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Tortoise Tuesday: Motive in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

One of the most popular video games of quarantine so far is Nintendo’s latest installment of the Animal Crossing franchise, titled Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH). Like its predecessors, ACNH is a slow-paced simulation game where players are moved into a new community and tasked with developing it by cultivating relationships with other residents, stimulating the local economy, and enriching cultural institutions. Unlike previous games, ACNG is set on a deserted island in order for the player to “create [their] own paradise” and “escape” the real world, according to the Nintendo official website.

At the beginning of the game, players must take a plane to their island, during which the player is subject to in-flight entertainment courtesy of Nook Inc. This movie consists of scenic videos and snapshots of other players enjoying their own idealized, fully developed islands, as in Image 1 below. These scenes prepare the player to land in an immaculate, tropical landscape.

A picture containing cake, decorated, table, grass

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Image 1 One of the scenes presented to the player before they arrive on their island. Screenshot from game.

However, when the player starts the game, the island they arrive at is far from paradise. It is overrun with weeds, and the town consists of only a handful of small tents, illustrated in Image 2 below. As it turns out, the player is expected to deplete the island’s natural resources in order to literally build their town from the ground up, all while facing debt at the hands of a Nook Inc. executive, Tom Nook. So much for escaping the real world…

A picture containing cake, birthday, decorated, table

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Image 2 The island as it is visible from the airplane for the first time. Screenshot from game.

The tension between the game’s presentation of an idyllic island in the airplane movie and the reality of the undeveloped island is meant to inspire players to complete the game’s tasks. The game promises that if players follow the orders of Tom Nook, then their islands will be just as beautiful as the photos they viewed prior to landing. By presenting this drastic visual tension at the point when the player’s island is at its least appealing (and thus potentially the point when players might feel discouraged at the prospect of having to clean it up), the game motivates its own playthrough.

Motive in academic writing operates similarly, since it can manifest itself as a tension beckoning the reader to follow along in the author’s reasoning. Like in academic writing, ACNH uses this tension to support its premise or thesis of escapism, since the promise of what could be is ultimately what drives the player to escape to the game again and again (that is, if they ever put it down at all).

If you are struggling to motivate your own writing, consider whether there are any tensions, puzzles, or surprises in your sources which might compel your readers to follow your argument. Think to yourself, “What would Tom Nook do?”

— Leina Thurn ’20

Works Cited

Nintendo. “Animal Crossing™: New Horizons.” Nintendo.com. Accessed May 9, 2020. https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/animal-crossing-new-horizons-switch/.

Motive, Spring 2020

The Influence of Faith-Based Organizations on American Anti-Trafficking Policy: Understanding the cause and consequence of the prioritization of sex trafficking within the broad category of trafficking crimes in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000

In a Tortoiseshell: In his paper that investigates the role of faith based organizations in American anti- trafficking efforts, Nathnael Mengistie takes on the existing scholarly establishment through the use of an eloquent and compelling motive. By illustrating that the existing scholarly conversation, which focuses on whether faith-based organizations are effective in their work, overlooks the important fundamental question of why faith-based organizations are involved in anti-trafficking efforts to begin with, Nathnael produces a meaningful and needed reframing of the conversation surrounding the role of faith-based organizations in anti-trafficking efforts.

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Spring 2020, Thesis

Thesis

The eternal refrain goes like this: “What’s the thesis?”  It’s as ubiquitous as “Where’s the beef?” But a thesis is not a call to action for a mundane fast-food restaurant. It’s much more important than that. It’s the argument. Or more eloquently, the Writing Lexicon defines the thesis as “an arguable claim—i.e., an assertion someone could reasonably argue against; as such, it provides unexpected insight, goes beyond superficial interpretations, or challenges, corrects, or extends other arguments.”

There’s a reason why a great deal of high school English teachers place an emphasis on the thesis. It functions as the raison d’etre. It lays out the terms of the argument—what the essay is analyzing, with what it is analyzing, and what it all means. Strong theses go above and beyond this, however, by explaining why all of that stuff is important.

The essay excerpts in this section were chosen for their strong theses, though they accomplish these arguments in different ways.

The thesis is tough. There are different kinds—some are tricky, and some are examples of how to make a simple framework sing. And don’t write more than one thesis in an eight-page paper. Read on, true believer—“What’s the thesis?”

For more details, refer to the Thesis Preface from our 2014 issue, available here.

Spring 2020, Thesis

Holding the LINE: The US Role in Combatting Information Warfare in Taiwan’s Electoral System

In a Tortoiseshell: In her politics paper, Maggie Baughman recommends a specific set of policies for the US State Department to follow in order to combat the spread of misinformation by the Chinese government within Taiwanese election cycles. Her thesis is built upon a unique and compelling methodology combining epidemiological theory with politics. By manipulating multiple forms of evidence as well as the framework of her argument, Maggie also renders her thesis both pragmatically and pedagogically manageable.

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Motive, Spring 2020

Motive

Motive begins with a question or a problem. This can be in the form of a gap in the evidence, a puzzling passage, or a new phenomenon. Thus, motive is the driving force behind an essay’s line of inquiry or argument. It is the question to which the author hopes to provide an answer.

Without a strong motive, it is difficult for readers to grasp the reason for a certain paper’s existence. Even the most brilliant points can seem meaningless without an understanding of the posed question. Even then, motive must extend beyond just this initial question. The motive of a paper has to be compelling enough to imbue readers with a sense of that paper’s significance. It ultimately helps answer the question, “Why does it all matter?” It helps readers understand not only why a paper was written but also why they should care that the paper was written at all.

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Tortoise Tuesday: Structure in Quarantine and in Writing

It’s been over a month since Kentucky officially shut all nonessential businesses and ordered everyone to shelter in place.  Even though everything has burst into bloom here, I spend my days in my room in the basement, writing papers, zooming into seminars, and fighting against a rising feeling of desperation and fear. It’s hard to feel anything other than resignation when the days bleed into one another. The markers of time that used to rule my life are meaningless now. No matter what day it is or what hour of the day, my life looks pretty much the same. 

For me, a control freak, the unpredictability of this pandemic is terrifying. It’s impossible to know when this will end, when the world will return to normalcy, when days will again be differentiated from one another. But something that’s been helping me feel in control of my days and my life is that I’ve started making extremely detailed schedules. Every morning when I wake up I sit down and write down a plan for my day. I schedule in everything from zoom classes to helping my brother practice lacrosse. Being able to look down and see the plan for my day makes me feel better. For at least the next eight hours, I can predict the future.

When writing, this kind of structured plan is also helpful. Both when preparing to write a paper and in the final draft, it’s useful to be able to communicate to yourself and the reader what the plan is for the duration of the paper. Articulating ideas in an outline can make it so much easier to understand what you’re trying to say in a paper. Often when I’m writing, I get lost in sentence structure or word choice. In those moments, I look back at my outline to remember what I’m trying to say. Having the plan for my paper helps reorient me and feel that, rather than being a daunting impossible task, writing this paper is totally doable. 

Clearly articulating the structure of your argument to a reader is also helpful. Making sure to include a roadmapping paragraph, where you explain to a reader what sources you’re planning to examine in the course of your argument and what subarguments you plan to make, help a reader feel secure as they read your paper. I know that especially when I read long papers, roadmapping paragraphs in the introduction help orient me and keep me from getting confused. Such paragraphs remind me that the author has a plan for the paper and that I, as a reader, can relax and just follow the argument. 

Regardless of whether you’re a control freak like me or not, in the next week, when writing your papers and studying for exams, give outlining and roadmapping a try. Maybe in this bananas time, making a clear plan will help propel you across the finish line at the end of this wacky semester.

— Malka Himelhoch ’21

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Tortoise Tuesday: Practicing Writing with Marchesi’s Vocal Methods

Learning to sing is a bit like learning to write: time-intensive, often discouraging, ultimately rewarding—and based on a foundation of technique that you’ll need before you can move on to the more exciting stuff. Scales come before arias, just as D1s come before dissertations. Where writers have writing seminars and thesis bootcamps, singers have books like Mathilde Marchesi’s Theoretical and Practical Vocal Method. In her introduction, Marchesi, a 19th-century teacher who trained many of her era’s great singers, lays out her foundational principles. These prove to be useful guidance for aspiring musicians, but they’re also applicable to writers—at any stage.  

“In order to obtain a speedy and satisfactory result,” Marchesi writes, “pupils should never be burdened with more than one difficulty at a time, and they should be assisted in overcoming obstacles by having them presented in a natural and progressive order.” Thinking about only one issue at a time might sound impossible when you’re juggling what feels like a dozen lexicon terms in writing sem, but breaking your assignment down into pieces can make a paper feel much more manageable. Instead of trying to get from a prompt to a 12-page paper in one go, it can be helpful to think about one step of the process at a time. What question are you trying to answer in your paper? What sources do you need to find? How will you select useful evidence, and what conclusion can you draw from it?

Taking the writing process one step at a time also makes it easier to identify the place where you’re getting stuck. Just as when you’re learning a new piece and find that you keep stumbling over the same passage, it helps to take a step back and return to the basics. In her Vocal Method, Marchesi notes that she’s included “special Exercises and Vocalises for each particular difficulty,” and a glance at the table of contents confirms this: there are exercises for flexiblity, exercises for singing appoggiaturas, exercises for blending vocal registers. By focusing on one skill at a time, the student builds the technique needed to approach each challenge in the context of a full piece of music. In the same way, when you feel stuck on a particular aspect of your writing, it can help to pull out exercises that isolate one lexicon term. The Magic Thesis Statement is a personal favorite, but there are many more: cartoons to help you take a position in the scholarly conversation, highlighting exercises to reveal the ratio of evidence to analysis, reverse outlines to check that the structure of your draft makes sense. Once you’ve built the technical skills that are fundamental to any piece of writing, you’ll be ready to take on even the most complicated projects. Whether you’re writing your dissertation or singing Brünnhilde, having basic skills to fall back on makes for a more secure—and much less stressful—performance.

–Rosamond van Wingerden ’20

Source: Marchesi, Mathilde. Theoretical and Practical Vocal Method, Op. 31 (via IMSLP).

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When in Quarantine: Key Terms in Netflix’s Tiger King

During such unprecedented times like these, I have found that people have taken to passing the time allocated indoors to catch up on more productive hobbies like cooking, or perhaps even reading novels. However I, like so many other evicted college students, have not quite lived up to the tranquil dreams I had imagined before beginning self-isolation procedures. Indeed, instead of reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, I have been scrolling through TikTok and meme pages, comforting myself in the collective frustration that can only be illustrated through the Facebook page “Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens.” Over the past week, a new addition has joined the ranks: Netflix’s Tiger King. My best friends and I have been streaming it over group video calls, and I think it is safe to say that the docu-series, which follows the big-cat business in America, is peak self-isolation entertainment. 

Let’s face it: a lot of us are binging Netflix and other streaming platforms. So, when brainstorming ideas of plausible topics to write about for this edition of Tortoise Tuesday, I wanted to attempt to make our binging habits a tad more constructive. While reflecting back on my time spent in utter disbelief over the range of topics explored in Tiger King (which in addition to the inner workings of the big-cat enterprise also deals with murder and polygamy), I couldn’t help but notice how the manner in which the show is constructed can illuminate the significance of using key terms. 

According to our beloved Writing Lexicon, a key term is defined as “a paper’s main terms or concepts.” Despite being an important part of constructing a great paper, in the conference room I have often found students forgetting to establish key terms at the beginning of their papers. Forgetting to incorporate key terms is very much analogous to what would have occurred if Tiger King did not take the time to introduce the main actors that propel the documentary forward. It is exactly this that Tiger King does so well; if they hadn’t established the identities of Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin along with their respective roles in the big-cat business during the first episode, the job of the audience member would have been even more difficult than it already is. 

When writing your paper, remind yourself that whoever ends up grading your work, whether it be your professor or preceptor, is looking for clarity. In this case, your professor reading your paper is like you watching Tiger King. So be like the makers of this documentary and establish your Joe Exotics – the main actors and concepts in your paper that you build a discourse around.

— Doruntina Fida ’21

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Tortoise Tuesday: What Poetry Can Teach Us About Orienting

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. It feels somehow that poetry is the perfect antidote to this bananas time: brief yet emotionally satisfying. For just one moment I get to slip into someone else’s experience, be it a queen or a wild iris, and feel those feelings alongside my own unruly ones. When I try to explain my deep love for poetry, I’m often met with blank stares. Poetry can seem daunting and overwhelming, and sometimes it is truly obscure. But a good poem is one that is able to orient a reader to its subject, emotional urgency, and argument without sacrificing beautiful language. The same qualities that are necessary in a good paper.

One of my favorite poems right now is “Minimum Wage” by Matthew Dickman. It begins:

My mother and I are on the front porch lighting each other’s 

cigarettes

as if we were on a ten-minute break from our jobs

at being a mother and son, just ten minutes

In these four lines, I, as a reader, already know so much both about the physical reality of this poem and the emotional landscape Dickman has created. With very few words, I can already imagine what this mother and son look like. I know that they are standing on a porch smoking cigarettes. I know that they are both adults, both old enough to be working and smoking. I know that the relationship between the mother and son feels the way working a minimum wage job feels: transactional, exhausting, unrewarding. This poem gives me just enough information to feel the full emotional reality of this relationship. There is nothing extraneous here, no rogue details about other family members or the shape of the cigarette smoke. The poem is about the fraught relationship between this mother and son, and Dickman communicates this in the first four words of the poem by narrowing the focus of the poem to these two characters. When writing a paper, it’s helpful to keep this in mind, to share enough information for the reader to understand why the argument you are making is important without oversharing.

Often in writing center conferences, students tell me that they just don’t have enough space within their page limit to do the kind of orienting work that I feel their paper needs. Truthfully, in my own work I sometimes share this worry: wouldn’t it be better to use my space to make my argument rather than wasting it on background information? But it doesn’t take much space, or many words, to provide a reader with enough information to make sense of your argument. It’s always worth the extra sentence or two to orient a reader to the relevant information that makes your paper relevant and worth reading. Without the first line of  “Minimum Wage,” I wouldn’t grasp the emotional reality of this kind of transactional relationship between a mother and son — I wouldn’t be able to imagine these characters as they smoke on their front porch — and without that understanding, this poem wouldn’t make me cry every time I read it. 

— Malka Himelhoch, ’21

Works Cited

Dickman, Matthew. “Minimum Wage.” American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, selected by Tracy K. Smith. Graywolf Press, 2017, pp. 56.