Player-Response: On the Nature of Interactive Narratives as Literature

After what was probably the most academically rigorous year of my life, I can officially call myself a Master. And that’s pretty cool.

From start to finish, the focus of my time in graduate school was my thesis, a culmination of all my years of research, composition, passion, and abilities as both a writer and a gamer. It was obvious to me what the topic of my thesis would ultimately be, having spent much time defending the merits of video games to my friends and family. This thesis, where I explore how game narratives, specifically Mass Effect, are the pinnacle of modern storytelling and justify their utilization of active participation and hypertextuality, was both a joy to work on and an immense pressure off my shoulders. I am glad that I can now share it with you all today.

Read Player-Response – On the Nature of Interactive Narratives as Literature

Special thanks to Morgan Read-Davidson, my thesis advisor, and Jana Remy and David Winnick, readers on my thesis committee.


Composition Processes of First-Year Students

As part of my graduate studies, I was tasked with overseeing and completing a research project on a topic related to the field of composition. I knew I wanted to look at how writers write, how the changes one will make from a first draft to a second affect the reading of the final product, how a piece of writing evolves from a concept to a publication. Starting only with a basic proposal, I received approval from my university’s Institutional Review Board, acquired writing samples from the test subjects, and began my investigation into how first-year writing students modify and adapt their compositions, in order to create an improvement.

If that wasn’t enough, this project was also presented at the 2018 College English Association Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, as part of the Attitude, Access, Advocacy: Overcoming Obstacles in First-Year Writing panel. This was my first time presenting at an academic conference and, as nervous as I was, I hope to return one day with more pertinent research.

Read Composition Processes of First-Year Students

Please keep in mind this was a project meant to be small in scale and completed within a period of three months. As such, this research project is limited to a case study of three individuals.

Special thanks to Ian Barnard, the professor and principal investigator overseeing the project, and Meghan Kemp-Gee, the professor who lent me her students as subjects.

Sympathy for the Devil: The Appeal of Satan as a Hero in Paradise Lost

When one considers the idea of a hero in the classical sense, images of Odysseus or Aeneas immediately come to mind. These heroes are considered such because of their bravery in the face of adversity, their will for self-sacrifice, and willingness to work for a greater good. However, one would not normally consider Satan to be a hero; on the contrary, in religious theology, Satan is “a personification of the force of evil itself” (Russell 23). How could one even possibly conceive Satan as a heroic character? John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, however, displays Satan in a heroic light, depicting the Biblical story of the Fall of Man from the perspective of Satan as a protagonist. Though evil, Satan possesses many heroic qualities and it is primarily due to his own fatal flaw that he ultimately becomes the twisted, malevolent figure he is understood to be today, suggesting that everyone is susceptible to corruption even when one believes one is doing the right thing.

First, the definition of “hero” must be explained in order to reconcile and conflate Satan with characters like Heracles. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a hero as “a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability” and “the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work”. A hero is not necessarily good, but heroes are often depicted as good. It is far easier to empathize and connect with a protagonist who has similar moral values to one’s own beliefs, than a protagonist who is far different; selfishness and pride are qualities one does not prefer to see in one’s self. Why should we, then, consider evil characters as heroes? It is because a subjective perspective decides who is a hero. One concept must be considered when contemplating the idea of a hero: sonder. Sonder is “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness” (Rouviere). Everyone is the hero of their own story; no one would consider him or herself a villain. One believes that one is doing the right thing, according to their own belief system and moral philosophy. To say who is, objectively, a hero or a villain, good or evil, is difficult to say. A hero to one is a villain to another. A hero may also have certain qualities which elevate him above the common man. Some of these aspects include, “Learn about the world around you…Become a leader at sharing ideas and dreams…[and] A strong commitment often requires deep personal sacrifice” (Kile). These are upstanding qualities, which, as will be demonstrated, are possessed by Satan in Paradise Lost.

After the invocation of the muse, Paradise Lost opens with Satan talking before the legions of Hell. Satan had been cast out from Heaven for being “an arrogant angel who defied his commander in Heaven” (Feldkamp 6). Believing that he should not be controlled by the Son, as God had commanded that the Son shall reign over the angels, “Satan refuses to surrender his personal freedom or to submit to what he regards as the illegitimate reign of the Son, and he appeals to the other angels to do the same” (Hoyt). Satan fails in his rebellion, and he and the angels who joined him are cast out from Heaven. Satan’s pride, which later manifests itself as hubris, is at first a strong and good quality. Satan believes that his rights are going to be taken over by a strong-armed dictator of sorts and believes that he can do a better job of ruling. It’s a common story, that of a man refusing to bow to tyranny and defeating it to become a free person. However, because the tyranny he is rebelling against is that of God, the omnibenevolent ruler of Heaven, Satan is instantly characterized as opposing the good nature of God, thus making Satan evil. God is not, however, truly heroic. Because God is also omnipotent, He can accomplish anything easily and without risking anything. Without that risk of self-sacrifice, God cannot be a hero. Satan risks his station in Heaven as one of God’s trusted angels in order to fight for personal freedom. This makes him appealing as a hero; he will do anything to fight for what he believes in.

Satan is not alone in his imprisonment in Hell. In his rebellion against God, Satan led a legion of angels against the armies of Heaven. When Satan was cast down to Hell, the rebel angels joined him and became the demons who serve him. His council consists of great evils like Beelzebub, Moloch, Belial, and Mammon, who call Satan “Our envied Sovran”, their lord and leader (Milton I.244). The demons speak of Satan with great reverence and respect, as they believe in his cause. His ideals are the ideals of his followers, allowing him to command great legions to fulfill his orders. Satan not only embodies the heroic quality of self-sacrifice, but his ability to command the armies of Hell shows his aspects of leadership.

Satan makes a commitment to attaining vengeance on God for the punishment of his rebellion, by deciding to corrupt the newest, and potentially greatest, creation of God: Man. Along with Heaven and Hell, God created a third world for his new creations, the world we know as Earth. After counsel with his inner circle, Satan concludes that the first step that must be taken is an exploration of this new world. But a new kerfuffle begins among the great evils: who shall explore this new world? Satan takes it upon himself to investigate the world, telling his fellow demons “…intermit no watch/Against a wakeful foe, while I abroad/Through all the coasts of dark destruction seek/Deliverance for us all: this enterprise/None shall partake with me” (II.462-6). Satan undergoes this risky and dangerous mission alone. He is the lone hero who risks himself for his compatriots in order to ultimately free them from their imprisonment. Not only does this encapsulate his determination to sacrifice for the greater good, it also shows his willingness to learn and expand his own knowledge, an aspect he eventually passes onto the newly-created Man. Despite working from an evil perspective against the goodness of God, Satan’s willingness to learn and explore, his leadership of the legions of Hell, and his willingness to risk himself for his people (well, demons) demonstrate his nature as a hero in the classical sense.

After having previously scouted the exterior of the land and choosing a new form, Satan chooses to become a snake and skulk through Eden in order to corrupt it, all the while noting its immense beauty. He cries out, “O Earth, how like to Heaven, if not preferred/More justly, seat worthier of Gods, as built/With second thought, reforming what was old!/For what God, after better, worse would build?” (IX.99-102). Satan finds himself in a land which he cannot enjoy, a paradise more wondrous than Heaven ever was. Had Satan never experienced such previous greatness in Heaven or new greatness in Eden, he would not feel the jealous passion that bursts from inside him. Knowing how terrible his station in Hell is, when compared to the beauty of Eden, fills him with torment because he cannot experience the land for himself, as well as the arrogant notion that he will destroy it and “make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n” (I.253-5). He will make his own land all the better by destroying Eden and defeating God’s plans. Only vengeance will slake his thirst for a better situation for himself and his followers. Satan eventually finds Eve alone, tending to the Garden while Adam works elsewhere. He talks with Eve, who is shocked that an animal of the Garden can speak the language of man, and Satan tells her “I was at first as other beasts that graze/The trodden herb, of abject thoughts” but after eating from fruit from a certain tree, “to speculations high or deep/I turned my thoughts, and with capacious mind/Considered all things visible in Heaven,/Or Earth, or middle, all things fair and good” (IX.571-2, 602-5). The thought of such power intrigues Eve. As a servant of God, like the angels of Heaven, she never questioned her place nor her actions, but Satan plants a seed of doubt within her, much like the seed within himself when he first rebelled against God. Leading Eve to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, she explains to Satan that God forbade her and Adam from eating the fruit, but Satan replies, “Why then was this forbid? Why but to awe,/Why but to keep ye low and ignorant,/His worshipers?…And wherein lies/Th’ offense, that man should thus attain to know?/What can your knowledge hurt him” (IX.703-5, 725-7). Because of Satan’s claims that he ate from the Tree and survived, he convinces Eve that God does not want her to eat from the Tree because it will make her powerful. Satan turns Eve into an apprentice of sorts, following along the same path as him and rebelling against God’s word. The temptation becomes too great for Eve and, desiring the knowledge hidden in its sweet flesh, bites into the fruit of the Tree, as the world weeps in woe. While seemingly malevolent in his actions, Satan causing the Fall is not solely centered around a quest for vengeance. He is attempting to give mankind the chance he never had, to allow them to question the world around them: “Satan dares to challenge God, articulating the doubts and questions that he has because he thinks that doing so is the only way to find answers” (Smith). Satan is the first skeptic, questioning authority rather than purely submitting to it, and his attempt to consider new outlooks beyond the will of God forces his fall from Heaven. Now, seeing creatures in Eden in a similar situation to his own in Heaven, he gives Eve and Adam the opportunity to free themselves and become their own personal leaders.

Satan exits Eden and meets Sin and Death, who congratulate him and cross over to the world of mankind, instilling within Satan the pride that he has attained his goal at last. However, upon returning to Hell, Satan’s punishment has just begun. Satan tells his legions of Hell how he had tempted Man and brought about their fall, and “So having said, a while he stood, expecting/Thir universal shout and high applause/To fill his eare, when contrary he hears/On all sides, from innumerable tongues/A dismal universal hiss, the sound/Of public scorn” (Milton X.504-9). Satan then writhes in pain, ironically turning into a serpent, and gazes out from Pandemonium to see that all of his demonic legions have also turned into snakes. He then notices a newly-sprung grove of trees growing in Hell, “laden with Fruit like that/Which grew in Paradise…thinking to allay/Thir appetite with gust, instead of Fruit/Chewd bitter Ashes” (X.550-1, 64-6). Rather than being able to take joy from outsmarting God, Satan and his followers are instead punished to a worse fate than they had experienced previously. The legions of Hell now scorn the being they once considered their sovereign. Satan, who had risked everything to uplift his people, failed them in the end. Satan’s ultimate failure stems from him “trying to bootstrap himself…to deity…His failure is [the failure] to understand [that] deity is an order of being that is fundamentally different from, and infinitely superior to, one’s own — a source not a rival” (Fish 99). It is his hubris towards God which leads to Satan’s fall. Satan believes that he and God are equal, which causes the initial rebellion and the fall from heaven. This arrogant notion festers inside of him until it boils over and takes control of his intentions to improve the quality of his and his followers’ lives. His misguided attempts to secure personal freedom fail, along with his envy of Eden’s beauty, cause a physical degradation that reflects his own internal degradation: “The once beautiful archangel, who flew out of the burning lake, has become a crawling creature slithering to his prey and eternal damnation. Heaven’s feathered wings have been replaced by the scales of deception” (Feldkamp 21).

Ultimately, Satan’s defeat came not from evil intentions; on the contrary, he shows himself to be, in a traditional sense, quite heroic. It is Satan’s fatal flaw that leads to his downfall. Tenacious and driven, he attempts to bring about a good welfare for his followers in Hell, but his jealousy and pride lead to their undoing. Satan’s pursuits towards universal understanding and freedom are defeated by the omniscient and omnipotent nature of God. The most well-intended actions can be considered evil when darker thoughts take hold of one’s heart. Instead of helping his people, as Satan initially intended to accomplish, his overwhelming pride turned him to try and prove himself to be God’s equal. His weakness got the best of him, in the end, and Satan is now eternally damned for fighting for knowledge and freedom. One must weep for him.

 Works Consulted

Dent, Shirley. “Sympathy for Milton’s Devil.” Books Blog. The Guardian, 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Feldkamp, John K. “Giving the Devil His Due: The Emergence of the Fallen Hero in English   Literature.” Thesis. Eastern Michigan University, 2008. DigitalCommons@EMU. Eastern Michigan University, 30 Apr. 2008. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Fish, Stanley. How Milton Works. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2001. Print.

“Hero.” Def. 1-2. Merriam-Webster. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Hoyt, Randy. “The Rebellion of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost.” Journey to the Sea. N.p., 1 Aug. 2008. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Kile, J. “5 Traits of a Hero.” MoralHeroes. MoralHeroes, 1 Dec. 2012. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Russell, Jeffery B. Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1987. Print. G – Reference,Information and Interdisciplinary Subjects Ser.

Milton, John. “Book 10.” The John Milton Reading Room. Dartmouth College, 2014. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Martin Puchner et al. Third ed. Vol. C. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 774-853. Print.

Nighan, Raymond, Ph.D., and Donna Freitas, Ph.D. “Romantic Comments on Milton’s Satan.” Romantic and Gothic Horror. St. John’s College High School, 7 Apr. 2010. Web. 2 Dec.      2014.

Rouviere, Niel D. “The Curious Case of the Word ‘Sonder'” Niel De La Rouviere. N.p., 5 June 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Smith, Nicole. ““Paradise Lost” by Milton : Satan, Heroism and Classical Definitions of the Epic Hero.” Article Myriad. N.p., 7 Dec. 2011. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Interactions with the End of the World: An Examination of The Last of Us Through Reader-Response

Video games are a form of art. Like film, music, and literature before it, video games not only provide a form of entertainment, but also provide forms of cultural enrichment. Games have evolved beyond defeating multitudes of faceless enemies in order to obtain the highest possible score. Many games are now narrative experiences, bringing entertainment to the masses while also discussing themes such as life and death, finding love in a difficult world, acts of courage in desperate times, and doing what is right even if the methods are wrong. Better yet, these narrative experiences are able to present these themes in a highly active setting. Unlike films and literature, which have the audience passively observing as the events of their stories undergo, video games require the player to act in order to progress the story, creating an active relationship between the player and the content of the game. These games, which act as narrative experiences, are taken in by the players and fans and it is up to them to engage with the story and create meaning from it. There has been no other game in recent years that has accomplished better than The Last of Us.

Released in 2013 by Naughty Dog, The Last of Us is a heart-breaking story of survival in which the protagonist is pitted against the world in order to protect the one thing he holds dear. Twenty years after a lethal fungal infection decimates sixty percent of the human population, leaving many as shambling zombies, Joel, a hardened smuggler who lost his daughter at the start of the outbreak, is tasked with escorting Ellie, a teenager who is somehow immune to the Cordyceps Brain Infection, to a facility on the opposite end of the country controlled by the Fireflies, an organization dedicated to restoring humanity to its former state. The game forces players to stealthily scour through various environments, gathering scraps and resources, all the while fighting off the Infected and bandits. A recurring theme throughout the game is how far the characters are willing to go in order to do what is necessary to survive. While attempting to get Ellie to a group of Fireflies in Boston, Tess, Joel’s smuggling partner, exclaims, “Guess what, we’re shitty people, Joel. It’s been that way for a long time.” Joel responds, “No, we are survivors!” (Druckmann et. al 2013). During the twenty years before the events of the game, humanity has descended into a shade of its former self. The various governments have collapsed, hundreds of cities are evacuated and filled with Infected, and many of those who are not Infected and live outside of the quarantine zones are forced to commit cannibalism to survive. Joel does not see the violence he perpetrates as a smuggler to be either good or evil; rather, he is doing what he must in order to survive. The morals and ideals of the old world cannot survive in this new and decaying world. Another core concept of the game is to seamlessly create a bond between the player and the protagonist, so much so that the player ceases to be a part of the world around him or her and become immersed within the world of the narrative. Creative Director Neil Druckmann, when designing the concept of The Last of Us, wanted to “’build a whole game around this concept…where two people have to work together, to save each other…You can build that bond over time…and the player can see that bond grow’” (The Digital Fix). The game’s conflict centers not only around fighting enemies and scavenging supplies, but also in the relationship between Joel and Ellie. These two characters play along related cliches: the gruff and hardened, but secretly sensitive, protector, and the rebellious and free-spirited youngster. However, it is in the way that this relationship is presented to the character, amidst fending off hordes of Infected and along a cross-country trek, that really defines how the player connects with the characters. Such a story, populated with and characterized by the relationships between the various characters, is ripe with reader response analysis, filled with various instances in which player/audience interaction and interpretation is vital to the story. The Last of Us utilizes storytelling gaps, empathy, and immersion in order to effectively indoctrinate players into its world and create a one-to-one relationship between the player and the characters.

Before Joel is shown to be a hardened smuggler, he is presented to the player as a loving single-father whose world is pulled out from under him. At the start of the outbreak, Joel and his daughter Sara attempt to evacuate from Texas, when a soldier confronts them and, under orders from his commander, fires upon them (Druckmann et. al 2013). Sara is killed but Joel survives, breeding his initial contempt towards the governmental system. We, as players, instantly feel sorrow towards the event and sympathize with Joel; losing a loved one is among the worst pain one can ever experience. Twenty years after this event, though, we see Joel has changed, and not just physically. He is surly and acts as an enforcer to Tess’s more intelligent approach. Desiring to get stolen merchandise back from the Fireflies, the head of the organization, Marlene, an acquaintance of Joel’s, offers to trade him and Tess back twice the weapons that were stolen from them on one condition: take Ellie, a teenage girl, to “a crew of Fireflies that’ll meet you at the Capitol building…You hand her off, come back, and the weapons are yours” (Druckmann et. al 2013). The first time we meet Ellie is as a business interaction, not as being introduced to one of the primary characters of the story. The player is tasked with taking Ellie to this group of Fireflies, but when the Fireflies turn up dead and Joel has to take Ellie to where the group was supposed to take her, we begin to more fully interact with her. The player learns about how Ellie was raised in the post-apocalyptic, militaristic world, how she’s a fan of literature and comic books, and how all she’s looking for is a friend. Knowing the loss that Joel had with Sara, the player can begin to draw connections between Ellie and Sara’s sassy and sweet nature; Ellie becomes a daughter figure not only in the mind of Joel, but in the mind of the player. The player starts by protecting Ellie simply to get paid, but after saving her from Infected multiple times, the player’s investment in protecting her becomes an emotional investment, as she shows herself to be caring and vulnerable within a world where those emotions can be weaknesses, which often result in death. The game is effective in its ability to create empathy with Joel and have the player care for Ellie because of its immersion; it is not Joel taking care of her, but the player: “Games are particularly well-suited to supporting educational or activist programs in which the fostering of empathy is a key method or goal. This is because they allow players to inhabit the roles and perspectives of other people or groups in a uniquely immersive way” (Belman et. al). Empathetical connections are not the only ways in which the player’s investment matters in the story, however.

The game also utilizes gaps, in order to make the player feel more involved and allow for new interpretations of the story. Gaps, according to Wolfgang Iser, are defined as the missing parts of dialogue which “stimulates the reader into filling the blanks with projections. [The reader] is drawn into the events and made to supply what is meant from what is not said. What is said only appears to take on significance as a reference to what is not said” (Iser). The audience gains a greater role within the story, filling in the purposely-missing information with their own thoughts and ideas based on context clues. At that moment, the audience bridges the relationship with the text and becomes fully immersed within its world, being a part of it and supplying their own information and interpretations to the events. This technique is present in The Last of Us, specifically in the scene where Tess resigns herself to die after being bitten by an Infected. Cornered by the military in the abandoned Boston Capitol building and without an idea of where to go, Tess begs Joel to take Ellie out west to find where the Fireflies wanted to bring Ellie. She implores him, saying, “’Look, there’s enough here that you have to feel some sort of obligation to me,’” getting close to Joel’s face and speaking softly (Druckmann et. al 2013). The relationship between Joel and Tess is never completely defined; we’re introduced to Tess having completed a trade which she and Joel were both supposed to be present at, and come to know her as a smuggler who, like Joel, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty to complete the business. This moment she shares with Joel, before she buys him and Ellie time to escape by sacrificing herself, is one of the only moments of vulnerability the player ever sees from her, and so it’s up to the reader to interpret how this interaction changes the dynamic of their relationship. Though they act as business partners when the player first meets them and later as friends as the player sees their interactions, Tess, in this moment, reveals that the relationship between her and Joel may be more intimate than initially considered. The softness of her voice and the choice of her words suggest that she and Joel were engaged in a sexual relationship, too, if not a romantic one; most likely the first and only Joel had experienced since the death of his daughter. However, the game doesn’t try to beat the information into the heads of the players, allowing it to flow naturally throughout the story instead and give the player the ability to fill in the gaps for himself or herself. A different player may interpret the interactions between Tess and Joel differently, due to a difference in interpretive communities and subjectivity, but that is the point of such a moment: to leave the interaction open enough for the player to fill in the gaps with their own information, giving the player the power of interpretation and allowing them to be fully immersed within the story.

Over the course of an in-game year, Joel and Ellie travel across the country searching for the Fireflies, interacting with eccentric characters and surviving dangers together. The player sees the two take care of one another and grow affectionate towards each other. Nearing the story’s conclusion, Joel begins to see Ellie as a replacement to his deceased daughter, Sara. In Ellie, Joel sees a second chance to raise a daughter and take care of her,; he blames himself for Sara’s death and sees a redemption of-sorts in Ellie. So one could imagine Joel’s shock when he learns of what is to happen to Ellie when the two finally reach the Fireflies. Talking with Marlene, the head of the Fireflies, after reaching the organization’s research base in Utah, Joel learns that in order to study Ellie’s immunity to the fungal infection, the Fireflies have to kill her and perform tests via autopsy. Joel then goes on a rampage throughout the facility, killing the Firefly soldiers and making his way to the surgery room (Druckmann et. al 2013). Upon entering the room, the head surgeon tries to attack Joel with a scalpel, but the player defends himself or herself by shooting the doctor. The player, still in full control of Joel, can choose to kill the other surgeons, even though they do not attack Joel. They cower in the corner, begging for their lives, but the player can choose to walk over to them, pull out a gun, and shoot them for being implicit in the surgery that would kill Ellie. There is nothing stopping the player from doing this, or from just taking Ellie and leaving without further violence, but it is completely up to the player to do so; the game is not making a choice for them or showing a cut-scene to watch, but gives the player complete control of the situation. At this point, the player has seen Joel commit acts of violence all in the name of protecting Ellie, the acts becoming arguably more and more unjustified. Whereas at first Joel kills the bodyguards of people attempting to kill him, Joel now kills soldiers and doctors who are attempting to create a vaccine to the fungus infection that has plagued the planet. The player does not questions such questionable morals, however, because the player has been slowly drawn into Joel’s mindset and sense of morality throughout the story: “By combining individual experience with the symbols on the page, the reader can then begin to have a transaction with the text resulting in an emotional response. The same type of emotional response can result when a gamer has a transaction while gaming…the characters [are] a true part of them” (Sanders 123-124). The player, when playing a game, becomes a part of the character, ceasing to see the separation of the real and digital worlds and instead becoming immersed within the world of the game. The game developer can, then, manipulate the player in any number of ways through this relationship, even going so far as to make Joel, a rather villainous character, the protagonist and giving players the choice to protect a young girl by killing defenseless doctors. It is this type of interaction between the character on-screen and the player which bridges the gap between the player and character; the player ceases to recognize his or her own morality and instead follows the morality of the character. All of this emotional interaction and filling-in-the-gaps culminates in the game’s conclusion.

Taking Ellie from the Firefly facility, Joel drives the two to the compound where his brother has set up a functioning town, with a garden, stables, and even electricity. In order to get this far, Joel had to kill his former friend Marlene and convince Ellie that the Fireflies were unable to create a vaccine. Before entering the town, Ellie tells Joel that she wasn’t alone when she became infected; she was with her best friend, Riley, and the two believed that they would “’wait it out…and just lose our minds together. I’m still waiting for my turn’” and Ellie makes Joel “’Swear to me that everything you said about the Fireflies is true’” (Druckmann et. al 2013). Joel lies to her and swears that he is telling the truth, to which Ellie simply responds with, “Okay,” as the credits begin to roll (Druckmann et. al 2013). There isn’t much room for interpretation at this point: it is easily assumed by the player that Ellie knows that Joel is lying and the sacrifice which she was willing to make didn’t matter. But, as shown throughout the game, the truth is much more complicated than that. Months after the game’s release, Naughty Dog made a piece of side-content called The Last of Us: Left Behind, which tells the story of how Ellie and Riley got bit. When the duo realizes that they have a few hours until they are supposed to turn, Riley presents her best friend with two options: either they commit suicide and prevent themselves from turning into Infected or “’we fight for every second we get to spend with each other. Whether its two minutes or two days, we don’t give that up’” (Druckmann et. al 2014). This sentiment is repeated by Joel upon the game’s conclusion: “’No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for’” (Druckmann et. al 2013). This interaction with Riley completely changes the interpretation of Ellie’s acceptance of Joel’s actions. Instead of resenting Joel for what he did, it can be interpreted that Ellie understands why he did it and, though it’s difficult to accept, she has found another reason to keep fighting for another day. Joel found that reason in Ellie, and now, Ellie finds it in Joel. Of course, other interpretations are now opened up through the clarification of the downloadable content, but what’s important in this is that the player’s interaction with the game can change and the complexities of the game’s themes are what the player must wrestle with, in order to create meaning.

Video games are a transactional form of entertainment and “Meaning is created during the transaction and is an organic process occurring as the reader and text connect in a specific moment in time” (Sanders 113). Not only does the game obviously impress upon and influence the player, but as shown within The Last of Us, the player influences the game. The game may create the emotional investment the player feels between Joel and Ellie, but it is up to the player himself/herself to create meaning within the story’s gaps or to interpret the emotionally difficult ending of the game. It is these complex moments, where a character dies or someone lies to protect someone else, which the player comes to terms with and creates meaning from. Unlike other forms of literature or entertainment, the player is able to interpret meaning from the story of the game because the game requires direct interaction in order to progress. Like a Möbius strip, the relationship between the player and the game flows into one another; meaning cannot exist without one. The Last of Us tells a tale of the apocalypse without relying heavily on action and cliches, but on emotional investment and character-driven conflicts, as well as asking important questions of the player, such as “For what reason do you keep fighting, when all hope is lost?” and “Is this world beyond redemption?” It is these aspects which make it a paragon of reader-response in video games.

Works Cited

Belman, Jonathan, and Mary Flanagan. “Designing Games to Foster Empathy.” Cognitive Technology 14.2 (2009): 5-15. Mary Flanagan. Web.

Druckmann, Neil, and Bruce Straley. The Last of Us. 14 June 2013. Video Game. Sony Computer Entertainment.

Druckmann, Neil, and Bruce Straley. The Last of Us: Left Behind. 14 February 2014. Video Game. Sony Computer Entertainment.

Iser, Wolfgang. Interaction between Text and Reader. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York City: W.W. Norton, n.d. N. pag. Print.

Sanders, April. Parallels Between the Gaming Experience and Rosenblatt’s Reader Response Theory. Thesis. University of North Texas, 2013. Denton: U of North Texas, 2013. UNT Digital Library. University of North Texas, May 2013. Web. 19 May 2014.

“The Last of Us: An Interview With Naughty Dog.” The Digital Fix. Poisonous Monkey Limited, 2013.

The Greater Good

There is an saying that goes: “There are two things you should never talk about at the dinner table: religion, and politics.” The reason for this is that those topics tend to lead to heated debate due to the fact that everyone’s views on the matters of religion and politics are entirely subjective. Indeed, those topics encompass universal and important issues and need to be answered. There is a third topic, however, which also should not be discussed at the dinner table: ethics. A person’s views on the matters of the death penalty, helping the homeless, and abortion can be traced to that person’s ethical scope and background. The way one interprets the very controversial topic of ethics and morality greatly affect how one acts within the world as well as the choices he or she makes on a daily basis. The conflict between moral scopes, specifically between utilitarianism and pragmatism, is heavily explored in Watchmen, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street, and Midnight Nation.

Ethics are a subset of the eternal philosophical discussion. Therefore, the terms of ethics need to be defined so that there is a clear understanding of the types of ethics that will be explored. The two primary forms of ethics explored in the graphic novels are utilitarianism and pragmatism. Utilitarianism is defined as “a moral principle that holds that the morally right course of action in any situation is the one that produces the greatest balance of benefits over harms for everyone affected” (Velasquez, 1989). The goal of utilitarianism is a net gain of happiness; as long as those involved receive the maximum benefit, any methods of obtaining that benefit are acceptable, even if those methods are reprehensible. Someone who follows a utilitarian approach to morality would not have a problem lying to someone, when the truth would only hurt both parties and lying would keep both parties happy. Utilitarianism is the contrasting moral philosophy to pragmatism. Pragmatism is the belief that “practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value . . . favoring practicality and literal truth” (Miller). To be pragmatic is to follow a strict set of rules based on immutable logic and truth. If something is considered wrong, the pragmatic man will not do that action, even at the loss of a potential benefit. Someone who follows a pragmatic approach would have a problem with the death penalty because killing is wrong, no matter whom is being killed. Pragmatic ethics relate well to Biblical ethics. Many people, regardless of adherence to their faith, learn a basic understanding of ethical principles from the Bible, specifically from the Ten Commandments. The first commandment reads: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3). From this, it can be understood that adherents of Biblical ethics follow the word of God, no matter what He commands; He is all-knowing and all-powerful. A follower of Biblical ethics does not bear grudges on others, but instead treats them as a brother. An example of where these three moral viewpoints come into direct conflict can be stated as follows: one has the ability to steal an apple from an apple cart, and because one has not eaten in a number of days, hunger is a factor. The utilitarian would say it is okay to steal the apple because it brings the benefit of happiness and sustenance to the person. The pragmatic would say it is not okay to steal the apple because the apple belongs to someone else and taking the apple deprives the owner of the ability to do with the apple what he or she wishes. The Biblical ethicist would say it is never okay to steal because God commands “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). What makes the utilitarian viewpoint appealing is its adaptability. A utilitarian can make decisions on a case-by-case basis, which is not possible with principle-based ethics. However, utilitarian ethics can often be twisted and espoused dogmatically, to the point where the utilitarian’s goals and principles are corrupted, losing the benefits of adaptability. The Biblical viewpoint is appealing to the religious, who wish to follow the law of God in order to lead a moral life on Earth and be rewarded in the afterlife. These ethical viewpoints all aim for the same goal, namely a net good as a result of actions based upon those viewpoints, and they are explored extensively in the graphic novels Watchmen, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street, and Midnight Nation.

In Watchmen, a group of ex-vigilante crime fighters investigates the murder of one of their former members, only to discover a plot which endangers the entire world. Alan Moore’s famous graphic novel is, at its core, a deconstruction of the classic super-hero trope. None of the vigilantes is truly a heroic characters, each with their own severe mental instabilities and psychological problems, darkening the already dystopian world in which they reside. Even within the distorted reality of the graphic novel, there are characters who still adhere to a moral code, specifically the protagonist, Rorschach, and the antagonist, Ozymandius, each of whom adheres to contrasting ethical outlooks. Walter Kovacs, better known by his alias Rorschach, follows a twisted version of pragmatism. While investigating the disappearance of a young girl, Rorschach discovers that the kidnapper had raped and butchered the young girl before giving her bones to his dogs. In a fit of rage and revelation, Rorschach slaughters the two dogs, ties the man down, sets him on fire, and burns his house down (Moore, VI.21-25, 1987). The young girl’s death had disillusioned Kovacs, but now, reborn as Rorschach, he is free to enforce his morality on the world. Rorschach’s pragmatic mindset empowers him to kill those who have committed evil acts, in order to ultimately keep the world safe. However, his ethics are not utilitarian because Rorschach does not harm innocents for any reason, even for his own benefit. He only delivers retribution upon evil men and women, which is, at its core, pragmatism. Adrian Veidt, known as Ozymandius, on the other hand, abides a different moral view. In an attempt to save the world from engaging in nuclear war, Veidt creates a fake alien, unleashes it on New York City, kills millions of innocent human beings, and causes the rest of the world to fear an imminent alien invasion and unite in order to prevent it (Moore, XI.26, 1987). Ozymandius has an archetypical utilitarian outlook on the world. He is willing to do anything to prevent the countless deaths of billions. This approach is similar to the United State’s stance on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States government believed that dropping the atomic bombs on those cities, even though millions of people would be annihilated, prevented more deaths than would have occurred had they not bombed the two Japanese cities. Ozymandius wants nothing more than to protect the world, even if doing so partially destroys it. Veidt informs Nite Owl, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and Silk Spectre, who have invaded his facility, that if any of them reveal the truth behind Veidt’s actions, the world will most certainly plunge into war. They all agree, except for Rorschach, who vows to “Never compromise” and attempts inform the world of Veidt’s actions but is killed by Dr. Manhattan in order to keep the truth unknown (Moore, XII.20.9, 1987). This conflict highlights the inherent existential struggle between pragmatism and utilitarianism. Rorschach values the truth above all else and will do anything to make the truth known, even if it causes the deaths of billions, while Ozymandius would rather directly contribute to the deaths of millions than have all of humanity destroyed. In this case, utilitarian ethics leads to the net good within the world of Watchmen. Although the death of innocents is reprehensible, Veidt’s actions prevent the complete annihilation of humanity, meaningful efforts can now be made towards peace and progress. In the future, perhaps, the truth might be revealed, but for now, utilitarian ethics has led to a net benefit.

Within X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, the three conflicting ethical viewpoints are represented by the three faction leaders in the graphic novel. The pragmatic stance is held by Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men, the utilitarian stance is held by Magneto of the Brotherhood of Mutants, and the Biblical stance is held by Reverend William Stryker of the Stryker Crusade. Xavier believes that “Mutants are not a monolithic group possessing one set of attitudes or goals. They are individuals – as are we all – and should be judged as such” (Claremont, 10.2, 1983). To Xavier, mutants are simply humans with more-defined genetic variations; all humans have genetic variances that make each person unique, such as hair color, eye color, height, and weight. He wants mutants to be judged based on their own individual merits and actions. To be lumped together and judged as a single group, in Xavier’s view, is equivalent to racism and stereotyping. His ultimate goal is for humans and mutants to coexist within society, working together for a common future and mutual respect. Magneto, on the other hand, does not believe coexistence is a possible or desirable goal. His goal is “the conquest of Earth—but solely to create a world where [his] race, Homo superior, can live in peace” (Claremont, 47.5, 1983). Magneto has seen the cruelty inherent in the nature of humanity while being imprisoned in Auschwitz as a child for the crime of being Jewish. This persecution based solely on his ancestry and genetic variation caused Magneto to realize that mankind will always oppress those who are considered to be different. All he yearns for is that mutants not be condemned for being born with rare gifts. He will do anything to achieve that goal, including slaughtering innocent humans. Stryker’s stance is the stark opposite to Magneto’s. A devout Evangelical Christian, William Stryker believes that “The Lord created man and woman in His image blessed with His grace. Mutants broke that sacred mold. They were creations, not of God, but of the Devil” (Claremont, 32.9, 1983). Stryker sees mutants as the embodiment of pure evil and makes it his goal to eradicate all mutants. Stryker is not above espousing perverse, hate-fueled propaganda, torturing others, and having young children murdered, as long as it fuels his goal of a world inhabited only by humanity. Within X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, the pragmatic stance, in the end, leads to a net good. Xavier’s goal of peace is not reinforced by persecution or a desire for war; he wants the most amount of lives to be saved in order to create a peaceful coexistence. Each individual is different and must be judged as such, otherwise stereotyping would lead to conflict and unavoidable violence.

Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street follows gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem and his adventures in the metropolis known as The City. As a gonzo journalist, Spider constantly places himself in situations where he can fully analyze the goings-on of events around The City, in order to have a full grasp on the truth. In pursuance of more information for his first story in five years, Spider enters the transient district of Angels 8 and intimidates and assaults his way to his target Fred Christ (Ellis et al, I-II.37.3-5, 1998). Spider does whatever he must in order to achieve his ultimate goal of discovering the truth. His obsession with the truth leads him to follow adopt a utilitarian worldview. He is willing to do anything and everything in order to fulfill his ambition. When he discovers the truth of a situation, “all [he] can do [is] Write it down” and make it known to everyone (Ellis et al, III.61.3, 1998). Spider risks his own life with his portrayal of the truth, including unhappiness and ire in many people with his reporting. As a safeguard, Spider’s editor hires “an assistant to keep [him] on the straight and narrow” (Ellis et al, IV.78.2, 1998). Spider’s new assistant, Channon Yarrow, represents the “pragmatic-esque” foil to Spider. While no one in the universe of Transmetropolitan follows a strict pragmatic lifestyle, Channon does her best to keep Spider from being completely reprehensible and continuing to put his life at risk in his quest to discern the truth. Channon’s pragmatic viewpoint is defined by her respect for other people, with the exception of Spider. One such example of the conflict between Spider and Channon is when, on their way to a religion convention, Spider vocalizes his hatred of religion by remarking that he is “sick of The City’s loose change and spare sanity [being] sucked up and lived off by an ever-increasing pile of parasitical shit-ticks incapable of standing up and dealing with the world on their own”. Channon, in contrast, defends religious viewpoints, by saying her boyfriend, Ziang, is “a Gaian-Bias Buddhist, and he stands up on his own okay” (Ellis et al, VI.128.2-4, 1998). Spider is not afraid to insult people and their beliefs if it means revealing the truth, while Channon defends belief as long as it does not harm the believer. Spider values the truth above all else and disregards Channon’s respect of others. Spider’s utilitarian outlook leads to a net good within The City, if such good can be found. His quest to constantly make the truth known helps end a riot within the Angels 8 district and lead to less discrimination against the transients within it.

Midnight Nation follows Detective David Grey, who is helped by his guide Laurel, an agent of God, as he undergoes an odyssey to reclaim his stolen soul from The Other Guy and his army of Walkers. As David begins his long trek from Los Angeles to New York, he falls in love with Laurel, the only person in his life who cares about him and doesn’t want him to completely fall between the cracks of reality. Near the end of their journey, David and Laurel encounter The Gauntlet, a path where they must fight a large group of Walkers. Upon ascertaining that Laurel will eventually have to fight and potentially get hurt, David tells her, “No freaking way. I can handle this. I’m not calling you in. I can do this,” going as far as fighting ten Walkers in a row before he is too injured to continue on his own (Straczynski, 165.5, 2003). Influenced by both his background as a detective and his love of Laurel, David is spurred to protect those who cannot protect themselves. It is revealed, earlier in the graphic novel, that David drove his wife to leave him because he constantly worked to keep the streets of Los Angeles safe (Straczynski, 87.3, 2003). In this way, David is pragmatic. He values the safety and protection of the greater population above everything else, including his own happiness. After arriving in New York, David meets with The Other Guy to discuss the return of his soul. The Other Guy reveals to him the inherent misery in the world and how hope only adds to that misery, asserting that “The only way to be free, to be truly and totally free…is not just to set aside blame and responsibility. You must move beyond even hope . . . only then are you free of all the rules and the expectation and the blame and the guilt” (Straczynski, 207, 2003). The Other Guy is the embodiment of the Devil, who is able to free mankind and enable them to follow their base desires; the counterpoint to God and His agent Laurel. While Laurel espouses that The Other Guy’s goal is to enslave the human race into his eternal servitude, he merely aspires to set humanity free in order to grant happiness to all humans. The Other Guy and the Walkers follow a utilitarian ethical viewpoint and do whatever they must in order to achieve happiness and unity. David is then given a choice: he can either give Laurel his soul, or he can keep it for himself. It is at this point that The Other Guy informs David that “Everyone who works in [his] service…has regained his soul . . . The markings of a Walker say that [David] belong[s] to [him], that [he] belong[s] somewhere” (Straczynski, 228.2-3, 2003). David must make a choice between fulfilling his own desires and acting for someone else. Does he allow himself happiness at the cost of another person’s happiness, or will he act selflessly and give up that which he has so tirelessly worked for? The conflict presented here is the apex of a choice between pragmatism and utilitarianism. David makes his choice. He gives his soul to Laurel and, at long last, she receives her humanity (Straczynski, 234.3, 2003). In his life as a detective, David always worked to serve and protect others rather than helping himself, even to the extent of driving away the woman he loved in order to keep Los Angeles safe. Ultimately, when faced with the truth that the only way he can achieve happiness is to live for himself, David does not compromise his ethics. Even at the cost of a maximum benefit towards himself, he does what he believe is right. This grants hope to those who fell between the cracks in the world of Midnight Nation and gives Laurel the life and humanity that she desires. David’s pragmatic choice leads to the net good in the graphic novel and the overall benefit of happiness for Laurel, the forgotten, and even himself, as he is content with doing the right thing.

It is impossible to completely prove which ethical stance constitutes the best morality. Morality, the choices one makes, and also an analysis of the consequences of those choices are all purely subjective. Utilitarian ethics are shown to bring about a net good within Watchmen and Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street, while pragmatic ethics bring net good within X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills and Midnight Nation. Regardless of whether one lives life with adaptable ethics or principle-based ethics, what is shown to be most important is bringing about an overall benefit via those ethics. If no one can benefit from a particular viewpoint or action, then that viewpoint or action is useless, or even detrimental, and must be eliminated. No matter whether it is through utilitarianism or pragmatism, one should work relentlessly to bring about the greater good.


Biblica, trans. New International Version Bible. 4th ed. Colorado Springs: Biblica, 2011. Print.

Claremont, Chris, Brent Anderson, and Steve Oliff. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. Second ed. New York: Marvel, 1983. Print.

Ellis, Warren, and Darick Robertson. Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street Vol. 1. New York: DC Comics, 1998. Print.

Velasquez, Manuel, Claire Andre, Thomas Shanks, and Michael J. Meyer. “Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics.” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Santa Clara University, 1989. Web.

Miller, George A. “WordNet Search.” WordNet. Princeton University, n.d. Web.

Moore, Alan, and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics, 1987. Print.

Straczynski, J. Michael, Gary Frank, Jonathan Sibal, Jason Gorder, and Matt Milla. Midnight Nation. Vol. 1. Los Angeles: Top Cow Productions, 2003. Print.

I Would Be A Pervert

Historically, homosexuality has been a controversial topic in society and literature. Defenders of gay rights state that gays and lesbians are normal people just like anyone else, while opponents claim that homosexuals are deviants who exist in the world in an unnatural way. The conflicting opinions regarding this issue have been discussed for many years, and they are still matters of disagreement which have even led to violence in the 21st century. The existing prejudice in contemporary society against homosexuals is highlighted in the crime graphic novel Torso by the detective Sam Simon.

Records of homosexual behavior go as far back as ancient Greece. It was not unusual in ancient times for men to be attracted to men. In fact, attraction to members of the same sex was socially acceptable. Whether someone was attracted to a man or a women did not matter, “instead the excellence in character and beauty is what [was] most important” (Pickett, 2002). Gender was not the driving force in attraction, rather the human being as a whole was the essential matter. With the fall of the ancient empires and the rise of Christianity, homosexuality began to be considered a deviant behavior. The exact translation of the Biblical verse condemning homosexual behavior is not possible to prove, but the common interpretation is: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (Strauss). If the verse’s meaning is to be taken literally, homosexuality is sinful and outlawed by God. With the rise of power of the Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages, homosexual acts were condemned. To engage in homosexual behaviors was to insult God, and to break God’s rules was to ally oneself with Satan. Homosexuality was then, considered, evil. This outlook on homosexuality has influenced various cultures throughout history, even seeping into American culture.

Discrimination against anyone not white, male, and Christian has been extremely common throughout American history, and intolerance against homosexuals was no different. In Colonial-Era America, taboos against homosexuality were included in the “regulation of non-procreative sexual practices… [which] stemmed from Christian religious teachings” (Chauncey et al. 2003). Not only were male-male and female-female relations denounced, there were also laws which forbade bestiality and masturbation. These regulations were enacted in order to create a focus on sex for the purposes of procreation only. If there wasn’t enough procreative sex, the colonial population would dwindle in the harsh environments. As the population grew and America evolved into a fully-fledged country, the opinion on homosexuality barely wavered. By the end of World War I, “on the basis of the new medical model, …homosexually active individuals came to be labeled…as sexual deviants different in nature from other people” (Chauncey 207). Instead of solely disparaging homosexuality, the very fact that one was gay meant that he or she was considered subhuman. These opinions were still heavily based on Christian teachings and traditions, which continued to prevail in American society for many years. Discrimination against gays and lesbians began to reach its peak in the 1930s when, “[g]ay men and women were labeled ‘deviants,’ ‘degenerates,’ and ‘sex criminals’ by the medical profession, government officials, and the mass media. The federal government banned the employment of homosexuals and insisted that its private contractors ferret out and dismiss their gay employees…The authorities worked together to create or reinforce the belief that gay people were an inferior class to be shunned by other Americans” (Chauncey et al., 2003). Homosexuals were still almost entirely barred from participating in society at this point in history. Gay men and women had to hide their sexual orientations from the outside world in order to get jobs or walk the street without being yelled at or attacked. This discrimination is a point of interest and discussion in Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko’s Torso.

Torso takes place in Cleveland during the mid-to-late 1930s, as the magnitude of the prejudice against homosexuals was severe. The graphic novel, based on true events and evidence, follows Detective Sam Simon, Detective Walter Myrlo, and Safety Director Eliot Ness as they search for the Cleveland Torso Killer, a notorious serial killer stalking the streets of Cleveland. Detective Myrlo describes the killer’s modus operandi as decapitation of the victims “[a]nd every couple of the torsos have their genitals removed. Clean as a whistle. Sicko sex fiend” (Bendis et al., chapter 3, page 6, panel 12). Myrlo sees the crimes as sexually motivated. His belief is influenced by the prevailing opinion concerning homosexuals in Cleveland in this decade. The general population of Cleveland views homosexuals as aberrations and uses derogatory slurs against gays as conventional words of description. When questioning a bartender in an attempt to identify one of the victims, the bartender describes the victim’s company as “[h]ookermongers and boozehounds…with little to no discriminating taste, so, they all had a bit of the queer” (Bendis et al., chapter 2, page 18, panel 1). The term “queer” is used to describe anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. This is equivalent to present times, when the word “retarded” may be used as a description for stupidity. In Torso, “gay” is used to describe someone perceived as different or strange. The prevailing negative attitude towards homosexuality inundates, influences, and affects the characters in Torso, especially Detective Sam Simon, Walter Myrlo’s partner.

Sam Simon, one of the investigators searching for the Torso Killer, is portrayed as a suspicious character early in the events of the graphic novel. As Myrlo, his good friend, invites him over for dinner, Simon declines, saying, “Tell Mary I’m going to skip dinner again tonight, ok? […] I just need to do some stuff, clear my…” (Bendis et al., chapter 3, page 12, panels 16, 18). The next day, the Killer claims another victim; a woman’s head is found in the water by the docks. Simon’s lack of an excuse to turn down spending time with Myrlo lays an air of suspicion on him, leading the reader to the possible conclusion that Simon is the Killer. Simon also disagrees with his partner’s opinion on the reasons that the Killer removes his victim’s genitalia. He describes another famous case of serial killings, where “[The killer] gut them. He cut their throats…he sliced them from their…genitals all the way to their necks…they called him ‘Jack the Ripper.’” (Bendis et al., chapter 3, pages 7-8 panels 5, 6, 8). Simon indicates that Jack the Ripper’s reason for killing wasn’t sexual, he did it because he was a sick individual. Simon points this out again as Myrlo continues to say that the Torso Killer is sexually motivated. He tells his partner that “[t]he killer is insane…but not because he’s a homosexual. He’s evil.” (Bendis et al., chapter 5, page 15, panel 7-8). He is not defending the Killer’s actions, rather he is defending the Killer’s motivations. The question here is: why would anyone defend the motivations of an insane serial killer, especially the detective investigating him?

The reason is because Sam Simon is homosexual. After being goaded by Myrlo for not acting strong and manly since the beginning of the investigation, Simon finally snaps: “Walt, every step of the way, you’ve been calling the killer a pervert. A nancy, a daisy? Homosexual, right? […] Homosexual is not a perversion…What if I told you that I was a homosexual?” (Bendis et al., chapter 5, pages 13-14, panel 24-25 and 27-29). Simon hid this important factor of his identity from his partner and friend for years because he worried that Myrlo would lose respect for him if the truth had come out. Myrlo has a prejudice against gays because of the way he was raised and the time period in which he was raised. Impugning homosexuality was commonplace in the 1930s. Simon was forced to hide this aspect of himself, not only to retain his job, but also to be accepted by his friend. After returning home and taking some time to think about what Simon said, Myrlo returns and sits with his friend, mentioning that it “seems that this bombshell that you dropped on my head was of no surprise to my darling wife at all, who by the way, thinks you are the bee’s knees.” (Bendis et al., chapter 5, page 21). Even in a time filled with prejudice and discrimination, there are people who are willing to accept those who are considered different because they do not see other people as different but simply as their peers, conducting their own lives differently. At least to Mrs. Myrlo, gender and sexual orientation do not matter as much as one’s character and personality do, reflecting the values held in Ancient Greece. Simon seems to be relieved at his friend’s reaction and is especially relieved when Myrlo tells him that Simon’s preferences “[a]in’t no big deal if you think about it… There’s nothing else to think ‘cept catching the killer.” (Bendis et al., chapter 5, page 22). Myrlo has learned to overcome his prejudice in order to maintain his friendship with the man he’s worked with for years. Myrlo realizes that Simon is no different from the way he was before he revealed his sexuality to Myrlo. Simon is just a man and a detective who wants, just as Myrlo does, to solve the crime.

Bendis and Andreyko present a refreshingly positive outlook on the issue of homosexuality in the 1930s. Just as Mark Twain calls Jim a “nigger” (Twain 20) or F. Scott Fitzgerald describes Meyer Wolfsheim as a “small flat-nosed Jew” (Fitzgerald 55), Bendis and Andreyko only represent the American opinion of homosexuality in the 1930s in order to show how such a person was viewed in that era. It is not meant to be offensive, but simply meant to increase the aura of truth created in the graphic novel. Unfortunately, homosexuality is still a topic of concern and discord in the present. There are groups who make it their primary responsibility to demean and lower the standing of gays and lesbians in society today. For example, The Westboro Baptist Church, the most well-known of these groups, declares that “[s]odomites are wicked & sinners before the Lord exceedingly (Gen.13:13), are violent & doom nations (Gen. 19:1-25; Jgs. 19), are abominable to God (Lev. 18:22), are worthy of death for their vile sex practices (Lev. 20:13; Rom. 1:32)” prominently on the front page of their website (Westboro Baptist Church, 1991). The Church followers still hold the same mentality today that was held in medieval Europe and Prohibition-era America. Luckily, for every step taken backwards from progress, there is a step forward. In a 2003 United States Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, it was decided that it is “unconstitutional [that] a Texas law…prohibited sexual acts between same sex couples” (Chemerinsky). The federal government affirmed that laws cannot be made to discriminate against a specific group of people, as the government had done in the past to women and people of different races.

The issue of homosexuality is still fervently discussed today in newspapers and on the Internet, specifically pertaining to the upcoming presidential race and as a political issue, and it is quite apparent that the American populace is divided on its stance. The authors of Torso have their own opinions on the matter. Bendis and Andreyko use Simon’s disappearances and the subsequent uncovering of murders the next day as red herrings, in order to distract the reader into believing that Simon is the killer. Consequently, the reader is snared into falling for the same prejudice against homosexuals that is present in the graphic novel. Nevertheless, in the end, Sam Simon is shown to be a respectable and upstanding detective who just happens to be gay. Simon’s actions in Torso demonstrate that, as in ancient Greece, it doesn’t matter to whom one is attracted, but rather which inner qualities and characteristics of personality one exhibits.


Bendis, Brian M., and Marc Andreyko. Torso. Third ed. Orange: Image Comics, 2003. Print.

Chauncey, George. “Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion? Homosexual Identities and the Construction of Sexual Boundaries in the World War I Era.” Sexual Borderlands: Constructing an American Sexual Past. Ed. Kathleen Kennedy and Sharon Ullman. Columbus: Ohio State University, 2003. 187-218. Print.

Chauncey, George, Nancy F. Cott, John D’Emilio, Estelle B. Freedman, Thomas C. Holt, John Howard, Lynn Hunt, Mark D. Jordan, Elizabeth L. Kennedy, and Linda P. Kerber. “The Historians’ Case Against Gay Discrimination.” History News Network. George Mason University, 2 July 2003. Web.

Chemerinsky, Erwin. “Lawrence v. Texas.” Duke Law. Duke University, n.d. Web.

“Compendium of Bible Truth on Fags (first Published in 1991).” God Hates Fags. Westboro Baptist Church, n.d. Web.

Fitzgerald, F. S. The Great Gatsby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925. Print.

Pickett, Brent. “Homosexuality.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 6 Aug. 2002. Web.

Strauss, Lehman. “Homosexuality: The Christian Perspective.” N.p., n.d. Web.

Twain, Mark.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1884. Print.

Death of a Student

I always used to think people prioritized their lives right before they died, that the imminent silence of death forced people to re-evaluate their relationships, choices…everything. Well, that’s happening now for me. One month. I have one month left before my life ends, and I still have no answers to these questions. One month…what happened?

I don’t know what it is, but I feel this “sinking” sensation in my chest whenever I contemplate events like this. Maybe it’s the fact that my life is changing before my very eyes and I have no power to stop it. Maybe it’s because all of the relationships and connections I’ve made over the years will be severed. Maybe I’m reflecting too much on the past and how change was always a very bad thing for me. I don’t know and I feel like I will never know. Life is funny: you’re given all these opportunities for greatness, people to fulfill yourself, and the chance to be happy…and yet, you still feel as if something is missing. Maybe that’s just part of the human condition, that we always desire more and more until we die. It’s as if life is a game; I don’t see the purpose of that though. If the point of living is to acquire the most stuff…you’re dead anyways, so you’ve lost.

I’m getting off-track. The point I’m trying to make here is that I’m nervous. My life is changing and I simply have to watch it change and work with the aftermath. No, I’m not dying…at least not in the conventional sense. Next year, I will be meeting new people and living on my own. All of my friends will be dispersed across the country. Hell, even my girlfriend will be attending a school six hours away from me. I will have to work hard to obtain what I desire most in life. My innocent, care-free lifestyle is over. I have to grow up and live my life in a new way…and that terrifies me. I mean, my life isn’t terrible; it is fantastic. My family loves me dearly, my girlfriend even more so, my friends are always there for me…and that’s just as far as relationships go. I go to a good school, one that gave me the education I need, and will be going to an even better university next semester. I have money, food, more-than-comfortable living arrangements…everything I could possibly want and need. And yet, something is lacking.

All that’s left is to go forward, to step off the edge of the cliff and dive into the void below. Like countless before me, I’m on the verge of a new beginning; why should I not take this opportunity? Sure I’m scared, the thought of it keeps me from being more outgoing or happy, and I may not want to…but, fuck, I mean, I have to, so I might as well accept this notion with grace. Like Hemingway describing how man must be ready to accept death, I must be ready to accept this death. I must be ready to give up all that I know, all that I am comfortable with, and cross over. And when I reach the precipice of the other side, when I experience all that this world has to offer, I can say, “I can do this.”

We’re all dying, slowly but surely, in our own special way. Some of us get old, some of us make bad choices, some of us lose the fun we used to have. Whether it’s due to drugs, debauchery, or decisions…we’re all dying. I’m part of that. I’m getting older, though I’m young. I’ve grown up so much in this past year alone, let alone throughout my four years of high-school, and I’m losing that young-blooded sense of self that wasn’t afraid to scream, “Fuck you!” to the world. Now I’m sitting down and thinking about my life, my future, and my aspirations. What I’m hoping for most is not the glamour that comes with adulthood, nor the large amount of friends or lovers that I may come to know, and not even my preconceived notions of fame that I am hopeful to obtain from my work…but to be able to stand up when the time comes for me to give it all up, and say, “I am ready.”