I appreciate that the Avatar Project allows for a different kind of language to express and synthesize comprehension of historical themes and events. As someone who is still honing her academic voice in formal written research assignments, I enjoyed the opportunity to speak more casually, subjectively, and poetically from the point of view of my avatar. Not only was this kind of expression more comfortable for me, it helped me situate the personal and the emotional realities of real people living under the dictatorship alongside the cultural, political, and economic accounts we read about in class. In my experience, History courses and courses in many other disciplines in the social sciences typically stop with the latter elements, but the Avatar Project—along with many other testimonies and historical literary texts we read in class—pushed me to process information about the last dictatorships in Chile and Argentina as more than just a series of abstract events enacted by people very different and very far away from me. Instead, I got to imagine that I was right there in Buenos Aires, directly affected by the reach of El Proceso and navigating my way through personal and collective tragedies. Another element of the project that I felt helped me learn about these histories was the chronology of it all. Though of course, the syllabus was ordered perfectly chronologically, something about the act of locating myself—or Maga—in a moment in time in that chronology gave me a much better understanding of the cause, effect, timing, and relationships between the moments. For example, Maga’s voice dramatically deepened my understanding of the significance of the World Cup taking place in Argentina in 1978, and was especially helpful in structuring my knowledge and informing my emotions as we learned about the pacing and complexities of the transition out of the dictatorship from the 1980s until the present. By constructing fictional vignettes and personal experiences in nonfictional contexts, I was re-learning and processing the histories that I read about in academic texts. I was “growing” with these histories, which was an abstract sensation that assisted my ability to understand the ebb and flow of action and reaction—the pulse of systems of power, oppression, and resistance—over time.
At times, the project was also difficult, but I can’t tell how many—if any—of my struggles were related to qualities inherent in the project itself. I found myself falling behind around the middle of the semester, mostly because on many weeks I felt like I was compromising either the full breadth and/or depth of our weekly readings or my avatar post. It is wonderful that—for me, at least—writing each post required that I go back through all relevant readings, because, again, it really allowed me to synthesize the content in detail; it also meant, though, that I was requiring a lot of time of myself for each post, time I did not always manage to carve out. I definitely don’t think there is problematic aspect about the structure of the project that made this so—in fact, the intensely involved nature of this project was a core strength—I only mean to attempt to understand why I dealt with the project at a generally slow rate and sometimes had a hard time pacing myself. I was also daunted with the open-endedness of the possible experiences that my avatar could have had. Sometimes, limits lead to greater creativity, and I feel that even more guidelines or “limits” could have helped me push Maga’s experiences even further. Two thoughts I have regarding this: one, perhaps there could be a slightly longer bio handed to us when we are assigned our avatars, potentially even just with personality traits, career interests, or simply with several other family members/friends listed; two, it might have been helpful to incorporate the existence of our avatars a bit more in class. I’m not sure exactly what this would look like, but sometimes I felt like I was independently carrying the story of Maga on my shoulders in secret, and it might have made her even more “real” to me if she felt more integrated with the stories of others. Relatedly, though I read many of my peers’ posts, I regret not commenting on them, and cultivating a more social avatar experience than I did. One final comment is that I briefly wondered once or twice whether this specific exercise would be considered appropriative at all by anyone who lived through or has connections to the last dictatorships in Chile and Argentina. I really have no idea, haven’t developed this consideration, and don’t think it completely applies or would by any means come close to overriding the enormous benefits of the project, but I would have loved to address in class at least once the ethical and moral questions that surround writing fictions told from perspectives that we as students in the U.S. in 2014 inevitably can’t perfectly or holistically grasp. Overall, these are small notes in comparison to the overwhelmingly positive educational elements to the Avatar Project, which was enjoyable and enriching on many, many levels. Thanks so much for developing the project, for sharing it with us, and for educating teachers around the country about its power as a new historical lens!