Semester Overview of news Category


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

There's nothing you need to post on your blog, but by 10am today please finish the peer review for Ex 3.
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, 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
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"?

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.

Recent Comments

Keith Campbell on Student Presentations: This is the real link with the
Keith Campbell on Student Presentations:
Jessie Krehlik on Portfolio 3:
Keith Campbell on Student Presentations:
Keith Campbell on Portfolio 3:
Susan Carmichael on Portfolio 3:
Jessie Krehlik on Student Presentations: A little video about why viole
Matt Takacs on Portfolio 3:
Matt Takacs on Student Presentations: Silent Horror - An Interactive
Matt Takacs on Indie & Viral Games:
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