This is a reflection of the course ENG 101 at Emory University taught by David Morgan. Here is the link to the class website: https://eng101s20.davidmorgen.org/
The experience of taking ENG 101 section 9 has been a wonderful journey for me. As a student with English as my second language, I developed an averse and fearful attitude towards writing classes throughout high school due to the difficulty for me to process and come up with a piece of writing in a comparatively unfamiliar language. I was even more nervous for a college-level writing class, worrying that it might be the most stressful and intense course in my schedule. Going through this semester, my experience was the exact opposite of what I expected: I no longer felt stress and anxiety toward writing. I noticed that writing in this course was much easier for me, not caused by lower standards or the sudden appearance of personal interest, instead, we “write” differently. Our writing assignments were derived from various activities and tasks we completed; based on my main takeaways from each of the tasks, I categorize our course outcomes into four categories: writing process, rhetorical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, which all contribute to our big theme of the course–gamefulness. Although gaming has been an activity widely discouraged by parents due to academic purposes, our motive is to discover and analyze what can we learn from games and how can we apply them, not just to writing, but our life as a whole.
Most of the assignments we completed require students to develop different stages to complete the task and follow the steps to generate the final piece. For example, one of the biggest projects we had to complete in this course was producing our own podcasts, where we had to thoroughly experience and analyze a game of our own choice, and express it in a form of a podcast episode. I did my podcast episode on the game League of Legends, where I briefly introduce the setting of the game and analyze the strategies, skills, and real-life applications involved in the game in depth. The first step of producing the podcast was communicating with my teammates to come up with an outline of different categories, such as probing, telescoping, and synchronization, and what to be included in each topic. Next, we brainstormed specific examples of major aspects to help with audiences’ comprehension. After writing the outline, I met with my assistant producer and recorded the episode by carrying out a natural conversation discussing the game. In the end, we edited our recording to make the conversation more smooth and the main argument more clear. Though the production process does not sound like traditional writing assignments where we have to submit a fifteen-page essay, the experience and goal have minimal deviations from traditional writing. Similar to writing an essay, producing a podcast requires students to create an outline of the work, generate their own thoughts and opinions, and think about what will be the best way to communicate them to the audience. In addition, editing the recording at the end is the same as revising an essay after finishing it to correct grammatical errors, sentence structures, and strengthen the central idea that is done in traditional writing,
The rhetorical situations we learned during our second class meeting has been an important element in completing different assignments. Rhetorical situation is an important area in writing for both the author and the readers to consider the context, intention, and genre of the text. We were able to apply the skill of rhetorical analysis through playing Fiasco. Fiasco is a story-telling game, each student was a unique character and had to “write” stories in a form of creating a scene with other characters in response to the dynamic storyline and conditions. Playing this game requires a great amount of critical thinking, as there is no fixed plot–everything happens as you go. The most important part of playing Fiasco is to analyze other characters’ stories–what are their secret motives, what are the tones of their dialogues, what can I do in response–in order to reach an ideal ending, which is a great practice of rhetorical thinking where students actively analyze the perspective and purpose of the narrators and their texts. In addition, after each assignment, we are required to write a reflection about our experiences completing each task and main takeaways on the class website, which is a good way to look at other students’ work to stimulate fresh perspectives and ideas through analyzing their ways of approaching the assignment and developing the work.
While most writing classes require students to complete individual assignments, collaborative writing is fairly common in this course. At the beginning of the semester, we were required to play a board game as a group, where players form teams and communicate together to come up with strategies and work together to lead to victory. Producing podcast episodes is also a form of collaborative writing since students work as a team and each team member can contribute different opinions and aspects to make the podcast more complete and diverse. The most intense collaborative writing has to be the experience of playing Fiasco since it’s what the game is intended to do: as different characters, students took turns to produce a scene with other characters through a series of dialogues, narrative, and description to push the storyline forward while brainstorming how to respond to unexpected situations and fulfill their own required conditions until reaching the end of the story. In short, Fiasco is a story generator for a group in a fun, exciting, and gameful way. I very much enjoyed the experiences of collaborative writing in this course because I always learn something new–a new idea, a new perspective, a new strategy–and everyone in the group was able to each contribute their own effort and creativity to make the piece more complete as a whole.
This course completely changed my view of creativity. In the past, I was always an instruction-follower student, which I simply did what the professors told me to do. Generating unique ideas of my own is beyond my comfort zone, and has always been challenging for me. However, beginning from the weekly side quest, I discovered the power of creativity. The side quests that stimulates a great amount of creative thinking was the combo photo, where we had to combine pictures of two completely unrelated objects to form something new, and Sunday sketches, where we have to incorporate a physical object with our drawings on a sheet of paper to transform the object into something new. Both side quests encouraged me to look at things around me in different ways and generate fun pieces of work. For example, in the side quest Sunday Sketches, I was able to get inspiration from pickled radish during breakfast and create a painting of night sky with radish representing the moon–it all comes from paying close attention to your surroundings and thinking outside of the box. Another assignment that led us to think creatively was the 3D printing assignment. I chose to print a mask from a game character, and I learned to look at the object of my choice more than what it’s intended to be and discover what it symbolizes from deeper perspectives:
“…it reminds me of the Jigsaw Killer and V from V for Vendetta because all of them have a mask that represents their identity. Personally, I love how the designer incorporated the idea of ‘mask’ into this character because the mask truly brings out the shadowy, dark elements of his identity as a psychotic serial killer…”
I was able to exercise my ability to discover dynamic thoughts of my own towards a simple object and what it represents, which added more emotional components and in depth analysis that elevated my writing.
The assignment that I appreciated the most, especially during this pandemic, is the home-tasking that our instructor came up with as a substitute for our final game design project. This assignment aims at using limited resources during the quarantine to create spectacular ideas in response to bizarre prompts such as ‘turning your bathroom into a night-out venue’ or ‘silent recreation of your favorite movie scene’. Coming up with creative ideas for each prompt was definitely challenging, not just for me, but also for most of the students in the class; however, I started to look at this assignment in a more ‘gameful’ way: as I became more competitive and ambitious in the assignments, my anxiety towards the pandemic diminished gradually and I developed passions for accepting each prompt as a challenge in my daily life. Using what I learned from Super Better by McGonigal,
“purposeful play builds self-confidence and real-world problem-solving skills.“
I looked at each home-tasking assignment as game puzzles, and as a player, I navigate through my house, finding pieces that fit into the puzzle and allies to help me along the way. This mindset is also beneficial for writing and other academic tasks in the future because when I look at a task as a challenge I accepted instead of a stressor that I am forced to face, I had more motivation in completing the task; in addition, I can turn the task from something I ‘have to complete’ into something I ‘want to master.’ All of the students in our class posted their unique ideas on the class website, which opens up a new canvas of colorful, diverse, and creative thoughts for students to learn from each other and stimulates new ways of approaching life and future challenges in different aspects such as academic or work fields. I was especially pleased to see the progress every student made towards the home-tasking assignments — everyone’s work was more serious and effortful towards the end. I believe this assignment brought the whole class together as a community, as we were facing the same challenges and grew together as a whole.
Overall, I am genuinely grateful for what this class has taught me, especially for I was able to gradually walk out of my shallow and turning from an instruction-follower to a creative thinker. Like what I wrote in the Fiasco reflection,
“the experiences and lessons that we learned from completing different tasks in this course cannot be easily achieved in a traditional writing class.”
Instead of getting a prompt and sitting quietly in front of the computer, trying to pull out something worth-writing from my brain, we take actions, and write from experience, from fun, from different perspectives of the world, and from gamefulness of life.