(Subject to Change)
Week 1: VIDEO GAME STUDIES THROUGH CLOSE READING AND CONCEPTS
Oct. 4: TA Section: “How do you perform a video game close reading?” Read: “Game Mechanics, Experience Design, and Affective Play” (Patrick Jagoda and Peter McDonald, p. 174-182), “Conceptual Games, Or the Language of Video Games” (Patrick Jagoda, p. 130-136), and “The Video Game Aesthetic: Play as Form” in The Video Game Theory Reader 2 (David Myers, p. 45-63)
Week 2: POLITICS IN PLATFORMER GAMES
Oct. 7: Braid (Jonathan Blow, 5-6 hours to complete the entire game, but you are only required to finish World 2 and World 3, try one level in each of the worlds, and watch the final level and epilogue on YouTube), “Art” in How to Do Things with Videogames (Ian Bogost, p. 9-17), “Artgames” in Works of Game (John Sharp, p. 49-76), and “Defining Games” in Rules of Play (Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, p. 1-14).
Oct. 9: Problem Attic (Liz Ryerson, play for 1 hour), “The Other Side of Braid” (Liz Ryerson, online), and “Queer Female of Color: The Highest Difficulty Setting There Is? Gaming Rhetoric as Gender Capital” (Lisa Nakamura, online)
Oct. 11: TA Section, Play selection of NES and SNES platformer games
Week 3: CONTROL IN FIRST PERSON (SHOOTER) GAMES
Oct. 14: BioShock (2K Games, watch YouTube video of introduction, decision point, Frank Fontaine reveal, and finale), Tacoma (Fullbright Company, 2.5 hours), “Origins of the First-Person Shooter” in Gaming (Alexander Galloway, p. 39-69), and “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” (Henry Jenkins, online)
Oct. 16: Return of the Obra Dinn (Lucas Pope, 8 hours to complete the entire game, but you are only required to finish approximately 50% for class: precise instructions given in class)
Oct. 18: TA Section, Play Superhot VR (SUPERHOT Team) at the Weston Game Lab
Oct. 18: RETRO VIDEO GAME REVIEW DUE
Week 4: CHOICE AND FREEDOM IN INDEPENDENT GAMES
Oct. 21: The Stanley Parable (Davey Wreden, 2 hours), Loved (Alexander Ocias, 30 minutes), “Defining Ethical Gameplay” in Beyond Choices (Miguel Sicart, p. 5-30), 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. 23: Papers, Please (Lucas Pope, 4.5 hours to complete: instructions for required gameplay to be given in class) and “What Games Can Learn from the Engagement Layers of Papers, Please” (Cory Johnson, online)
Oct. 25: TA Section: Workshop Midterm “Critical Play” Video Essays
Week 5: IDENTITY IN ROLEPLAYING GAMES
Oct. 28: Deltarune: Chapter 1 (3 hours, play complete chapter) and "Introduction" to The Role Playing Society: Essays on the Cultural Influence of RPGs (ed. Andrew Byers and Francesco Crocco, p. 1-14)
Oct. 30: Passage Mod (Mitu Khandaker, 5 minutes), “Does Anyone Really Identify with Lara Croft?” in Gaming at the Edge (Adrienne Shaw, p. 55-96), “Poetics of Form and Politics of Identity; Or, Games as Cultural Palimpsests” (Soraya Murray, p. 47-87)
Nov. 1: TA Section: Play a section of roleplaying game at the Weston Game Lab
Nov. 1: MIDTERM “CRITICAL PLAY” VIDEO ESSAYS DUE
Week 6: METAGAMING IN VISUAL NOVELS AND MODS
Nov. 5: FINAL PROJECT ABSTRACT DUE
Nov. 6: Ennuigi (Josh Millard), Breaksout (Pippin Barr), Radiator 1 (Robert Yang), Super Mario Maker difficult level video, and “About, Within, Around, Without: A Survey of Six Metagames” in Metagaming (Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux, p. 23-76)
Nov. 8: TA Section: Make analog Mario level mods at the Weston Game Lab
Week 7: PROCEDURAL RHETORIC AND GAMIFICATION IN SERIOUS GAMES
Nov. 11: Phone Story (molleindustria), We Become What We Behold (Nicky Case), “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).
Nov. 15: TA Section: Play Stardew Valley Co-op at the Weston Game Lab
Week 8: NETWORKS AND PLAY IN MULTIPLAYER GAMES
Nov. 18: Discuss Stardew Valley Co-op, Watch Twitch Plays Pokemon clip, “Participatory Aesthetics: Network Games” in Network Aesthetics (Patrick Jagoda, p. 143-180), and passage from Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming (T.L. Taylor)
Nov. 20: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo, play for minimum of 4 races at Weston Game Lab), “Against Procedurality” (Miguel Sicart, online) and “Interaction Forms and Communicative Actions in Multiplayer Games” (Tony Manninen, online)
Nov. 22: TA Section: Workshop Final Projects
Week 9: FAILURE IN FUMBLECORE GAMES AND PRECARITY IN VIDEOGAME LABOR
Nov. 25: SPENT (Urban Ministries of Durham, 15 mins), Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment (Pippin Barr, play for 5-10 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. 27: Queers in Love at the End of the World (Anna Anthropy, 10 seconds), QWOP (Bennett Foddy, 2 minutes), and “Queer Gaming: Gaming, Hacking, and Going Turbo” in Queer Game Studies (Jack Halberstam, p. 187-199)
Nov. 28-29: THANKSGIVING BREAK (NO TA SECTION)
Week 10: BEYOND VIDEO GAMES: MACHINIMA, INTERACTIVE FICTION, & TRANSMEDIA GAMES
Dec. 1: FINAL PROJECT VIDEO PRESENTATION (GROUP) DUE
Dec. 2: Watch one of: Diary of a Camper (United Ranger Films), Red vs. Blue episode 1, “Why are We Here?” (Burnie Burns), Super Mario Clouds (Cory Arcangel), or RECKONING 3 (Kent Lambert), play Her Story (2.5 hours), and in-class presentation on UChicago Alternate Reality Game projects
Dec. 4: Course Conclusion
Dec. 10: FINAL PROJECT (GROUP) AND REFLECTION (INDIVIDUAL) DUE
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, we 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. We 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: We are committed to meeting the needs of all students. To arrange class-related accommodations, please see Student Disability Services prior to scheduling a meeting with us.
Attendance, Preparation, and Discussion in Class and Section: 15%
Blog Posts (4 Entries and Weekly Responses throughout quarter): 15%
Retro Game Review (2-3 pages): 5%
Midterm Critical Play Video Essay (10-15 minutes): 25%
Final Group Project: Group Abstract (300-400 words), Group Video Presentation (5-7 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 Wix site) 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 4 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.
Retro Video Game Review (2-3 double-spaced pages)
You will write a critical review of a video game that we do not play together for class that was released during the fifth generation of consoles (1993–1998) or earlier. That means you could review a game that can be played for consoles that include the Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, or Sega Saturn. Many of these consoles are available for checkout at the Weston Game Lab in the Media Arts, Data, and Design Center, and numerous games are available for checkout at Crerar Library.
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? Or how can you elaborate a concept demonstrated by that game? You should post your review on the class blog with a format of “Game Review” followed by your game title (e.g., “Game Review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”).
Midterm Critical Play Video Essay (10-15 minutes)
For your midterm, 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 analyses will combine 1.) medium-specific reading practices, 2.) critical theories and methods such as historicism, feminism, critical race theory, Marxism, anthropological ethnography, and/or media theory, and 3.) a clear definition of a concept that you are exploring and complicating.
Keep in mind that a persuasive analysis of 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.
Instead of writing a paper, we are asking you to create a short video that includes your own verbal analysis combined with footage of gameplay that you are analyzing. You will receive additional instructions and resources for creating these essays. Samples of published versions of video essays, which analyze video games and film, include:
Ian Bryce Jones, “Special Effectivities” in [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies 6.3, 2019.
Allison de Fren, “Ex Machina: Questioning the Human Machine,” Vimeo.
We are not expecting video essays of this quality but they can serve as models. Both essays grapple with sophisticated theoretical concepts and questions via close readings and media examples. Your video essay should introduce your game, include a close reading, develop an argument, and foreground implications (the “So what?” of your argument). In addition to footage from your primary game case, you can include footage of other games if they serve 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 approximately 5 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 Pitch (5-7 minute video)
During the final week of the class, as a group, you will hand in a roughly 5-7-minute video that introduces your final project. This assignment will force you to present the features of your project in a clear and persuasive manner. The video should combine your group members speaking, alongside screenshots, gameplay video, or visual aids (e.g., PowerPoint slides) that convey your concept. Your project does NOT need to be completed, at this stage, but a mockup or selections from the final piece may help. This will be your last opportunity to receive feedback prior to turning in the final project.
Individual Reflection (2-3 pages)
Along with your actual group project, we would 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?