Course Syllabus

"Video Game Culture and Theory" is an online J-Term course.

Because of the compressed timespan, the course will have to cover in a single day the material that a semester-long course would cover in a week. The instruction design assumes students will be devoting significant time (several hours) each day.

At about 4pm each day, I will post an update to the course blog, with details on pending assignments. (For an overview, see the daily course outline.)

Dennis G. Jerz (
Office: 403 St. Joseph, Box 461
: My last name, at the domain.

For routine e-mails, feel free to use txt spk if u want; I'll toss off a quick reply as soon as I can.  I'd also be happy to help you via Facebook, but I check my e-mail more frequently.
For serious e-mail messages (maybe you're asking for an appointment, or a make-up assignment, or asking for me to do some serious thinking) the quality of your writing should reflect the sincerity of your request.
I get anywhere from 50-100 important e-mail messages each day, which means I put a lot of time into filtering out the junk mail. You can help me respond more quickly to your important messages if you take a few simple but important steps:
  • Avoid sending attachments (if possible). Unless I need to see the whole document in order to help you, just copy-paste the relevant passage right into the e-mail.
  • Include your real name somewhere in the message. (Chances are I won't recognize "".)
  • Write a meaningful subject line.
    • yes.gif Subject: "EL250: How should I submit Ex 1?"
    • yes.gif Subject: "EL250: Can you suggest any text-based games that deal with orphans, either literally or figuratively?"
      The subject line makes it very clear that the first question will only take me a second to answer, so I'd answer it first.  The second one will take a bit of time, so I might save it until I know I'll have a few uninterrupted minutes to do some research.
    • no.gif Subject: "A question about class."
      What class? What kind of question? Can you ask the question right there in the subject line?
    • no.gif  Subject: [Blank]
      A blank subject line doesn't give me any reason to bump your message ahead of the rest.
Office Phone: 724-830-1909 (but you will usually get a faster response if you e-mail)

Office Hours
: J-Term 2010

I will often be working from home during J-Term, but if you'd like to arrange a meeting on campus, I'd be happy to do so.
From the Catalog:
Emphasis varies from term to term, e.g.: Short Fiction; Autobiography; Science Fiction. Alternate years. Repeatable for credit. 3 credits.
Video Game Culture and Theory

In the last decade, scholars have noticed the growing importance of video games among some areas of the population, as a form of storytelling, as a form of teaching, as a form of social commentary, and as a unique cultural practice.  Their observations lead to the development of "Game Studies," which critically examines the history and significance of video games.

This course explores the nature of "fun," how "fun" is created and used by game designers, and how games reflect and shape the values of the culture in which they exist.
This course isn't about learning how to "win" a game, nor is it about programming or design. In fact, according to a recent study in the academic journal Games Studies,  "prior videogame experience often interferes with students' abilities to reason critically and analytically about games" (Zagal and Bruckman).  Playing a game in order to study it requires a different approach than playing it in order to master it.

Your objectives for this course are to
  • explore definitions of important concepts such as game and fun
  • learn about the origins and historical development of video games,
  • expose yourself to a broad range of games,
  • gain experience recognizing and interpreting basic game elements (goal, risk, fiction, emotional engagement, rules, outcome, values, consequences, close playing, etc.),
  • develop an awareness of the complex cultural context within which games exist (children's culture, geek culture, women's issues, political debate, economic and hardware constraints, aesthetic concerns, etc.),
  • and ultimately, to articulate the core cultural values represented in a particular game.
To that end, you will:
  • play several games on the syllabus
  • study several texts (including fan-made videos, games journalism, and academic research)
  • complete quizzes and exercises to ensure that you are keeping up with the readings and to evaluate your progress,
  • participate regularly in class web-based discussions, and
  • research an academic subject related to games, and present your findings in a creative online presentation (could be a video, website, or just about anything) and an academic paper (6-8 pages).

The Seton Hill University Learning Objectives (found on page 2 of the 2008-1010 course catalog) lists several skills that this course is especially designed to help you develop:
  • Use technological skills to access information, organize knowledge, and communicate.
  • Express arguments or main points clearly, in written and oral communication.
  • Find, evaluate, and apply information.
  • Locate and analyze expressive media to gain information or comprehend the significance of an issue or event.
Depending on the topic you choose for your research project, this course may also help you
  • Assess privilege and oppression from the perspective of culture, race, class, and gender.
The course requires
  • a willingness to concentrate on assigned materials
  • time-management and self-motivation
  • regular and in-depth online participation
  • a willingness to explore, organize, and revise what you already know about games
Engaging with Assigned Materials

As a student in EL250, your role is not to enter the virtual classroom as a passive, empty vessel, waiting to be filled with the facts you'll need to spit back for points on the exam. Rather, you will be asked to demonstrate the capacity to identify, develop, and defend your own original thoughts about the assigned materials (including chapters and articles to read, videos to watch, games to play).

There is no final exam in EL250 -- instead, there is a final research project in which you present what you have discovered about a game of your choice.  In order to understand what I am asking you to accomplish in that final research project, you will need to familiarize yourself with what other researchers have discovered about games that they chose.  And to do that, you will need to examine the assigned materials, and practice discussing with your peers what you have learned.

If you aren't used to this kind of approach -- where the emphasis is not on memorizing solutions to issues that the experts have already settled, where instead there may be multiple contradictory but valid answers to questions that haven't yet been settled, and where you are asked to come up not just with your own answers, but your own questions -- I ask that you trust the design of the course.   Keep yourself on track, ask questions when you're confused, share your insights when you're inspired, and let your peers and me know when we've said something helpful.  I'll ask the guiding questions that will help you stretch your comprehension, developing your ideas and strengthening your critical thinking process. 

Time-Management and Self-Motivation

An online course requires better-than-average time-management skills. 

Engaging with the assigned materials on a regular, routine basis, for a wide variety of games, not only gives you breadth of knowledge, but also helps you develop the vocabulary, methodology, and evaluative skills you will need in order to present your own original findings in the final project. 
A typical unit in EL250 will include:
  • Study Media (such as an online game to play, or a video to watch)
  • Study Readings (such as a magazine article, a fansite, or textbook chapters)
  • Online Discussion (an initial response to the media and readings, and active participation, over the next 48 hours, in the online discussion, on the course blog, on your own online reflection journal, and online interacting with the instructor and classmates)
  • Summative Exercise (a short written response, or possibly a video or some other activity, that you can submit for an assessment of your progress so far.  For example, at the end of a unit that explores gender in two or three particular video games, I might choose a different game -- one we haven't discussed in class -- for you to analyze.)
A typical unit will last for two or three days, with no more than four units active at any one time.  Units will close down so that we can focus on what's current and keep moving forward.  (Note: because the units expire, if you fall behind, you won't be able to pick up missing points by tackling a backlog of assignments just before the course is over.)

Online Participation

Regular online participation includes keeping a reflection journal (in which you will keep a record of your initial reactions to assigned readings, videos, and games, as well as your more in-depth reflections, and interactions with the online reflections of your classmates). If you do the routine work for each unit, your thinking will level up with the complexity of the course material.

While most of the interaction will be on the course weblog and on student weblogs, some will take place in other environments (inducing GriffinGate and  I'll always try to be very clear about what activity is to take place in what online environment, but if you ever have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Occasionally I will send out bulk e-mails to the addresses on file in GriffinGate. If you check a different address more regularly, please use SHU's e-mail forwarding service so that you don't miss important updates.

Here is a general outline for how I will spend my day.
  • 9am:
    • review late assignments that were due yesterday
    • close gradebook entry for yesterday's assignments
  • 10am:
    • review submissions that are due today
    • online office hour & check online discussions
  • 11-4:   assessment and preparation
  • 4pm:   new material posted to course website (including information on exercises due 2 class periods from now, and updates and clarifications for pending assignments)
  • 4-5:     online office hour & check online discussions
  • 6-11:   family time (I may very well be playing computer games with the kids)  
  • 11pm:  check e-mail & online discussions (I'll post brief answers when I can)

Writing and Revision

Informal and formal writing is the primary student product that I will assess in this course.

Any form of writing is a skill; it is not easy to learn (or teach), and meaningful progress only comes with practice.
  • In high school, your teacher may have called your attention to every single spelling and punctuation mistake on your rough drafts, and then given you points for correcting them.
  • In college, however, you are expected to develop the ability to edit and proofread your own papers. Hence, I do not plan to mark every mistake I find when I review your drafts.

I may mark up only one section of your paper, to show you the kinds of mechanical problems that you should address. In later assignments, it will be your responsibility to identify and avoid more of those same mistakes.

Please keep copies of rough drafts of papers; that is, instead of saving overtop of your old files, save each new version with a new name.  I may want to talk with you about your writing process before recording a grade.

According to the catalog, "Students are expected to attend every class." (See Seton Hill University Catalog, p. 28-29, "Class Attendance" and "Excused Absences".)  One of the benefits of taking an online course is that you have more flexibility to get the work done on your own schedule. Nevertheless, I do expect to be able to lead the whole class through the material, and that means we all need to keep up with the readings.

The course outline illustrates that assignments are due every day.  About 24 hours after a deadline, I will evaluate late submissions, enter a zero for any missing work, and close out the gradebook entry; when I do so, I do not intend to accept any further submissions for that assignment.

If you are careful about working ahead, you could probably double up on some days in order to arrange to take the next day off, but the course assumes students will check in every day.

Seton Hill University recognizes that extra-curricular activities of all sorts are important components of a liberal arts education. Nevertheless:

  • Students who miss deadlines for any reason are still responsible for the material covered that day.

  • An excused absence does not automatically grant an extension for any work collected, assigned, or discussed that day.

Because the course moves so quickly, procrastinating can lead to big trouble.

According to Seton Hill policy, you must complete 80% of the course material before you qualify for an incomplete, and you must clear the request with the registrar before the last day of classes.

5.1.1. Emergency Absences
Those who miss deadlines due to an unplanned emergency should submit an "Absence Form," with proper documentation, as soon as possible.

For each class that you missed, download and complete a copy of my "Absence Form" (available at After you initiate this contact, we will start working out whether or what kind of alternative work would be appropriate. (I ask that you resist the impulse to ask me to e-mail you a summary of what you missed. I welcome the chance to help you get caught up, but please first consult the syllabus and a classmate's notes, and then bring any specific questions to me.)  For some instructional activities, there may be no appropriate make-up assignment. (See 5.2 Participation.)

5.1.2. Scheduled Absences
Those who miss a deadline due to a scheduled activity should plan to complete complete all make-up assignments beforehand. In order to give us both time to plan the alternative activity, please submit a complete, acceptable "Absence Form" (see above) as soon as possible.

If there is insufficient time for us to agree upon an acceptable make-up assignment, or if an approved make-up assignment is late or unsatisfactory, then the normal late penalty applies.

Students are expected to contribute actively to the online classroom environment.  Keep track of where you post questions to your peers, and return to see whether you sparked a conversation. When you encounter a good question, post a thoughtful and careful response.  If you notice two people have posted related questions in different places, direct them to each other, and add whatever insight you can find. (The rubric for the Participation Portfolio describes many different ways that you can demonstrate online participation; I'll go into that in more detail at the right time.)

Feel free to disagree, debate, and question, both within the class structure and within the wider field of gaming culture. 

Some of your online work will appear in public spaces, where it may attract comments from diverse readers. Some of those outsiders may have no interest an open, honest discussion of differences, and some may just want to pick a fight. You won't lose points in this class just because some random person flames you, so if you encounter a post that rubs you the wrong way, give the poster the chance to explain or even retract.

Presume your peers are acting in good faith, and don't feed the trolls. Nobody ever lost respect for ignoring rudeness and taking the moral high road.

The course moves so quickly that falling behind can mean serious trouble.

Unless I agree to another arrangement in advance, the following list describes how I will apply late penalties.

  • Up to 1 hour late: Penalty of up to 1/3 of a letter grade (thus an A- would become a B+).
  • 1-8 hours:  Penalty of up to 1 full letter grade.
  • 8-24 hours: Penalty of half the grade (thus, an 80% would become a 40%)
  • 24 hours: Forfeit all points (thus, a zero)
GriffinGate: Unit Workbooks are Time-Sensitive

Some of the units will include online assignments (sets of study questions and short essays that I call "workbooks"), which are intended to be completed before the scheduled class discussion--far enough in advance that I have time to evaluate them and adjust the day's teaching accordingly. The GriffinGate quizzes are designed to lock out when the due date passes. (Obviously in the event of a SHU computer failure, I will be reasonable and flexible.) 

If you miss a workbook deadline, but want to complete the assignment anyway, let me know -- I will unlock that unit after I have marked it.  But once the deadline for a GriffinGate workbook has passed, the opportunity to earn credit for it is gone. Peer Review Assignments are Time-Sensitive
I also want you to submit, via, assignments designated Exercises and Papers. Some of these assignments have Peer Review components.  This means that the assignment is for you to read and comment on assignments submitted by your peers.  Once the deadline for a PR assignment has passed, you won't be able to complete the assignment at all.

Getting Credit for Late Work
Once I have marked an assignment, I close the slot and don't monitor it to see whether any late papers arrive.  If we have agreed in advance that I would accept an unusually late submission, you will need to remind me to go get work after you upload it.

  1. Send me an e-mail with a subject line like "Yourlastname EL250 Ex 2 Late."  This will let me know to go back and look for your late exercise or project component.  Post your work wherever the assignment said it should be, and you won't need to attach a copy to your e-mail.
  2. If the late work is excused, you can write "Yourlastname EL250 Ex 2 Excused" or you can just remind me in the body of the e-mail.
Required Purchases
  • Koster, Raph. A Theory of Fun for Game Design (1932111972)
  • Laurel, Brenda. Utopian Entrepreneur (0262621533)
  • Williams and Smith, The Players' Realm (0786428325)
The syllabus also includes online materials such as articles, videos, and games. See the course outline for specifics.
This section relies upon boilerplate text that several SHU professors share.

Disability Statement

If you have a disability that requires instructor consideration please contact the Director of Disability Services at 724-838-4295.  It is recommended that this be accomplished by the second week of class. If you need accommodations for successful participation in class activities prior to your appointment at the Disability Services Office, you should offer information in writing that includes suggestions for assistance in participating in and completing class assignments.  It is not necessary to disclose the nature of your disability.

[Note -- our J-Term class is so short that waiting until the second week to let me know of any disability needs may be too late for either of us to do any good. Please get me this information as soon as possible.]

Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct

Seton Hill University expects that all its students will practice academic honesty and ethical conduct. The University regards plagiarism, cheating on examinations, falsification of papers, non-sanctioned collaboration, and misuse of library material, computer material, or any other material, published or unpublished, as violations of academic honesty. Violators of the code may expect disciplinary sanctions, which are discussed in the Seton Hill University Catalog, page 30, Code of Academic Conduct.
Any unreferenced use of the written or spoken material of another, or of previously submitted work of the student's own, constitutes plagiarism.
Paraphrasing the thoughts or written work of another without reference is also plagiarism. Helpful information is available at the following web site: Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It. Any plagiarism on a draft will result in a zero as the final grade on that assignment. Any plagiarism or cheating on an informal essay, paragraph, or grammar exercise will also result in a zero.

See also Plagiarism (and Academic Integrity).
Plagiarism is an academic or professional misrepresentation, in which a writer takes credit for someone else's ideas.

Avoid plagiarism by 
  • submitting your own original work
  • giving proper credit to other people whose words and/or ideas appear in your work
  • recognizing that direct quotation (with citation) and paraphrase (with citation) are both acceptable ways to use outside material.
Avoid the panic that makes cheating look so attractive by
  • starting early (plan 2-3 hours of homework for each hour of class)
  • keeping on track (with brainstorming, drafting, workshop, and revision assignments)
  • seeking out help (from the professor, Writing Center, tutors)

Note on Grading Scale

The whole course is based on 1000 points. Each individual assignment will be marked on a four-point scale, the same as your GPA. Thus, if a particular exercise is worth 40 points, and you get 30 on it, then you earned 75%, or a B.

Assignment Breakdown
  • Participation Portfolios (300 pts)
    Online, informal writing assignments based on the assigned readings and discussion topics.
  • Exercises (250 pts)
    More formal than the participation assignments. (These prepare you for the major papers.)
  • Papers (300 pts)
    Two formal papers (3-4, and 6-8 pages in length).
  • Final Project (150pts)
    A creative, in-depth presentation of an important issue in game studies; the topic is related to your 6-8 page research paper.

          1 2
03 04 05 06 07 08 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30