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CRITICAL VIDEOGAME STUDIES   SIGN 26038/

ENGL 12320/ MAAD 12320/CMST 25945/

GNSE 22320  

 

Instructor: Patrick Jagoda (pjagoda@uchicago.edu)

Course Meeting Time: Tuesday/Thursday 11:00am-12:20pm

Course Location: Stuart Hall 105

TA Section 1: Friday 9:30am-10:20am (Wieboldt Hall 130): Jordan Pruett

TA Section 2: Friday 10:30am-11:20am (Wieboldt Hall 130): Clint Froehlich

TA Section 3: Friday 11:30am-12:20pm (Swift Hall 208): Zoe Hughes

Instructor Office Hours: Tuesday 3:30-5:30pm or by appt (Walker 504)

 

Since the 1960s, games have blossomed into the world’s most profitable artistic and cultural form. This course attends to a broad range of video game genres, including First-Person Shooters (BioShock), platformers (Problem Attic), role-playing games (Undertale), visual novels (Doki Doki Literature Club), serious games (SPENT), and more. The quarter is organized according to concepts, such as control, choice, and failure, which have been selected to invite thought about formal, historical, cultural, and sociopolitical dimensions of games. Readings by theorists including Ian Bogost, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Mary Flanagan, Jane McGonigal, Lisa Nakamura, and Katie Salen will help us think about the field of videogame studies. In addition to weekly reading and a series of short exercises (designed to practice different modes of writing and creative development), students will also participate in a final collaborative group project and present the project to a small critique jury.

MATERIALS TO PURCHASE

 

Most game should be available for multiple platforms (PC/Mac via Steam or on various consoles). Unless otherwise specified, you should feel free to play on the platform of your choice (differences among consoles may add depth to our group discussions). All other readings and games are available online or on our class Canvas page.

 

COMMUNICATION PLATFORMS

Slack: We will use Slack for ongoing conversations with both shared channels for informal conversations about games and private channels for communication with the instructor and TAs. For all course related questions, you should contact me or the TAs via Slack INSTEAD of email.

Course Website: We will use the course Wix website to access the syllabus (with links) and to post blog entries. The blog will be publicly available.

Canvas: We will only use Canvas to access PDFs of shared course readings. You will have to log into Canvas, using your CNetID.

COURSE SCHEDULE (Subject to Revision)

Week 1: Games

Oct 2: Introduction to Critical Videogame Studies

 

Oct 4: “Manifesto for a Ludic Century” (Eric Zimmerman), “Defining Games” Chapter 7 of Rules of Play (Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, p. 1-14), “Conceptual Games, Or the Language of Video Games” (Patrick Jagoda, p. 130-136), “The Video Game Aesthetic: Play as Form” in The Video Game Theory Reader 2 (David Myers, p. 45-63), Passage (Jason Rohrer, 5 minutes), and Hair Nah (Momo Pixel, 5 minutes)

Oct 5: TA Section: Discuss video game close reading

Week 2: Politics

Oct 9: Braid (Jonathan Blow, 5-6 hours), “Art” in How to Do Things with Videogames (Ian Bogost, p. 9-17), and “Artgames” in Works of Game (John Sharp, p. 49-76)

Presentation Topic 1: Arcade-era games

Presentation Topic 2: Completionism

Oct 11: Problem Attic (Liz Ryerson, play for 1 hour), “The Other Side of Braid” (Liz Ryerson), and “Queer Female of Color: The Highest Difficulty Setting There Is? Gaming Rhetoric as Gender Capital” (Lisa Nakamura)

Presentation Topic 3: Console Gaming

Presentation Topic 4: Feminist game studies

Oct 12: TA Section: Discuss theoretical approaches to video game studies

 

Week 3: Control

Oct 16: BioShock (2K Games, play for 2 hours and watch YouTube videos of decision point, Frank Fontaine reveal, and finale), Gone Home (Fullbright Company, 2 hours), “Origins of the First-Person Shooter” in Gaming (Alexander Galloway, p. 39-69), and “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” (Henry Jenkins)

 

Presentation Topic 5: Interactive Cinema and “Cinematic” Games

Presentation Topic 6: Machinima

Presentation Topic 7: Artificial intelligence systems in video games

 

Oct 18: Curtain (Dreamfeel, 40 minutes), Realistic Female First-Person Shooter (Anna Anthropy, 5 minutes), and “Reaching Toward Home Software Interface as Queer Orientation in the Video Game Curtain” (Whitney Pow, p. 43-56)

 

Presentation Topic 8: Disability studies and games

Presentation Topic 9: Beyond Visuality: Touch-screen games

 

Oct 19: TA Section: Critical play of games with “choice” focus (Quantic Dream games)

 

Oct 19: GAME REVIEW DUE

 

Week 4: Choice

Oct 23: The Stanley Parable (Davey Wreden, 2 hours), Loved (Alexander Ocias, 30 minutes), "Wicked Games: On the Design of Ethical Gameplay“ (Miguel Sicart, p. 101-111), and “Play and Be Real about It: What Games Could Learn from Kink” in Queer Game Studies (Mattie Brice, p. 77-82)

Presentation Topic 10: Casual games

Oct 25: Papers, Please (Lucas Pope, 4.5 hours) and “What Games Can Learn from the Engagement Layers of Papers, Please” (Cory Johnson)

 

Presentation Topic 11: Multiplayer games

 

Oct 26: TA Section: Workshop midterm papers

 

Week 5: Role-Playing

Oct 30: Undertale (Toby Fox, 6.5 hours) and Guest Lecture on RPGs by Mason Arrington

 

Presentation Topic 12: Videogame violence

 

Nov 1: Undertale continued (Toby Fox, 6.5 hours) and “Does Anyone Really Identify with Lara Croft?” in Gaming at the Edge (Adrienne Shaw, p. 55-96)

 

Nov 2: TA Section: Critical play of role-playing game

Nov 2: MIDTERM PAPER DUE

Week 6: Metagaming

Nov 6: Doki Doki Literature Club (Team Salvato, 4 hours) and Save the Date (Paper Dino Software, 30 minutes)

Presentation Topic 13: Visual Novels

Nov. 7: FINAL PROJECT ABSTRACT DUE

Nov 8: “Beyond Play” (Thomas Malaby, p. 95-113), “The Turn of the Tide: E-Sports and the Undercurrency in Dota 2” in Metagaming (Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux, p. 207-272), "What Were 'Minecraft Boosters'? Minecraft, Digital Distribution and Preservative Labour" (Ian Bryce Jones, p. 7-19), and cultures of Fortnite mini-assignment. Guest lecture by Ian Bryce Jones

Presentation Topic 14: Game spectatorship: Twitch and Let’s Play

Nov 9: TA Section: Critical play of network games (Journey)

Week 7: Gamification

Nov 13: “Procedural Rhetoric” in Persuasive Games (Ian Bogost, p. 1-40), “Gaming Literacy” in The Video Game Theory Reader 2 (Eric Zimmerman, p. 23-32), What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (James Paul Gee, p. 1-12), and “A Psychologically ‘Embedded’ Approach to Designing Games for Prosocial Causes” (Geoff Kaufman and Mary Flanagan, p. 1-13). Guest Lecture on Games and Learning by Ashlyn Sparrow

Presentation Topic 15: Newsgames and nonfiction games

Presentation Topic 16: Citizen science games

Nov 15: Reality is Broken (Jane McGonigal, p. 119-45 and 296-344), “Gamification is Bullshit” (Ian Bogost), and Universal Paperclips (Frank Lantz, 7 hours)

Presentation Topic 17: Alternate Reality Games

Presentation Topic 18: Gaming addiction

 

Nov 16: TA Section: SECTION CANCELLED (TA AND INSTRUCTOR AWAY)

Week 8: Networks

Nov 20: We the Giants (Peter Groeneweg, 5 minutes) and One Hour One Life (Jason Rohrer, Play for 2 hours), Optional: “Participatory Aesthetics: Network Games” in Network Aesthetics (Patrick Jagoda, p. 143-180)

 

Presentation Topic 19: #GamerGate

Presentation Topic 20: Massively Multiplayer Online Games and Virtual Worlds

 

Nov 22 and Nov 23: NO CLASS OR SECTION FOR THANKSGIVING

 

Week 9: Failure

Nov 27: SPENT (Urban Ministries of Durham, 10 mins), Third World Farmer (Frederik Hermund, 30 mins), Little Inferno (Tomorrow Corporation, play for at least 1 hour), “Immaterial Labor: A Workers’ History of Videogaming” in Games of Empire (Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter, p. 3-33), and “Games to Fail With” in Playing with Feelings (Aubrey Anabel, p. 103-29)

Nov 29: Dys4ia (Anna Anthropy, 5 minutes), Queers in Love at the End of the World (Anna Anthropy, 10 seconds), Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment (Pippin Barr, 10 mins), and “Playing to Lose: The Queer Art of Failing at Video Games” in Gaming Representation (Bonnie Ruberg, p. 197-211), Optional: "Queer Gaming: Gaming, Hacking, and Going Turbo" (Jack Halberstam, p. 187-200)

Nov 30: TA Section: Workshop final projects

Week 10: Collaboration

Dec 4: FINAL PROJECT IN-CLASS PRESENTATION AND CRITIQUE

 

Dec 6: FINAL PROJECT IN-CLASS PRESENTATION AND CRITIQUE

 

Dec 11: FINAL PROJECT (GROUP) AND REFLECTION (INDIVIDUAL) DUE

 

CLASS EXPECTATIONS

  • 'Timely Arrival: We only meet a handful of times throughout the quarter so make the most of each session. Arrive on time!

  • Attendance: Attendance is required for this course. Students absent for more than one class risk lowering their participation grade; students with more than three unexcused absences will be given a final grade of incomplete or fail.

  • Preparation: Do the reading and take the gameplay seriously. Meaningful discussion depends on your engagement with our core texts and games. All readings and games are to be completed for the date on which they are listed.

  • Annotations and Notes: Bring your notes and annotated readings to class. You should get into the habit of writing down ideas that will strengthen your participation in our group exchange. Just because we’re discussing digital works, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t jot down ideas that will strengthen your participation in our group exchange. These notes may also serve as the starting point for your papers and project.

  • Questions and Office Hours: Always feel free to ask questions either in class or during office hours. A seminar can’t succeed without open discussion and curiosity!

  • Plagiarism: As the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students notes, “It is contrary to ethics, to academic integrity, and to the spirit of intellectual inquiry to submit the statements, ideas, or work of others as one’s own. Such conduct is punishable under the University’s disciplinary system.” If you have any doubts about whether something constitutes plagiarism, you should contact me in advance of turning in work with plagiarized content. Academic dishonesty is a very serious offense — even if it is unintentional. The penalty for plagiarism might include both failure on the paper and failure of this course. Please review the University of Chicago’s official policy online. Keep in mind that academic dishonesty includes buying papers online, outsourcing your academic work to someone else (paid or unpaid), and submitting the same paper to more than one course. This is not an exhaustive list of the practices that constitute academic dishonesty and plagiarism. For more details, please consult the discussion of plagiarism and academic honesty in Doing Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism, and Achieve Real Academic Success.

  • Cell Phones and Laptops: Cell phones must absolutely be turned off in class. While laptops are permitted, I recommend that anyone tempted to check in with social media, email, and other sites unrelated to class should stick to pen and paper for note-taking. If you have a compulsion about emailing, messaging, or checking social media during class (and cannot control yourself), you should absolutely refrain from bringing your laptop to class.

  • Late Papers and Extensions: If any assignment is late, surpassing the deadline, it will immediately drop half grade (e.g. from a B to B-). The grade will continue to drop at a comparable increment every 24 hours thereafter. I do grant extensions (especially in cases of major life events or emergencies) but you should talk to me about this possibility well in advance of the deadline.

  • Student Disability Services: I am committed to meeting the needs of all students. To arrange class-related accommodations, please see Student Disability Services prior to scheduling a meeting with me: http://disabilities.uchicago.edu/accommodations

GRADING

  • Attendance, Preparation, and Discussion in Class and Section: 15%

  • Short Presentations on Critical Videogame Studies Topic (5-7 minutes in groups of 3): 5%

  • Blog Posts (4 Entries and Weekly Responses) and Game Review (2-3 pages): 15%

  • Midterm Paper (5 pages): 25%

  • Final Group Project: Group Abstract (300-400 words), Group Class Presentation (5 minutes), Group Project (variable but substantial), and Individual Reflection (2-3 pages): 40%

 

ASSIGNMENTS: WRITING AND PRESENTATIONS

 

Blog Posts (4) and Responses (Weekly)

Over the course of the quarter, you will contribute to a class blog (located on this site, see link at top of page) through original posts and responses to your peers. These posts are intended to influence and extend the conversations we have during our shared meetings. You are required to post at least 4 entries over the course of the quarter. Each entry should respond to that week’s digital narratives or theoretical reading, expand substantively on an ongoing topic of class discussion (without simply reproducing or documenting an exchange), or call our attention to articles or media about related phenomena. The 5 minimum entries can be posted anytime over the course of the quarter but you may post no more than one post a week for credit (so plan ahead!). Each post must also comment on a topic from the week in which it is posted (so you can’t, for instance, return to a topic from Week 2 on Week 9 unless it is in some way related to a current discussion). While the content of these entries can be wide-ranging and less formal than your essays, you should observe formal citation standards and be mindful of your prose. You are also required to read posts by your classmates and respond briefly to at least one entry per week.

 

Video Game Review (2-3 double-spaced pages)

As a kind of fifth blog entry, you will write a review of any video game that we do not play together for class. Your task with this review is not merely to produce a rhetorical version of a “like” or create a consumer-level review that amounts to a “thumbs up/down.” Instead, I would like you to think about what more intelligent popular short-form writing about video games might look like. How can you use an overview of a game to raise interesting formal, social, and/or political issues? You should post your review on the class blog with a format of “Game Review” followed by your game title (e.g., “Game Review: Persona 5”).

Short Presentations on Critical Videogame Studies Topic (In Groups of 3)

Given the short duration of the quarter, we will not have time to consider a number of major cultural, technological, and formal issues that are relevant to the study of video games. In order to incorporate some overviews of these topics, you will give short presentations, in groups of 3, about a number of predetermined methodological, formal, and topical areas, such as feminist game studies, casual games, and visual novels (see course schedule for more). You may take any path through these broad topic areas. But you have only 5-7 minutes (timed), so you’ll have to be organized and disciplined about your presentation. These presentations will generally take place at the very start of class. Given the short duration, this overview should orient the class to your area with a handful of appropriate examples, dates, and concepts. Even as the presentation is short, you will be expected to do some minimal research that exceeds what one might find in the Wikipedia entry on the topic. In each presentation, each participating student must speak. I suggest preparing a short PowerPoint presentation or including visuals while you speak, but it is not required.

 

Midterm Paper (5+ double-spaced pages)

For your midterm paper, you’ll perform an extended analysis of any video game that we have covered in class up to that point. As you explore your topic, you may turn to formal approaches as well as a cultural theory or philosophical methodology of your choice. The best papers will combine 1.) medium-specific reading practices and 2.) critical theories and methods such as historicism, feminism, critical race theory, Marxism, anthropological ethnography, and/or media theory.

 

Keep in mind that writing persuasively about different forms and media requires specific vocabularies and close reading practices proper to the work in question. For example, if you analyze a film, you must attend not only to plot or character development, but also to features such as shot distance, lighting, costume, mise-en-scène, cut type, sound effects, etc. When you think about a video game, on the other hand, you might consider elements including (but not limited to) aesthetic style, interface design, navigability, (non-)interactivity, game mechanics, platform affordances, networked dimensions, and so forth. So, for this paper, begin with a close reading, develop an argument, and foreground implications (the “So what?” of your argument).

 

FINAL GROUP PROJECT ASSIGNMENTS

 

Final Group Project (Variable Length)

Collaboration is an increasingly vital skill in a cultural landscape dominated by digital technologies. While novels and poems are often written by individual authors, most videogames depend on partnerships among writers, artists, programmers, and designers.

 

For your final project, you will not write a traditional research paper, even as there will be an analytical dimension to your work. Instead, you will create a pre-approved creative project (which can take numerous forms) in assigned groups of 3 participants each. Options might include a Machinima film, a game-oriented website, a text adventure, a Twine game, an art game, a serious or educational game, a Game Design Document for a larger-scale project such as an Alternate Reality Game, or a piece of interactive scholarship (in the style of journals such as Thresholds, Kairos, or Vectors). To produce your work, you might consider turning to software such as WordPress, Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, Twine, Unity, Unreal Development Kit, etc. In order to create a compelling digital work, you need not have substantial or indeed any technical knowledge. I am interested not only in the creativity of your project but also the quality of the associated writing and your engagement with theoretical concepts we have been exploring throughout the quarter.

 

Rather than a complete departure from academic work and game theory, I would like you to engage in a process of what Walter Holland, Henry Jenkins, and Kurt Squire have called “theory by design.” In other words, instead of working through ideas in an expository fashion, you will do so through creative development. While I am not specifying a page count (given project variations), the effort and production should be substantial.

 

Final Group Project Abstract (Approximately 1 page or 300-400 words)

As a group, write a brief abstract for your final project that is due approximately a month before the project deadline. In this abstract, introduce your project and comment upon the type of research and technical knowledge that will be necessary to complete your work in the final month of the quarter. Moreover, how do you foresee the division of labor within your group? Finally, what are the narrative, formal, social, and artistic innovations of the project? You can adjust this as you continue, but it’s useful to have a starting point, well in advance of the deadline. For groups that take a more creative route, you may also find it useful to write a brief outline of your narrative or description of your interface and core gameplay.

Final Project In-class Presentation and Critique (5 minutes)

During the final week of the class, we’ll engage in two presentation and critique sessions. Each group will present its project to a panel of evaluators. This assignment will force you to present the features of your project in a clear and persuasive manner. Visual aids (from powerpoints to images to videos to the completed project) will certainly strengthen your presentation. Your project does not need to be completed, at this stage, but a mockup or selections from the final piece may help.

Individual Reflection (2-3 pages)

Along with your actual group project, I’d like each of you to turn in a brief (2-3 pages) individual reflection about your project that does two things. First, offer a summary of your analytical project or an artist’s statement on the significance of your project. This is your chance to assess the formal significance of your analytical project or to reflect on the theoretical dimensions of your game and to give a reader a frame for encountering your text. Second, comment on the collaborative experience. Collaboration is a difficult process but it can produce astonishing results. In writing this response, consider the following questions: What was it like working with peers from other disciplines? What were the benefits and challenges of collaborating on this kind of design project? What did you contribute to the group? What was the balance of work like in your group?

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