The Sad Truth – Sometimes Fish Need Bicycles

By Oliver Otte

It was the American lawyer, feminist and civil rights advocate Florynce Kennedy who said,“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”. In other words, women do not depend on men. Anything but! What this funny quotation conveys is that women are independent and that they should feel this independence in their hearts.

            I was amused when I quite accidentally saw this quotation, as I am just working on a presentation about the role of female authors in German literature during the last centuries. The focus of this presentation is on the value of literature written by female authors, which was often treated as inferior to literature written by male authors. Therefore, it is not surprising that my first thought regarding this quotation was: in the former centuries, even open-minded people might have called this a desirable but utopian remark. For instance, even during the enlightenment, a time in which the idea of self-responsibility, thinking for oneself as well as the autonomy of the individual was advanced, women were not allowed to publish literature on their own. Not to mention that there was no way for them to do so. Hence, the first German female author of a novel, Sophie von La Roche, gave her enormous successful novel “Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim” (1771) to the well-known author Christoph Martin Wieland who published it for her but initially without revealing her name.

            Although La Roche’s novel was so successful that society was no longer able to ignore German women’s literary ambitions, literature written by women was for a long time judged as deficient and dilettantish and became characterized as “women’s writing” or “women’s literature”. The dependence of educated women on the good will of men during the 18thand even 19thcentury was so extensive that in literary lounges, places in which people met to read and talk about literature, women were often not allowed. Instead women were told to stay home, maintain the household, look after the children and meet with as well as cater to their men’s wishes. This at that time common point of view regarding the gender relation becomes extremely obvious when the famous German classical author Johann Gottfried Herder cites the Arabian saying, “Eine Henne, die krähet, und eine Frau, die gelehrt ist, sind böse Omen. Man schneide beiden den Hals ab.” (A crowing hen and an educated women are bad omens. One should cut their throats.). By using this saying in a letter to his fiancee, he claims that educated women are as unnatural as a crowing hen. Obviously, Herder is afraid that something bad will occur if women’s education progresses. For sure, he does not want to threaten his fiancee with violence when using this quotation. This would be overstated. Nonetheless, I am quite sure that he is not joking when using this words. Instead, he employs this saying in order to deduce that women should avoid (high) literature.

            To end the trip to the past for now, I would like to focus on the role of female authors nowadays. The necessary question at this place seems to be: Has the approach to writings of German female authors changed during the last centuries? The simple answer is that an imbalance between male and female authors remains. However, especially German pupils might at this point object that this cannot be true, as they have to read poems of German poetesses like Annette von Droste-Hülshoff or Ulla Hahn during their way to pass the A level. That cannot be denied. Nonetheless, there is a difference between contents simply discussed in school and those which are obligatory to pass the A level. In other words, neither writings of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff nor of Ulla Hahn are treated as mandatory writings to pass the A level. Instead one still has to read the male authors Goethe, Schiller, Kleist, Fontane, Hoffmann and so on. 

            Here is just a simple impression for everyone who is willing to get an idea of the subject: the list of obligatory literature needed to pass the A level in 2019/2020 in the German federal state Hessen for the languages German, English, French and Spain this year consists of a total of 21 books (provided by the ministry of education); only three of them are written by female authors. Moreover, all but one of the mandatory German books, ten in number, are written by male authors. For NRW, the ministry of education reveals a similar picture. In this federal state only male authors are obligatory for the teaching subject German. I suppose that these figures speak for themselves.   Nonetheless, I want to use this numbers to finally take a stand. So, what can be deduced from this numbers? The answer to this question is as simple as it could be: an imbalance between male and female authors remains. Accordingly, although times change, specific atavistic mental heritages seem to be resistant and withstand the ravages of time. Now, what does this mean for us as recipients of literature? Should we aim at establishing something similar to the female quota as it is employed in the economic sector? In my assessment, this would be no solution, as this way to handle the lack of balance would inevitably go hand in hand with other negative aspects, which could be approached elsewhere. Instead, we have to be conscious of the fact that a process that endures for centuries cannot be stopped or changed in the blink of an eye.

            To conclude, I am convinced that the solution could simply be to reflect about what you are confronted with, to remain open and first and foremost never dread to ask questions that might bring the norm into question. If we keep this in mind, I am sure that this will not only affect our life but also our surrounding. And in the end there might come a time when fish no longer need bicycles.

That’s Not Art

By David Kretschmann

Everyone knows what art is or at least thinks they know what art is. It seems obvious when you look at a van Gogh that you are looking at art and it seems obvious that you are reading literature when you are holding one of Shakespeare’s plays.

            When dealing with video games however, are we viewing art? Or are we reading literature?

Conservative voices will quickly dismiss video games altogether as infantile distractions with little artistic value. The journalist Keith Stuart responded to these critics in a Games blog piece for the Guardian by comparing the critics that dismiss video games to the critics that did not consider early impressionist paintings to be art, the very category of painting to which Vincent van Gogh’s paintings belong. I agree with Keith Stuart’s defence of video games as art, yet I believe that his response to Jonathan Jones does not go far enough, his arguments are thoughtful and well-founded but he argues too timidly in a debate where video games have to demand to be taken seriously.

            Since I have given you very esteemed examples of the aesthetic arts and of literature it is only appropriate to send one of the best examples video games have to offer into the race: “Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons” which the renowned games critic John Bain considered to be: “the best Video Game of all time”. Digital art often has a hard time amongst the elitists of the art sphere, where disliking new art is often a way to appear more cultured and tasteful, yet not a single frame of “Brothers” beautiful environment design would have to be ashamed to be displayed in the world’s finest galleries. The Journey of the titular character pair of two brothers takes them through a world that is beautiful and eerie in diverse settings that are linked by their consistent style. On their journey the two brothers are confronted with a world that constantly challenges their perspective as they make their way through areas that seem to be oversized compared to them. They are often surrounded by death either through largely abandoned structures, corpses or graveyards tying into the overarching theme of death.

            The writing of “Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons” is difficult to compare too literature, since its dialogue consists of a fictional language which is only sparingly used at all, yet even though there is very little dialogue, the plot’s complexity should not be underestimated. Empathy is shown and relationships are established through the characters’ actions and the steps on their journey have a very clear narrative direction; The lack of dialogue is not an impediment to the game’s story but one of its greatest assets. The different events of the plot are clearly linked without further explanation and the direction creates an impactful plot with relatable characters. What more could you possibly ask of a writer?

            The resulting video game demonstrates exactly how digital art and exceptional writing can create art that surpasses what either could achieve on their own. “Brothers – A tale of Two Sons” was universally well reviewed and received prestigious awards such as one for the best Xbox game of 2013 and the award for best game innovation at the 2014 British academy games awards. The critical acclaim of the game may be restricted to video game reviewers and consumers but if any game can prove that the combination of visual art, music, interactivity and writing in a video game have to be taken seriously, it is “Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons”.

            A video game can through its interactivity create countless consumer experiences that can in some cases radically change the way a player perceives the game. Even the most narrow and linear game can be interpreted in many ways as players have their own associations. The potential for educated discussion is endless as the medium allows for completely different experiences within the same work. To Jonathan Jones this difference between individual user experiences disqualifies games from being art. Keith Stuart on the other hand argues that this potential for different experiences and interpretations is similar to the way art can be viewed and interpreted differently.

            There are different genres which have countless different branching stories that change based on the player’s decisions within the game. That may the greatest asset the medium holds which writing can not adequately express. There have of course been novels that tried to emulate the readers’ choice by giving them different page markers to skip to based on their choice, but to truly engage in a story as an actor removing any barriers between the reader and the protagonist, that is unique to video games. The genre that tries to push player choice above everything else is the visual novel, which was named visual novel because it is the genre which relies the most on reading. The visual novel has often been used by creators that felt that a static narrative experience was too restricting for their creative vision as in the case of Dan Salvato’s “Doki Doki Literature Club” and in “Hatoful Boyfriend” which was developed by Manga artist Hato Moa, who chose this form to let players organically explore stories set in her fictional world.

            Role playing games often attempt to give the player impactful choices, yet few games can afford to add to many different branches to their games. An example for a game that has impactful choices while sticking to a rather narrow plot is the game “Gothic” in which the player’s goal is to escape a magical prison, which can be done by aiding one of the three factions within that prison or forcing your way out with no help from the non-player characters, providing the player with unprecedented freedom of choice, resulting in radically different stories along the way.

            The possibilities for video games to tell stories is still being explored with innovative directors finding new ways for the medium to grow, as in one of this years most innovative games “A Way Out” which was highly acclaimed for its radically different approach to player cooperation in a narrative game.

            Each of these examples can disprove Jonathan Jones argument that video games are not art because they are not an artists act of personal imagination; Dan Salvato and Hato Moa worked on their respective games with very little help to bring their creative vision to life, the environment designs in “Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons” were made by designers who had personal imagination that shaped the game’s world. But Jonathan Jones did not know these games, when he wrote that video games could never be art, I doubt that he knows any of them now, he argued about the New York Museum of Modern Art accepting video games into their collection and the Museums effort to make these games accessible in the future and preserve them as Art. His argument could not have been more short-sighted and ill-informed and I for one hope that many more games are included in collections like this.

             Establishing video games as an art form is not just a matter of vocabulary, I believe that to showcase that artistic potential we should let schools use great video games similarly to literature in English classes or paintings in Art classes. The conversations we have about video games are too often centred on money and multi-million dollar companies and too seldom about the artistic significance they have. Video games may be a historically new medium but they have become a part of our culture that has had an impact on far more people than renaissance paintings had when they were painted or sonnets when they were written. I believe that many who would argue that video games are not art simply do not know how much video games have improved in recent decades, if someone argues that video games can not be art and still thinks of games like “Pong” or “Pac-Man” then they are wilfully ignorant.

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