We Are English Majors: Karen Xu

Karen Xu is a senior majoring in English, Chinese, and Economics. We asked her questions about this impressive triple major as well as as working with English Professor Gina Bloom on the video game Play the Knave

You're a triple major in English, Chinese, and Economics. What led you to such a diverse intellectual profile, and how do you see these three interests intersecting?

Short answer: Because I think these things are fun.

Fuller answer: I’m interested in research, so, some example intersections: Plato’s arguments in the Republic about imitation/representation (mimesis) mirror the same distrust of language that exists in Daoist philosophy; drug and narcotic use among the poets and literati of early Imperial China reflects social changes as well as economic trends; game theory graphs are wonderful tools for planning out the course and world of a creative writing story; and did you know that cultural economics is a branch of study that actually analyzes the economic properties of art and literature? There are always connections. Don’t we look for these things all the time in literary texts?

Practically, I think I can analyze things using words as well as numbers and graphs. Useful for looking at tax codes and international law and things like that.

I just don’t think any major restricts you to a certain field. You should always feel free to explore your GE requirements and mix things up! I do believe a lot in the idea that no field of study exists in a vacuum. Everything has connections to everything, it’s just a matter of untangling things and figuring them out.

In your sophomore year, you studied abroad at Peking University in China. What was the most important thing you took away from your experience?

I think my most important takeaway would be the lesson of how important it is to walk in other people’s shoes. I thought I knew a lot about China already, but I really didn’t. Don’t judge people based on stereotypes--you’re a lot more alike than you think! As a tangent, it’s also important to see yourself through others’ eyes--be humble. PKU really drove that home for me. Maybe you’re pretty great, but you’re probably not as impressive as you think; and the moment you start thinking you’re impressive, you’re done. 

You've also worked on English Professor Gina Bloom's Play the Knave initiative. What's that experience been like? What do you think the future of gaming and education looks like?

It’s fascinating and exciting most of the time, a little more mundane at others, and sometimes just so frustratingly huge and overwhelming that we need to order pizza in the lab and calm ourselves down. There’s actually a lot more involved in Play the Knave than just Shakespeare (though obviously Shakespeare is still the subject and heart of the project), from design to pedagogy to technical programming, and we get to see a lot of different people working towards the same goal. It’s pretty cool.

I think it’s possible that gaming and education will become more intertwined. A lot of the time, when we talk about making learning more “interactive” and “fun”, we refer to solutions that involve games and entertainment and other innovative methods, whether that’s doing a project in class or incorporating UI design to encourage learning processes on a platform. Video games, and especially motion capture games—and while we’re talking about that, games that have plots—highlight full immersion a lot more, which really forces players to think (and sometimes even think on the spot!). I think this would be fun if it catches on.