From Sea to Shining Sea Squad: The Blues and Politics

Hi Everyone,

Tom Standage’s book, A History of the World in 6 Glasses, is one of my favorites because it provides a broad history lesson of human kind through a unique lens, solely looking at how different periods of time can be categorized by the most popular drink. Other books like Mark Kurlansky’s Salt and Cod are good examples of this too, they argue that history can be examined in ways contrary to popular models such as the, “Men of History,” model or the progressivism model. They argue that history can be examined through economic and cultural shifts, like where was salt or cod being bought and sold, or where was tea being made and transported?

In the same way, if you were to look at the Cold War you could illustrate history through the lens of popular music. The Cold War was a time standing from roughly 1945 to 1990, which also encompasses the golden age of Rock ‘n Roll music. By looking at the status and evolution of Rock ‘n Roll a person can get a feel for how American culture changed through time during the Cold War.

Rock ‘n Roll traces its origins back to the 1920s and ’30s. During this time the genre of music called the blues was emerging and jazz was already prominent. Musicians like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Johnson, and Lead Belly were showcasing the earliest and rawest version of the blues that would later transfuse with guitar styles shown by popular jazz guitarists like Django Reinhardt and West Montgomery to later give birth to the classic rock age of the ’60s and ’70s. But before this happened there were many more musicians that incorporated blues forms with jazz techniques. The three, “Kings of the Blues,” were B.B., Albert, and Freddie. They all were terrific blues guitarists that utilized the simplicity of long drawn out notes and relied heavily on their masculine and scratchy voices to portray their “blue” emotions. But, along side them was always a “big band” a huge arrangement of horns, drums, and a piano that was not seen before in early blues music.

This transition of the solo blues guitarist into the blues singer with a huge band behind him coincided with the popularity of the genre. The blues was emerging from its delta origins and spreading to big cities, most notably New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas, where each would develop different tastes. The popularity of the blues also led to the expansion of audience. The blues was developed by African American culture in the south and the spread of the genre to northern cities led an increase of African American popular figures. This led to many artists like Bo Diddley, Etta James, and Fats Domino’s success. Along side the rise in African American popular musicians, many white Americans began to emulate the styles that emerged from the blues. Most notably Elvis Presley, his songs, “Hound Dog,” and “That’s Alright,” were actually covers of past blues musicians “Big Mama” Thorton and Arthur Crudup.

This adoption of the blues into the main stream played a huge role in the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s. As more African American musicians had bigger and bigger audiences, their message could reach more people. Songs like B.B. King’s “Chains and Things,” and Lead Belly’s, “Bourgeois Blues,” spoke of the racism that was present in America before and during the civil rights movement.

Diving into the ’60s, the blues were taking on a new form, a closer form of what we know to be Rock ‘n Roll. Musicians like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Carlos Santana were all putting their twists on the blues form, adding Latin styles, new technologies, and psychedelics into the mix. During this time music began targeting the “big man” that was government. Songs like “If 6 was 9” by Hendrix, “I’d Love to Change the World,” by Ten Years After, and “For What It’s Worth,” by Buffalo Springfield, were all directed towards the U.S. government as a means of protest to, “white-collar conservatives,” and Hendrix put it. These songs established a firm distrust in the government by people and led to huge misconceptions by both sides. The anti-war protestors were cast out to be communist druggies who detested the U.S.A., and the government and soldiers that were trying to stop the spread of communism into south east Asia were characterized as murderous war lords. Songs like “Machine Gun,” “American Woman,” and, “7′ O’clock News” were heavily geared towards withdrawal from Vietnam. Bob Dylan was a huge anti-war protestor during this time with, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” he also calls out politicians during this time essentially telling them their methods were outdated in his song, “The Times They are a Changin.” It’s also crucial to point out John Lennon, who’s “Imagine,” will forever be a song dedicated to his message of peace, but many people also see it as a song that supported anti-American ideas.

During this time the women’s movement was also in full swing. Many women found a voice through song and took to lyrics as a means of feminism. One of the best blues singers of all time, Aretha Franklin, wrote, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” illustrating the gender inequalities of the time. Also, Leslie Gore’s, “You Don’t Own Me,” was widely popular and emphasized the goals of the women’s movement.

There were plenty songs against the idea of nuclear war as well. While playing the Fallout 4, if a person tunes into Diamond City Radio, they will hear a whole plethora of songs themed around nuclear war. This was the case for most of the Cold War, people’s fear of atomic war bled into their music with songs like, “Enola Gay,” and  Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” This use of songs to display fear of nuclear war would be an interesting detail in our game since ours is based around nuclear fallout, however it may be difficult to do so with Twine.

However, it is interesting to see how music has evolved with the different movements of American culture. Musicians took to song to get their message across about various topics in the 20th century, topics like war, racism, and gender equality. It should be noted that the use of music as a means of protest is not solely a 20th century American occurrence, all throughout history and the world people have been using music as a means to protest. However, I believe that the period of the Cold War gets much more attention because it is fantasized today as a message of peace and an example of the power of the people.

From Sea to Shining Sea Squad: Trends Towards Battle Royale

Hi Everyone,

Video games come in many genres. There RPGs such as the Fallout series, MMOs like World of Warcraft, and FPSs like the Call of Duty series. There are so many different genres and games already available to players, many gaming companies are now having struggles trying to differentiate new games from the old and give players new experiences. This scenario is what primarily led to the massive success of the Battle Royale genre and more specifically, the popularity of the game Fortnite.

The Battle Royale game genre is characterized of a large server of participants being dumped onto a large map with essentially no weapons to start with. It is up to the player to adapt to their environment quickly and collect weapons, ammunition, and supplies that will help them win the match. In the Battle Royale genre a match is usually only worth one life, in other words there is no respawning. You may play alone and seek to be the last man standing, or you can play with a team usually up to 3-5 teammates. The objective of the game is for you or your team to eliminate enough enemies from the match in order to be the last player alive.

This genre seems on the whole not very innovative when compared to games like Call of Duty, especially when you examine the game modes “Free-for-all” or  “Gun Game.” However, what does separate the Battle Royale genre from these game modes is the tension the player feels from not having the respawn option. The feeling of having only one life creates a more urgent vibe when playing the Battle Royale genre.

But how did this genre come about? Mike Wehner of Yahoo! makes the case that the Battle Royale genre was first popularized by mods created in Minecraft servers that intended to replicate the experience of the competitors in the movie The Hunger Games. He argues that the popularity of both Minecraft and the popularity of The Hunger Games that created a want for more Battle Royale type games.

This want sparked the games of FortnitePUBG, and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. These were all instant successes, with Fortnite leading the pack. Fortnite is interesting to the gaming community, mainly because it rides the ever increasing tide of  “Free-to-Play” Games. These free to play games are becoming more popular because they are an effective way for gaming industries to essentially get gamers hooked onto their product. In the case of Fortnite players do not need to pay in order to get any type of competitive advantage, players can only buy skins and different emotes. But, many other games enlist a “pay to win” or “freemium” strategy.

Pay to win games are extremely criticized by the gaming community for obvious reasons. A vote cast on Reddit elects APB: Reloaded as the worst case scenario of these pay to win games, citing the gameplay as unfair and unrealistically difficult. However, by purchasing advantages outside of the original game purchase, the game becomes much easier. This enrages the gaming community because essentially brings the original price of the game up to an astounding total.

However the new gaming idea of loot boxes is arguably what is most annoying to the modern gamer. Loot boxes are like little gambling machines in which you spend your video game currency (or real world money) on a mystery box that will give you random stuff that is in the game. At first this doesn’t seem all too deceptive because all you have to do is keep spending in game currency until you get the object or objects that you are wanting to acquire. The problem arises when you keep grinding long hours into the game for currency to open boxes that in the end will only have a slim chance of actually giving you what you’ve been wanting to unlock. It feels like the gaming company wants you to eventually give up the hours of grinding and instead buy the loot boxes with your real world money. Even when you trade your money for the time you will save, you still have to hope and pray that those loot boxes you just spent real money on will have what you are looking for.

These examples of money grasping schemes are largely absent from Battle Royale games however, which is another component as to why they have become so popular. Although they do not offer much to the avid gamer that lives for the immersive gameplay of RPGs, they do provide a fun and full experience to the casual gamer.

Socrates, Salem, and Senator McCarthy

The term, “witch hunt,” is fairly common and usually refers to the act of accusing a person of committing a crime while having no evidence, or very questionable evidence for your claims. Whenever I hear the term I am reminded of the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is a scene in the movie in which a medieval town is convinced that a woman is a witch, so they cry out in determination, “BURN ERR!” However, when the townsfolk bring the “witch” to Sir Bedevere, who represents the town’s nobility and is the local knight (played by Terry Jones), he is suspicious of the claims against the woman. He asks for proof of the crime and one man (John Cleese) replies, “She turned me into a newt… but I got better,” thus proving that the massive mob has no absolute evidence.

I bring up this scene because it’s hilarious, but it also represents how gullible crowds can be when their safety or way of life may be threatened. This in turn will lead to quick decision making and rambunctious actions that may seem fair at the moment, but upon further inspection turn out to be horribly misguided. Such is the case of the famous Salem Witch Trials. Very similar to the Monty Python movie, the Salem Witch Trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions in 1692 Massachusetts. The trials led to the deaths of at least 25 people, 19 by hanging and one, Giles Corey, was pressed to death. These people were accused of conspiring with the devil and haunting the town. The only evidence to support these claims were testimonies from townspeople that sited visions, nightmares, and convulsions as proof of witchery. Thus, much like in the movie, there was no substantial proof for the accusations. Also Salem was a Puritan community, a very strict sect of Christianity, and the hysteria of witchery was not an unfathomable idea to many people back then. This environment and the fears of people in the community led to the death of at least 25 innocent people, showing that if fear is growing within a community, irrational decisions will soon follow.

Tying into our game, the Cold War was a period of suffocating fear for many Americans. The threat of nuclear war was as tense as ever before. Cuba contained missiles that could reach the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was looking to spread communism and destroy capitalism. All of this led to mass hysteria in the U.S. that is known as the “Red Scare.” This tense and fear-driven environment led to more “witch hunts” in the U.S. almost identical to those of Salem. This time they were led by the fear of communism within the U.S., a threat that was preached by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy made numerous accusations against people within the U.S. government and CIA, citing treason, espionage, foul play, disloyalty, and every other term that could label a person a trader or a “commie.” While most of these claims flung out of his mouth as effortless as breath through his lungs, and they contained no sense of evidence or support, people fell for his trick because they were so afraid of communism within their government. McCarthy knew this and he used it to his advantage to gain popularity and votes throughout his time in office. His endless accusations eventually coined the term McCarthyism as “a campaign or practice that endorses the unfair use of allegations and investigations.” The practice of McCarthyism throughout the Cold War led to many irrational decisions, most notably the cases of Julian and Ethel Rosenberg. The two were accused of heading a spy ring that informed Soviet forces about nuclear technology that the U.S. possessed. On June 19, 1953, the two were put to death via the electric chair. Although it was never proven that they committed these very serious crimes, new evidence suggested that the accusations of a spy ring were true and thus they were assumed guilty. However, it is plausible that had this case not been during the Cold War, these two would have not been put to death, especially due to the fact that at the time of their deaths they had not been proven guilty. Much like the trials in Salem, the circumstances of the trial played a key role in the punishment of the accused. Both Salem’s religion-dominated society and the nuclear tension during the Cold War led to the fear-based, irrational decisions that killed many people.

We plan on using the idea of McCarthyism in our game while also drawing on the example of Socrates. Socrates was an Ancient Greek philosopher who was charged with treason because his teachings of an organized state, as taught in the Republic, defied the Greek model of democracy. He was accused of treason and sentenced to death for his teachings, much like our character. But what I want to highlight about Socrates was his environment. Socrates always taught that an organized state should be led by “philosopher kings” instead of run by the masses, because the masses are subject to irrational decisions similar to Salem and McCarthyism. At the time of his own execution Greece had just lost to Sparta in the Peloponnesian War which caused great strife within Greece. So when Socrates praised Sparta on systems of government, the masses looked to punish his disloyalty. In a way Socrates predicted his own death because he fell subject to the whims of the masses and the irrational decisions they made, much like the victims in Salem and the Rosenbergs.

All of these examples were taken into account when we decided to make our main character a teacher. Our main character will be accused of corrupting minds similar to Socrates. Our character will also be overwhelmed with the sense of helplessness that comes from being prosecuted with no substantial evidence similar to the victims of the witch hunts of Salem and Cold War McCarthyism.


From Sea to Shining Sea Squad: First Day

Hello Everyone,

Today during the initial brainstorming period, our group discussed a wide variety of ideas and concepts that our game could incorporate. We discussed the different time periods and settings we were all interested in, and we came to the conclusion that our game would be centered around a 20th century war. We discussed World War Two, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War as different possibilities. We contemplated the idea of basing our game off of the movie Red Dawn, begging the question, “What would have happened if the Soviet Union had invaded the U.S.?” Also, seeing as I and Luke H. both had Professor Harney’s History 110 class last semester, we talked about basing the game off of Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, and the movie Apocalypse Now. Using the Vietnam War as a setting and having the game based around the objective of finding a missing person lost in the jungle could be entertaining and suspenseful while also shedding light on the history of the conflict. Lastly we talked about WWII and again begged the question, “What if?” Perhaps the U.S. did not intervene in WWII and Nazi Germany and Japan became major world powers. What would become of this scenario?

While we are still brainstorming ideas for the setting and plot of the game, we have decided to use Twine as our software. We all agreed that Twine would be the best choice for our game because we all liked the “Text Only” feel and the emphasis it would put on decision making throughout the game. We discussed the Tell-Tale games of The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, two of my favorite games, and we wanted to have that sort of vibe in our game, where the game was almost solely driven by choice and would have different endings based on the player’s decisions.

Since we were so focused on mid-20th century war in our discussion, we mentioned the idea that our main protagonists could be a soldier that was not keen on fighting, instead he was a reluctant draftee. We liked this idea because having this character would shed light on the fact that many people fighting in these wars did not plan on enlisting, in fact some people totally opposed war altogether, such as the case of Tim O’Brien in his book on his Vietnam experience, “The Things They Carried.” (My favorite book, just pitching that in because it is awesome.)

So, to wrap things up, Luke D., Luke H., Brenna and I, the Sea From Shining Sea Squad, are going to use Twine as our software because we want emphasize decision making and have a straight forward, almost ominous vibe. We will focus on some 20th century conflict and “counter-factually” thwart history to make the game interesting, but also include many insightful details throughout the game that will grant the player some knowledge as to what life in the past truly was for many people.