Bombers’s Notebook, an object the player can get that shows a timeline of all characters the player can interact with: it shows when the player can do things to help characters, it shows meetings, and it shows windows of opportunity. Elsinore takes this interface and turns it into a timeline that shows the player what things have happened, what events will happen, and in what window of time they will happen, letting the player keep track of their current time cycle. As players play more and more, and cycles occur again and again, Ophelia gets more and more information to try to save everyone and stop whoever is murdering her. Whenever a new cycle starts, Ophelia keeps everything she learned from previous cycles, allowing the player to try different things.

Elsinore interprets the story of Hamlet in different ways, and it takes liberties with the play, taking elements from many of Shakespeare’s plays and putting them in Elsinore Castle. So, for example, Horatio jokingly flirts with Ophelia saying, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” There is a small text the player can find, called “8 Signs Your Nobleman Might Be Treacherous,” a piece of flavour text poking fun at characters from Shakespearean plays like Brutus (“Stay indoors on March 15 if possible”), MacBeth (“Even the most heartening prophecy can’t revive this relationship”), Othello (“Stay away from pillows”), and Hamlet himself (“Sometimes he tells you to get to a nunnery. […] Send this uncouth boy sulking back to university!”) In other cases, characters travel through plays, not just Quince, but Othello, too.

A screenshot showing Othello speaking to Ophelia.

Courtesy of the game’s website.

Elsinore is full of multiple possibilities and endless retellings of Hamlet. In my own gameplay, during the second cycle, Ophelia lets Hamlet know that she overheard Claudius’s confession of murder at the altar, which gives Hamlet an incentive to kill Claudius before even staging “The Murder of Gonzago.” This change, of course, comes with its own set of problems.

All in all, Elsinore gives players an entrance into the world of Hamlet through Ophelia and gives them a chance at changing the play’s story. Though it is just a bit over 400 years of Shakespeare’s death, the bard’s stories are still produced and worked on, with love letters to the works, like Elsinore, still being produced.

Julián Carrera is a Literature and Creative Writing student at NYU Abu Dhabi.
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Documenting Visual Design at NYUAD

Documenting Visual Design at NYUAD

ART AND ART HISTORY

Documenting Visual Design at NYUAD

Goffredo Puccetti

September 2019

DESIGN WORKS was a show set in the Arts Center Project Space from January 9 to 23, 2019.

Curated by the students Diego Arias and Van Anh Bui, with the assistance of Erin Collins and Goffredo Puccetti, it presented an overview of all the visual design works carried on in-house, by students and faculty from 2012 to present. It served both as an archive and as a celebration.

Visual Design practice entered the curriculum of our university in January 2012 with the offering of an elective class named Designing Abu Dhabi. Since then, in-house graphic design has played a major role in assisting the establishment of NYUAD’s visual identity: student-driven design has not only supported the institution’s needs in outstanding ways, but also–perhaps more importantly–it has helped us to define our mission and vision. Students have assisted faculty and staff in making sure that the quality of everything we did was properly reflected in our designed material. They highlighted our strengths and even corrected our mishaps. To give but one, quite significant, example: we did not have an Arabic logotype in place until the students designed one!

Some of their work is now gone for good, and for several works, sadly there is little more left than a blurry photo taken with a smartphone camera. But many other designs are here. And they are here to stay: in the Arts Center, the corridors of the Theater and Music Departments display beautiful posters designed by students. Even the fire doors have been transformed by the students into memorable landmarks. And every time we welcome new students at Marhaba Week, every time we cheer for our Athletics teams, every time our seniors get to hold the silver Torch on Commencement day, the legacy of student-driven design is apparent. 

Moreover, the outreach of their work has gone way beyond the “Saadiyat bubble, with projects of national and international relevance such as the visual identity for the World Wildlife Federation in the UAE, or the ArabWIC organization, now present in more than 20 countries, just to name two. Following a request from the Office of the Provost, our alumna Harshini Karunaratne recorded video at the show and has captured its essence in the amazing eleven-minute documentary shown below.

Documentary by Harshini Karunaratne

Goffredo Puccetti is Assistant Professor of the Practice of Visual Arts at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Harshini Karunaratne graduated from NYUAD in 2018, with a double major in Film and New Media and in Theater. You can find more of her work at harshinijk.com.

 

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