English 111 section 67
FROM WHAT YOU KNOW TO WHAT YOU WANT
Introducing new concepts to a general audience can be a daunting task for both professionals and scientists. In this paper, Jonathan Frome uses a popular video game as both springboard and vehicle to explain his ideas of how cognitive psychology can answer the question: why do we care about fictional characters?
Why Do We Care Whether Link Saves The Princess? Frome asks in his essay, but he’s also asking a bigger question: why do we care about fictional characters? Why do we cry at movies when the hero dies? Why do we cheer when the heroine succeeds? Why do we go into endless discussions on the love lives of a young wizard who never existed in the real world?
To answer this question, Frome delves into philosophy and then into cognitive psychology, his area of research. (Jonathan Frome, Ph.d 1) Before he explores these unfamiliar areas, however, he grounds his readers in a topic that is familiar to them, the playing of videogames. As The Legend of Zelda games are the subject of the book, The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy: I Link Therefore I Am, in which this essay appears, he focuses on one particular videogame game: Legend of Zelda: Windwaker. (Frome 3)
The first Zelda title, Legend of Zelda, was released in 1986 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. (Cuddy xii) In the twenty-five years since there have been 14 additional titles released, as well as numerous re-releases of games on newer systems. The franchise has included comic books, animated cartoons, music, and artwork. Its popularity is due partly to the fact that it has always been more than just a videogame, it is also a story. Link, the main character that the gamer must guide through puzzles and in combat against dangerous monsters, is on a quest to save Zelda, the princess, from a specific evil antagonist, and on the way he must interact with a variety of characters. From the beginning these characters have had personalities, and are as likely to be grouchy as nice — Zelda must convince them to help him in his quest. It’s a very entertaining world, as compelling any straight narrative. Gamers often talk about the characters as if they are real. Why are they sucked into these game worlds? Why are any of us sucked into the Adventures of Harry Potter, for that matter?
Frome starts his essay by appealing directly to the emotions of his audience. He uses second person voice to draw the reader in, to give her the same feeling she has while controlling the Link in the game. Frome reminds the reader of the emotions created by the game. Using such phrases as “you feel a swell of emotion when you defeat the final boss” (Frome 3) and “you have every right to feel happy with your performance” (Frome 3) he directs the reader to feel those emotions again, the joy of winning the game. Then he moves deeper and directs the reader to remember the emotions she felt while playing through the storyline of the game, such as “it’s sad when Link leaves his grandma,” or “you feel touched when Aryll gives Link her telescope.” (Frome 4) His intimate tone allows the reader to participate in the essay, to be involved.
Then, when Frome admits that the story is fiction and moves to summarize the section, he moves into first person plural voice. He invites himself into an intimate conversation with the reader, and in this intimacy he asks, “Why do we care about people who don’t exist?” (Frome 4) Thus the reader is invited — not pushed, not forced, merely invited as one friend would invite another — to explore this new area with him. At the same time, Frome uses the change in personal address to signal that he has moved from merely engaging the reader to a discussion of the topic.
The next section, with its discussion of theories, sets up the academic background of the essay. Frome introduces the term “paradox of fiction,” the act of caring about characters we don’t believe in, and then presents three theories to explain it. There is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “suspension of disbelief” (Frome 6), Noel Carroll’s “illusion theory”(Frome 6), and Kendall Watson’s “pretend theory” (Frome 7). Frome discusses these theories and their criticisms in third person, maintaining a scholarly air: “Noel Carroll…argues that emotions can, in fact, be generated by thoughts alone, and he proposes what he calls thought theory. He gives the example of standing on a dangerous precipice.” (Frome 6-7) Frome then moves into a more intimate voice, using first person plural, to discuss the example, “We’re scared, not by a belief that we are in a dangerous situation, but by the mere thought of something bad happening.”(Frome 7) Later, Frome moves into second person voice to link the example to the reader’s emotional reaction to the game, as described in the first section, “But if our thoughts only cause emotional response when we visualize them, then this doesn’t explain your response to Wind Waker, because you don’t visualize the world of the game while you play. You don’t have to — you see it onscreen.”(Frome 7) By using different voices to describe different parts within the same section — scholarly presentation, response to the presentation, and links to the emotional experience of the reader, Frome helps the reader to keep clear which part is which and to navigate the argument. In this way, he makes the academic background accessible to the new student.
With the reader engaged and the background material explained, Frome moves to the idea he is presenting to the reader, that the ability to become involved with fictional characters can be explained by “the idea that the mind has multiple systems.” (Frome 12) We can accept something as real by one part of our mind while knowing that it is not real in another part of the mind, and we can hold both of those ideas at the same time. In this section, the focus is on the academic argument, presented in third person voice, and Frome’s discussion of this argument, presented in plural first person voice. The reader is still included in this discussion, but the focus is on the argument, not the videogame.
Frome concludes his essay by returning to The Legend of Zelda and discussing the videogame in relation to this idea of multiple systems. He answers the question he put forth in the title with the opening and closing sentences of his final paragraph. “We react to videogames and other art forms in some ways as if they are representations and in some ways as if they were reality….And as Videogame simulations approach reality, we may expect that our emotional responses tothem will approach our response to reality as well.” (Frome 14-15).
By using separate voices for the different parts of his essay — scholarly presentations in third person, discussion in first person plural, and examples in second person — Frome not only engages the reader in an intimate discussion but also helps the reader to keep track of the different parts. By moving the reader from a topic she knows well to the one he wants to teach, and by giving academic support to his argument before he makes it, Frome leads the reader into new ideas and concepts. Although videogames may not seem to be a very academic subject, they are a major part of the young adult culture, and can be used effectively as part of academic teaching.
Cuddy, Luke. “Setting Up The Game” The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy: I Link
Therefore I Am.
Ed. Luke Cuddy. Chicago and La Salle: Open Court, 2010. Print.
Frome, Jonathan. “Why Do We Care Whether Link Saves The Princess?” The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy: I Link Therefore I Am.
Ed. Luke Cuddy. Chicago and La Salle: Open Court, 2010. Print.
"Jonathan Frome, Ph.d." University of Texas at Dallas Faculty. The Arts and Technology Program at the University of Texas at Dallas, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2011.