In 2017, Marty Norden and Rob Weir sent out a call for people who presented at the NEPCA annual conference to see if they were interested in collecting the papers together into a book. That book has been recently published to much fanfare and delight of NEPCA members: Pop Culture Matters: Proceedings of the 39th Conference of the Northeast Popular Culture Association.
Here at NEPCA, we thought the blog would be a good platform to share out some of the scholars and works that can be found in this collection. We hope that you will consider purchasing it or encourage your libraries to acquire a copy.
This first interview is with Anthony G. Cirilla, Assistant Professor of English Literature at College of the Ozarks in Branson, MO and his article, “Medieval Philosophy and Saving Fame in the Videogame MediEvil.”
How did you find yourself studying pop culture?
I first found myself interested in popular culture as a writing pedagogy tool, specifically informed by the work of Gerald Graff (in They Say/I Say and Clueless in Academe). I developed, as a graduate student teaching classes, a syllabus that taught students how to write academically about their personal interests. Because I am trained as a medievalist, however, I hadn’t attempted professional popular culture scholarship, and I thought I should try. I presented at the National Popular Culture Association in 2017, analyzing the game Soul Reaver from a Boethian perspective, and enjoyed the process so much I decided I would present again. I am particularly interested in videogames because, as a literature professor, I am interested in how narrative is accessed and enjoyed in our contemporary culture – and here’s a spoiler: videogames are quite popular as a method for appreciating narrative!
How did the idea for this essay manifest?
I played MediEvil as a child, and loved the story. After writing on Soul Reaver, which was a comprehensive look at the relationship between Boethian philosophy and a single game, I realized it would be more approachable to look at a single component of Boethian philosophy as it emerges thematically in the given game. One of Boethius’s most famous arguments, ironically, is his critique of fame as a source of human motivation, and MediEvil, set in a whimsical version of the period in which Boethius was most popular, is a story about Sir Daniel Fortesque rescuing his reputation. It seemed like a salient place of analysis. You can watch me play MediEvil and talk about Boethian philosophy on my YouTube channel, theboethianacolyte, on the playlist entitled MediEvil and Boethius on Fame.
How would you explain the article’s contribution to pop culture studies (or other relevant fields) and its main point(s)?
I think the article highlights the need to think about how philosophical questions of self-fashioning emerge in the experience of videogame narration, and how this intersects with the tendency to reimagine the past in a way that helps us get a grip on the present (namely, the development of new technologies which change how we interface with the world and with storytelling).
How did you find yourself presenting at NEPCA?
Actually, because I wanted to pitch this paper to NEPCA (I was living in the Northeast at the time), I contacted the person listed as the subject area chair of Philosophy and Pop Culture. He had actually resigned from the post, and through a peculiar exchange of emails I ended up the new chair. So my desire to present a paper ended up helping to keep alive the presence of Philosophy & Pop Culture at NEPCA. Sadly I have recently had to step down as chair because of relocation to the Midwest, but I hope someone can come along and reclaim the position. Philosophical inquiry into the realm of popular culture is vital! [Note to readers: We are still looking for an Area Chair for Philosophy and Popular Culture–if interested, please contact us!]
What additional work (if any) have you done on this subject matter?
The following year after presenting on MediEvil, I presented my paper on MediEvil II at the 2018 meeting of NEPCA. I am hoping to publish this piece as well: it continues a Boethian analysis, but looks at the shift of the setting from the Middle Ages to Victorian England, and highlights the videogame narrative’s critique of power at the expense of higher order goods (love) in a way which is palpably resonant with Boethian philosophy. I have started the YouTube series, MediEvil II and Boethius on Power, and I will eventually continue that series and publish an article version of the discussion as well.
What current projects or research are you pursuing?
In philosophy and videogames, I have worked most extensively on The Legacy of Kain series. I mentioned Soul Reaver, which you can watch me play & analyze in the series Soul Reaver and Boethian Philosophy, as well as Blood Omen 2 and Cartesian Philosophy. I have plans to look at other games in the series from other philosophical perspectives as well. Currently, I am putting together an anthology on The Legend of Zelda videogame series, and have been recording a series for research on my contribution which looks at the Hero’s Journey and Tolkien’s perspective on the Faerie Tale in Ocarina of Time. The YouTube series for that is called Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Hero of Faerie. My more traditional scholarship is on Boethius’s influence on the Middle Ages, especially in Old and Middle English. Currently, I am working on a paper on Boethian influence in Lewis’s Narnia novel, The Silver Chair, and a project concerning the influence of Seneca on Boethius’s Consolation.