digital humanities

Tara is currently a member of the University of Oregon College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Digital Humanities advisory board.

Since discovering the 4Humanities group established by Alan Liu et al., she’s been very interested in thinking about how technology might not only allow us to change the way that a non-academic audience perceives and accesses our research, but how it also might allow us as scholars to rethink the kind of work we already do, “analog” or otherwise.

Copy-of-InternmentGamebookHer most recent project is Inside the Japanese American Internment. (A guest blog post about it has just been published, and it’s been featured as an Editor’s Pick on the game website.) Essentially, it’s a cross between a gamebook (like the famous Choose Your Own Adventure books) and a text-based adventure game (ZORK is the quintessential example) and, like both of those genres, it’s a piece of interactive fiction, or what has been called a cybertext: neither game nor book, but a hybrid that draws on both. You can read the full description of the game here; in essence, you play as Fred Suzuki, a character I pieced together by combining aspects of the real life Japanese American Fred Korematsu, of Supreme Court case infamy, and the fictional Ichiro Yamada, from internee John Okada’s novel No No Boy. In the days after Pearl Harbor, you, as Fred, face a series of decisions, including whether to resist the draft or join the army; whether to leave your Japanese-born parents to fend for themselves in camp or join them in renouncing your citizenship; whether to throw your lot in with your country or your race. In short, the game is designed to test out an argument I put forth in my dissertation: that the internment, by denying Japanese Americans their most basic civil rights, ultimately forced them to make choices—endless, unsatisfying, and life-changing—and, in doing so, made the trauma of being imprisoned by one’s own government into a source of guilt, shame, and felt responsibility.

For me, Inside is more than an educational resource that can help bring this oft-forgotten chapter in American history to the attention of a new generation of young readers and gamers. It isn’t, in other words, just a history lesson disguised as a game; it’s an opportunity for us, as scholars and teachers, to think differently about history, about literature, and about games. It’s a chance for us to literally bring books to life; to make games about more than “fun”; to reexamine how history gets turned into a story—and who tells it. In other words, it lets us get beyond the truism that “history is written by the victors.” The history of the Japanese American internment, as you learn from playing Inside, is really about the thousands of trails of breadcrumbs left by each and every decision that an internee was forced to make; it’s about the complex picture, the map, that emerges when we look at all those criss-crossing trails and re-traced paths.