Toward a (Sub) Cultural Literacy

Toward a (Sub) Cultural Literacy Hot

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falltv_sarahconnor.jpgF:AT Looks Back: This article was originally published Jan. 13, 2008.

I wrote this last year for my own blog, which has a readership of about...oh, none.  The piece was inspired by one of Ubarose's columns on F:AT, and I thought some folks here on the site might find it interesting.

 Thanks,

 Paul Hedrick

This list began as an e-mailed response to Ubarose, one of the members of the gaming blog Fortress: Ameritrash. On that site, Ubarose had suggested exploring the notion of an Ameritrash "cultural literacy," an idea that appealed very deeply to me both as a gamer and as an ex-English lit teacher.

When E.D. Hirsch, Jr. published his first book on cultural literacy (Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know), he included in the appendix a long list of terms, concepts, events, etc. that he felt every culturally literate American should at least be familiar with. This list eventually became Hirsch's full-fledged dictionary of American culture, from which I quote:

"To a large extent …common knowledge or collective memory allows people to communicate, to work together, and to live together. It forms the basis for communities, and if it is shared by enough people, it is a distinguishing characteristic of a national culture." [Introduction]

The kind of knowledge Hirsch describes - shared concepts, terms, experiences, etc. - is probably one of the most defining characteristics of the "Ameritrash Movement," in my opinion. Ameritrash is more than a proclivity towards certain mechanics or themes. AT is those things, to be sure, but it is also a vast body of background knowledge -- knowledge that perhaps informs the very games Ameritrash players gravitate toward. To that end – and with a nod to Hirsch – I offer my own short list of what every person literate in the culture of Ameritrash gaming probably already knows...or really, really should. Take it with however many grains of salt you wish.

Specific actors are included because of multiple roles they have played. I have tried wherever possible to keep the list compact by choosing concepts that contain within them references to other concepts (e.g., "Amok Time" includes within it the concepts of Star Trek and James T. Kirk). I have also tried to leave out concepts that I felt (arguably) the general public would know (e.g., Star Wars, Superman, etc.), as well as specific boardgame titles.

The list:

  • 20-sider
  • 40K
  • "Amok Time" (episode)
  • Biehn, Michael
  • Bolland, Brian
  • Bran Mak Morn
  • Carter, John
  • character sheet
  • Cthulhu
  • Cushing, Peter
  • DM (noun and verb)
  • Doom (PC game)
  • "face hugger"
  • Fellowship of the Ring, The (group of characters)
  • Frazetta, Frank
  • Gygax, Gary
  • Harker, Mina
  • Howard, Robert E.
  • Kane, Solomon
  • King Ghidora
  • Land of the Lost, The (1974)
  • Lee, Christopher
  • Lovecraft, H.P.
  • McDowall, Roddy
  • Monster Manual
  • Moore, Alan
  • Muad'dib
  • Mutant Chronicles, The (setting)
  • Page, Betty
  • Poledouris, Basil
  • Quatermain, Alan
  • Romero, George
  • Russell, Kurt
  • Savage, Dr. Clark, Jr.
  • "Shadow Out of Time, The" (short story)
  • Smith, Agent
  • "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women." (quote)
  • Verhoeven, Paul
  • "Tower of the Elephant, The" (short story)
  • Warcraft (PC game)
  • Weller, Peter
Toward a (Sub) Cultural Literacy There Will Be Games
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