Teaching Genre and Paper Prototyping

This blog post is a postmortem for a class I ran on videogame genres in my masters level Game Design class. The main problem I was trying to solve with this lesson plan is that previous attempts to teach genre had been unsuccessful. The reasons previous attempts were unsuccessful are because:

  1. Academic literature (e.g. Apperley 2006; Arsenault 2009) problematises the idea of genre. And rightly so. Videogame genres occupy an extremely messy space between classic film genres (e.g. horror, westerns, dramas) and mechanical genres (e.g. FPS, RTS, RPG). The question students walk away from the readings with is “If genres are meaningless, then who cares?” But we still do care about genre because Metacritic cares, and because as designers we need genres to mean something in elevator pitches to save time. So then, how do I teach that?
  2. Activities which create and then critique generic boundaries only engaged a narrow selection of students who are interested in pedantics. How could I increase student buy-in on a topic most seem happy to check out of?
  3. This is a little off the topic of how to teach genre, but was still an issue I was facing at the time I designed this lecture. The students wanted more opportunities to design bad games. They asked for more chances to fail at being a game designer (without failing the class!) So how could I deliver an opportunity to design a bad game in only a 3 hour class?

The solution I came up with was to have the students create paper prototypes using core design elements which represent various genres. I, of course, did not come up with this idea alone. A huge shoutout to my Teaching Assistants Noelle Johnston and Utkarsh Rao who helped with the ideation process and another huge shoutout to my co-workers Matt Anderson, Jose Zagal and Corrinne Lewis who graciously gave their time to listen to my crackpot lesson plan and offer critique and encouragement. It takes a village, people…

A little background for context:

This activity was for a Game Design class for first year masters students. The class is mandatory for all masters students coming through the EAE program and occasionally we get interested students from other departments taking the class for fun. Class enrollment fluctuates between 60 and 70 students with a total of 63 this year. The total class time is 3 hours.

My desired learning goals/objectives for the 3 hours were as follows:

  • Have a critical discussion about genre.
  • Reflect on why genre is sometimes useful.
  • Teach students the basics of paper prototyping.
  • Get students comfortable with failing and making bad designs.

Anyway, this is how the lesson plan ran. I have used all images and videos with the permission of the folks who are in them/created them. We are happy for you to use this lesson plan in your class for educational purposes as long as you credit the designers. 

Paper Prototyping Genres: A lesson plan

By Ashley ML Brown, Noelle Johnston and Utkarsh Rao 2018

Step 1: Select the genres.

The TAs and I spent a while brainstorming which genres are amenable to being prototyped in only 2 hours. Spoiler alert: Not many are. We came up with the following list anyway:

  • Survival Horror
  • Dating Sim
  • Rhythm
  • Rogue-Like
  • Farm Sim
  • Turn-Based Strategy
  • Puzzle Platformer
  • Match 3
  • Pet Simulator
  • Endless Runner

Step 2: Gather materials

This ended up being quite material intensive. Most of the materials I ended up buying for this activity were super useful to have on hand for later activities as well though. The doubling-up of supplies drives down the average cost per activity, so its fairly easy to justify the expense to department budgeteers. It is worth noting that most of these items had to be purchased online so I had to order a couple weeks in advance. I linked my online purchases below:

Step 3: Discuss genre in class.

I opened the class with a discussion of what genre is and what it is most useful for. The students had already read the Apperley and Arsenault readings (listed above) as their homework, which allowed me to operate under the assumption students would understand critiques of genre. As I’ve run a similar lecture in the past, I came in with the expectation that getting students to be critical of genre would be easy. The hard part would be getting them to understand why we should still give a crap.

In light of this, I steered the conversation toward recognizing the importance of genre to sharing a common vocabulary, ease of pitching concepts, and being able to market your game effectively.

I ended the discussion by switching gears and talking about what paper prototyping is, what it is used for, and showing some examples of what they look like. A huge thank you to Matt Anderson for giving me fantastic resources to use for this portion. 

Step 4: Split into groups.

As this class was run in the second half of the semester, students had already formed friendship groups and cliques. In order to encourage working with people they’ve not yet had an opportunity to, the TAs split up the groups via the counting method (where you point at people and assign them a number counting up and then all the 1s group up, all the 2s, etc). As we had 10 genres, we used numbers 1-10. 

The first of each number (e.g. the first assigned number 1, the first assigned number 2, etc) became team captains. This was their reward for sitting near the front of the room. 🙂 Team captains then came to the front and drew a slip of paper with one of the above 10 genres printed on it. Once they pulled out their paper, they read the result outloud. This was done at the front of the classroom for added excitement and drama. 

Step 5: Create 5 elements (but not the Fifth Element- dohohoho)

Once in their groups of about 6 students, they were tasked with creating a recipe for their assigned genres in about 20 minutes. They had plain chart paper and scented markers to help brainstorm. The overall goal of this segment of the activity was to boil down the genre into the ‘must haves’. 

They were encouraged to think up examples of games which break the rules or lack the elements they listed. My hope was that their conversations would result in critical thought and discussion about design elements in genre and why they matter.

After the 5 elements were created, they were presented to the class and critiqued in a large group. In the above image, you can see annotations to the original list in green marker. 

Step 6: Shake things up

When I introduced the concept of making 5 generic elements, I called it a recipe. I think calling it a recipe is a useful metaphor to get students to think about what are the eggs and flour that go into an Endless Runner cake. I also, however, think that recipes are inherently inflexible. Or maybe that’s just my bias from watching too much of the Great British Bakeoff? Anyway, I was aware of the fact that the activity could leave students with this idea that in order to be a successful Pet Sim, you MUST have a digital avatar, needs to fulfill, etc… And this was not my intent.

To offset this fear of being too formulaic in the paper prototyping phase, I had the students re-draw their genres and switch after they had presented their lists. So, for example, the team that had initially created 5 elements for Pet Sims, ended up paper prototyping a survival horror game. They were instructed to take the 5 element list with them when they went into the prototyping phase, but they were not told that they had to follow the list to the letter. More on this later.

It was a little chaotic, but the good kind of chaotic. Some students were relieved they didn’t have to do design work on a genre they didn’t like or hadn’t played, others were upset that their favorite got taken away, and others just seemed excited to make something.

Step 7: Paper prototype

The students had about an hour to design and create their prototypes with the materials I provided. As this was the first time I had ever run this activity, I wasn’t sure whether or not it would be successful. An hour isn’t a lot of time to talk about design, let alone create any sort of assets.

My nervousness about students’ ability to design and create with strict time constraints was ultimately unfounded. Using teamwork and efficiently delegating tasks, students were able to create functional (and even fun!) prototypes. Examples of the prototypes can be seen above.

Step 8: Playtesting

We spent the rest of the class playtesting each other’s paper protoypes

Survival Horror:

Puzzle Platformer:


Thoughts, conclusions

Overall, I think the activity was very successful at tackling common teaching meta-problems. By meta problems, I mean problems experienced by all teachers and not just professors of game design- for example engaging students who normally check out. 

Here’s what I was hoping would happen: I hoped students would take the element list from the team that created it and tear it up. Or reorganise it. Add to it, subtract from it. A few teams did this, but unfortunately many teams decided they would ‘fail’ the assignment if they didn’t include every element on the list. I write ‘fail’ because the activity wasn’t graded, but I feel like in this case I failed the students a bit. The activity wasn’t as successful in pushing their critical thinking as I would have liked because the act of creating genre recipes seemed to have boxed in their thinking. To remedy this in future, I will be more proactive and literal in telling students to push against their inherited design elements.

If you decide to run this activity, or a modified version of it in one of your classes, do let me know! I’m eager to see how different professors and students react to this lesson plan.

Module Guide for Socio-Cultural Contexts

Following last week’s post of my Introduction to Game Studies module, I’m posting the module guide for my third year class. It is probably worth mentioning that this is an award winning module. Students voted it exceptionally well designed, so I suppose that counts for something.

It is also probably worth mentioning that Tanya Kryzwinska orginally designed and ran the module. I feel satisfied that I have sufficiently made it my own enough to not infringe on her intellectual copyright, but if she feels otherwise, let me know and I’ll take it down. 🙂

And just to quickly reiterate- I am posting this publicly to share what I have done, widen participation in higher education, and (of course) strengthen my own teaching. If you have constructive feedback, please let me know.

Game Studies 3: Socio-Cultural Contexts

Introduction, aims, background

  • To place games within a larger socio-cultural context through reading multi-/inter-disciplinary research.
  • To evaluate the relationships and contexts within which games are made and consumed.
  • To examine demographics of those who play games as well as representation of gender, sexuality, race, age and ability in games.
  • To think about what socio-cultural topics mean within a larger, developer context.

Methods of Teaching

  • Weekly assigned readings provide foundational knowledge to stimulate discussion and thought.
  • An interactive seminar of three hours which includes a blend of short lectures and student participation via activities.
  • Activities provide students with the opportunity to discuss in small groups ideas raised through reading, lectures and personal experience.
  • Seminars provide student with formative, individual feedback on their progress and work. Summative feedback is provided from two assessed essays- one on demographics and representation and one question response based on course themes.
Week 1 Introduction to module and topic

This introductory lecture will go over the course aims, goals, assessments and expectations. It is an important opportunity to discuss the aim and scope of the class and to situate it within larger contexts of not only the degree programme, but also games and society.

Essential Reading:

 Seminar Questions:

The seminar this week will be a chance for us to get to know each other better.

Week 2 Gender in Games

This week begins the core content of the class by looking at demographics, statistics, and issues of representation of gender in games.

Essential Reading:

  • Taylor, TL. (2006). Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. Chapter 4.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Entertainment Software Association 2014. Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry: Sales, Demographic, and Usage Data. (particularly page 3 on gender) Accessed at: http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/esa_ef_2014.pdf
  • Fine, G. A., 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. London: University of Chicago Press. Chapter 2, particularly pages 62-71.
  • Corneliussen, H. 2008. ‘World of Warcraft as a Playground for Feminism’. In Corneliussen, H. and Walker Rettberg, J. (eds.) Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader. MIT Press: Massachusetts. pp.63-86.
  • Gareth R. Schott and Kirsty R. Horrell ’Girl Gamers and their Relationship with the Gaming Culture’. Convergence. Vol 13 no.4 Winter. 2000.
  • Taylor, TL. 2012. Raising the Stakes: E-sports and the Professionalisation of Computer Gaming. MIT Press: Cambridge. Chapter 3. (good commentary on masculinities)
  • Haraway, D. 1985, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge: New York.

Seminar Questions:

  1. In the introduction to the chapter, Taylor states that the stereotypical image of a gamer is a boy or man. Do you agree that this is a stereotype? Why or why not? Do you think the image of the gamer is changing?
  2. How does Taylor counter assertions that women play games primarily because of ‘wanting to talk’ or ‘identity exploration’ (p.95)? What did her participants report?
  3. What does Taylor mean by the term ‘bracket’ (p.110)?
  4. What are ‘pink games’? What’s wrong with them?
  5. How do advertisements of games make them seem exclusively for men?
Week 3 Sex in Games

Western cultures generally accept that sex is a part of life, and that sex can lead to powerful narratives in film and literature, but what about sex in games? This week we will look at the relationship between games, play, and sex and think critically about whether or not gaming is an ‘adult’ enough media to handle a topic as complex as sexuality.

Essential Reading:

  • Brown, Ashley ML. 2015. Sexuality in Role-Playing Games. Routledge: London, Chapter 2 + part of 3. Pages 11-38.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Mia Consalvo ‘Hot Dates and Fairy Tale Romances: Studying Sexuality in Video Games’ in Wolf and Perron (eds.) (2003) The VideoGame Theory Reader. Routledge.
  • Gallagher, R. 2012. ‘No Sex Please, We are Finite State Machines: On the melancholy sexlessness of the video game’. Games and Culture, 7(6). pp.399-418.
  • Harviainen, J. T. 2012, ‘Sadomasochist Role-Playing as LiveAction Role-Playing: A trait descriptive analysis’. International Journal of Role-Playing. 1(2). pp.59-70.
  • Brown, A. 2012. ‘‘No One-Handed Typing’: An exploration of cheats and spoilsports in an erotic role play community in World of Warcraft’. Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, 4(3).
  • SundĂ©n, J. 2012. ‘Desires at Play: On closeness and epistemological uncertainty’. Games and Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media, 7(2). pp.164-184. 

Seminar Questions:

  1. Why does the chapter begin by talking about Spin the Bottle?
  2. Which 3 rule types are listed? Why are they important?
  3. Why is the Hot Coffee mod interesting?
  4. What is the difference between Adults Only and Mature ESRB ratings? Why does the ESRB rating matter?
  5. (From the beginning of chapter 3) According to the text, what is the stereotype of an erotic role player? What is the actuality?
  6. What is the motivation to erotic role play?
Week 4 Race and Games

From real-life racial representations to who plays to fantastical depictions of elves and orcs, race is a key cultural and social artefact to be studied when researching games. This week looks not only at the racial composition of players, but also discusses the representation of race in games.

Essential Reading:

  • Monson, M. 2012. ‘Race-based Fantasy Realm: Essentialism in the World of Warcraft’. Games and Culture. 7(1), pp.48-71.

Secondary Readings:

  • Packer, J. 2012. ‘What Makes an Orc? Racial cosmos and emergent narrative in World of Warcraft.’ Games and Culture, 9(2), pp.83-101.
  • Poor, N. 2012. ‘Digital Elves as a Racial Other in Video Games: Acknowledgement and avoidance’. Games and Culture, 7(5), pp. 375-396.
  • Shaw, A. 2012. ‘Do You Identify as a Gamer? Gender, race, sexuality and gamer identity’. New Media and Society, 14(1), pp.28-44.
  • Burgess, M., Dill, K., Stermer, S., Burgess, S., and Brown, B., 2011. ‘Playing with Prejudice: The prevalence and consequences of racial stereotypes in video games.’ Media Psychology, 14, pp.289-311.
  • Kafai, Y., Cook, M., Fields, D. 2010. ‘”Blacks Deserve Bodies Too!”: Design and discussion about diversity and race in a tween virtual world’, Games and Culture, 5(1), pp.43-63.

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to the article, is race (biologically) real?
  2. How do race-based societies cultivate and perpetuate racism? (Hint: p. 50)
  3. How is race used to demonstrate ‘authenticity’?
  4. How do fantasy and science fiction reinforce the ideology of race-based societies?
  5. How does World of Warcraft reinforce folk-biological views?
Week 5 Age and Games

This week will be spent talking about the age of players and the age of characters in videogames.

Essential Reading:

  • Pearce, C. 2008, ‘The Truth About Baby Boomer Gamers: A study of over-forty computer game players’. Games and Culture, 3(2), pp. 142-174.

Secondary Readings:

  • ESA, 2013. ‘2013 Sales, Demographic, and Usage Data: Essential facts about the computer and video game industry’, accessed at: http://www.isfe.eu/sites/isfe.eu/files/attachments/esa_ef_2013.pdf.
  • De Schutter, B. 2011, ‘Never Too Old to Play: The appeal of digital games to an older audience’. Games and Culture, 6(2), pp. 155-170.
  • Williams, D., Yee, N., and Caplan, S. 2008, ‘Who Plays, How Much, and Why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(4), pp. 993-1018.
  • Ghuman, D. and Griffiths, M. 2012, ‘A Cross-Genre Study of Online Gaming: Player demographics, motivation for play, and social interactions among players’. International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning, 2(1), pp.1-17.
  • Kasriel, D. 2009, ‘Eurogaming: Video gaming transcending traditional demographics in Europe’, Euromonitor International, accessed at: http://blog.euromonitor.com/2009/02/eurogaming-video-gaming-transcending-traditional-demographics-in-europe.html

 Seminar Questions:

  1. Which company took a radical departure from standard practice and made efforts to cater to aging populations? Where is this company based? What are their population statistics like?
  2. What do the statistics on page 144 seem to suggest about gamer demographics in 2005?
  3. What genre of game was the most popular amongst Pearce’s participants?
  4. Did any of this study’s findings surprise you? Did this change your perception of baby boomer gamers?
  5. This article is written from a US context. Do you think this has an effect on the outcomes of the research?
Week 6 Ability and Games

The final class on topics relating to demographics and representation, this week we will discuss the representation of the body and ability in games. We will also discuss the real-world abilities of players and the challenges to the body gaming presents.

Essential Reading:

 Secondary Readings:

  • Ledder, S. (in press 2015) “Evolve today!”: Human Enhancement Technologies in the BioShock universe. In L. Cuddy (ed.) BioShock and Philosophy, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Gibbons, S. (2013) ‘Playing for Transcendence: Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Disability’. In First Person Scholar, October 2013.
  • Allan, K. (2013.) Introduction: Reading Disability in Science Fiction. In K. Allan (Ed.), Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (pp 1-18) New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Davis, L. J. (1995) Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body. London: Verso.
  • Thomson, R.G. (1997) Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Thomson, R.G (1996) Freakery; Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body New York: New York University Press.
  • Williams, L. (1999) ‘Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess’. In L Braudy and M. Cohen (Eds) Film Theory and Criticism (pp. 701-715). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to the literature cited in the article, what are three film genres associated with the body? Why are these of low cultural status?
  2. What type of method does Carr employ in her study?
  3. In the analysis, what do Necromorphs represent? What does Isaac’s suit represent? The clinic?
  4. What concluding messages does Dead Space contain about the body and anxieties around the body?
Week 8 Gamers and Gaming Communities

This week will look at gamers and gaming communities from socio-cultural perspectives. Namely, we will consider whether or not gamers might be considered a sub-culture, fan community, or something else entirely.

Essential Reading:

  • Shaw, A. 2010. ‘What Is Video Game Culture? Cultural Studies and Game Studies’. Games and Culture, 5(4), pp.403-424.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Jenkins, H. 2006. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Essays on Participatory Culture.  New York University Press, Chapter 2.
  • Lamerichs, N. (2011). Stranger than Fiction: Fan Identity in Cosplay. Transformative Work and Cultures, 7. http://journal.transformativeworks.com/index.php/twc/article/view/246/230
  • Burn, A. 2006. ‘Reworking the Text: Online Fandom’ in Carr, D.; Buckingham, D.; Burn, A.; Schott, G. (eds) Computer Games: Texts, Narrative, and Play. Polity Press.
  • Consalvo, M. 2012. ‘Confronting Toxic Gamer Culture: A Challenge for Feminist Games Studies Scholars’. A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. Issue 1. http://adanewmedia.org/2012/11/issue1-consalvo/

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to Shaw, what is video game culture?
  2. What are cultural studies? (Hint: p.405)
  3. On page 406, how does Shaw describe the difference in how video game scholars and video game journalists write about game culture?
  4. According to Shaw, how has gamer identity been defined as male?
  5. According to the article, is video game culture truly distinct from popular/mass culture?
Week 9 Games Rating and Review Boards

This week will be spent looking at the regulation of games, both in terms of legislation and government action and in terms of consumer watchdog groups.

Essential Reading:

  • Felini, D. 2015. ‘Beyond Today’s Video Game Rating Systems: A critical approach to PEGI and ESRB, and proposed improvements’, Games and Culture, 10(1), pp. 106-122.

Secondary Readings:

  • Tocci, J. 2008. ‘Seeking Truth in Video Game Ratings: Content considerations for media regulations’, International Journal of Communication, 2, pp. 561-586.
  • Walsh, D. and Gentile, D. 2001. ‘A Validity Test of Movie, Television, and Video-Game Ratings’. Pediatrics, 107(6), pp.1302-1308.
  • Yousafzai, S., Hussain, Z. and Griffiths, M. 2014. ‘Social Responsibility in Online Videogaming: What should the videogame industry do?’. Addiction Research and Theory 22(3), pp. 181-5.
  • Burns, R. C. and Lau, T. Y. ‘Censorship, Government and the Computer Game Industry. In Zotto, C.D. 2005. Growth and Dynamics of Maturing New Media Companies. Jönköping International Business School.

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to the reading, what are the two most popular/used rating/classification boards for video games? How are they funded?
  2. How many classification categories does PEGI have? What about the ESRB?
  3. According to the article, who does PEGI/ESRB target?
  4. What is the promoted image of childhood? Is it accurate?
  5. Are the current classification systems successful in protecting children? What problems are there? How might we improve classification systems?
Week 10 Games and Economics

This week will consider the business of making games. We know that games are big business, but what about the economies of virtual worlds? The lecture and seminar this week looks at virtual and real economies and how they overlap. A discussion will centre on how virtual economies develop cultures of scarcity in and out of games.

Essential Reading:

  • Kerr, A. The Business and Culture of Digital Games: Gamework/Gameplay. Sage: London, chapter 3.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Castronova, E. 2006, Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago: Chicago University Press, chapter 8.
  • Nakamura, L. 2009, ‘Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The racialization of labour in World of Warcraft’, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26(2), pp.128-144.
  • Heeks, R. 2009, ‘Understanding ‘Gold Farming’ and Real-Money Trading as the Intersection of Real and Virtual Economies’, Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2(4), accessed at: http://journals.tdl.org/jvwr/index.php/jvwr/article/viewArticle/868
  • Alvisi, A. 2006, ‘The Economics of Digital Games’ in Understanding Digital Games. London: Sage.
  • Kerr, A. 2006, ‘The business of making digital games’ in Understanding Digital Games London: Sage.
  • Debeauvais, T., Nardi, B., Schiano, D., Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N. 2011, ‘If You Build It They Might Stay: Retention mechanisms in World of Warcraft’, Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Foundations of Digital Games, pp. 180-187. Accessed from: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2159390
  • Lehdonvirta, V. and Virtanen, P. 2012, ‘A New Frontier in Digital Content Policy: Case studies in the regulation of virtual goods and artificial scarcity’, Policy and Internet, 2(3), pp. 7-29.

Seminar Questions:

  1. What is political economy? How does it differ from orthodox economic theory?
  2. Why are companies interested in reaching the widest possible audience?
  3. What is horizontal integration? What is vertical integration?
  4. Look at table 3.2 on page 56. Did anything about the software production process there surprise you?
  5. What are the three types of development companies?
  6. What is an ‘economy of scope’?
Week 11 Serious Games

The final content session will look at games which specifically invoke or engage with real-world social issues. As the key reading hints at, we will think particularly about how games might convey a particular type of rhetoric when it comes to serious issues.

Essential Reading:

  • Bogost, I. Persuasive Games. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. Chapter 1: Procedural Rhetoric.

 Secondary Readings:

  • Lavender, T. 2006. ‘Games Just Wanna Have Fun
 Or Do They? Measuring the effectiveness of persuasive games’. Loading
 1(1). Accessed from: http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/13/17
  • Rilla Khaled, Pippin Barr, James Noble, Ronald Fischer, and Robert Biddle. 2007. Fine tuning the persuasion in persuasive games. In Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on Persuasive technology (PERSUASIVE’07), Yvonne De Kort, Wijnand IJsselsteijn, Cees Midden, Berry Eggen, and B. J. Fogg (Eds.). Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 36-47.
  • Garite, M. ‘The Ideology of Interactivity (or, Video Games and the Taylorisation of Leisure’. DiGRA 2003 Proceedings. Accessed at: http://www.digra.org/wp-content/uploads/digital-library/05150.15436.pdf

Seminar Questions:

  1. What is procedurality according to Bogost?
  2. What is rhetoric?
  3. How might procedural rhetoric be used to develop games?
Week 12 Review

 All the material covered this term will be reviewed in our final week. This is a good opportunity to ask questions and clarify understandings before the essay is due.

Game Design Research Evening

Foreword: Most of this blog post will be open, unabashed bragging about how talented and cool my students are. Read at your own risk. 😉

To celebrate the launch of my first research monograph, Sexuality in Role-Playing Games, we hosted a Games Design research evening. This allowed for not only the eating of pizza, drinking of soda, and making of merry, but also a chance for our students to show off what they do here. As it would turn out, not only do they make super rad games (as evidenced by the Global Game Jam results), but they can also write some pretty darn good papers.

The poster I made. Woot for learning more about Illustrator on the fly!

The title slide was even animated… poorly. 

The night featured six presentations done in a modified pecha kucha style- meaning we each had 16 slides set on a timer of 20 seconds per slide with automatic animations for a total of five minutes. Five minutes each to explain our research! Eek! How nerve wracking!

10382223_10152636058647161_6256102061136791694_oFirst up, me! To kick off the event I talked about my past research on sex and role-playing games and my future research on sexy board games.


Continuing the theme of sexuality and games, third year student Davide Fiandra presented his research on Luxuria Superbia. Notably, Davide will be presenting this paper for discussion at this year’s Adult Play Seminar in Tampere, Finland.

11096666_10152636058662161_2916550158167536210_nNext up was the ever patient Kelly who very politely agreed to participate in the event despite being short of time working on her own book proposal. She spoke about her work on hybrid-identity and made puns about EverQuest which everyone laughed at. The puns, I mean. Not her work, obviously!


Speaking about his recent DiGRA paper, third year student Christopher Winn impressed the crowd with his amazing knowledge of Powerpoint animations… and the narrative structure of MOBAs, of course!


Rounding out the end of the evening, MA student Daniel Thompson told us all about his past work creating games with Block Stop which blur boundaries between play and performance. He then spoke about how this developed his research interests.


Ending the presentation segment of the evening, MA student Rosa Carbó-Mascarell told us about her travels and viewing cities through the eyes of a psychogeographer. She also discussed how psychogeography influences her game design and research.

Ru Paul’s poses on Drag Race taught me to stand all ladylike like that.

Overall, the event was well attended and those who came got a lot out of it. It was a wonderful experience to learn from students, watch students learn from other students, and (generally) to celebrate the cool things we spend so much of our lives doing.

A special thank you to everyone at Brunel University London who made the event possible. Photo credits go to the wonderfully talented and generous Chris Cox.

Until next time,


Beta Test

What better way to test my blogging skills than by starting with a blog about beta tests?

If you have any sort of presence on social media and enjoy videogames, it is very likely you have recently been bombarded by hundreds of tweets and status updates from people who have been invited to beta test a new MMO. I, obnoxiously, am one of those people. Unfortunately, due to the nondisclosure agreement I signed when I agreed to the test, I can’t mention the name of the game (but I am sure you can figure it out anyway). This post isn’t about the game, luckily, or else I wouldn’t have very much I could talk about. Instead, this post is about the importance of beta testing as a facet of videogame culture.

As most of you will hopefully know, beta testing is a type of testing in which a piece of software, such as a videogame, is released to select members of the public outside the development studio to test for bugs. Other things can also be tested for, such as satisfaction of shareholders, functionality of promised product specifications, stress testing servers and viability of marketing strategies. Actually, it has become a marketing strategy in and of itself with many MMOs offering beta tests to anyone who preorders the game. (This has come under heavy criticism for obvious reasons.) But I digress… The main purpose of this post is to talk about the social functionality of a beta test and what it means for fans and researchers.

Opening your inbox and sifting through junk mail to find a beta invite is a little bit like Charlie unwrapping the chocolate bar to find the golden ticket. You have been chosen. You are special. You get to come to the front of the queue and see everything before anyone else… And you get bragging rights. This is precisely why it is such a good marketing strategy. It builds brand loyalty and exclusivity before the product is even on the shelves.

It is also an event- a spectacle to behold. When I get invited to a beta weekend, my entire life is restructured. I go grocery shopping to stock up on ready meals, cancel plans with friends, and- perhaps most extreme- rearrange my sleep pattern. Since most betas launch Friday evenings in the USA, that’s quite late for the UK. To account for this, I will stay up ridiculously late the night before, sleep in and nap during the day, and have a stockpile of caffeine at the ready to play through the night. I change my biological clock to meet the schedule of a game developer half a world away to, essentially, give them free labour. It’s insane, I know.

However, as game researchers, I feel that some of us should go to rather extreme lengths to partake, observe, and experience what a beta opening is. The last time I had the opportunity to be on the front lines of a beta was for Diablo III on 15 May 2012. I, like many others, experienced a terrible server error which meant I couldn’t log in to the game straight away. Looking up the solution to mysterious error code 33 sent me to Blizzard’s forums. There I discovered I wasn’t the only one experiencing this frustration.


I took screenshots (and later anonymised them) to have a record of how players were reacting to the servers being down. The above image is an example of the typical responses I witnessed. From snarky posts gloating over the fact some people got in straight away to legitimate statements and questions about current server conditions to rage posts directed at the developer, I was rather amused how some players turned the server error into a play activity in and of itself. The bragging and back-and-forth rage between players became an antagonistic sort of play. I’m tempted to code these player responses into modalities to see if it tells us more about community reactions under stress. I mean, in multiple ways the Diablo III beta was a stress test for servers and people.

But perhaps I will have to do that later. For now, I need to go grocery shopping and stock up on ready meals. It is almost time to join the hordes of other testers on the field of battle to charge through the game’s gates for glory and bragging rights.

See you in a week,