Aunt Agatha Advocates: What is Depression?

Written by: Eliora Tan Yu Xuan (21-E5),  Jachin Khoo (21-U5),  Jacynthe Liew (21-O3)

Designed by: Liew Yi Xuan (21-E1)

Introduction: What is depression?

Depression is classified as a mood disorder. It may be described as feelings of sadness, loss, or anger that interfere with a person’s everyday activities. 

It’s important to realize that feeling down at times is a normal part of life. Sad and upsetting events happen to everyone. But, if you’re feeling down or hopeless on a regular basis, you could be dealing with depression.

Depression is considered a serious medical condition that can get worse without proper treatment. Those who seek treatment often see improvements in symptoms in just a few weeks. 

Depression can be broken into categories depending on the severity of symptoms. Some people experience mild and temporary episodes, while others experience severe and ongoing depressive episodes.

There are two main types: major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder.

  1. Major depressive disorder is the more severe form of depression. It’s characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness that don’t go away on their own.
  2. Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) used to be called dysthymia. It’s a milder, but chronic, form of depression. 

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of depression vary from person to person; while some may experience an extensive number of symptoms, signs of depression may be milder and less easily identified in others. Some of the common symptoms include fatigue, pessimism and hopelessness, feelings of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness, as well as suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. Less common symptoms include digestive problems that one fails to recover from in spite of going for treatment, as well as aches, headaches, pains or cramps which last for long periods of time. Early identification of these symptoms can effectively help one ‘‘beat the blues’’.

If you think that the above-mentioned symptoms are applicable to you, do consider consulting a medical health professional. While it isn’t easy taking this first step, rest assured that your family, friends and teachers are here to support you in your journey towards recovery. You are not alone! In addition, to better assess your symptoms, as well as develop a better understanding of your mental health condition, do consider taking a few minutes of your time to answer the questions in the quiz below. Hopefully, through this mini assessment, you will have a slight inclination of whether you are depressed, and if you require any sort of medical attention. 

Quiz: Take the Depression Test Now! – My Mental Health

Ways to support those with depression 

  1. Provide a listening ear

Offering someone with depression a chance to express themselves by providing a listening ear shows them they are not alone! Whilst listening to their problems, you could also console them with simple phrases such as, “I’m sorry to hear that”, this validates their feelings and allows them to feel that you are able to empathise with them.

  1. Help them find support

There are many support channels available for people facing depression. In a school community, this could be through a Civics Tutor or the school counsellor. Even outside of school, there are helplines available such as the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) for the greater community! Encouraging someone facing depression to seek professional help definitely improves their recovery and allows them to get back on their feet.

  1. Offer help with even the simplest tasks

This simple gesture shows that they are not alone in their journey and that someone is always looking out for them, giving them a huge boost in moral and emotional strength to overcome depression.

What not to say

  1. “This will pass, don’t worry.”

A person who is depressed may have a hard time envisioning the future because they are overwhelmed by the present. It’s not easy for someone who experienced trauma or loss to “let go” or “escape from” the past. You may feel like you’re offering help by saying that, eventually, things will get better, but a person who is depressed may be frustrated wondering how long they will have to wait. Instead, do your best to be present with them at the moment, and just sit with them and try not to worry about saying the right or wrong things. 

  1. “But you’re not always sad!”

People who need help often look like people who don’t need help. It is important for us to remember that how a person feels on the inside might not necessarily be translated into how they appear on the outside. In fact, it is quite common for people with depression to try very hard to hide how they truly feel from others, as they may worry about how others’ opinion and perspective of them would change for the worse. 

  1. “Other people have problems too, stop overreacting.”

People with depression also lack the internal resources needed to cope with stress in an effective and healthy way. Maybe a person’s life could be worse, but depression isn’t about how bad things are—it’s about how bad they feel for that person at that moment. Avoid making comparisons or staging a “competition” for who feels the worst. Doing so isn’t helpful and can make a person with depression feel that you’re minimizing their experience or not really listening to what they’re telling you.

Conclusion

All-in-all, depression could hit anyone at any time and it is definitely normal to feel overwhelmed at times. What matters is the support we extend to our peers and friends around us. By delicately and carefully helping those who are in need of such support, we have taken the first step to reduce stigmatisation and build a stronger and more accepting community!

Bibliography

  1. Bruce, D. F., PhD. (2008, June 10). Symptoms of Depression. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/detecting-depression
  2. HealthHub. (2021, July 5). Depression. https://www.healthhub.sg/a-z/diseases-and-conditions/101/topics_depression 
  3. Higuera, V. (2020, February 11). Everything You Want to Know About Depression. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression
  4. Ng, P. (2020, July 29). Take the Depression Test Now! My Mental Health. https://stayprepared.sg/mymentalhealth/articles/depression-test

5. Schimelpfening, N. (2020, August 7). Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/worst-things-to-say-to-someone-who-is-depressed-1066982

Aunt agatha Advocates: What is Schizophrenia?

Written by: Carissa Aletha Liem (21-I1), Harel, Jolina Nair (21-E5)

Designed by: Lay Kai En, Ashley (21-O1)

Introduction: What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe mental disorder which alters one’s thoughts, actions, emotions and perception of reality. Because their condition causes them to lose touch with reality, they often feel terrified and withdrawn. This poses a great challenge in their day-to-day lives and relationships with others. It is a lifelong disease that cannot be cured. However, there are treatments to help schizophrenic patients cope better. 

Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenic patients do not have multiple personalities. Instead, schizophrenia involves a psychosis, a type of mental illness in which a person cannot distinguish hallucinations from reality. This makes the world appear as a confusing mix of thoughts, imagery and sounds. This may result in psychotic episodes where there is a sudden change in personality and behavior when they lose touch of reality. 

The severity of schizophrenia varies from person to person. Some may only experience one psychotic episode while others may experience many episodes throughout their lifetime but still maintain a relatively normal life. The worsening and improvement in cycles are known as relapses and remissions. 

What are the symptoms?

The prodromal period is the period when symptoms first appear before a full psychotic episode. It can span over days, weeks, or even years. It can be difficult to notice as there is often no specific trigger. Instead, symptoms are often subtle changes in behaviour that include random outbursts, social withdrawal, difficulty sleeping and concentrating.

Positive symptoms or psychotic symptoms are thoughts or actions that are not based in reality. They can be split into three categories: delusions, hallucinations and catatonia. Delusions are false, mixed and strange beliefs that a person refuses to forgo despite evidence proving its falsehood. Hallucinations are sensations that are not real. This most commonly comes in the form of hearing voices that comment on a person’s behavior, insults them or gives them commands. Less common forms include seeing false images, smelling strange odours, tasting strange flavours and feeling unusual sensations. Catatonia, on the other hand, causes a person to become temporarily mute and fixed in a single position for a prolonged period of time. 

Disorganised symptoms are positive symptoms that show that a person is unable to think straight or respond normally. This can include illogical comments and the inability to hold a conversation. They tend to shift sporadically from topic to topic with repeated movements and gestures. They can also be indecisive and forgetful, making it difficult for them to comprehend sights, sounds and feelings.

Cognitive symptoms affect one’s learning abilities. They make it difficult for schizophrenic patients to process information and make decisions. They have trouble focusing and have a poor working memory. This may also mean that they are slow to recognise their symptoms. 

Negative symptoms occur when there is an absence of normal behavior in people with schizophrenia. These symptoms include limited emotions, withdrawal from relationships, lack of energy and motivation, and even poor hygiene and grooming habits.

How people with schizophrenia cope

So, how do people cope with and manage schizophrenia? Coping with schizophrenia is a lifelong process, but some self-help strategies could help limit the length and frequencies of schizophrenic episodes. Firstly, regular exercises help provide both emotional and physical benefits as it relieves stress, improves focus and calms the nervous system. Exercise therapy has also led to a decrease in negative symptoms and an overall improvement in cognitive skills and the quality of life of schizophrenic patients.

Next, keeping a balanced diet by eating regular, nutritious meals can also help schizophrenic patients avoid psychosis and other symptoms, usually brought about by changes in blood sugar levels. Boosting the intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, fish oil, walnuts, and flaxseeds can help improve focus, banish fatigue, and balance moods. Low in fat and calories, packed with fibre and important vitamins, and without any heart-heavy cholesterol, vegetables are another staple in the diet of schizophrenic patients. Moreover, people with schizophrenia are most likely on medication and would need even more sleep than the standard 8 hours. Thus, avoiding caffeine and reducing sugar in their diet is imperative. 

Understanding and using medication is also a critical part of coping with schizophrenia, though it is important to note that medication is not a cure for schizophrenia and only treats some of the symptoms. Antipsychotic medication reduces psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and disordered thinking. These medications work on chemicals in the brain like serotonin and dopamine, helping patients tame psychosis. 

Ways to support those with schizophrenia

Often, people are confused and unsure about what schizophrenia is and their role in helping someone with schizophrenia. They might be afraid of accidentally doing something that could exacerbate the symptoms of those with schizophrenia. Thus, to have a wider understanding of the condition, if you are a friend, family member or a carer of someone with schizophrenia, you can consider doing a psychoeducation program, which can provide you with the chance to learn about schizophrenia from a professional. Someone from the healthcare industry would be able to demonstrate ways to deal with crises and better communication techniques. We can even learn to recognise the early warning signs of a psychotic episode, allowing us to have a plan for what to do. 

We can also learn motivational techniques to encourage the person to do things for themselves. Encouraging treatment and self-help is a cornerstone of helping a loved one with schizophrenia. While medication is a critical element of schizophrenia treatment, recovery also depends on other factors as well. The more someone does for themselves, the less hopeless and helpless they’ll feel, and the more likely their doctor will be able to reduce their medication. Our encouragement and support can be crucial to them starting and continuing a program of self-help. We should also focus on the person’s strengths – the things they enjoy or are good at. It is essential to keep reminding them that they have a role as a member of their family and community.

What not to say 

When dealing with someone with Schizophrenia, it will be helpful to empathise with their condition. As such, it is important to watch one’s words when interacting with schizophrenic patients to avoid agitating them and worsening their condition or coming across as insensitive. 

Firstly, we should refrain from engaging in a heated argument with schizophrenic patients as it only serves to provoke them even more. When going through a schizophrenic episode, the patient often loses control of their behavior or actions and can say things that are out of their personality. When we refute or criticise their behavior directly, it may cause the patient to feel cornered and attacked, triggering their fight or flight response. 

When a schizophrenic patient gets threatened, they may become irrational and lash out more easily, increasing the tensions between the two parties. Therefore, it is important to give the patient some space and listen to what they have to say instead of dismissing their claims entirely. When we acknowledge their beliefs and thoughts, it may be easier for them to share their inner thoughts and feelings which may improve their condition in the long run. 

As observers, we should also avoid stigmatising schizophrenic patients and second guessing their stability. Although schizophrenic patients may have ‘multiple personalities’, they still have emotions thus they should still be respected. When one questions their condition or suggests alternative treatments, it may trivialise the severity of their condition or make them less willing to share their thoughts with others. 

Conclusion

Ultimately, schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that should not be ignored or trivialised. That being said, schizophrenia is far from being a ‘death sentence’ as it can be cured by timely medical intervention and an environment of supportive family and friends.  It is only through knowing the illness better that we can lend a helping hand to those who really need help and support them on their journey to recovery. 

Bibliography

  1. Bhandari, S. (2020, January 21). Schizophrenia: An Overview. WebMD. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/mental-health-schizophrenia 
  2. Koutsky, J. (2021, April 21). 20 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With Schizophrenia. Parade. https://parade.com/1195578/judykoutsky/things-not-say-someone-schizophrenia/.  
  3. M. (2021, April 27). Schizophrenia Treatment and Self-Help. HelpGuide.Org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/schizophrenia-treatment-and-self-help.htm
  4. M. (2021a, April 20). Helping Someone with Schizophrenia. HelpGuide.Org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/helping-someone-with-schizophrenia.htm
  5. Helping Your Loved One Get Schizophrenia Treatment. (2014, March 28). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/features/helping-your-loved-one-get-schizophrenia-treatment

DuPont’s Sinister Brainchild 

Written by: Ashley Koh Yu Xi (21-A1), Katelyn Joshy (21-U1), Aaron Wong Jielun (21-I4), Elizabeth Khoo Yuk Min (21-U1)

Designed by: Lay Kai En, Ashley (21-O1)


An Introduction 

“The system is rigged. They want us to think it’ll protect us.”- Those were the words of Mark Ruffalo’s character, a Cincinnati Lawyer named Robert Billot, in the latest thriller movie, ‘Dark Waters’. It is a corporate exposé, based on true events of the DuPont Teflon scandal, a decades-long case of chemical pollution. The chemical giant had knowingly poisoned 70,000 residents of West Virginia and Ohio since the early 1980s. It dumped toxic chemical, ‘C8-PFOA’ into waterways from its production of Teflon- a chemical used to coat DuPont’s revolutionary non-stick pan invention. Due to DuPont’s influence, they went unchecked until Billot caught on and exposed the truth.

The Revelations 

A scene from the movie, ‘Dark Waters’ when Robert Billot visits West Virginian farmer, Wilbur Tenant’s farm to make a startling discover. Photo credit: Killer Films

The jig was up for DuPont when Wilbur Tenant, a local farmer from Parkersburg, West Virginia, contacted Billot about the morbid deaths of his cows. Tenant owned 600 acres of farmland, with the remaining property sold to DuPont, who used the plot as a landfill for factory waste. The landfill ran into a creek that Tenant’s cows drank from, and soon the cows got deranged, and Tenant lost 153 animals. Tenant believed DuPont behind this and showed Billot video evidence- A mound of soapy froth in the creek and the abnormal deformities in the animals; staggering bow legged cows with malformed hooves. Billot took the case despite being a corporate defence attorney because: ‘‘There’s something really bad going on here.’’

Timeline Of The DuPont Controversy 

1951: DuPont starts utilising PFOA to manufacture the chemical Teflon. Over decades, DuPont disposes of PFOA into the environment from its landfill facility (Washington Works) in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

1998: Wilbur Tennant contacts Taft’s and Hollisters’ (Taft) lawyer, Robert Billot, to assist in his case against DuPont for dumping chemical waste into the river that his cows drink from, causing them severe health problems.

1999: Billot files a federal suit against DuPont. DuPont responds with a study of the Tennant farm conducted with the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A) that concludes that poor care of the animals is to blame, rendering the company blameless.

2000: Billot successfully requests a court order forcing DuPont to release all documents on PFOA. Incriminating information revealing the harmful nature of PFOA is discovered, leading to the settlement of the Tenants’ case.

2001: Billot drafts a public brief against DuPont and sends it to multiple regulatory authorities. He also files a class-action lawsuit against DuPont on behalf of approximately 70,000 West Virginian citizens who have drunk contaminated water for years.

2004: DuPont settles the suit, agreeing to offer an award of $70 million, fund a study to scientifically determine PFOA’s health effects, and install water filtration facilities in affected districts.

2005: DuPont reached a $16.5 million settlement with the E.P.A for violating the Toxic Substances Control Act.

2011: The scientific study findings reveal that PFOA is likely to be linked to negative health effects. As a result, thousands of affected citizens file personal injury lawsuits against DuPont.

2013: DuPont stops producing and using PFOA due to an agreement with the E.P.A.

2017: Billot wins a $671 million settlement for more than $3.5 thousand plaintiffs.

More On C8-PFOA  

Photo credit: American Chemical Society

C8-PFOA is a Perfluorooctanoic acid, known commonly as C8 or PFOA. It is part of a group of at least 4,700 synthetic chemicals that have been in commercial production since the 1940s as an industrial surfactant. Now, PFOA is ubiquitous, found in nearly all consumer products: raincoats, textiles, dental floss- you name it. Moreover, this “forever chemical” is bio resistant- it does not break down in the environment or human body. 

Notable Victims

The case of Bucky Bailey

Photo credits: Philipp Hubert

Bailey’s mother was pregnant when she dealt with C8-PFOA directly while working in DuPont. Unbeknownst to her, the chemical had affected her unborn child, who was born with one nostril, a keyhole pupil and a serrated eyelid. Bucky had undergone 30 surgeries by seven years old yet could never file legal action against DuPont as his deformities seem unlinked to PFOA. Now 35, Bailey is an environmental activist and uses his life experience with toxic chemicals to advocate for their expulsion.

The Scandal’s Impacts  

Social impact:

Levels of PFOA chemicals in local water systems. Photo credit: Environmental Pollution Centers

A study commissioned by Taft found out that over 7.1 million people were affected by the contaminated water across 27 states. These residents suffered health complications after years of poisoning.

According to one of many studies conducted by scientists (commissioned by Rob Bilott and the law firm Taft Stallitus & Hollister), PFOA has been linked to testicular and kidney cancer, liver effects (tissue damage), weakened immunity and many more health conditions. The effects of drinking water contaminated with PFOA are far-fetching, as the chemical not only affects the person drinking the water but future generations, specifically the unborn fetuses inside pregnant women. PFOA has been linked to congenital disabilities in children whose parents have been exposed to the chemical, as seen in the case of Bailey.

Economic impacts:

On the economic side, juries compensated victims $20 million after Dupont lost the only three trial cases brought to court. Afterwards, Dupont and another company that split from it, Chemours, fished out $671 million as general compensation for victims of the chemicals. A less immediate side effect of the scandal was the complete uphaul of Dupont’s economic system, as they began phasing out C8 from their production system and began using other forms of material. 

Environmental impact:

The DuPont Washington Works plant, south of Parkersburg, in October 2015. Photo credits: The Washington Post

The environmental impacts of Dupont’s actions are long-lasting, given that C8 is a “forever chemical”. Dupont’s dumping of the chemical into local waterways ended up killing animals, especially aquatic ones. C8 was circulated throughout the entire ecosystem, resulting in a staggering 99% of Americans having traces of C8 in their bloodstream; even newborn babies are not spared.  Now, there are traces of PFOA all over Earth, including the desolate Arctic.

Stakeholders Reactions 

Local residents:

The class-action lawsuit, which enmeshed 80,000 residents of Ohio and West Virginia, naturally enraged locals. This led to over 3,500 cases regarding personal endangerment by drinking contaminated water being filed and then centralised in the Ohio federal court. Although DuPont eventually agreed to settle these cases in 2017, over a hundred post-settlement cases have emerged due to multiple West Virginia residents developing long-term terminal illnesses and cancers. The first trial in these cases led to a $50 million verdict for a man who developed testicular cancer and a mistrial with a woman who had kidney cancer. 

The E.P.A: 

DuPont’s settlement with the E.P.A concluded that DuPont had failed to disclose its irresponsible disposal of C8 without a permit or interim status. Thus, the E.P.A charged DuPont a $3.195 million civil penalty for this offence and another $3.1 million for violating E.P.A’s chemical accident prevention program.

Justice for Dupont’s actions

Eventually, DuPont reached a settlement in the original class-action lawsuit. It was approved and ratified by the Court on February 28, 2005. In the settlement, DuPont was mandated to provide payment of $70 million for a health and education project for the benefit of those affected by their pollution and pay for the installation of state-of-the-art water treatment technology in the six affected water districts and private wells contaminated with C8, which was worth $20 million. Moreover, DuPont was forced to pay over $30 million to fund a health study to determine whether there are any probable links between C8 exposure and health complications in humans.

Movie Adaptation 

Photo credit: The Cinema At Selfridges

The 2019 thriller was a smashing success, starring Mark Ruffalo as the iconic lawyer himself. However, it was not met without some criticism, and most notably from DuPont itself: 

“[sic] Unfortunately, while seeking to thrill and entertain, this movie misrepresents things that happened years ago, including our history, our values and science. In some cases, the film depicts wholly imagined events. We have always – and will continue to – work with those in the scientific, not-for-profit and policy communities who demonstrate a serious and sincere desire to improve our health, our communities and our planet.”

It is now available for streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime.

In Conclusion 

In the scandal, Billot filed new lawsuits against several other companies:

‘‘Before Billot, corporations relied on public misperception that if a chemical was dangerous, it was regulated.’’ Under the 1976 Toxic Sub­stances Control Act, the E.P.A. can test chemicals only when there is evidence of harm. This allowed chemical companies to regulate themselves, and is the reason that the E.P.A. has restricted only five chemicals, out of tens of thousands on the market, in the last 40 years.”

In the meantime, Billot authored a book: ‘Exposure’, capturing his 20-year legal battle with DuPont that continues to this day. 

Bibliography

  1. Blake, M. (n.d.). Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia. Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia. Retrieved July 16, 2021, from: https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/welcome-to-beautiful-parkersburg/
  1. The New York Times. (2016, January 6). The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare. The New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-became-duponts-worst-nightmare.html?searchResultPosition=3
  1. The News Journal. (2016, April 2). C8 suspected in birth defects: One woman’s story. Delaware Online. Retrieved from: https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2016/04/02/c8-suspected-birth-defects-one-womans-story/81473242/
  1. Participant. (2020, February 19). Bucky Bailey | WHY WE FIGHT | Dark Waters

[Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7nV56UTU3I

  1. The Guardian. (2019, April 23). Why you need to know about PFAS, the chemicals in pizza boxes and rainwear. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/23/pfas-everyday-products-toxics-guide
  1. G., & S, A. (2019, December 12). Dark Waters tells the true story of the lawyer who uncovered DuPont’s malfeasance. New Times. Retrieved from: https://www.newtimesslo.com/sanluisobispo/dark-waters-tells-the-true-story-of-the-lawyer-who-uncovered-duponts-malfeasance/Content?oid=9079708
  1. Drinking Water Health Advisories for PFOA and PFOS. (n.d.). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved July 16, 2021, Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/drinking-water-health-advisories-pfoa-and-pfos
  1. C8 Class Action Settlement. (n.d.). Hill Peterson Carper Bee & Deitzler PLLC. Retrieved July 16, 2021, Retrieved from: https://www.hpcbd.com/personal-injury/dupont-c8/c8-class-action-settlement/
  1. Fansided. (n.d.). Is Dark Waters on Netflix? Where to stream Dark Waters.

Assassination of Haiti’s President – Jovenel Moïse

Written by: Ashley Lay (21-O1), Elizabeth Khoo Yuk Min (21-U1), Emma Shuen Lee (21-O1), Katelyn Joshy (21-U1), Rakshita Murugan (21-E1), He Jizhao (21-U5), Lim Zi Loong, Zexel (21-E2)

Designed by: Lay Kai En, Ashley (21-O1)

Introduction

In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, 7 July, gunshots were heard in the home of President Jovenel Moïse. Moments later, he was declared dead, launching Haiti into a full-blown political crisis. While jockeying for control with the Senate President, Haiti’s  interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared “a state of siege throughout the country”, deepening the constitutional crisis and posing an existential threat to an already fragile system.

Haiti’s background and the President’s background 

Even before President Moïse’s assassination, Haiti’s political climate has been a turbulent and unstable one that was wracked with endemic corruption. Although the toppling of the brutal Duvalier dictatorship set it on a shaky democratic path, the country had once again begun to slip back into authoritarianism with President Jovenel Moïse at its helm. In his own words, there is no one “after God, who has more power than me in the country”.

Under Moïse, who was sworn in in February 2016, the country has witnessed a surge in kidnappings and gang violence, with several neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, the capital, controlled by criminal organisations. This chaos, coupled with grinding poverty (with more than 60% of the population living on less than $2 per day, Haiti often ranks as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere) and the increase in COVID-19 cases, forces thousands of displaced individuals to seek refuge in countries like Canada.

When Moïse’s right to continue serving his presidency was disputed this year, he asserted that his five-year term was to end in 2022 (this interpretation was supported by the US, the UN and the Organisation of American States), and imposed a rule by decree in January 2020. This decision sparked widespread civilian protests, with thousands demanding Moïse’s resignation and chanting “no to dictatorship”, further destabilizing the nation. 

Suspects and other theories for the assassination 

A group of 28 foreign mercenaries are under suspicion for executing the assassination operation on President Moïse. The hit squad consisted mainly of Colombians, along with two Haiti-Americans and the Colombian police director, Gen Jorge Luis Vargas. 17 former Colombian soldiers might also have been involved. They were found in possession of firearms, Moïse’s personal chequebook and a server that held surveillance camera footage of Moïse’s home. Currently, 17 suspects are detained, 3 have been killed, and the remaining 8 are fugitives. The suspects’ identities and their intentions to assassinate remain a mystery.

Yet, some question this theory. Steven Benoit, a prominent opposition politician and former senator claimed, “The president was assassinated by his own guards, not by the Colombians.”

Supporting this is Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo. It claims a source informed them of security footage from the presidential compound showing the Colombian operatives arriving at Moïse’s residence between 2.30am and 2.40am on Wednesday. This means the “hit squad” arrived one and a half hours following the President’s assassination, which the police claimed occurred at about 1.00am. 

However, nothing is definitive and these only remain as possible theroies of what transpired that fateful day. 

Impacts of his death 

At home, the coup-like assasination of the Haitian President has caused outrage amongst the local Jalousie residents, in particular, patriotic outcry for the assasination by foreigners who are especially vehement within the local community. There is a pushing agenda for the police to vamp up search warrants for potential suspects in the murder of the President, wherein under the recently decreed ‘state of siege’, the police are permissed to do “anything necessary” to find the suspects. However, some fear that this could be a blanket permit to round up any political opponents of the President. Especially under the current defunctionalised parliament, the line of authority in approving replacements and confirming officials in the line of succession is muddled.

Looking at regional ramifications, the death of President Moïse has triggered the closure of the Dominican Republic border, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Dominican President Luis Abinader has also stepped up the military presence by the frontier. This could have a serious impact on the Dominican economy. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic is urging the international community to prioritise the political crisis and instability in its neighbouring country. 

Globally, the most prominent action is by far from the USA. The USA has just had a US delegation visit Haiti and investigate the assasination. The visit included meetings with both Ariel Henry and Claude Joseph, the successor to Moïse and the interim Prime Minister. The key leader in dealing with the assasination, the USA has also remarked that the visit is only the beginning of US action. 

However, many others have warned against international action, including Kinsley Jean, a youth leader and activist, who cited previous instances of international intervention, which brought about “cholera and killed thousands of people”. Haiti specialist Jake Johnston also opposes US intervention especially, citing US intervention in 1915 to have brought about more harm than good. 

Conclusion 

Assassinations have typically gripped countries internationally, regardless of the nature of their respective political climates; it is an obviously unpredictable phenomena that has not left any form of governance merciful, be it democratic, socialist or authoritarian. Nonetheless, it is crucial to look ahead and ponder over what holds in the future after the scene. In most cases, a suitable leader is replaced. Haiti’s situation is however, starkly different; the country has grappled with a worriedly lawless environment for years— and the hopes of it changing is even more deterred now with the loss of its leader. 

Bibliography 

  1. ABC News Network. (n.d.). ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/International/haitis-interim-prime-minister-president-tortured-killed-vows/story?id=78772860
  2. Al Jazeera. (2021, July 11). Haiti’s assassinated president ‘riddled with bullets’, says wife. Latin America News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/10/wife-of-assassinated-haitian-president-jovenel-moise-speaks-out
  3. BBC. (2021, July 9). Jovenel Moïse: Foreign hit squad killed Haiti’s president, police say. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-57766749
  4. Berg, O. by R. C. (2021, July 8). Opinion: Moïse’s assassination is a tragic reminder of Haiti’s unraveling democracy. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/07/08/opinions/mose-haiti-assassination-unraveling-democracy-berg/index.html
  5. Guardian News and Media. (2021, July 10). Doubts raised about who was behind the assassination of Haiti’s president. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/10/doubts-raised-about-who-was-behind-the-assassination-of-haitis-president
  6. Hu, C., & Smith-Spark, L. (2021, July 10). Haiti’s leader has been killed. Here’s what you need to know. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/07/07/americas/haiti-explainer-jovenel-moise-assassination-cmd-intl/index.html
  7. Julian E. Barnes and Oscar Lopez. (2021, July 11). Live Updates: U.S. Sending Team to Haiti to Help Assassination Investigation. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/07/11/world/jovenel-moise-assassinated
  8. Paultre, A., & Marsh, S. (2021, March 30). As turmoil deepens, Haitians fear democracy is slipping away. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-haiti-politics-idUSKBN2BM1LB
  9. Phillips, T., & Joe Parkin Daniels. (2021, July 10). Doubts raised about who was behind the assassination of Haiti’s president. The Guardian; The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/10/doubts-raised-about-who-was-behind-the-assassination-of-haitis-president
  10. The Latest: Dominican Republic urges world action on Haiti. AP NEWS. (2021). Retrieved 12 July 2021, from https://apnews.com/article/caribbean-haiti-business-assassinations-6945d60074640e0189ceadc2075ca8bc
  11. U.S. Investigators Arrive in Haiti to Aid in Moïse Murder Case. (2021). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/07/11/world/jovenel-moise-assassinated 
  12. Wamsley, L. (2021). NPR Cookie Consent and Choices. Npr.org. Retrieved 12 July 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2021/07/07/1013879000/even-before-jovenel-moises-assassination-haiti-was-in-crisis

The CCP’s 100-year anniversary

Written by: Aaron Wong Jielun (21-I4), Emma Shuen Lee (21-O1), Lay Kai En, Ashley (21-O1), Lim Zi Loong, Zexel (21-E2), Tiew Zuo Yuan Richard (21-I2), Zuo Yuning (21-A1)

Designed by: Lay Kai En, Ashley (21-O1)

Thousands gathered at Tiananmen Square during the wee hours of 1 July 2021. China’s ruling party turned 100 this year. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrated its achievements, including its efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 as well as the eradication of absolute poverty. The celebration kicked off with a mass singing session of communist songs, exhorting the people to be loyal to the party. The party showcased its latest air force hardware in a fly-past. President Xi Jinping then delivered a 70-minute speech, pointing out that it was the CCP that brought China its ‘moderately prosperous’ status. Additionally, he warned against external forces that would attempt to “bully” or pressure China.

What is the Chinese Communist Party?

While it is the governing party of Mainland China, the influence of its decisions and policies shakes the international stage. The CCP was founded in 1921 and has developed China to become the second largest economy in the world. Led by general secretary Xi Jinping, it currently sits as the sole political party of Mainland China with no opposing parties.

While its ideology has been known to dramatically shift based on its changing leadership and evolving circumstances, at a fundamental level, all of the party’s theories and beliefs are seen to stem from the communist ideology of Marxism-Leninism. In particular, the current economic model of the country as driven by the CCP, is much akin to capitalism. However, the CCP believes that the country is simply at an initial stage of production that is necessary before true communism can be achieved in the future.

In terms of governance, the CCP practises democratic centralism, a practice where all leadership figures are allowed to express their own opinions, but will have to ultimately accept the decision of the majority without opposition.

Successes since 1921 

The success of the CCP cannot be denied, especially in terms of its political stronghold in world affairs today. Before World War II, China seemed to only be at the receiving end of political dominance, being at the mercy of the British during the Opium War, and anti-Japanese sentiments from Japanese domination in the past are still prevalent in China today. Today, China is a superpower rivaled only by the United States. Its status is enshrined by the leadership they take on in many regions, and especially in Southeast Asia and Central Asia, as seen through the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and Belt and Road Initiative. 

In 1949, the CCP achieved one of the most significant milestones in the party’s history: it founded the People’s Republic of China. After the CCP had cooperated with Kuomintang (KMT) to win the Sino-Japanese war, the CCP took advantage of the corruption and military incompetence of the KMT and then overcame the opposition to become the leader in mainland China. On Oct 1 1949, Mao stood on Tiananmen announcing the creation of the People’s Republic of China. 

Its social successes are tremendous—though achieved in an oppressive manner, China has become one of the most politically united societies, seemingly unaffected by the traditional ills of progress such as polarisation and liberalisation. More than ever, there is a sense of not just patriotism, but nationalism in the country. In the face of claims by South Korean netizens that Paocai is a copy of the Korean Kimchi, Chinese netizens come to the defence of their own dish almost immediately. When asked about the controversial social credit system that China utilises, several Chinese netizens once again came through to the CCP’s proposal, stating that they have nothing to hide. Moreover, this sentiment is common even amongst the younger population, contrary to the youth’s role in democracy abroad in other countries and thereby demonstrating the success of the CCP in uniting society. 

Challenges the CCP faces 

A pertinent domestic issue that the CCP can never avoid is the worsening inequality in the nation, in terms of wealth and gender inequality. While the CCP has achieved undeniable success in lifting millions out of poverty, it has also widened the gap between the rich and the poor. One of the main causes is the unfair provision of education, as students from lower-income families find it immensely difficult to enter a good university. Indeed, around 75% of urban students, who are generally more well to do, are able to afford university fees as compared to only 25% of rural students. To make things worse, school fees in poorer areas can cost more than 80% of an individual parent’s income, which is one of the highest in the world. Consequently, poorer families cannot afford to send their children to school and prefer to have them start working from a young age, which hence prevent their children from obtaining the education necessary to end the poverty cycle. Besides income inequality, the gender disparity also warrants the CCP’s attention. Women in China continue to suffer great disadvantages in many aspects of life, such as how there are more men than women and how they are under-represented in the government. According to Feng Yuan who co-founded Equality, an NGO for women’s rights, “progress is slow and in some ways it’s even going backwards, because there has been no practical policy and measures [from the government]”. For instance, the recent backlash against the three-child policy is in part due to claims that the state was trying to “exploit the unpaid labour of women” because the government made little effort to encourage men to spend more time with their children. 

Another problem is human rights. China does not acknowledge the existence of the problems in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, but there is sufficient and clear evidence that there have been serious human right violations in those regions. When more than a million Uighurs have been detained and thousands of mosques have been destroyed, China cannot claim to be respectful of minority races and religions. China’s systematic attempts to dismantle the Tibet language and culture through ‘compulsory use of Mandarin in education’ and assimilation efforts. Furthermore, China breached the promises it made in 1997 by using the National Security Law to arrest dissidents and shut down independent media outlets such as Apple Daily. These warrant their claims to be a country of diverse cultures, that values free speech, rather contradictory to many. Even as the CCP celebrates its 100 years of ‘arduous struggle in the journey for national rejuvenation’, we must not forget that its journey has not been as glorious as many believe.

Conclusion 

CCP is said to be born out of a secret meeting on a boat a hundred years ago, looks ahead to the next hundred years, and an unfulfilled dream of the “great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nations. Indeed, it is phenomenal for the world to witness the struggles of a backwards country in becoming a global powerhouse of today, from the “broken heads, bloodshed” against imperialist oppression less than a century ago to a prosperous and egalitarian society that has materialised today. One can only imagine the sheer amount of adversities that China will surmount. It is beyond doubt that the CCP is here to stay and the world must learn to embrace the envisionment of this awakening giant. In China’s eyes, the best is yet to come.

Bibliography

  1. Chunshan, M. (2017, October 28). China’s Communist Party: 3 Successes and 3 Challenges. – The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2017/10/chinas-communist-party-3-successes-and-3-challenges/
  2. The Economist Newspaper. (n.d.). China rapidly shifts from a two-child to a three-child policy. The Economist. https://www.economist.com/china/2021/06/03/china-rapidly-shifts-from-a-two-child-to-a-three-child-policy
  3. The Economist Newspaper. (n.d.). Education in China is becoming increasingly unfair to the poor. The Economist. https://www.economist.com/china/2021/05/27/education-in-china-is-becoming-increasingly-unfair-to-the-poor
  4. Gender equality from birth to politics in China has far to go: report. South China Morning Post. (2020, September 1). https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3098371/gender-equality-china-birth-ratio-politics-and-unpaid-care-work
  5. Milanovic, B. (2021, March 17). China’s Inequality Will Lead It to a Stark Choice. Foreign Affairs. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2021-02-11/chinas-inequality-will-lead-it-stark-choice
  6. Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com. (2020). Asia-Pacific nations sign world’s biggest free-trade agreement | DW | 15.11.2020. DW.COM. https://www.dw.com/en/asia-pacific-nations-sign-worlds-biggest-free-trade-agreement/a-55604659 
  7. Hermes. (2020, December). Chinese, S. Korean netizens hit sour note over kimchi. The Straits Times.  https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/chinese-s-korean-netizens-hit-sour-note-over-kimchi‌ 
  8. What do young Chinese think about social credit? It’s complicated. (2020, March 26). Merics. https://merics.org/en/report/what-do-young-chinese-think-about-social-credit-its-complicated 

Footing the Bill: The Curious Case of Anna Delvey

Written by: Emma Lee Shuen (21-O1), Eliora Tan Yuxuan (21-E6), Katelyn Joshy (21-U1), Leia Ong Rui En (20-U1), Rakshita Murugan, Tricia Loh Qiuxuan (21-U1)

Designed by: Jervis Chng Yun Ping (21-U5)

Who was Anna Delvey? 

Ask any staff member at the 11 Howard, a sleek boutique hotel on the South of Houston Street (or SoHo), in 2017, and they would tell you about Miss Anna Delvey, the unkempt-haired, stunningly generous European heiress who treated the hotel like a home and its staff like her friends — if the hundred-dollar bills she so freely handed out as tips were any indication.

Photo Credit: @theannadelvey on Instagram

The Fake Heiress, Wannabe Socialite, or the SoHo Grifter. Paint her however you like, but it is impossible to deny the shrewdness of Anna Delvey, real name Anna Sorokin. She, with sheer wit, confidence (and hundred-dollar bills) alone, was able to dupe New York into believing her immense wealth, originating from a fictitious trust fund. Sorokin enjoyed champagne lunches, kept company with the richest and most famous of New York socialites, and spent physical dollar bills like they were nothing. Her professed aim in coming to New York? To launch an art business-cum-club: the “Anna Delvey Foundation”. 

Sorokin spent 4 years building her glamorous lifestyle and reputation as Anna Delvey off pure wads of cash and Instagram; her feed resplendent with visions of private yacht rides, fine art and social functions with the likes of Macaulay Culkin. Barely anyone saw past her facade, star-studded as it appeared, but cracks started to show when the wealthy founder of Beijing’s M Woods museum, Michael Huang, went on a trip with her to the Venice Biennale.

Photo Credit: Artnet News

Sorokin asked Huang to charge their travel expenses — $2,000 — to his credit card, saying she would repay him later. It was not till a few months later, at Sorokin’s birthday party, did he realise that she never held her promise. 

Delvey, unravelling

A month and a half after Sorokin arrived at 11 Howard, the hotel realised that Sorokin had not paid her room expenses, as they had never had a credit card on file for her. Sorokin now owed the hotel a sum of $30,000. She promised she’d provide payment and a credit card — after she returned from a luxurious vacation to Morocco with her friend, Vanity Fair photojournalist Rachel Williams.

Photo Credit: Dazed Digital

Two days into the vacation at Morocco, Marrakech, the hotel found that the credit card Sorokin had used to book the room was nonfunctional. Put on the spot, Rachel Williams was forced to foot the bill — a whopping $62,000 — by herself. Sorokin, a month later, only transferred $5,000 to Williams’ account. Williams later wrote in an article that she was “left in tears” and suffering regular panic attacks, consumed by the stress caused by Sorokin.

Sorokin’s sham was rapidly falling apart. She moved out of 11 Howard and to another lavish hotel downtown, which after 20 days evicted her for, again, a lack of a working credit card on file and having not received the promised wire transfer of expenses. A 2-day stay at another hotel ended in a similar fashion, and Sorokin was essentially homeless by early July.

The hotels filed charges against Sorokin for theft of services, and before long, the true scale of Sorokin’s fraudulence was revealed, involving an elaborate system of false cheques, multiple bank accounts and sending phony receipts for wire transfers to people. She was finally arrested in October 2017, where in New York she was put on trial, facing six counts of grand larceny, attempted grand larceny and theft of services.

“Anna’s was a beautiful dream of New York, like one of those nights that never seems to end,” commented Rachel Williams, in her article. “And then the bill arrives.” 

Going for trial 

Clad in expensive designer clothes, Delvey — or Anna Sorokin, as she was revealed to be — showed up to her trials hoping to draw more attention to her public image than the crimes she had committed. She had hired a celebrity stylist, Anastasia Nicole Walker, who dressed her as if she had the finances of a German heiress. During her trials, Sorokin showed no glimmer of remorse, and was even caught rolling her eyes.

Photo credit: Vanity Fair  

Her time in jail 

Sorokin was sentenced to 12 years in jail, but was recently released this year on account of her good behaviour. Ironically, she mentioned in an interview after her prison release, that prison was “a huge waste of time” and was simply “pointless”. While Sorokin now faces deportation back to Germany, she remains in custody, and the exact date of her deportation is not known.

Netflix adaptation 

Photo Credit: Netflix

With all the buzz surrounding the name ‘Delvey’, it’s no surprise that Netflix has already offered the con artist a whopping $320,000 (£230,000) for rights over her story. Currently, a new Netflix drama is underway- ‘Inventing Anna’, where a journalist dives deep into the case of Anna Delvey. The 10-part series stars Julia Garner as the legendary con artist and is due to air its first episode on January 1st 2022.

Delvey, unmasked

Anna Delvey is really Anna Sorokin — the child of a middle class Russian family. Born in Russia in 1991, Sorokin moved to Germany in 2007 during her adolescence with her parents and sibling. Sorokin’s father worked as a trucker and her mother owned a convenience store. In Germany, she attended the gymnasium in Eschweiler, where peers described her as a ‘quiet girl’. 

By 2011, she graduated high school and worked in a public relations firm before relocating to Paris to begin an internship for the French fashion magazine Purple. It was around this time she coined the moniker Anna Delvey and her web of lies began. 

Dissecting Sorokin’s Character 

Photo credit: 60 Minutes Australia Interview

In the candid interview, Sorokin repeatedly denies any wrongdoing; “I’m not this person who’s trying to trick her way into stuff…” , “I don’t see this case as a crime at all.” and  “I don’t see myself as such.” when told that people saw her as a conwoman. This refusal to accept the heinous nature of her crimes suggests she is a deep narcissist. She does not feel sorry for manipulating her victims or stealing their money as she believes they deserved it. Therefore, in her eyes, she did no wrong.

Moreover, Anna is very image-conscious as seen in her reaction to one of her victims, Rachel Williams’ best selling book My Friend Anna, which documents William’s encounter with Sorokin. 

“She is just some random girl in her 20s… Anyone that knows me doesn’t believe any of that stuff… She’s a photo editor at a fashion magazine,” said a peeved Sorokin, who tried to use Williams’ age and her position at Vanity Fair to discredit her. Anna is also rather attention-seeking and loves being in the spotlight, as seen in how she flaunted a new designer outfit at each court trial, knowing the paparazzi would be there.

Sorokin’s impact on the world 

As we begin to comprehend the scale of the Sorokin scam, we cannot help but ask ourselves: how did she pull this off? How could the people around her have failed to pick out all the red flags? 

The truth is simple. For all of Anna’s flaws, she was able to see through the layers of bustling New York and understand the core of how our society functions. Waving wads of $100 bills and strutting around in luxury clothing allowed Anna to seamlessly fit into the aristocratic New York scene because of one fundamental concept – money blinds.

Capitalising on our propensity to take things at face value and play into delusions of grandeur, Anna built up a formidable profile of endless parties and luxurious holidays on social media platforms like Instagram to elevate her celebrity status. Thus, the “crispy curated fabulousness” of social media made it even easier for Anna to establish herself as a credible and wealthy German heiress by exacerbating the illusion of wealth and power. In the words of writer and psychologist Maria Konnikova, “The barrier of entry is so much lower.”

In hindsight, the baffling scheme that Anna executed turned out to be an honest reflection of what we value as a society. As a result, her story sheds light on our fundamental cupidity and warns us against succumbing to delusions of wealth and power. After all, when power is based on appearances, it can slip away as easily and suddenly as it was acquired.

So what can we learn from Sorokin?

Everyone ought to have aspirations, and Sorokin is no anomaly in that factor. Sorokin’s big dreams, or rather an imagination of a rich life; a product of her own delusion and overwhelming desire to be the “It girl” can certainly teach us that despite the urge to act impulsively to accomplish our desires, it has to be done in abidance to the law, which is the most courteous, fundamental expectation of a civilian. We also realise the repercussions of indulging in materialism — it brings no harm to detach oneself from such shallow desires, but a lot of misery that comes with lavish aspirations. 

However, Sorokin’s case surely must also say something about the people and society she fooled. She managed to get stunningly far in her deception with just the appearances of wealth — the money she handed out and the designer goods she owned were distracting enough for people not to suspect her further.

Along with it, we realise the importance of having trust with the right people; if one is conned, it is solely their foolishness and the conman cannot hold the blame for this. 

“We can all be conned, but at what point do we realise that we’re being conned and to what point do we allow ourselves to be conned?”
– Guy Ritchie

Bibliography

  1. Pressler, J. (2018, May 2018). How Anna Delvey Tricked New York. https://www.thecut.com/2018/05/how-anna-delvey-tricked-new-york.html
  2. Paybarah, A. (2019, May 10). How ‘Anna Delvey’ Conned New York. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/10/nyregion/newyorktoday/nyc-news-anna-sorokin-delvey.html
  3. Baker, V. (2019, April 26). Anna Sorokin: the trial of New York’s fake heiress. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47741923
  4. 9Now [60 Minutes Australia]. (2021, April 18). How con-artist Anna Sorokin ripped off the New York elite and became a star | 60 Minutes Australia [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/GQbNnUW_xqw 
  5. Associated Press. (2021, April 2). Fake German heiress Anna Sorokin taken into US custody, faces deportation. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/news/world/united-states-canada/article/3128050/fake-german-heiress-anna-sorokin-taken-us-custody 
  6. Bryant, K. (2019, April 23). The Baby-Doll Innocence of Anna “Delvey” Sorokin’s Last Trial Look. Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2019/04/anna-delvey-sorokin-court-trial-outfit-final-white-dress 
  7. Helmore, E. (2019, May 10). Anna Sorokin: fake German heiress sentenced to up to 12 years in prison. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/09/anna-sorokin-sentence-fake-heiress-scammer-delvey-jail-time-latest-news-new-york-trial 
  8. Jennings, R. (2019, March 28). Why does Anna Delvey, the fake German heiress, look so fashionable in court? Anna Delvey Scam Trial: Anna Sorokin’s Courtroom Look Goes Viral. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/3/28/18284406/anna-delvey-sorokin-trial-scam 
  9. Shamsian, J. (2021, February 25). EXCLUSIVE: “Fake heiress” Anna Sorokin says her prison sentence was “a huge waste of time.” Insider. https://www.insider.com/anna-sorokin-delvey-interview-after-prison-release-2021-2 
  10. annadlvv/Instagram. (2018, May 29). How an Aspiring ‘It’ Girl Tricked New York’s Party People – and Its Banks. The Cut. https://www.thecut.com/2018/05/how-anna-delvey-tricked-new-york.html
  11. Baker, V. (2019, April 26). Anna Sorokin: The trial of New York’s fake heiress. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47741923

The ‘A’ in ‘Game’ Stands For Art: The Artistic Merit of Video Games!

Written by: Aaron Wong Jielun (21-I4) and Leia Ong Rui En (20-U1)
Designed by: Leanne Soh Li En (21-E6)

Many works of art are admired for qualities like their visual and auditory appeal, meaningful storytelling, and refreshing creativity. That leaves the rather large elephant in the room: why are video games, a medium that oftentimes combines all of those qualities, not counted as an art form? Do video games not deserve a spot in our art culture? To unpack those questions, let us delve into what art is, as well as the artistic merit that can be found in video games (while showcasing some really neat games!).

Forms of art are incredibly diverse, comprising mediums as far-ranging as architecture, painting, poetry, theatre, music, and dance. Even cooking is an art! The Oxford dictionary nicely sums up art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”. 

It is also useful to understand what exactly “artistic merit” connotes. It is a term that is used to judge the perceived quality or value of a piece of art. While its usage is most common in the critique of visual art, artistic merit lies in all pieces of art—and, as we are about to show you, in video games too.

The Visual Spectacle in Games

A crucial component of any video game is its visual interface—specifically, its art, be it in creating a unique mood of the game, or in complementing storytelling. 

Perhaps the most commonly associated visuals with many modern video games is the hyperrealistic, state-of-the-art (heh) animation that falls just short of visuals in reality. Gritty, plot-driven and open-world games like The Last Of Us (2013) and Red Dead Redemption II (2018) employ this to great effect, using the sweeping natural vistas of Midwestern, Southern and Western America to immerse players fully in the harrowing stories of a zombie apocalypse survivor (the former) or a cowboy in 1899 (the latter).

Red Dead Redemption II (2018)

Why, you may then ask, don’t all video games look like this? Herein lies the beauty of diversity; where there are different games, there are different art styles. Different art styles evoke different atmospheres needed to fit the plot of a game—many games hence feature distinctive art styles that have been lauded for their creativity and aestheticity. Popular horror game Little Nightmares (2017), while also a survival game of sorts, focuses instead on puzzle-solving and in evoking an atmosphere of mystery and menace. Its unique art, an incongruous blend of gothic realism and claymation1-esque animation, achieves just that.

Little Nightmares (2017)

On the other end of the spectrum, equally-lauded adventure game Night In The Woods (2017) features vibrantly cartoonish art, with bright colours and whimsical character designs and environments. This art, however, effectively conveys the game’s intricate and colourful plot of a community of animals in a small town, reminiscent of a folktale. The art even seems to bear similarities with European folk art (whether intentionally or not), albeit in a modernised and minimalist style.

Night In The Woods (2017)

As players traverse the digital terrain of a video game, its visual beauty not only complements the overall experience of playing a game, but is a testament to the artists who conceptualised and created its extraordinary art. 

Making Meaning (and Games)

Games have always been lauded as a powerful storytelling medium. Many games tell engaging narratives, emotionally connecting gamers to fictional characters and the stakes of the in-game plot. Just like any good play, film, or novel, many great video games have equally good scripts. Games are an excellent vehicle for crafting believable, immersive worlds through the high degree that the player can personally interact with the in-game world, creating unprecedented agency and interactivity that most other mediums lack. 

Halo (2001), a science-fiction first-person shooter set in the 26th century, is renowned for its gripping plot that is essentially a grand space opera. In its story, the complex relationships between Humanity and alien civilisations cause ramifications—and drama—of galactic proportions. At the same time, it manages to develop great characters (of the human, AI and alien variety) and explore themes on military and scientific ethics.

Halo 3. (2007)

Going further from that, games can also elicit deep emotion and convey meaningful, thought-provoking messages. By unifying the different elements of a game’s design—like music, gameplay, and aesthetics—cohesive meaning can be crafted, just like how a painter uses the different visual elements of a painting to convey meaning, for example.  

Life is Strange (2015) is an episodic adventure game featuring a time travel mechanic and branching choices. However, the game’s focus is ultimately on its story, which is about interpersonal relationships and coming of age, and at the same time also tackles taboo social issues. Every part of the game, like its poignant voice acting and detailed character development, achieves all of this and more, creating an intensely emotional experience. 

Life is Strange. (2015)

The Longing (2019), a point-and-click adventure game, creates a depressing and lonely atmosphere through its slow-paced gameplay and gloomy aesthetic, driving home the theme of solitude as well as existential themes. Chief among its design features is an unorthodox mechanic of a countdown of four hundred days that passes in real-time.

The Longing. (2019)

New Ways To Game 

Occasionally, games will break the status quo, utilising unconventional methods of gameplay to construct a novel, powerful experience that profoundly impacts players. This is reminiscent of bold breakthroughs in the arts scene when new styles are innovated. 

One of the most famous examples of this is Super Mario Bros. (1985), one of (if not the) most iconic platform games2 in history. Though it seems a simple game now, at the time of its release, its reception was unprecedented—it contributed in helping the industry recover from the recession that was the 1983 Video Game Crash, and remains a cultural icon to this day.

Super Mario Bros. (1985)

Undertale (2015), another wildly popular game, innovatively realised its turn-based gameplay—reminiscent of retro 8-bit role-playing games (RPGs)—and combined it with meta game mechanics to create an unprecedented emotional experience.

Undertale (2015)

Late Shift (2017) similarly remixes the familiar film genre to make it a playable game, in which you play as the main character to determine the course of the “film’s” plot. 

Late Shift (2017)

Surely we have now more than sufficiently illustrated the artistic merit of video games, and you now scramble to deliver video game copies over to your nearest art gallery. Hold your horses, however, as we will now evaluate a couple of the common arguments against video games being considered art.

Games: Entertainment Or Art?

Contention arises because of this question: are video games really art? After all, it’s in the name: games. They seem to be designed and created solely for entertaining players. Furthermore, many games fundamentally revolve around some form of competition or strategy one must partake in, appearing to render them completely different from all conventional art forms.

While that may have been the case for the earliest and most primitive video games—think Blockade (1976) or Pong (1972)—consisting of little more than a few movable pixels, it is certainly not the case today. 

Pong (1972)

Over time, video games have evolved to incorporate more elaborate and diverse aspects to gameplay as covered above, becoming more than a simple piece of entertainment, though that is indeed one of their functions. 

Video games have become a medium of artistic expression, through which creators can convey profound experiences to audiences. Plus—if you think about it—many of the games highlighted above bear similarities to perhaps a good film, or piece of literature. Ultimately, what distinguishes video games from these other mediums is their interactivity—your role in shaping your experience. 

Party Limit Reached!

Another opposing argument is that since video games are mostly made by large groups of people and cannot be attributed to single authors or small groups of authors, they cannot be seen as pieces of art. This statement certainly contains some truth. Nowadays, triple-A games (big-budget games produced by large companies) can reach team sizes of hundreds of people all working on different parts of the same game, whether they be programmers, level designers, or concept artists. For many employees, they are simply working on specific portions of the game assigned to them without being fully cognizant of what the final overall product is supposed to be.

However, all of that does not necessarily mean that games cannot be seen as artistic projects. In the development of games, there exists the design team and the art team, comprising people who are specially concerned with the game’s creative and artistic  direction. They ensure that all work done on the game follows the same design ethos, such that the gameplay and aesthetic are crafted with the intent to execute the overall creative and artistic concept of the game.

Furthermore, this is not even considering the existence of indie (independent) games—games created without the support or oversight of a large publisher—that commonly have small, tight-knit development teams. In fact, some indie games are even created entirely solo! Stardew Valley (2016), the popular simulation farming RPG, comes to mind, as its sole creator worked on every aspect of development alone—from the game’s music and art to its programming and sound design. If anything, these indie developers can be directly compared to artists, as they toil away and create creative products to show the world.

Stardew Valley (2016)

The Endgame

At the end of the day, video games do no not need to be officially seen as an art form to prove their inherent artistic merit. As we have demonstrated, it is an irrefutable fact that there are certainly aspects of video games that are artistic. If you’re ever bored, do pick up and play (or watch a gameplay video of) one of the games that we have mentioned and relax. As you do so, don’t just feel entertained, but also appreciate and be emotionally invested in a fine creative work!

Endnotes:

Claymation1: stop-motion animation made with clay figurines

Platform game2: a game where the player moves their character between platforms, typically jumping and climbing to achieve this.

Bibliography:

  1. YonkYonk is a geek who is fortunate enough to have an equally geeky Star Wars fan for a wife. (2019, March 25). Creating The Horrifying Atmosphere of Little Nightmares: Hands On + Interview. Geek Culture. https://geekculture.co/preview-little-nightmares-hands-on-interview/
  2. Super Mario Bros. Developer Interview – NES Classic Edition – Official Site. Nintendo. (n.d.). https://www.nintendo.com/nes-classic/super-mario-bros-and-super-mario-bros-3-developer-interview/
  3. Mirasol, M. (n.d.). Why video games are indeed Art: Far Flungers: Roger Ebert. Far Flungers | Roger Ebert. https://www.rogerebert.com/far-flung-correspondents/why-video-games-are-indeed-art