My informant was raised by a native Chinese mother who often would tell him bits and pieces of Chinese folklore during his childhood. Of these stories, the one that is most memorable to my informant was a description of what he calls “Chinese hell.” Although he admits that he does not know the true origin of this story and that it could likely be from anywhere, he is confident that it is an interpretation of hell that is “likely widely known throughout China and definitely known by my extended family.” In this hell, there are a series of various challenges that you have to perform after life. Unfortunately, all of these challenges are impossible and often loop infinitely. He did not remember every challenge, but the one that he felt was the most significant involves swimming through a river of fire in order to pick a fruit off of a tree on the other side of the river. However, the challenge does not end there. According to my informant, “every time you cross the river the tree teleports to the opposite side of the river, making it so you can never actually obtain the fruit.” When asked about the origin of this story he told me that, “[he] heard it from his mom initially and she from hers. Knowing her family it may be a taoist inspired interpretation of Christian hell, but I do not really know.”
I found this story interesting because according to him, this interpretation of hell is more than just suffering. While it contains a river of fire, which is typical hell imagery, the story seems to focus more on the unsolvable puzzle that the damned has to try to solve for all eternity. The punishment here lies in the impossibility of claiming the fruit. Here, being damned to hell means that you w ill have to try and complete a painful task that will never be over; this is the real punishment in this “Chinese interpretation of hell.”
My informant is an Asian American with a Chinese mother. As a child her mother would frequently tell her Chinese folk tales. While she does not remember them in great detail she still values these stories and considers them to have had a large part in her upbringing. When asked to tell a story she told a myth of how the Chinese calender was determined. She mentioned that this story would be traditionally told to kids during the Chinese new year to help them understand and become invested in the origins of the Chinese calendar. Her oral telling of the story is attached.
In this story, the slow but witty mouse/rat (she says mouse but based on my familiarity with the zodiac animals I believe she may have meant rat) manages to use his intelligence to win a race to determine the order of the Chinese calendar despite having a clear physical disadvantage. The mouse/rat manages to stow away on the head of the bull and uses his strength to carry him to victory. This is, in essence, the most important moral of the story. While my informant likely did not tell it perfectly and seems to have generalized some parts of the myth, it is clear that this myth is meant to show the importance of brain over brawn. The rat is able to win the race not because he is stronger or faster than the other animals, but rather is able to win because he outsmarted everyone else.
The story in her telling does not follow Propp’s Morphology, but I believe that when told by other people it might. This is because there are many aspects of the story, such as the Rats initial struggle, his seeming inability to win and the mentor figure that helps him win all are present in Propp’s Morphology.
My informant used to play the massive multilayer online game World of Warcraft. In this game players are able to talk and play with one another in real time. In fact, group play is encouraged and is often essential to complete some of hte harder portions of the game. Because of this, there is a large online community of World of Warcraft players who interact with eachother regularly and have created their own customs, phrases and rituals.
My informant explained to me one such phrase that is commonly used in World of Warcraft. In order to understand it, however, you must know a little bit about the game. In World of Warcraft there are group encounters called dungeons. In these dungeons teams of five to twenty five players work together to defeat high level enemies and earn exceptional rewards (usually in the form of items to better equip your avatar). After you defeat a boss, they drop randomly generated loot that the players then divide up among themselves. Usually who gets which pieces of loot is determined before the boss dies to avoid confusion. If not, players often roll a virtual die and whoever gets the highest number gets the item. However, certain players, referred to as “ninjas” will simply take the loot quickly before his team has the time to figure out which items go to whom. This is called “ninja looting” and is very looked down upon in the community. On the subject of “ninja looters” my informant revealed that these people “can ruin the fun for the other players and are usually kicked out of the group.” When asked who started this phrase or why they are called that, she responded by saying that “I’m not sure where it came from, when I started playing the game back in 2007 it was already a very established term. As far as what it means goes I think its just like you are a ninja because you are sneaking in and taking something and then hopefully leaving before someone realizes.” She went on to say that “ninja looters” are very disliked by the general community and often will be blacklisted if they are caught multiple times.
This term reminds me of the term “pirate” which refers to people who illegally download media on the Internet. In this game a “ninja” isn’t a literal ninja, but is rather someone who breaks the looting rules and disrupts the order of the group. In this sense, I feel like the ninja is just a metaphor for someone who stealthily takes something from the larger community like a real ninja might have done.
My informant is a member of USC’s co-ed film fraternity DKA. In this fraternity there are many hidden rules and customs not known by the general public. She has a part of this fraternity for over a year now and is well versed in most of these customs. This interview references a part of DKA’s pledging process, which is the trail period in which a person has been accepted into the fraternity but still needs to prove that they are a worthwhile member of the community. During this process, pledges (recently admitted members of the fraternity) must perform a series of tasks over the period of a semester.
Me: Are there any rituals that DKA members have to go through before they join the group.
Her: Yes, pledges have to wear berets. We have a pledging process at DKA and during it pledges have to wear a beret. Although its kind of used as a punishment now for when pledges don’t behave correctly or don’t have their requirements met each week, its original intent was for the pledges to be proud to wear this because it represents DKA and people around campus will ask what it is and you can tell them that you are pledging DKA. Originally pledges also had to wear film strips pinned on to the berets which was really embarrassing so they stopped that. Its just supposed to show that you are pledging the fraternity and not in it.
Me: So do you stop wearing it when you’re done pledging?
Me: and why do you think it is used as a punishment now.
Her: The hats are kind embarrassing to wear in public.
What is interesting about this custom is how much it has changed since its inception. According to my informant the tradition was initially instated to give pledges a visual representation of their organization. This was intended to be a point of pride for them. However, for whatever reason, the cap ended up being more of an embarrassment than a piece of pride. I believe that this likely happened for one of two reasons. The first reason is that the hat may simply be unattractive or uncomfortable to wear. If this were the case, the sentimental or metaphorical value of the hat would be greatly diminished by the discomfort (either caused by it being a bad fashion choice or by it being literally uncomfortable) experienced while wearing it. This would then lead to a huge feeling of relief when you became a full member of DKA and no longer had to wear it, which may encourage them to make their subordinates wear it the next year because “if I had to do it, so do you.” Alternatively, this could be an indication that members of DKA do not have a lot of pride in their organization. Because the hat is such an obvious announcement that you are a part of DKA (especially compared to other fraternity’s pins) unless you were one hundred percent committed to having DKA be an outward part of your identity, it would be uncomfortable to wear the hat so frequently. Regardless of why, it is interesting in itself that a ritual initially created to create a common identity between DKA members turned into a form of punishment for misbehaving pledges.
The competitive gaming community is the large community of people who play competitive games. This usually means that they either play MOBA (multilayer online battle arena) or fighting games online against other players. While this community has no physical location, they communicate and form their culture through online message boards and forums. Due to these forums, the competitive gaming community is able to foster a culture and communicate with one another without actually being in the same physical place. Some notable competitive gaming websites are Smashboards.com, Nadota.com, Joindota.com and Gosugamers.com. The fighting game community is a subculture of the larger competitive gaming community.
The word “scrub” has a very unique and specific meaning in the fighting game community. The definition is a variation of the word’s meaning of a person of insignificant size or standing. It is commonly used as an insult and as a way of placing someone below the speaker. However in the Fighting Game Community, which includes all people who socially play “fighting games” such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and BlazBlue online, the word has much more specific definition. In this community, a “scrub” is who frequently loses matches (in the game of their choice) and instead of practicing to get better they take to the forum and complain about the game. In this community, a scrub is not just someone who is below you, but it is also someone who is unwilling to improve himself. This has lead to many commonly used phrases such as “get good scrub” to try and emphasise that the problem with the scrub isn’t his lack of ability but rather is his lack of improvement.
The Informant that I interviewed is a somewhat successful member of the Fighting Game Community and is well known on the forums for the games BlazBlue and Mortal Kombat. He in the past has been on the leader-boards of many of these games and is familiar with this community both through the online forums and the in-person events often hosted for these games. Throughout his years in this community, he has both been a “scrub” and an experienced player who tells “scrubs” to get better at the game. He admitted that the use of the word if “often derogatory and the more bad mannered things you can say to a competitor,” however he also revealed that “almost everyone uses the word frequently, both while playing and on the online forums.” When asked about the origin of this use of the term the admitted that he did not know where it originated, but that “it is very universal across all fighting game communities” and that “[he] [has] never been a part of an online fighting game community that did not use the expression.” Because this use of the term is so widespread and accepted, it is safe to assume that it has been accepted by the larger fighting game culture for quite some time now.
However, despite the origin, what is truly interesting about this term is what it specifically means. Unlike the original use of the word scrub, the fighting game’s variant of this work places heavy emphasis on the scrub’s unwillingness to practice and get better. This illustrates that in this community hard work and dedication are very desirable traits. The informant made it very clear that the worst part about “scrubs is their willingness to complain about how the game is broken before actually trying to get better at the game.” It would seem that in this community, which is highly competitive, the worst thing you can be is non-competitive. As such, the word “scrub” isn’t an insult because it implies that someone is bad, but rather it is an insult because it implies that someone is non-competitive.