Reflection Letter

Hello, and welcome to my website! My name is Giovanni Ponzio, and I’m a student at Emory University studying Applied Math and Computer Science. Here you can find all my work and ideas from my English 101 course this past semester. This English class was unlike any other course I’ve experienced. The main focus was on examining and understanding the rhetoric and effect of games. I’ve grown accustomed to studying the rhetorical situation of pieces of writing, but this class has taught me to apply those skills to study games as well.  Games are often viewed as modes of pure entertainment without any learning value. With further analysis, one will find that this isn’t the case. Games encourage many important thought processes, such as risk-taking, problem-solving, and decision making under pressure. In hindsight, most of the assignments in this course can be viewed as a game; they encouraged me to take risks and take a different approach than what I’ve been acclimated to.

Maintaining a digital identity is a task that has never crossed my mind before stepping into English 101 this semester. But, this course has taught me how to use technology appropriately in order to do so. My digital identity was portrayed through a personal blog. Throughout the semester, I posted a weekly side quest. We had to complete a task, and then write a reflection on our experience doing so. The tasks were small and ranged from blending an object on top of a drawing to creating an avatar that best represented me. I was apprehensive about how to approach the side quests at the beginning of the course because they were unusual assignments for a writing class. As a quantitative thinker, I always go about problems in a calculated manner. In order to transform a previously daunting problem into a manageable sequence of tasks, I break it down into small steps. When I complete writing assignments, I sometimes notice that this thought process inhibits the essay from being interesting; I sound more like a robot only focused on the goal than a human with an appreciation for writing. This is why I end up dedicating heaps of time revising my papers reaching a satisfactory final product. The side quests that were assigned weren’t able to be broken down as I did in the past with my essays. Each one presented a new challenge, forcing me to completely restructure my outdated approach. They forced me to think outside the box and complete assignments without a real sense of direction. I was uncomfortable completing the first few side quests; I took my time and made sure not to take unnecessary risks that could jeopardize my grade. Eventually, I become comfortable with embracing the unknown and following ideas without any insight as to where they would lead. I noticed that when I would let my thoughts flow with no direction, I’d end up with more creative ideas and perspectives. This course marked the beginning of my new outlook on how to approach writing.

Throughout the course, we’d play games on our own with the purpose of trying to understand its rhetoric. I examined board games, card games, and even video games. Learning how to collaborate effectively and forming a good understanding of rhetorical situations are two of the course’s learning outcomes. Creating several podcasts with my classmates discussing different games we’ve played taught me how to do both. We discussed the games’ rhetoric, strategy, and even their history. I then had to complete a reflection on the podcast afterward. This assignment was equally as daunting; I had no idea where to even start. After much deliberation, my group and I decided to inspect the game of RISK for our first podcast. We came up with good ideas for the rhetoric of RISK, but the hard part was effectively compiling those ideas into a script that would fit the rhetoric of the podcast itself. We wanted to make a podcast that would educate listeners about RISK while keeping them entertained, and we also wanted to ensure that it’d be fit for an audience of casual listeners. Our goal was to create a script that had an informal and conversational tone that would be entertaining enough to engage the listeners. When I listened back to the podcast, I noticed that it was not nearly as entertaining as we’d expected. I was disappointed with how it sounded as if we were reciting an essay with lines like, “Though this facet of Risk isn’t as obvious or noticeable in actual war, this pseudo game theory turn-by-turn examination of what action is in a player’s best interest is very representative of war.”  I realized their inclusion was due to me and my group’s sole experience with formal papers; we naturally wrote a more formal script. My mind had subconsciously reverted to its own comfort zone: my classic essay approach and template. I was pretty upset; my normal writing approach was dragging me down without me even noticing. 

For the second podcast, we decided to analyze Chess. This time, we made the conscious effort to write the script in a more colloquial manner. As silly as it sounds, I tried to write as if I was having a conversation with my computer. With no outline, I was taking a risk, and at times I felt lost and uncomfortable, but the final product was worth it. Listening back to both podcasts, it was clear that I’d made progress in achieving a conversational tone, but I wasn’t quite satisfied yet. Determined to improve more, I used the same approach for our final podcast. Finally, after creating and listening to our third podcast, Gin Rummy, I finally felt proud with the result. I effectively included lines that sounded like they were from a conversation, such as, “That’s a great thought, Will! In fact, I’ve been playing Gin Rummy with my family all the time since we entered quarantine.” One of the learning outcomes for the course was practicing writing as a process, and I accomplished that in this assignment. Not only did I revise the scripts, but I also reflected on the approaches I took and how they turned out, in an attempt to learn from that and improve in the future podcasts. Throughout the production of each podcast, I struggled with uncertainty. This not only made me better at writing podcast scripts, but it also made me a better writer. After seeing the final product, I came to the conclusion that writing should never be viewed as a problem to solve.

After being sent home from Emory due to COVID-19, we received a new series of assignments called hometasks. Every few days, we’d have to upload a short video of ourselves completing some fun creative task, ranging from throwing a paper ball into a bin to turning our bathrooms into club venues. After everyone had uploaded their video, we’d vote on whose video was the most creative and entertaining. At first, I dismissed these tasks as pointless wastes of time and didn’t put much effort into them. But, to my surprise, after completing the first few, I started to really get into it. Watching my classmates’ videos inspired my competitive self to be more creative with the tasks in order to win. In Jane McGonigal’s book, SuperBetter, she talks about the “upward spiral” effect: an upward spiral of positivity that occurs when the emotions of two people playing a game sync. The hometasks were games in a sense since we were all competing to have the winning video. I felt that I experienced that upward spiral with the hometasks, since I became more engaged and entertained by them once I’d seen my classmates’ attempts. Something I found interesting was that I wasn’t the only one who experienced an upward spiral. As the tasks went on, it was clear that everyone began to have more fun with them; the upward spiral was spreading. Each person affected by it would affect someone else, and this cycle would continue recursively. It was so compelling to see; each person was having fun, but only because they were inspired by everyone else opening up and having fun. In such a challenging time with COVID-19, it was amazing to see how easily a simple game could spread happiness and entertainment to everyone.

This course taught me more than I was expecting at the start of the semester. Throughout the semester, I learned how to take risks and analyze everything. One of the course’s learning outcomes was learning to think critically, and I felt that every assignment helped accomplish this. For each assignment we had, I’d analyze the rhetorical situation and try to figure out the best way to attack the assignment based on this. Additionally, throughout the course, I’d reflect on my work and try to find places and ways to improve. I enjoyed learning every piece of information covered in the course because I felt that I could use every lesson as a tool to strengthen my writing. But, more importantly, I learned about myself as a writer. I realized that as a quantitative thinker, I attack writing assignments the same way I do math problems: simplifying them by breaking them down into parts to form an overall plan. Through a few unusual writing assignments, I noticed that playing it safe and coming up with an outline isn’t always the way to go. I observed that my writing consistently turned out better and more interesting when I took the risk to work spontaneously. In the future, I’m going to approach writing assignments with more courage; a complete plan is no longer necessary. 

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