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:

Rhythm:

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).
  • Sundén, 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 7 READING WEEK
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.

Module Guide for Introduction to Game Studies

I recently discovered that my module guides remain my intellectual property- meaning I can freely share them. So, I am putting here my week-by-weeks with suggested readings for Game Studies 1: Introduction to Game Studies (1st year Game Design BA module for our degree programme here at Brunel). This module has been designed to introduce first year university students from a variety of backgrounds and interests to Game Studies as part of their overall Game Design undergraduate degree.

This is nearly a copy-paste from this year’s guides, but I have tried to provide context where possible. A quick glance will show that the reading list consists of nearly 100% texts which can be classified as Game Studies, but the lectures themselves draw on other theories and readings from interdisciplinary sources to give a more well-rounded approach to the field.

Please feel free to use as much or as little of these guides as you want. Likewise, I am open to feedback. If any of you reading this teach a similar class, I’d love to have a cup of coffee (or virtual coffee) and a chat to see what has worked for you and what hasn’t. Next week I’ll post Game Studies 3: Socio-Cultural Contexts (3rd year Game Design BA module).

Game Studies 1: Introduction to Game Studies

Introduction, aims, background

  • Introduce students to foundational concepts, themes and theories from within the field of Games Studies.
  • Study games and play using three perspectives: philosophy; media and cultural studies; and socio-cultural studies.
  • Develop understanding of foundational theories relating to the study of games and develop critical and analytical skills in the application of these theories to specific examples of games.

Methods of Teaching

  • The module will follow the pattern of an interactive seminar (3 hours) which will include short lectures combined with exercises and activities aimed at generating discussion through critical thinking.
  • Students will be required to work in small groups during class time to discuss and critique academic studies of games and apply knowledge learned in class and through reading to specific examples.
  • Formative assessment will take the form of oral feedback given during seminars. Summative assessment will take the form of a presentation and an essay.
Week 1

 

Introduction to module and topic

This introductory lecture will go over the module 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 the importance of studying games as a serious academic endeavour. This class will also cover essential skills needed to do well in the module, such as how to breakdown and read dense academic texts.

Essential Reading:

  • Mäyrä, F. 2008. An Introduction to Game Studies. Sage: London. Chapter 1: Introduction: What is game studies? Pages 1-12.

Seminar Questions:

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

Week 3

 

What is a game?

This week begins the core content of the class by looking at precisely what a game is. Although it may seem self-evident, this class will use academic research to breakdown the basic components of what a game is, how it is different than play, and why such definitions matter.

Essential Reading:

  • Juul, J. 2005. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. MIT Press: Cambridge. Chapter 2.

Secondary Readings:

  • Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E. 2006. Rules of Play. MIT Press: Cambridge. Unit One 28-116.
  • Suits, B. 1990. The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. Godine/Nonpariel Books. Chapter 3.
  • Atkins, B. 2003. More than a Game. Manchester University Press: Manchester. Chapter 1.

 Seminar Questions:

  1. What is a game? What are the key components of a game?
  2. What are the roles of rules in games?
  3. How does the game industry shape what we might consider a game?
  4. Is Second Life a game? Are The Sims a game? Why or why not?
Week 5

 

Ludology and narratology

Most games have a narrative, but are they something more? Can games be studied like books? Or like films? Are they something else entirely? This week resurrects an old ‘debate’ within the field, but focuses on the importance of epistemology when approaching the study of games.

Essential Reading:

  • Atkins, B. 2003. More Than a Game. University of Manchester Press: Manchester. Chapter 1.

Secondary Readings:

  • Aarseth, E. 1997. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Chapter 2.
  • Wolf, M. 2001. ‘Narrative in the videogame’ in Mark JP Wolf (ed.) The Medium of the Videogame. Texas University Press: Austin.
  • Frasca, G. 2003. ‘Ludologists Love Stories Too: Notes from a debate that never took place’. Proceedings of DiGRA 2003. Accessed from:  http://www.ludology.org/articles/frasca_levelUP2003.pdf

Seminar Questions:

  1. In your opinion, which game has the best storyline? Why?
  2. Which game has the worst storyline and why?
  3. Do all games tell stories?
  4. What is the relationship between narrative and play?
  5. Which side would you take in the narratology vs. ludology debate?
Week 7

 

READING WEEK
Week 8

 

Games and art

This week’s primary reading is a short editorial piece from film critic Roger Ebert. He infamously claimed, and received much backlash for, the comment ‘video games can never be art’. Games Studies can answer his editorial with a philosophical debate about the nature of art and media. To engage with this debate, I encourage you to read one or more of the secondary readings in addition to the primary reading.

Essential Reading:

Secondary Readings:

Seminar Questions:

  1. According to Roger Ebert, why aren’t video games art?
  2. Do you agree with his position?
  3. What is art?
  4. What’s an example of a video game you would consider to be art?
Week 10

 

Games and Music

Connecting to the previous discussions of the relationship video games have to other media and the arts, this week focuses on video games and music. We will focus on how the music of games contributes to their overall design and the overall affect felt by players. The role of the industry, and of convergence with other types of popular media, will also be discussed.

Essential Reading:

 Secondary Readings:

  • Collins, K. 2008. Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. Chapter 1.
  • Whalen, Z. 2004. ‘Play Along: An approach to videogame music’. The International Journal of Computer Game Research. 4(1). Accessed from: http://www.gamestudies.org/0401/whalen/

Seminar Questions:

  1. What does music contribute to the design of video games?
  2. What about sound effects?
  3. What role does convergence play in the incorporation of popular music into video games?
  4.  How might we study music in games?
  5. How might we explain real-world symphonies playing video game theme songs?
Week 12 Presentations

We will spend the full day on presentations, so be sure to attend and be sure to support your peers! The presentations are worth 40% of total mark and are described in depth at the end of this document.

Weeks 14-16 Christmas Break
Week 18 Games and fandom

This class will serve as an introduction to studies of player communities by looking at the most visible groups of players- fans. Although there are many ways to define, categorise, and talk about players, looking at groups of fans and fan cultures is useful in thinking about games as a participatory culture in multiple ways.

Essential Reading:

  • Jenkins, H. 2006. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Essays on Participatory Culture.  New York University Press, Chapter 2.

Secondary Readings:

  • 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
  • Lamerichs, N. 2015. ‘Express Yourself: An affective analysis of game cosplayers’. Game Love: Essays on Play and Affection. MacFarland: Jefferson, North Carolina.
  • 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.

Seminar Questions:

1.       What does it mean to be a ‘textual poacher’?

2.       What fan practices does Jenkins discuss in the chapter?

3.       Why should we study fans of games?

4.       Have you ever been to a fan convention? Have you ever cosplayed?

Week 20 Military and games

This week will be spent looking at the history of videogames and their (often close) ties to the military. From strategic war board games to the use of military technology to develop games, this week will highlight the close relationship between the military and games and raise questions about possible effects this might have on their design (and resulting controversies!).

Essential Reading:

  • Lukas, S. 2010. ‘Behind the Barrel’: Reading the Video Game Gun’, In Huntemann, N. and Payne, T. (eds.) Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games. Routledge: New York. Pp. 75-103.

Secondary Readings:

  • Martino, J. 2012. ‘Video Games and the Militarisation of Society: Towards a Theoretical and Conceptual Framework’, International Federation for Information Processing, 386. Pp.264-273.
  • Gagnon, F. 2010. ‘Invading Your Hearts and Minds: Call of Duty and the (Re)Writing of Militarism in US Digital Games and Popular Culture’, European Journal of American Studies, 5(3).
  • Cornell, TJ and Allen, TB 2002. War and Games. Boydell Press: Rochester, NY. Chapter 1.

Seminar Questions:

  1. How does Lukas compare Windows 95 Halloween party with the Columbine shooting?
  2. According to the chapter, what do guns symbolise?
  3. How is the culture of online competitive and team gaming like the military?
  4. How are videogames themed and why does this matter?
  5. How do games like America’s Army blur the line between games and reality?
Week 22 READING WEEK
Week 23 Identity and avatars

A guest lecture from Dr. Kelly Boudreau.

Essential Reading:

  • Waggoner, Z. 2009. Videogames, Avatars, and Identity: A brief history (pp. 3-20). In My Avatar, My Self: Identity in Video Role-Playing Games. McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers.

Secondary Readings:

  • Gee, J.P. 2003. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Palgrave: Basingstoke. Chapter 3.
  • Tronstad, R. (2008). Character identification in World of Warcraft: The relationship between capacity and appearance. In Hilde G. Corneliussen & Jill Walker Rettberg (Eds.), Digital culture, play, and identity: A World of Warcraft reader (pp 249-264). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Seminar Questions:

  1. What are the different types of identity discussed in the readings?
  2. How does freedom of avatar creation affect gameplay?
  3. What type(s) of identity can occur in single-player games (narrative driven)?
  4. What possible issues arise when thinking about avatars and identity in video games?
Week 25 Violence and games

This is our last session with new content, but there is a review session in week 30. To round out the course, we will look at controversies about content in games- namely the violence debate. We consider both sides of the debate and think critically about the impact moral and media panics have on the industry.

Essential Reading:

  • Faltin, K. 2015. ‘Analysing Game Controversies: A Historical Approach to Moral Panics and Digital Games’ in Mortensen, T., Linderoth, J. and Brown, AML 2015. The Dark Side of Gameplay. Routledge: London.

Secondary Readings:

  • Bryce, J. and Rutter, J. 2006, ‘Digital Games and the Violence Debate’ in Understanding Digital Games, London: Sage.
  • Ferguson, C. 2013, ‘Violent Video Games and the Supreme Court: Lessons for the scientific community in the wake of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association’, American Psychological Association, 68(2), pp. 57-74.
  • Barker, M. and Petley, J. (eds.) 2001, Ill Effects: the media/violence debate, New York: Routledge.
  • Karlsen, F. 2014. ‘Analysing the History of Game Controversies’, Conference Proceedings of Digital Game Research Association Conference 2014. Accessed here: http://www.digra.org/wp-content/uploads/digital-library/digra2014_submission_97.pdf

Seminar Questions:

  1. How do debates about violent videogames effect the regulation of games?
  2. What role do moral panics play in such controversies?
  3. How have violent games affected statistics of violent crimes, according to the reading?
  4. Is violence still a controversial topic in videogames?
Week 30 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.