January 2010 Archives


Final Update

And so it ends. 

Thanks for all your hard work and great conversations.  I look forward to evaluating your last few submissions.

As I've mentioned before, since a few students may be tweaking their creative presentations, you are all welcome to comment on each other's final projects over the weekend.  The final draft of Paper 2 is due on Monday. I've also asked everyone to participate in a final discussion question, posted in the GriffinGate forum.

We've learned a lot about our own tastes in games; about the complex, deep relationship between "fun" and learning; about the difference between playing for pleasure and playing for study; about the difference between writing a traditional review, writing a "new games journalism" essay, and an academic paper.  We've learned a bit about the history and development of video games, about what there is to say when we move beyond "it was fun/boring" and "here's how you play," to asking questions about who plays games and why; what society at large has to say about games and why; about mainstream blockbuster games, "serious games" for education and political change, modding, and indie gaming.  You've had the opportunity to discuss some big-picture questions, you have on occasion disagreed respectfully with each other and with me, and your blogs are a record of your developing thoughts.

If you liked the parts of the course that dealt with interactive fiction, blogging, and online presentations, I'll offer more of those this fall in "Writing for the Internet."  That's a prerequisite for the more advanced "New Media Projects," which is a studio course in which you'll learn a handful of tools and have the time to build a new media project. (Each year, about half the students in both of the courses choose to program an interactive fiction game, but informative or creative websites are other possibilities.)

You are welcome to return to your blog and keep updating it. (I may turn off the "comment" feature if your blog gets noticed by spammers and I see you haven't updated it in a long time. If you ever want me to turn the comments back on, I'll be happy to do so.)

Would anyone be interested in having a class reunion (can it really be a "reunion" if we've never met in person?) in the IT department's video game center?  If we had been running this course during the regular semester, we would have spent a lot of time in that room.

In the future, if you come across anything that makes you think of "Video Game Culture and Theory," I'd be happy to hear from you.
Due Today:

Portfolio 3

Final participation portfolio, emphasizing your accomplishments since the previous portfolio. Follow the same format as the last two portfolios.

Emphasize especially

  • your contributions to the online discussions of student-selected readings, games, and term projects
  • your contributions to peer-led discussions

Post a link from here to your blog entry by 4pm.

Due Today:

P2 Revision

Minimum 6 pages, not counting the works cited list. Demonstrate your ability to respond substantially to the feedback I gave you on your draft.

I've added a bit to the "Indie and Viral Games" discussion page for today; I don't feel the need to add a whole online lecture there, since we already had a successful student-led discussion of indie games. But I did add a few details about viral games, such as Farmville.  (I'm using the term "viral" in the sense "spreads from user to user, much as a virus spreads from cell to cell.")

I've also added a final GriffinGate forum thread -- just an informal "What do you think of the course now that it's almost over?" prompt. You're also free to blog about your reactions, but I thought it would be appropriate to end the course in the same forum where we started.

Online Participation

I've reported grades for last week's participation -- both the blogging portfolio and the online reading quizzes.

I continue to be impressed by everyone's blogging, but because there is no assignment that requires you to look at each other's portfolios, I realize that many of you may not have seen the creativity of Matt's portfolio, admired the clarity and insight that Susan and Beth Anne offered, or marveled at Jessie's meticulously annotated links. I invite everyone to take a look at these excellent portfolios, and get some ideas for how to present Portfolio 3.

Rather than give reading quizzes this week, I will make the final blogging portfolio worth 100 points, instead of the usual 50.  I'll distribute those additional 50 points according to how actively you participated in your peer-led discussions, and how engaged you are in the online discussion of final projects. (Part of this component includes posting your project, or at least a rough version of it, early enough that your peers can see and comment on it.)

Wrapping Things Up

You are welcome to submit all your work by 5pm tomorrow and be done with the class; however, I will let the discussion of final projects run through the weekend, so if you'd like a list-minute chance to get some participation points, you'll have the time to view and comment substantially on all your peer projects. 

Those of you who already posted your project link for today, feel free to re-post on the Friday page, if you have made any changes that you want us to see.

Keep up the good work, everyone.

Your assessment of your own online article presentation, and your participation in the presentations of your peers.

Non-commercial art games and hobbyist remixes sometimes capture the collective interest of online gamers.

Since we have already covered this as part of a student presentation, I encourage you to participate in and further the discussion; I don't feel I need to assign additional readings.

I should point out that Adventure, 9:05, and all the IF games you sampled also count as indie games -- with the exception of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," which was originally released as a commercial title.

One thing I will mention... Farmville.

What do you feel about games that integrate with social networks to this degree?

General Comments

I'm glad to see the activity in the student-led discussions.  Let's all do our best to keep the momentum going as we reach the end of the line.

We only have one assigned reading for today, but I have posted a new discussion topic on Modding, Machinima and Motion Capture.  Please take a look and share your thoughts on how gaming technology helps us tell stories in other media.

Yesterday I spent all day marking term paper rough drafts. I really enjoyed reading what you accomplished.  I learned about games that I haven't played, I read your references to academic studies I didn't know about, and I got to wrestle with some challenging and insightful new ideas. 

A Word on Beta Releases

Game developers usually release a near-finished version of a game to a small group of volunteer playtesters.  During the trial run, the developers eagerly look for the flaws their beta testers encounter. Of course, designers hope there won't be any big flaws, but if the testers find them at this early stage, you can be sure that the paying customers will find them, too. Better to catch those problems early, while there's still time to address them.

Your rough draft is a beta release of your ideas.  So, when you do your peer review exercise, think of yourself as testing out the ideas your peers are exploring, and if you run into any weaknesses, tell your peers now, while they still have time to work on the issues (and time to ask for help).

Responding to Feedback

When I submit an article for publication or a report to a committee, of course I'd rather hear "This is fantastic! Don't make any changes, you're finished!" 

When instead I hear, "This is mostly okay, but these parts need more work," I admit that sometimes I get a sinking feeling. 

But in the long run, I realize that people who make substantial, candid suggestions -- especially when they make them in private, so as not to embarrass me -- are valuable resources.  They are not simply trying to point out all my flaws to make me feel bad. They are, instead, giving me secret tips that I can use to improve an end product that has my name on it. 

Any feedback that comes before the deadline tells me what is working and what isn't working, and that helps me plan the time remaining until the final deadline. I can't act on every single suggestion, but I can try to decide what changes will have the greatest impact.

About the Revision Process

I'm glad to see plenty of evidence of students who are taking the peer review assignments seriously.  (Be sure to give yourself enough time -- it takes a while to read and comment on a research paper).

When you get feedback (from peers, and from me), remember that constructive criticism helps you deliver a better final product. 

Any time you have the opportunity to revise a paper, fixing spelling mistakes and moving commas around may get you a few points.

The word "revise" means "to see again." To take the full advantage of the opportunity to revise, recall that -- instead of making local insertions and edits -- I'm asking you to rethink, remove, and rebuild those parts of your paper that didn't help you advance your goal. (Are you summarizing the game plots, instead of analyzing them? Are you summarizing your sources, instead of using them to advance your own ideas?)

As I noted in a few recent e-mails, I would be happy to arrange a telephone conference, to discuss your first steps, as you contemplate your revision assignment.

What can I do to help? Please post your thoughts on this page, or send me an e-mail directly. I'm happy to do what I can to help you do your best work.

Time reserved for brainstorming and troubleshooting the creative term presentations. Post an update and let me know if I can offer you any technical help.

Here are the project suggestions that appeared in the instructions for section 6 of the presubmission report:

  • A video lecture in which you engage the class in a discussion about your chosen topic.
  • A narrrated playthrough of an important event in a game. Can you freeze-frame and zoom in on important details, and interview the participants about why the event was significant?
  • I used to joke that your presentation could include interpretive dance if you want. In Fall 2009, some students in my literature class did, in fact, dance several different potential interpretations of important scenes from the literary works.  Their presentation was fantastic, because they didn't simply summarize the plot, they carefully chose two or three different but valid ways to interpret each scene, and that made the class think about which interpretation they preferred, and why. (I wish I had a video of their work! Obviously, if you choose this option, you'll need to record it and share it, at least within the class.)
  • You could design your own game, and make a video with paper cutouts on Popsicle sticks, or LEGOS, or sock puppets. The game proposal should serve the academic point you want to make, rather than demonstrate your ability to follow industry trends, or your confidence that the world is full of fools and that one day you will crush them all.

Update, 19 Jan: I'd like to see enough material that would fill about a 10-15 minute in-class presentation. It should be related to the research you're doing for your term project; my hope is that working on this project will actually help you revise your paper. But please, do not just read from your paper into a camera or microphone.

In various e-mail exchanges with students, among the suggestions I have made or approved include:

  • A YouTube video (showing gameplay with your commentary; it doesn't need to be as fancy as the IF videos I made with Peter -- you could do it in the style of the Civlization III and TimezAttack videos, instead.)
  • A podcast (along the lines of the "What is Fun?" audio clip from earlier in the term).
  • An informative, richly-linked, blog entry (along the lines of Leslie Rodriquez's project on Lara Croft)
  • A simple Scratch game, or a series of games that illustrate various issues from the course (there's a passage in the Scratch tutorial where I make the ball say "You killed me!" when you lose a point, and then I change it to say "Let's try again!" Even while I was making the video, I was surprised at the effect of making my creation talk to me like that.)
  • A simple interactive fiction game that illustrates a point you want to make. (Those of you with the skills to do this, you already know who you are.)
  • I am open to suggestions. Be creative; demonstrate your ability to apply what you learned; support a specific, non-obvious argument, rather than just listing interesting things you've found about cool stuff.

Create a web page that links to all your resources, with a brief "how to" that mentions any special tools or techniques you used, or any particular difficulties you're proud of overcoming.

Assigned Text:

Reading 6 TBA

Assigned Text:

Wilson (with Cody)

Areas of creative digital expression that relate directly to games.

Games have driven advances in technology that enable creative people to tell stories in ways that would previously have been impossibly expensive. Of course, the fact that the untrained masses can produce content with a few clicks does not guarantee that every creative effort is a masterpiece -- in fact most if it is forgettable. But the right tools do permit ordinary people -- even those who are not programmers -- to create extraordinary things.

Sims Stories

The creators of The Sims did not expect that users would take screenshots, post them to fan pages, and use them as the framework for storytelling. As the developers realized that fans were doing this on their own, they encouraged the practice within the game.

This past summer, Robin Burkinshaw "a student of games design in the UK" created two sims, took away their house, and told a story about what happened to them.  He posted the story in installments on a blog, "Alex and Kev."  If you want to create your own Alice & Kev fan fiction, you can even download the characters and tweak their environment, to try to achieve a different story.  


In its simplest form, modding is creating additional content for existing games. In the 90s, fans of DOOM could create and share their own levels. For much of the 90s, this kind of thing was in a legal gray zone, since copyright owners weren't always comfortable with the idea of other people messing with their files.

But modding also means changing ("modifying") the rules of the game.

Authors of early text-adventure games would encrypt their data files, in order to make it harder for casual gamers to cheat. The additional challenge of hacking the software to look for hidden "Easter eggs" was part of the fun of playing a game.  We see a echo of that historical experience in the concept of "cheat codes" -- built-in power-ups designed to give hard-core gamers additional reason to keep paying a game.

Game designers realized that the longer the hard-core gamers remained interested in a title, the more copies the game would sell.

Half-Life 2 comes with a free editing tool that lets users create their own maps.  Power users can edit the bitmap textures, either by crudely adding smiley faces or targets on their enemies, or adding the faces of people they know into the game world.

HL2 is a sci-fi combat game. The editing tool that comes with the game is so powerful that a group of fans completely rebuilt the game as a World War II simulator  -- replacing the futuristic weapons with historical pieces, the horror- and sci-fi props and settings with realistic historical ones.  The result grew so popular that it was released as a commercial title, Day of Defeat. 

(After I got stuck in HL2 in 2006, I stopped playing the game and dabbled with my own mod.  I reported on my progress over several weeks... see Week 1, Week 6,  and Week 10.)


A very popular do-it-yourself strategy for using a computer to tell a story is to build on the framework of a coputer game -- "machinima" (for "machine" + "animation"). 

The long-running "Red vs. Blue" series uses in-game footage from Halo to assemble a story. It started out as little more than a lark in 2003, but the series has continued for years and been released on DVDs.

Motion Capture

First drawing serious mainstream attention in the character Gollum from the Lord of the Rings movies, motion capture technology involves an actor wearing a special suit, performing motions that a computer records. The angle of their limbs, the position of their body parts, and the speed and direction in which all the parts move can be mapped to a 3D computer-generated character, which can result in animated CG images that convince our brains that what we are watching is more than a cartoon. (But if you've seen any publicity material on Avatar, you already know all this.)

When motion capture works, the effects are breathtaking. Here we see a few stages in the creation of Gollum.

The above image is from a a good analysis of the weaknesses of a motion-capture system that's not employed very well.  The characters in The Polar Express seem stiff and waxy

The Uncanny Valley

When animation is too real for our brain to process it as a cartoon, but not real enough for us to accept it on a deep, instinctive level; something seems wrong.  We're trained to sense trouble when someone won't make eye contact with us, when their facial expression doesn't match their words, when they moving stiffly (perhaps because they've been injured by a hazard we haven't noticed yet). 

If part of you is just a little creeped out by clowns, or china dolls, or you're amused by zombies and other undead, it's because those human-like creations fall along a line. To some extent, the more human-like something is, the better we respond to it. But at some point, when something looks very much like a normal human, but does not act like a normal human, our comfort level drops.

The term was coined by a robot designer, but it applies just as well to digital creations. (See Uncanny Valley.)

File:Mori Uncanny Valley.svg

Assigned Text:

Eladhari (with Keith)

Assigned Text:

Grimes (with Susan)

Due Today:

P2: Draft

About four pages, demonstrating your ability to use academic sources (not random web pages, homework posted by undergraduates, or magazine/newspaper articles) to support a non-obvious, debatable claim about your chosen games studies topic.

The page devoted to the Presubmission Report has more details about the assignment; I won't repeat all that material here.

Don't forget to include the games themselves in an MLA-style Works Cited list. (Check your Basic Comp or STW handbook for the details.)

Once I have reviewed your submission, we will schedule a one-on-one conversation (by phone or video chat, if you like) to discuss your progress and trade ideas.

There are no new assignments this day.

For today's new discussion topic, which will run over the long weekend, we will look at MIT's Scratch project. Please watch the videos (you can fold your laundry or whatever while watching them -- they're just not deeply technical) and post a well-thought-out response that demonstrates your ability to engage with and apply the material. (What connections can you make to readings, or discussions you've had on peer blogs? Post quotes and links where appropriate.)

I think everyone has a pretty clear sense of what's coming next, so this update will be short.
  • My task for the rest of the day will be to provide feedback on the presubmission reports, after which I will turn to your portfolios. 
  • There is no homework scheduled for Monday.
  • Tuesday, there are two scheduled readings, and a four-page draft of your research paper is due.
  • At some point next week, I will post another set of GriffinGate reading quizzes for the chapters we've chosen in Williams and Smith.
I will check in from time to time over the weekend, and I will be happy to answer quick questions about sources or thesis statements.

Meanwhile, please continue to share your successes and frustrations on the Presubmission Report page, which was yesterday's class discussion topic.

Even a quick scan of the portfolio submissions reveals plenty of enthusiasm and confidence. We've already accomplished so much!  Best wishes to each of you as we prepare for the final stretch.
We've talked quite a bit about what kids can learn from playing games. And we've also touched on the "are games art" debate. While little kids still need to fingerpaint and roll clay snakes in order to explore the physical world, as they get older they will spend more and more time in a digital world.
Instead of worrying about whether kids can absorb by playing games created by adults, let's consider what can they can accomplish by creating their own media for their peers.. 
MIT's free tool Scratch is designed to get kids programming, so that they can create their own games and animations. (Watch a 5-minute intro to Scratch.)  

Kids can start out just watching cartoon characters move around, but with a little guidance, they can start adding more sophisticated controls and program complex interactions. 
  • Whether they plan to be programmers or not when they grow up, they will use computers all their lives.  Rather than let them think of what goes on inside that box as magic, or dismiss technology because "computers hate me"...
  • Scratch introduces kids to the idea that everything that happens inside a computer follows a rule, and that -- at least until the robot uprising -- those rules come from people.
Watch an Scratch Programming Session

In about 30 minutes, these videos walk you through the steps of how to build a simple Breakout game in Scratch.  In the last 2 videos, for another 15 or so minutes, I'm mostly tweaking a working demo.
How do these videos affect your thoughts on games and education, and on your own potential for creating interactive media?
I'm am not requiring you to use this tool for class, but if you like what you see....
  • I encourage you to consider using it to help present the creative part of your term project.
  • You can download it free at scratch.mit.edu. The web is full of sample projects and user-created tutorials; here are some Scratch tutorials recorded by kids.

Due Today:

Portfolio 2

A new participation portfolio, covering your accomplishments since the first portfolio was due.


Discusson Leaders: Jessie and Matt.

Games allow younger and younger people to become experts, with the careful mentoring of adults. Suggest erasing the distinction between formal and informal learning.

If you are particularly interested in games and learning, I strongly recommend Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy.

Assigned Text:

Squire and Jenkins

Harnessing the Power of Games in Education (pdf) 

(the same text is also available in HTML format)

From early flight simulators to multiplayer games like America's Army (see Figure 1), the
military has long recognized the potential for games and simulations to enable the teaching and testing of skills that could not be rehearsed in real-world environments. Ironically, these military links have been exploited by fearmongers, such as military psychologist and anti-video-game activist David Grossman, to drive a wedge between games and schools.

Due Today:

P2 Presubmission

Advance work for an academic research paper that explores some aspect of game culture and theory. (What is a college research paper?)

Your presubmission report is a single word processor file, about 2-3 pages, uploaded to Turnitin.com, that includes the following, numbered sections:

David Ewalt offers a good introduction to "Serious Games"

Update: I just got an email from How-To E D U, promoting this list of 50 free online educational games. What do you think?

I've been enjoying my e-mail exchanges with students who are exploring ways to turn their curiosities and interests into an academic thesis.

  • As with Portfolio 1, please post a link to Porftolio 2 by 4pm, even if your portfolio isn't quite finished.
  • For all the presubmissions that are in on time tomorrow, I aim to provide quick feedback (within a few hours, I hope).
  • There is no homework assigned for Monday, due to the holiday.  I will, however, be checking in over the weekend, to guide you as you continue to develop your ideas for the research project.
Gearing up for the Term Paper Quest

Every time I introduce a research paper assignment, some students attempt to fall back on a strategy that worked for them in high school. They write up the whole paper based on what they already think about their chosen topic, and then they "look for quotes" from sources that agree with them.

But that's not research -- that's just seeking conformation of your own biases.  If you've invested time in writing up a paper based on what you already think, human nature will lead to ignore the very sources you can learn the most from -- the sources that challenge what you think you know.

Equipping the Right Thesis

Although the subject of the course is "games" and a central question is "what is fun?", there's no avoiding the fact that writing a college research paper on any subject is an intellectually demanding task. 

In high school, you probably never had to struggle to find a thesis, possibly because you were given a statement and told to agree or disagree, or you were given a list of thesis statements to choose from.  If that's the case, you might be worried that you're doing something wrong.  You might feel that if only you were a little smarter or the course weren't so intense, you would know what you were supposed to be writing about.

You might be a little frustrated by the research task you face. You might be tempted to fall back on that strategy that worked in high school -- write the paper first, based on your own opinions, and then "look for quotes" later.

What makes the research process in our class especially difficult is the abundance of online information written in a snappy, appealing manner. It's hard to turn your attention away from the low-hanging fruit -- the popular articles and fansites (that are designed to be almost as "fun" as the games they cover) -- and turn your attention towards academic research (which still makes my head hurt from time to time -- especially after a satisfying session of Onslaught 2).

The Research Process in a Nutshell

  1. Choose a general topic.
  2. Look for credible sources.
  3. Keep looking, until you
    1. come up with a thesis based on the materials you've found, or
    2. change your topic to better match the kinds of information you can actually find.
This time next week, you will very likely look back with pride and wonder at your accomplishments.

Please let me know how you feel, and how I can help you on this journey.
Assigned Text:

Open Choice

Choose any video game, classic or new, on any platform, and present a case study. Explain why your choice is worthy of academic study. Offer supporting materials and discussion questions.

Based on class interest, in this slot, I'm going to name:

Mutual Fantasy Online: Playing with People (Mortensen)

Torill actually visited SHU several years ago, when academic blogging -- and blogging in general -- was very new.  I invited her to present on media panics and hypertext theory.

The story of how I spent a week getting a group of students to disagree with what she was posting on her blog, then asking them to consider what they would say to her if they ever met her, and then having her walk into the classroom was quite amusing.

Discussion leaders: Beth Anne and Jeremy.

Let's revisit our understanding of key concepts, as we move into the final unit (which is designed to help you develop your term project).

I've posted feedback on the NGJ articles -- which I really enjoyed -- and also posted the evaluations of the peer reviews.  I'll get as far as I can on Ex 4 before 6 tonight, and I'll finish up and get started on Ex 5 after the kids are in bed.

Some students have already posted their "Case Study" for tomorrow -- that's great to see.

I've chosen Mortensen's essay as the first student-requested essay from our anthology.  A few of you requested Delwiche's essay, which was already on the syllabus; if as a result you've only suggested one reading, I encourage you to follow up with a back-up suggestion, so that everyone has recommended two.

Please remember to contribute to the discussion topic on your research process for Ex 5.

Leslie Rodriguez has left a number of thoughtful posts, indicating that she's interested in continuing the exploration of gender in video games, that she began in this class 4 years ago.  I hope you all find a topic that you care enough about that you'll come back the next time I teach this class, and help the students discover their own insights.

I've enjoyed reading your reactions to the IF gameplay sessoin.  I'll repeat the links I left on that page. These aren't homework assignments that you have to analyze, just media clips that you can appreciate now that you've gained the obscure knowledge necessary.

Friday: Presubmission Report

You may notice that tomorrow is a little light, in terms of reading, compared to last week.

That's because I'm encouraging you to use the time to prepare for the advance work on Paper 2.  The "Presubmission Report" for Paper 2 is due Friday.  It's more than a proposal, and much less than a rough draft.  You won't be able to do this in one sitting, just before the deadline, because it requires you to find and quote from the academic sources you're planning to use in your papers.  It asks you to find a range of academic opinions, including quotes that work against the argument you're promoting.   (See the details on the Presubmission Report page.)

If you are used to a last-minute adrenaline-fueled rush to finish your paper, this assignment is designed to get you to start that process early, and to it stages, so that I have time to give you feedback on your ideas.

The only way you can truly bomb the presubmission report is by not turning one in. Please don't think of it as a hurdle, or a hoop to jump through; it's an opportunity for you to get feedback at an early stage, so that you don't end up spending hours churning out pages that turn out to be an intellectual dead end, or that re-invent the wheel.

Most students say that once they've written a successful presubmission, they've assembled all the details and sources they need, and the paper prettty much writes itself.

What follows is just for fun.

Assigned Text:

IF games

Now that you have read a lot of background on interactive fiction games, and watched some playthroughs, I'm asking you to sample different IF games, so that you can see how the form has developed.  You are welcome to choose an IF focus for upcoming assignments, but this marks the formal end of our IF unit, so this would be a good time to demonstrate your ability to apply what you have learned so far in the course.

1) From this list, choose 3 text games to play for 10 minutes each, and write a single blog entry with your initial reactions.

  • Pytho's Mask (conversation and character interaction)
  • Lost Pig (exploration, puzzles, and humor)
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams adapted his comic SF novel to this form in the 80s... Very difficult and unfair, just like the world is to Arthur Dent) (The original game had no pictures, but the BBC had a competition for who could create an illustrated version.)
  • Zork (better-known successor to Adventure, with a more powerful parser; puzzles, exploration, and combat, forming part of the DNA of current gaming)
  • ELIZA (from 1966; not really a game, but a simulation of a therapist who listens patiently, asks guiding questions, and echoes back parts of what you type).
  • Dreamhold ("a tutorial adventure" designed for IF novices)
  • Fine Tuned (got some attention for its humor, its setting, and its main character (you're a goggle-wearing turn-of-the century daredevil motorist -- or you will be, once you get the hang of using the parking brake) (written by an author you may know)
  • Everybody Dies (play through a scenario form multiple points of view, trying to prevent tragedies. Includes images to illustrate key moments, but you have to download a separate program to run this game... clear instructions are on the site.)

2) Spend another 20 minutes, either choosing one or two of the games you just sampled, or exploring the Interactive Fiction Database and finding any game that suits your taste.

3) Write a deeper reaction to the game you chose to spend more time with. As part of the blog entry you write for #2, locate and post a link to a review of your chosen game, and compare that reviewer's reactions with your own.
Assigned Text:


In Williams and Smith (91-109)

There's nothing you need to post on your blog, but by 10am today please finish the Turnitin.com peer review for Ex 3.
Assigned Text:

Jerz, "Fatworld Review"

Read this review of a game that is designed to teach and persuade.

Assigned Text:

Laurel, 59-108

Complete the brief, timed, open-book comphrehension quiz on GriffinGate (now that you have finished the book).

Locate three peer-reviewed academic articles or books on a gaming topic of your choice. Note that not all books are academic; and encyclopedias, fan sites, and news reports are not peer-reviewed.

Due Today:

Project Proposal

Propose a research project. What specific game(s) or research question do you want to explore? What has already been published about your topic, and what do you feel remains left unsaid?

Update (answering Jessie's question):

You can post your idea here, put it on your blog (and post the URL here), or e-mail me (with a brief note reminding me to check my e-mail for your proposal).

I'll offer feedback in whatever forum you choose. And if you feel it would help, we could arrange phone call, too.

What were your experiences looking for peer-reviewed academic sources on games?

What were the steps you took to complete Ex 5? What gave you the most trouble, and what tips can you share with your peers? What questions arise from your exposure to games scholarship?

How confident are you that you know when you have found peer-reviewed academic research?

What do you do when you can't find an academic article on the game you want to study?

You needn't post an answer to each prompt -- these are just an indication of the questions I hope this topic will explore.  As we begin the research process that will lead to the academic component of the final project, let's keep this discussion forum in mind, so that we have a place to go to share our successes and frustrations.  I'll do whatever I can to help, including helping you to evaluate the credibility of sources that you find, and even recommending articles, if any come to mind.

Begin by posting your initial reaction here. If you wish, you may post on your own blog as well, but rather than just posting the URL, help your peers identify the topics they'll be most interested in discussing, by adding a few lines explaining what your readers will find if they click on the link.

A note on starting conversations online

Steady as she goes... I'm continuing to see good interaction, thoughtful responses to the readings, and some candid reflections on how looking at games in a new light has led to new insights and encouraged you to make connections and ask new questions.

Koster and Laurel reading quizzes

  • I have one more Koster question to write, and then I will post the final set of questions for "A Theory of Fun."
  • I've posted a set for Laurel; they are in two parts, so you don't feel rushed, but the division line for the questions is not necessarily the line that divides the selections that I assigned.   I'd rather you approach the whole set with the whole book finished.

On Turnitin.com, you should see a running total of your grade so far. It takes a bit longer to mark the longer papers you've been writing, so I'm still working on some of your recent submissions, but I aim to catch up in the next day or two.

Bibliography Assignment

The upcoming bibliography assignment is your chance to check your sources with me before you commit to using them in an academic paper. 
  • Using Google to search for your favorite game is NOT going to yield good results. It's much better to start with a library database that you can restrict to peer-reviewed sources, OR
  • Look at the bibliography of any of the essays in our collection, and look up the individual articles cited as credible sources.  OR
  • I also found a video game bibliography created by students in Zach Walen's video game course at the University of Mary Washington. If you set the "Type" to journal article, book, book chapter, conference paper, or thesis, you are very likely to find valuable scholarly materials.
If, after completing this assignment, you feel you want to change your topic, that's fine with me.  You are welcome to think of Ex 5 as your first step to starting your final project, or you can just pick an easy topic in order to get it done quickly.  Either way, you'll be demonstrating your ability to find credible sources.

New discussion topic:

My Games Research Story

This is advanced preparation for Ex 6.

Choose two articles from the Williams and Smith textbook that are not already on the syllabus, and explain why you think the class would benefit from reading each one. I will choose four or five articles, and name students to lead an online discussion of those articles, in the empty slots that are already listed on the syllabus.

Watch this promo, and do some research online, and venture an opinion. How informed is your opinion if you have not actually played this game? (It took me about 4 hours to finish... you are free to choose this game for your term project, but I am not actually asking you to play this game unless you want to.)

Sample this game in your web browser, then post your initial reactions. Then, demonstrate your ability to research and analyze; post a more detailed statement that makes a specific claim, backed up with evidence.

Assigned Text:

Case Study: September 12

Sample this game in your web browser, then post your initial reactions. Then, demonstrate your ability to research and analyze; post a more detailed statement that makes a specific claim, backed up with evidence.

Assigned Text:

Classic Choice

Choose any classic game (I'll let you define "classic"), and find a good online resources that helps you to explore a complex, debabale claim about gender.

Assigned Text:

Laurel, 1-52

Complete the brief, timed, open-book comphrehension quiz on GriffinGate. (Forthcoming.)

Assigned Text:


Read this student project on Lara Croft.

Read Consalvo (in Williams and Smith 203-222). What are the benefits and drawbacks of treating this article as an exploration of gender? Write a 500-word response that demonstrates your ability to engage with an academic text. (Upload to Turnitin.com.)

Rather than listing the benefits and drawbacks in different paragraphs, then tacking on an intro and conclusion, take and support a non-obvious, debatable claim that explores gender and Consalvo's article.

Other disciplines may have a very specific, formal way to critique an academic article. I'm asking for the kind of persuasive paper you wrote towards the end of Basic Comp or STW, in which you take a clear stand (not "There are many interesting things to say about this paper," or "Some may say this paper is X, and some may say that it is Y, but I'm going to argue that it is Z.") and back it up with specific evidence (in this case, quotations from the essay we're reading).  You've already been doing this, on a small scale, when you quote from the assigned chapters on your blog. Now I'm asking you to do so on a larger scale, so that you can get my feedback on your academic writing, before we launch into the term paper.

Feminist scholars have long been interested by the ways that technology seems to change the way we "embody" acts of communication.

As we start the second week of classes, I don't feel that I need to post links to all the upcoming work -- you've all been able to find it on your own.

I will post a friendly reminder that the readings and blog entries are due at 10am in the day they appear on the syllabus; those due dates are the canary in the coal mine -- if you start posting the reading reflections a little late, you'll fall behind in the discussions, and there may be a cascading effect.

I've posted a short list of IF games for an assignment (due on the 13th) in which I'd like you to sample three text games for 10 minutes each, and then choose one or two of those games to play for another 20 minutes. (You're welcome to play longer, of course.)  The assignment page describes how I'd like to blog your reaction.  Remember to post 2-4 comments on peer blogs, too.

Blogging Interaction

In the past few days, student blogs have attracted comments from Raph "A Theory of Fun" Koster, Scott "Adventureland" Adams, and Leslie Rodriquez, the former student who created the "Lara Croft" page (she's currently working in new media for an environmental company in the Washington DC area).  Adam "9:05" Cadre left a comment on YouTube and also e-mailed me privately (to say watching the video of the cubicle bug finally prompted him to dig into his source code and fix it -- but he realized he's lost the source code).  I hope you make the most of your opportunity to explore what your peers are saying.

Moving from Personal Reflection into Scholarship

As a discussion question for today, I've posed a few ideas as we start to close down the IF unit and move into games scholarship.  Academic scholarship is more complex than simply using Google and Wikipedia -- it involves peer-reviewed academic journals.

How confident are you that you know academic scholarship when you see it?

We've looked at the difference between a traditional game review and new games journalism, and I'm sure you can see that Keller and Montfort are writing for a very different purpose, in a very different way. 

We say an academic article is "peer-reviewed" when people who are experts in the subject have had a chance to read it and approve it (or reject it, or suggest changes) before it gets published. 
  • So, for instance, a physicist who wants to publish the results of an experiment would submit it to a panel of experienced physicists who know the subject inside and out.
  • Artists and art critics run their ideas past other artists. 
  • Lawyers who study the criminal justice system write detailed analyses of obscure cases that might be of interest to only a small number of people, but those few people may be the judges who rule on multi-billion-dollar fraud cases, impeach elected officials, or sentence people to death.
What counts as "research"?

Assigned Text:

Pac-Man Dossier

Read the intro and Ch1 for an orientation. Scan Ch2 for details on gameplay, noting particularly the details on mode, speed, and cornering; read Ch3 to understand maze logic; skim 4 and 5.

Respond to the assigned material on the form and purpose of academic research. Note that Ex 4 (due on the 12th) asks you to respond to an academic article; you may wish to start reading it now.

What have we learned so far from our exposure to classic games?

Susan, Jessie, Beth Anne, Shellie, and Matt have all sounded pretty excited about some aspect or other about text games. 

Jeremy and Cody have shared opinions that are less than enthusiastic. Keith, I can't quite place you into either camp, as you have written about the frustration that comes from the unfamiliar game play, but your posts have focused on history lessons and observations, suggesting you are finding it useful to study something unfamiliar.

As humans, we can't help but interpret the world through the experiences we've had.  But remember the theory lecture -- rather than simply looking through the lenses we've got, I'm hoping that this experience is training us to examine the qualities of the lenses we didn't even know we were wearing. 

Koster's chapter 6 has a lot to say about different kinds of fun for people with different kinds of intelligence. On page 108, "if people are to achieve their maximum potential, they need to do the hard work of playing the games they *don't* get, the games that *don't* appeal to their natures. Taking these on may serve as the nurture part of the equation, counterbalancing the brains that they were born with."

I'm less interested in converting anybody to IF, than I am in asking students to explore and understand a world in which the hard-core gamers chose to play Zork because they wanted the challenge.  These games were "fun" to millions of gamers in the 80s, who didn't think of them as merely quaint and diverting; these gamers got excited and addicted and spent their money on them.  It took a certain type of person to use a computer in the 80s, and Koster notes that the early games that used reflexes and targeting were easier to develop with the available technology than games that simulated emotions, or ecosystems. 

Those early computers did not serve the visual thinkers very well. Yes, they were restrictive, and they forced you think in such a way that would make the game work; they didn't appeal to the visual-thinking people that made Apple so visionary.  That's the psychological selling point behind this famous 1984 advertisement for Apple Computers.

Once computers started shipping with CD-ROM drives, you could store a lot more music and graphics, which is what paved the way for more visually rich advengture games. By the mid 90s, home computers could generate 3D graphics on the fly.

But it's important to note that a game that uses rich graphics is restricted in other ways -- it requires an expensive computer, it takes scores of artists years to develop, it requires a server with other players connected to it or else it appears lifeless.  The more cinematic the game, the less game-like it becomes, and the more it resembles a movie -- especially when movies come with their own (usually horrible) game tie-in. 

Modern commercial games require so much money and so much labor that they're run by committees, and they start to resemble each other because only the most daring and innovative companies are willing to put serious resources into innovating when it's a much safer bet just to give the gamers more of what they already like.

Read the abstract and paragraphs 1-13; skim 14-51 for a treatment of code, and skim 52-78 for a treatment of setting and culture; read 79-end for conclusions.

Hardware is closely related to code. This short article reminds us that computer programs in the 60s and 70s were actually designed to display their output on paper.

Assigned Text:


In Williams & Smith (276-297)

Assigned Text:

Koster, 160-223

Chapters 10-Epilogue. Complete the brief, timed, open-book comphrehension quiz on GriffinGate. (Forthcoming.)

Due Today:

Paper 1

An original "New Games Journalism" article, building on Ex 3A and 3B.

Programming is challenging, creative work. Our understanding of games would be incomplete if it did not include an awareness of the underlying code.

The course is one third over. Imagine that!

Next week, we will finish up the unit on text games, and I'll post a more comprehensive treatment of the history of video games. We will finish Koster, and read all of Laurel, and start working on academic research. Because academic articles typically take a year to write, and books take two or three years, scholars are always publishing on older games. So we will continue to look at some of the classics, too.

Did you notice that Raph Koster left comments on Matt's and Susan's blogs? The world of game studies is pretty small, so it's not unusual to bump into some of the key figures now and then.

I've posted the "9:05" videos on the course blog, and while they're not actually uploading yet, in another window on my computer, the "Adventure" videos are about 90% finished with a final export. (I'll still have to split that file up into 10-minute sections and upload them to YouTube... but that should be done a little later tonight.)

I'm looking forward to evaluating your portfolios.  The blogging seems to be going very well, but I am open to the idea of using GriffinGate, or a chatroom; and you may, if you wish, upload a video or audio instead of a written response, if you feel all the typing gets in the way of the ideas you might be able to contribute to the class.

I am not posting any new discussion question for today.  (I suggest you use the time to think about your New Games Journalism essay.)

Look on the course calendar for all the assignments that are due Monday... remember, the assignments, including readings, are supposed to be finished by 10am.

As always, I am happy to respond to questions and comments.  I hope you all have a pleasant weekend.
Assigned Text:

9:05 Gameplay Video

Watch these videos (3 parts) today or over the weekend.

Assigned Text:

Adventure Gameplay Video

Watch these videos over the weekend, and try out Colossal Cave Adventure for yourself. (Note -- this online version is not exactly the same as the one we're playing in the video, so some of the commands that work for us in the video won't work on this version. But the link includes a walkthrough that will get you into the cave. if you get stuck, Google is your friend.)

Your reflective presentation on your contributions to the online discussion.

By 4pm, post a link from here to your online portfolio (even if your portfolio isn't quite finished yet).

If you have been keeping up with your blogging, this assignment will simply involve collecting and reflecting.  If there are gaps in your blogging, this is your chance to catch up.

What is your portfolio?

It begins with a richly-linked blog entry that introduces your reader to blog entries that you have created, and discussions from your peers' blogs in which you have participated, as part of a reflective statement on your progress so far.

Examples of portfolios from previous classes have included a no-nonsense list and a more personal essay. Either format is fine, but however you present your work, it's important to me that you specify where each of your posts falls amongst the categories listed below. The same post can count for more than one category, but if you keep re-using the same handful of posts that's probably a sign you can do a little better next time.

Assigned Text:

Koster, 110-139

Chapters 7-9. Complete the brief, timed, open-book comphrehension quiz on GriffinGate. (Forthcoming.)

Listen to (or read) sections 1 and 2 of this site. Skim sections 3 and 4, noting especially the "Adventureland Bear" anecdote in section 3, and the predictions that Adams and I made in section 4.

A short trailer for a documentary due out in March 2010

Researcher and interactive fiction author Nick Montfort introduces interactive fiction.
Assigned Text:

Case Study: Zork

There are some minor inaccuracies in this clip, but it's a good presentation of the generally accepted (though not always correct) story of Zork.

From within Turnitin.com, complete the "PR 1 (NGJ Proposal Review)" activity. (You will be asked to read several of your peers' NGJ proposals, and answer questions.)

Turnitin.com will not accept submissions of this assignment past 3pm on Janary 8. At 4pm, you will be able to read what your peers had to say about your proposal.)

Watch lecture videos. Post response to each on your own blog; post a link from the course page, back to your online response.

I've posted feedback on the NGJ proposals and the peer-review exercise from Ex 1.  Good work!

I really commend all of you who are putting so much energy into the online discussion.  An online class can feel very lonely if it's just you and the professor. But I find it really energizing when I go offline for a while and come back and see the class is pushing on without me.

I saw a lot of constructive criticism and detailed analysis int he peer-review exercises.  If you're curious, see this example of a peer review exercise that helped earn the student 11 out of 10 points.  Great job!

I've also posted feedback on all the new games journalism proposals that were in as of 2pm.  You should be able to see my comments on Turnitin.com the same as before -- by clicking the red apple.

There's another peer review activity that I hope will help you to focus on how to improve your own proposal. (I see that Q2 and Q1 are repeats... I can't fix that now that the review is open for submissions, so just leave Q2 blank.)

I could not find any good video demos of Adventure, the game from 1976 that I want us to explore tomorrow.  I will need to record my that demo tonight, along with the demo of 9:05.  They won't be up until late, so you won't be responsible for them on the Portfolio 1, and I'll leave the discussion for those two titles open until Monday.

Upcoming assignments

Four GriffinGate quizzes for Koster (these are due tonight just before midnight, but I will accept them late for another 24 hours.. these are the same four that I posted yesterday).

After I post this message, I will work on the new GriffinGate quiz for tomorrow's Koster reading.  It will be due by midnight Friday, and I'll accept it late for another 24 hours.

Peer review of the NGJ proposals

Complete this assignment from within Turnitin.com. Soon I'll ask for a 1000-word new games journalism article. In the meanwhile, please feel free to contact me by e-mail to discuss my feedback on your proposal.

Media clips related to interactive fiction (IF)

The first adventure game ever was a text game called Colossal Cave Adventure (or ADVENT), which inspired many of the top-selling computer games in the early 80s.  It's an important game, but just as I wouldn't throw students at the text of Beowulf or The Canterbury Tales without some preparation, I wouldn't throw you at Adventure without some preparation. 

Start with the snappy video on Zork, and then some more sedate videos on interactive fiction in general, followed by some audio clips that give you more background information.  (They're all sorted in that order on the course page for tomorrow.)

I will work on some related gameplay videos tonight; I've also taken down a few other posts from this page, in part because they won't make much sense without the gameplay videos, and in part because the discussion and exercises have been going so well that I think I might be able to cut a few activities out.  But don't worry -- I won't spring any sudden new deadlines.  DO plan to play a text-adventure game this weekend, following the guidelines I'll post for you tomorrow.  (See also the assignments due on Monday.)

Instead of posting a new discussion topic...

...I'm just going to encourage you to continue the conversations you've been having about Koster, theory, and so on. The page for Portfolio 1 explains in detail the many ways you can get credit for interacting with your peers online, so please take a look and put some energy into starting, deepening, and broadening the online discussions.

I thought the class reaction to the Civlization III review was notably valuable -- Susan and Beth Anne returned to push the conversation in a new direction, and I gained some valuable insight from their comments.

Some notes on A Theory of Fun -- so far

Keith has been posting capsule summaries of Koster; Cody had some choice words to say about special-interest groups that protest games, and Beth Anne reportes "A Theory of Fun was actually fun!"

The introduction has so far attracted the most links; I hope that as more people get their textbooks in the mail, they'll go back and fill in the assignments they've missed.  In the meanwhile, those of you who have read Koster, please do try to slip in an appropriate quoteation or reference whenever possible.  Note that Koster goes into a lot more detail on the subject of getting bored with games, and his claim that games are really about learning is a lens that I think we're all very interested in, for obvious reasons.

So if you can, connect Koster's insights to the other ideas we've encountered (Rothstein saw Myst as a world to visit and an artistic creation, but Koster sees himself as a teacher... Johnson sees Pac-Man as unintersting, but several people responded favorably to my attempt to theorize it... what are some appropriate responses when we encounter opposing ideas like that?)
Quite a few students got 10/10 and 11/10 on the peer review exercise.  I'm usually pretty generous with points on this exercise, but so many people went into so much detail that I felt it was worth a bonus.

If you're curious, you can read the following student response that earned 11/10 points.

Assigned Text:

Koster, 48-109

Chapters 4-6. Complete the brief, timed, open-book comprehension quiz on GriffinGate.

Assigned Text:

Koster, x-47

Chapters 1-3. Complete the brief, timed, open-book comprehension quiz on GriffinGate.

Assigned Text:

Wright and Koster

Read the foreword and prologue of Koster's book.

Due Today:

Ex 2 Peer Review

Within Turnitin.com, complete the "PR 1 (Game Review) activity. You will read three peer papers and answer some evaluative questions.

Due Today:

Ex 3A: NGJ Proposal

Following the model of the NGJ articles you have read, briefly propose a topic for an original 1000-word article. (Upload to Turnitin.com. You are encouraged, but not required, to post it to your blog.)

In a few short sentences,

  1. identify the game you've chosen,
  2. note the central issue that would be of interest to
    • an expert player of the game, and also
    • someone who will likely never play the game.
For instance, racism and online identity are the core issues in "Bow, N*igger," and the general class reaction indicates that it was a successful attempt to engage readers who are interested in human issues, rather than a particular Star Wars game.

Watch lecture videos. Post response to each on your own blog; post a link from the course page, back to your online response. (Remember to post 2-4 comments on the entries your peers wrote, and return to those threads over the next few days, to share your insights before the topic closes.)

For the eagle-eyed who noticed that this entry used to be titled "History of Games," I'm pushing back the history lecture in order to make room for this introduction the academic use of theory.

I've reported marks for all the Ex 2 submissions that were in the slot as of about 3pm. I enjoyed reading them, and learned quite a bit about your gaming preferences (and about games I haven't played).

As always, please let me know if you have any questions about upcoming work.

Upcoming Work

Online Participation

  • Before I quit for the day (around 5:30 or 6) I will close down the discussion for the first day's topics. If you haven't returned to reply/respond/reflect on the issues your peers brought up, you have a bit more time.
  • Susan has done a fantastic job putting good content and engaging with me on her blog.  She started posting early, she has insightful things to say, and she responds quickly.  I hope to see more evidence of peers talking to each other, too.  Great work, Susan. 
  • Cody's response to peer-chosen readings attracted a comment from someone connected to a website that hosts debates; the poster recommended his own resources on the violence-in-games debate. The commenter is doing a little self-promotion on our blog, but I didn't flag it as spam because the content really is relevant.  This is early evidence that if you post something online that's relevant and current, people outside the class will find it useful.
  • I liked Matt's observation about the humanity of Pac-Man, and it looks like the stirrings of a good conversation are brewing on Keith's comparison of a traditional and new games review article, Jeremy's discussion of the merits of Pac-Man's simplicity, and Beth Anne's comparison of the of the thoughtful Myst review and the informative Lego Indy 2 review.
  • I also enjoyed reading pepole's reactions to Mystery House, Rogue, and Adventure.  (Keith, I've posted a link to a site that lets you play Rogue, so perhaps the video will make more sense now.  Let me know.)
  • Jessie added a video clip to liven up her review of Assassin's Creed II (I think we know what game you've been playing lately, Jessie!)
  • Shellie says she's never thought so much about "fun" before, and she finds it's kind of fun to look closely at fun. (I'm looking forward to hearing more from you on that as the course progresses, Shellie.)
  • There's a lot more great stuff out there. What did you find that you thought was worth talking about? If you create a blog entry in which you link to the online discussions you think are worth promoting, not only will you be able to find those discussions later, you will encourage other people to follow the link and join in.
Remember that one of the ways you can earn credit for the peer review is by being the first to post a comment on a peer's blog entry, and I am asking everyone to post 2-4 comments on peer blogs for every assigned reading.  Let your classmates know when they've shared a thought that helps you, and join in your voice when your classmates ask for your opinion. 
Readings & Reading Quizzes

Tomorrow morning, the readigns for the first section of Koster are due. 

Update, 5:30pm: The GriffinGate quizzes for the introduction to Williams & Smith and Koster from x-109 are open. 

They are (generously) timed, not because I really think each one will take 60 minutes, but so that you will have the time to search and re-read.  These quizzes are open book, but you should already be familiar with the readings before you start the quizzes.

This set is due at 11:55pm on Thursday, and your score will be reflected in your online participation grade.  (Since this is the first serious batch of GriffinGate readings quizzes, I've set the system to accept half-credit late submissions for another 24 hours.)

I'll be happy to answer any questions.


I've posted 20 minutes of an introduction to the concept of theory in game studies.  It's one of the discussion topics for tomorrow.  Post a thoughtful response on your own blog, and then create the two-way links that I mentioned in yesterday's note.

Peer Review

Note that there is a related activity, a peer-review exercise, that was open this morning at 11 and continues for 24 hours.  From within Turnitn.com, you'll be asked to read 3 game reviews written by your peers, and answer some questions about each one.  Then your answers will be sent anonymously to your peer. (Be honest, but also be constructive.  Your negative points will have more merit if you can also make solid good points about strengths.)

NGJ Proposal

Also due tomorrow morning is your proposal for a new games journalism article.  (See tomorrow's schedule for the link to that page.)
Assigned Text:

Williams and Smith

Introduction (1-15)

What can you tell about how the audience of this book differs from the audience for Koster's book? How is that difference likely to affect the content? What reading strategies have you developed to improve your interactions with this kind of text?

Update, 04 Jan: Smith was kind enough to send me a near-final copy of the introduction, which I have posted on GriffinGate under "Handouts." If your textbook hasn't arrived, the e-text will buy you a little more time.

Assigned Text:

Rogue Gameplay

There are 4 separate pages in this Gamasutra article on Rogue:

I wasn't able to find a good video walkthrough of Rogue (the term is just too generic, and YouTube turns up far too many false positive hits.)

So, before you try sampling Rogue online, watch a video of an experienced player talking us through a more modern "Roguelike" game, Ancient Domains of Mystery.

Note that the epic music was just added by the videographer -- it's not actually being supplied by the game.

Assigned Text:

Atari Adventure Gameplay

There's a good reason why games of this era often depended on text to deliver subtlety and depth. Strongbad really wasn't far off when he made fun of "Secret Collect."

Play Atari Adventure online yourself. (Those duck-like dragons are beloved icons in the retrogaming community.)

Assigned Text:

Mystery House Gameplay

A 2006 review of the 1980 Mystery House reflects the impatience modern gamers may feel with this title, but still respects the game's historical importance

It's a long review... skip to http://www.sydlexia.com/mysteryhouse7.htm

Ground-breaking games Atari Adventure (actually 1979), Rogue, and Mystery House

Due Today:

Ex 2: Game Review

Write a review (about 500 words) of any game you have played recently, on any platform. Follow the conventions of a good game review.

Read Amer Ajami's GameSpot review of Jedi Outcast (three parts), and compare it to Ian "Always Black" Shanahan's "Bow, N*gger."

This article, State of Play, will help you pin down the differences. I am far more interested in the issues raised by Shanahan's piece than the precise, technical analysis presented by Ajami. Ajami's review is perfectly good for what it is -- an assessment of a commercial product, useful for those who are considering buying it. On the other hand, Shanahan's piece opens up a huge array of emotional and intellectual possibilities.

Several of you noted that you found the thoughtful review of Myst to be more interesting than the by-the-book review of Lego Indiana Jones.  As we continue to develop our ability to look at games critically, and to articulate what we find, our exposure to "New Games Journalism" will help us identify ways to go beyond "How do you play?" and "Is it fun?"

So... what do *you* think is valuable in new games journalism?  How does it relate to the gaming anecdote that you wrote for Ex 1? What problems and limitations do the readers and writers of new games journalism face?

This video introduces mirrors, windows, and lenses as metaphors for engaging critically with texts.  (Most of us enter college at the "mirror" level, and in this course we will move towards "lens."  I'll have more on this concept in a follow-up lecture, so for now feel free to concentrate on the Pac-Man reading.

Use your own blog to respond to this discussion topic, which will remain open until 4pm Thursday.

(See also Parts 1 and 2.)

I spent this morning marking Ex 1.  If you submitted it before 3:45 today, it's already been marked.  Look for the red apple in Turnitn.com, and click it... you should see a screen with my comments and your score.

I enjoyed reading them all... if you haven't yet participated in the GriffinGate forum devoted to discussing your gaming anecdotes, please do that.

Part 3 of the opening lecture is uploading now... it ends a bit abruptly, but that's because I realized I needed to make a Part 4.  (I won't post it as Part 4 -- it will appear tomorrow morning as a separate lecture on the nature of theory.)

Now that we've had our formal introduction to the blogs, I'm asking that we move some of the in-depth reactions to the readings from the course blog, onto your own individual blogs.

So, after you watch Part 3 of the opening lecture
  1. Create a new entry on your own blog, and post a response.
  2. Then, go the page I created for Part 3, and leave a brief comment with a URL that points to the new page you created. You can either include a quotation you thought was worth reflecting on, a question that you want to explore, or some other very specific reaction.  Work that specific detail into your comment, and leave the URL so that your classmates will know  what you wrote about.
  3. From your own blog, include a link that points to the page devoted ot the readings. Now people can get from your blog entry to the assignment page, and from the assignment page to all the other assignment pages posted by your classmates. (Trust me, the extra 30 seconds you put into creating this two-way link will really help the online conversation.)
  4. After you have posted your initial reaction, visit the blog entries that 2-4 of your peers wrote, and contribute to the discussion they chose to start.
    1. You'll get bonus points for being the first person to post on a classmate's blog entry, for starting a thread on your own blog that attracts a lot of comments, and for linking from your blog to something a classmate posted on his or her blog.
    2. Keep track of where you left your comments, and return over the next couple of days, in order to keep the conversation going.
I'm asking you to follow these steps for every assigned text from now on.

If you already posted your reaction here on the course blog, it's not necessary to re-post that material on your own blog.

From now on, I will be looking on your own blog first, for evidence that you are contributing to the online discussion. 

  • I've heard from students who say they thought an online class would be lonely, but they feel encouraged by the level of interaction the blogs promise.  I'm very glad to hear that.
  • Since our blogs are our main tool for interaction, I am asking you to follow this same procedure -- post a response on your blog, then link to it 

  • Tomorrow, I will close the online conversations that I started on the first day of classes.
  • Note that an upcoming assignment asks you to write a game review.  While I was flexible the first few days of the course, all assignments are due at 10am on the day they are assigned... so if you wait until the middle of the day to start the readings that are due on that day, that could be a problem.
  • We're about to shift from watching a lot of media clips to reading textbook chapters. While I think you'll find Koster's book is very readable, most people find reading a book requires a different kind of concentration, so be sure you leave room for it.
  • I am working on a GriffinGate quiz for the Williams and Smith introduction.  I'll announce it when it's ready, and you'll have a window of about two days to complete it.

Assigned Text:

Myst Gameplay

Another popular game from 1993: Myst. Note that the video does not show the player's mouse pointer; clicking buttons and flipping levers in-game helps create the atmosphere. (If you have an iPhone, you can play a free, limited demo of Myst.)

Assigned Text:

Doom Gameplay

One of the popular games from 1993: Doom (play online re-creation of Doom, which lacks the original music; then watch this video, which includes the music, but lacks the interaction.

Ground-breaking games Doom and Myst.

Use this space to discuss general issues that arise from your observation of Doom and Myst.

The graphics of Doom are, of course, very simple... but what would you say to someone who judged South Park or The Simpsons solely by the simple animation style?

The Myst video capture doesn't record the mouse pointer, so if you haven't played this kind of game, it may not be obvious that the way you play is hunting for buttons, levers, doors, and hidden objects on a rich but static screen -- more Where's Waldo than World of Warcraft. Since Doom shows you the level of real-time graphics that computers were capable of at the time, these richly-rendered, realistic images were all pre-rendered media clips, assembled in clever ways.

(I think Susan mentioned Choose Your Own Adventure books the other day -- stories that let you choose a path, assembling a narrative from chunks of pre-written stories. Not the same thing as making up as story as you go, but more interactive than a static novel.)

One more thing to note... if we were studying novels, or sculpture, the method for viewing older works would be pretty much identical to the method for viewing contemporary works. But as you can see, unless we have a room full of old computers for you to use, our options for viewing older games are limited.

So... what did you think of our trip back to 1993?

The purpose of this assignment is twofold. First, I'd like to draw your attention to the components of a good game review.  Second, I'd like you to get some practice with your SHU weblog.  (I should have e-mailed everyone in the class with login instructions.)

1) Find an online a game review that you feel is particularly detailed and effective. ( It can be any kind of game.)

2) On your own SHU blog, write an entry in which you use your chosen review to help you identify, explain, and give examples of the components of a good game review. (You can refer to other game reviews, especially if you've written any yourself.)

3) Return to this page, and post the URL of your new blog entry. 
Make the page you just created easy for your classmates to find. Because soon you will start visiting your classmates' blogs often, you will appreciate having a convenient way to find what they've written on the assigned topic.
Just paste the URL in the comment box. The system will turn it into a clickable link.
  • Make sure the URL you paste looks like this:


    Not like this (which is too vague)


    And not like this (which is useless to a reader because it points to your editing screen)


  • Explain what's on the other end of the link,
    Something generic such as "Here's my homework" won't encourage anyone to follow the link and see what you have to say.
4) Bonus: Create a Trackback Link
Assigned Text:

Lego Indy 2 Review

How does Richard's review of Lego Indy 2 differ from Rothstein's article? Why are they so different?
  1. Post a practice entry on your SHU blog, in which you post links to and comment on 2-4 of the "Student Choice" selections recommended by your classmates.
  2. Upload your Ex 1 file to Turnitin.com, as described on the Ex1 homework page. (Be sure to post your anecdote in the GriffinGate forum,too. Again, see the Ex1 page for details.)
  3. Ready for you on GriffinGate: A short quiz that checks your comprehension of the syllabus and various course procedures. (It's open book... not a memory test, just a way to make sure you are starting the course on the right virtual foot.)
Remember also to return to the GriffinGate forum to read and comment on your peer's gaming anecdotes.

Remember also to return to class discussion topics, to contribute to the conversation and share your insights.

Start putting your in-depth comments on your own individual blog, and participating in conversations on your classmates' blogs.

Post links to interesting conversations you find on other people's blogs, ask insightful questions, and look for ways to make connections between assigned materials.

Okay, so all this tech stuff is kinda overwhelming... what do we do with it?

Make connections, and work with the rest of the class to strengthen and deepen those connections.  Practice, on a small scale, the kind of assembly, assessment, and synthesis that will help prepare you for your final research project. Make this kind of intellectual activity routine, and you will find it yields some very interesting results.
For example, what do you think Johnson would say about the amount of knowledge the Strongbad clip presumes we have, in order to fully appreciate the jokes in his cartoon?  What later developments in gaming culture have supported or disproved Rothstein's predictions about the importance of Myst? 

What connections can you come up with on your own? 

Once you've satisfied that your "Hello, world" post is working, see what kind of connections you can identify for the rest of us to explore.
Assigned Text:

Intro to SHU weblogs

Respond to these videos by posting a sample page on your SHU blog, and posting a link from this page to your sample entry. Those of you who have already blogged for me before, please write a few informal lines that describe how you think blogging an online-only course will affect your comprehension of the material and your interaction with your peers. If you have a blogging-related anecdote or favorite entry that you'd like to share, I'd welcome a brief account.

Check your e-mail for your login and password.


A specific, brief (500 words) personal story that makes a point about your relationship with gaming.

Rather than a list of your earliest memories or favorite games, choose one specific incident/experience/memory. (I have posted my own gaming anecdote on my blog, to give you an idea of what I'm looking for. You are free to focus more on the game itself, or more on your memories, or more on something else... I don't have any one particular kind of story in mind, so please feel free to offer your own creative take on the assignment.)

  1. Upload to Turnitin.com. (Use course ID 3042951 and password "levelup".)
  2. Post a copy for the class to read in the GriffinGate forum for EL250. (Collaboration -> Forums -> My Gaming Anecdote -> Add a Thread.)
  3. By Jan 06, return and post 2-4 comments on the anecdotes that your peers have posted.

If you haven't already watched and responded to the first and second parts of the opening lecture that I posted yesterday afternoon, please do so now.

Hello, with special appreciation for students Beth Anne, Jessie, Susan, Kevin, and Jeremy, who have already made valuable contributions to the online discussions.

Don't miss Jessie's detailed response to the "What is Fun" prompts, Beth Ann's thoughtful assessment of Koster's defintion, and Susan's thoughts on the role of games in education.  I hope that Keith will help me learn something about what makes a sports game "fun."  

  • Shortly you should get an e-mail with information on your SHU weblog password.  You'll need that to complete tomorrow's intro to the SHU weblog unit.
  • There's a GriffinGate workbook that's designed to help focus your reading of the syllabus.  Please comlete that by 5pm tomorrow.
  • I noticed that some of you haven't uploaded photos of yourself to GriffinGate. Even you prefer to upload a cartoon character or some other image besides a photo, I think it would be helpful if everyone upload something there. 
  • I'm also posting two new discussion topics.  Please post an initial reaction here, and return several times over the next few days. You can hit "reply" next to a post in order to respond specifically to that person's comment -- that might help us manage a detailed discussion. (Let's see how it works.)

The new discussion topics are:

Opening Lecture

A 30-minute narrated slideshow... it took much longer than I expected to upload to YouTube, so I've posted the first two parts, and I will extend the discussion a bit so you have all of tomorrow to look at these parts.  I'll post the third part tomorrow, along with another brief lecture, if I have the chance.

The Social Dimension of Fun

And feel free to post here with your questions, comments, and reactions about the course so far.
Draw on insights you have gained from the readings so far, and comment on the social nature of "fun."  Susan noted that we still play games with children, even though according to Koster's theory of fun, we get bored by games that have taught us all they have to learn. 

While we'll read Koster's theory in depth when we get to his book, I wonder whether we can reflect on our own changing definition of fun, and see whether there is a way to salvage Koster's observation (that we lose interest in a game when it teaches us all it has to offer) with the fact that we do regularly play, in a social setting, games that would be boring to us alone

This thread will stay open until about 10am Wednesday.  Please post your initial reaction, then return several times over the next few days to keep the conversation going.  Feel free to bring in other material, such as examples from your personal experience and links to online resources.
Part 1:

Part 2:

(I'm still working on Part 3... I'll post with tomorrow's readings.)

Find (or create) an online media clip or article that reflects your interest and attitude towards video games.

In a comment on this page, post the URL. Explain why you chose this item, how it reflects your attitude, and suggest a topic for further discussion.

Assigned Text:

Strongbad on Video Games

Watch this short, humorous tour through the history of computer games, featuring Strongbad from Homesterrunner.com.

After the video ends, click on the pictures of each of the games -- play each for about 5 minutes, then choose 2 to play for another 10 minutes or so.

Leave a comment with answers to the following questions:

  1. Which two do you choose to play, and why?
  2. To what extent are the Strongbad games spoofs, and to what extent are they nostalgic tributes?
  3. How does your answer to #2 affect what you gained from the experience?
  4. What question do you have after watching this animation and playing these games?

What do we talk about when we study games? One possible approach is to consider what we can learn from games.

This game is not marketed as an educational title, but we can still meaningfully discuss what and how it teaches.

Good overview of the concepts Johnson explores in his book Everything Bad is Good for You. It's the longest video I'll ask you to watch, at about 40 minutes. It does not focus exclusively on video games, but it does do an excellent job of explaining what we can learn about ourselves when we study popular culture. 

After you've watched the video, identify two or three passages that you find especially worthy of further attention (perhaps because the statements are surprising, or controversial, or confusing).  Identify the statement with a timestamp.

For instance, "At 11:50 he introduces the concept of 'telescoping' as his term for the difference between passive thinking the kind of active problem-solving that you need to employ when playing a game.  At 12:40, he introduces Pac-Man as a game with simple and rather uninteresting content, comparing it with the much more complex problem-solving of Zelda."

If you don't see the video loading in the window below, you can go directly to the source on the Handheld Learing 2008 website.


If you come across an unfamiliar game-related term, please feel free to post a question asking for a clarification from me or your classmates. 

But since you are sitting in front of a computer right now...

  • What They Play -- Gaming 101
    A glossary designed for parents who don't understand what their kids are talking about.

  • Wikipedia
    Encyclopedias are never good at helping the reader assess the different opinions of individual researchers, so no encyclopedia is that useful in an academic research paper.  Nevertheless, Wikipedia offers an up-do-date compendium of popular culture; it's very useful as a starting point, but instead of citing Wikipedia directly, follow the footnotes to more credible sources.

    If your favorite game doesn't have a Wikipedia entry, or you think you can improve the existing entry, remember that Wikipedia is user-written and user-edited. If you're an expert, share that expertise.

    Here are a few game-related Wikipedia articles that you might find useful.
 Other Games-Related Glossaries
Assigned Text:

What is Fun?

A 4-1/2 minute audio file.

What is Fun? MP3

Discussion prompts (post your answers below):
  • What is your definition of fun? 
  • What kind of video game is not fun for you?
  • How has your own definition of "fun" changed over the years?
  • What other issues did this clip raise in your mind?
This is a discussion topic page, which is the home base for the "Fun and Games" unit. 

To complete the "Fun and Games" unit:

1) Respond individually to each assigned text for the day.

Readings for this topic (direct links are available from the "Outline" page, available from the menu at the top of this page)

  • Course syllabus
  • Jerz, "What Is Fun?"
  • Johnson, Handheld Learning 2008 Talk
  • Jerz & Jerz "Civilization Review"
  • Jerz & Jerz "Timez Attack Review"

2) Complete the unit's GriffinGate reading comprehension activity

Short, open-notes assessment questions, designed to help me evaluate your progress and focus your attention. These units are timed, so you should first familiarize yourself with the assigned text.  Complete the "Fun and Games" GriffinGate component by 4pm Tuesday. New discussion topics will be announced at that time.

3) Post a reflective response here.

After you have read and reacted to all the assigned documents, return to this page, and post a reflection that demonstrates your ability to connect the assigned materials.

(See "How to participate online", below.)

4) Contribute to an online conversation.

Until the unit closes in a few days, generate and help mantain a productive online conversation.

This topic will remain open until about 4pm Wednesday, after which I will close off the comments and update Turnitin.com with your participation grade.

How to participate online

How will this class work?

I've tried to pace the course so that we're heavy on lectures, reading and short exercises in the beginning, but lighter on that stuff so there is more room for you to focus on your in-depth research projects towards the end.

In addition to submitting exercises and components of the term project, this course also asks you to participate in an online discussion of every item that the course website flags as a "Class Topic" or a "Reading." 

I'll provide you with more details on how to respond to discussion topics, but in general I am not fishing for any one specific "correct" answer -- I am asking you to practice identifying subjects that you think are worthy of discussion, to practice taking stands on debatable issues and evaluating evidence to support your position, and to seek out alternative and opposing viewponts in order to help you understand an issue broadly.

A good response to a reading or class topic might
  • start with a brief quote from the assigned material
  • continue with an explanation of why you think it is important, and
  • conclude with an open-ended question for your classmates. 
Participating fully in the online environment also includes posting 2-4 responses to what your peers had to say, and contributing promptly and thoughtfully to the ongoing discussion.

While you may carry out all your online participation simply by writing out plain text comments and URLs, once you have started blogging on your own SHU blog, I invite you also to post images, audio and video if you feel it would help you make your point.

Reminder: The last half of the "Introduction to the Course" page includes a breakdown of the first few assignments. You can also see an overview of any day's assignments by clicking the date on the calendar.
EL250 Video Games.png

Hello, and welcome! This website, http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL250, is your main resource for the course.

Every day at about 4pm I will post a message pointing out exactly what you should do for upcoming assignments.

I'm still ironing out details, so some of the other pages on this site might refer to things that are still developing.

The course blog will have a separate page for each discussion topic, each individual assigned reading (or media clip), and due dates for exercises and major papers.

(See the Course Overview for a bit more on how the online course will work.)

Your First Assignments

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