Instructor Reflection-Environmental Justice in Animal Crossing New Horizons (12.1)

By Abby M. Dubisar, Iowa State University

Mica Meader’s “Environmental Justice in Animal Crossing New Horizons” adeptly critiques the logics embedded in ACNH (Animal Crossing New Horizons) from the perspective of student practicing rhetorical criticism who is also an advanced player of the game itself. It combines her popular culture literacies as a gamer and her critical perspective as a rhetorician. Meader made this project in my “Analysis of Popular Culture Texts” course and, as an English major adept at analyzing texts for themes, she identifies how ACNH orients players to the natural environment in order to show how destroying and colonizing the natural world is encouraged in gameplay. Identifying and analyzing representations of the natural world is a part of our course, as students have opportunities to practice critical skills with an environmental justice orientation. For example, I assign my colleague Dr. Brianna Burke’s article, “Teaching Environmental Justice through The Hunger Games” and I see Meader’s analysis of ACNH as an extension of this work. Burke helps readers notice how The Hunger Games dramatizes the uneven distribution of food (and how hunger results from public policy) in ways that reflect actual failures of food systems, offering ways to teach the novel in the context of environmental justice. In doing so Burke takes seriously this popular novel that some critics would dismiss. Likewise, Meader takes seriously ACNH as an incredibly popular cultural text that is also invested in players’ relationships to the natural world. I respect how Meader’s project arises from the intersections of the pleasure of a popular game and the critical tools of environmental justice that she learned how to apply. Her project illustrates how ACNH is a fruitful context that shows how games invite us—perhaps demand—we become oppressors in order to win. This tension between pleasure and power relates to the work of popular culture critic John Fiske, especially his essay “Video Pleasures.” Like Fiske, Meader theorizes how power is situated in gameplay. Meader’s delivery of her narration and the tension between her tone and the look of the game create an insightful and effective argument. The specificity of Meader’s project also reflects the goal of the assignment and my intentions as an instructor, moving students in revision to sharpen their claims and make concise arguments.

For years I have assigned a final video project to invite students to participate in the creation of popular culture—as well as its critique—through the composition of popular video genres, such as “let’s play” videos in which video game players narrate their gameplay. In our course we discuss how rhetorical criticism of popular culture is both interventionist and concerned with power, which Mica demonstrates as the critic in this piece. I introduce this final video assignment on the first day of the class so students know that they will be expected to edit video. Our final unit of the class is on copyright/copyleft and remix culture, which creates space for discussion that productively blurs distinctions regarding who creates popular culture and the origins and recirculation of creative works. Since video is ripe for remix and a popular medium for mobilizing public discourse, the readings and film screenings about these issues help set the context for the final video assignment. In that assignment students are expected to create criticism with a popular video genre.

My pedagogical approaches to remix as a form of rhetorical criticism are informed and inspired by Dr. Jason Palmeri and our work together1 as well as collaborations with previous students in this class.2 The course is not taught in a computer classroom so students use a wide range of editing platforms to create their videos outside of class, with me and their classmates available for consultation. We conduct in class peer response as well as a final showcase. Throughout the project I emphasize that their criticism communicated through the video is much more important than the technical aspects of the project. In their reflections students are asked to address a number of topics, including what they would do with more time and more access to video editing literacies.

1 Dubisar, Abby M. and Jason Palmeri. “Palin/Pathos/Peter Griffin: Political Video Remix and Composition Pedagogy.” Computers and Composition, vol. 27, no. 2, 2010, pp. 77-93.
2 Dubisar, Abby M., et al. “Haul, Parody, Remix: Mobilizing Feminist Rhetorical Criticism With Video.” Computers and Composition, vol. 44, 2017, pp. 52-66.