Syllabus 2009

Course Description:

Computer games are transforming the entertainment industry, generating an estimated $57 billion in revenue in 2009. For more than twenty years, online communities have been producing new forms of psychological, social, and cultural experience. The early text-based spaces of MOOs and chat rooms have evolved into virtual societies such as Second Life, which provide a platform for everything from educational experiments to virtual sex to commerce with imaginary currency and real money freely exchanged. Early text-based adventure games such as Zork have become the multimedia environments of online games like  Lord of the Rings Online, which combine the written word with graphics, music, skills, professions, and action.

Are online games generating new interactive modes of narrative? How do multimedia environments transform the age-old patterns of quest romances that structure much game play? Is the line between virtual and real experience erased by the fusion of online communities, role playing, and escapist fictions? These questions will animate our consideration of digital narrative forms.

Co-taught by the head of ITS and the chair of the English department, the course will meet in a high tech multimedia seminar room, allowing us to explore the fundamentals of game design. Students will be required to subscribe to an online game, Lord of the Rings Online, and will compare the interactive story arcs with related narrative forms from literature and film. Readings will range from Spenser’s Faerie Queene to Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and include critical theory such as Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media, Jesper Juul’s Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds, and McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory.

Week 1
(Aug. 27)
Week 2
(Sept. 1-3)
Week 3
(Sept. 8-10)
Week 4
(Sept. 15-17)
Week 5
(Sept. 22-24)
Week 6
(Sept. 29-Oct. 1)
Week 7
(Oct. 6-8)
Week 8
(Oct. 13-15)
Week 9
(Oct.  20)
Week 10
(Oct. 27-29)
Week 11
(Nov. 3-5)
Week 12
(Nov. 10-12)
Week 13
(Nov. 17-19)
Week 14
(Dec. 1-2)
Week 15
(Dec. 8-10)
Course Requirements

Week 1

  • Thursday (August 27) – Introduction to Media Classroom
    • Course procedures and requirements
    • Instructions for downloading and subscribing to Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO).  Set up a WordPress blog account, a class Facebook Group, and Windows Live.

Week 2

  • Tuesday (September 1)
    • Jesper Juul, “ Introduction,” Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds, pp. 1-22.
    • McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory 2.0. Read, “AGONY on The Cave”
  • Thursday (September 3)
    • Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended DVD Edition)
    • Blog Topic (due 6:00 p.m.): Compare Lord of the Rings to another fantasy film you have seen.

Week 3

Week 4

  • Topic for first paper: In one of many political passages in McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory2.0, he writes: “The shrill and constant patriotic noise you hear through the speakers masks the slow erosion of any coherent fellow feeling within the remnants of national borders. This gamespace escapes all checkpoints. It is an America without qualities, for everyone and nobody. All that is left of the nation is an everywhere that is nowhere, an atopia of noisy, righteous victories and quiet, sinister failures” (012).What does this comment have to do with a theory of games?  What can game theory teach us about politics today?  In answering these questions, base your analysis on at least two passages in Wark’s work and on a specific example of contemporary political debate—on television, radio talk shows, the floor of Congress, town-hall meetings, the blogosphere, or print media.
  • Tuesday (September 15)
    • Rough draft of first paper due
    • Writing workshop using digital classroom collaborative writing software
    • Submit your paper using the Digital Dropbox in OAK. Send it to Jay Clayton. Be sure to use the SEND button not the Add button.
    • Name your paper (both on the hard drive of your computer and in OAK) as follows: “Lastname, Firstname – paper 1 – draft”
  • Wednesday (September 16): conferences – Benson 332
  • Thursday (September 17)
    • J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (Read Book I, chapters 1-8 of the novel)
    • W. H. Auden, “The Quest Hero” (OAK)
    • Jane Chance, “Heroic Narrative and the Power of Structure” (OAK)
    • Blog Topic: No blog entry required this week.

Week 5

  • Monday (September 21)
    • Final draft of first paper due, 5:00 p.m.
      • Submit your paper using the Digital Dropbox in OAK. Send it to Jay Clayton. Be sure to use the SEND button not the Add button. Name your paper (both on the hard drive of your computer and in OAK) as follows: ” Lastname , Firstname – paper 1 – final”
  • Tuesday (September 22)
    • J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (read through Book II, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)
  • Thursday (September 24)
    • J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (finish the novel)
    • CLASS MEETS AT THE CENTRAL LIBRARY REFERENCE DESK
    • Blog topic (due 6:00 p.m.): What do you think of the story in the Prologue and Epic Book 1 quests in LOTRO? How does the story line being developed in these quests relate to Tolkien’s world?

Week 6

  • Topic for second paper: Remediating imaginary worlds.  Compare the experience of questing in the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs with the depiction of these landscapes in Tolkien. How do the fictional elements of suspense and mystery affect one’s relationship to the imagined forest and desolate barrows in the novel? Does the bewildering experience of getting lost in the Old Forest and Barrow Downs in LOTRO, combined with the danger of having your character die, serve as an appropriate analogue to the novel’s episodes, or does it produce some other impression entirely? Be sure to make use of some of Bolter and Grusin’s concepts: transparency, immediacy, hypermediacy, remediation as the “representation of one medium in another” (p. 45), and the spectrum of remediation from faithfulness to absorption (pp. 45-49).
  • Tuesday (September 29)
    • Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, excerpt from Remediation: Understanding New Media, pp. 1-50. (OAK)
  • Thursday (October 1)

Week 7

  • Tuesday (October 6)
    • Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (read Chs. 21-50)
    • Rough draft of second paper due.
      • Submit your paper using the Digital Dropbox in OAK. Send it to Jay Clayton. Be sure to use the SEND button not the Add button.
      • Name your paper (both on the hard drive of your computer and in OAK) as follows: ” Lastname, Firstname – paper 2 – draft”
    • Writing workshop: Arguments and evidence.
  • Thursday (October 8)
    • Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (finish novel)
    • Blog topics (due 6:00 p.m.) – Choose one of the following:
      • How do you respond to the depiction of race and gender in Snow Crash? What forms of identification or disidentification shape your response?
      • What are the differences between reading about combat with swords and spears in Snow Crash and engaging in virtual combat in LOTRO? Are you engaged in different ways?

Week 8

  • Monday (October 12). Final draft of second paper due 5:00 p.m.
    • Submit your paper using the Digital Dropbox in OAK. Send it to Jay Clayton. Be sure to use the SEND button not the Add button.
    • Name your paper (both on the hard drive of your computer and in OAK) as follows: ” Lastname, Firstname – paper 2 – final”
  • Tuesday (October 13)
    • Begin playing Never Winter Nights 2 .
    • Jesper Juul, “Ways of Creating Worlds,” “Optional Worlds and Incoherent Worlds,” “Time in Games,” and “Games and Narrative,” in Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds , pp. 133-62. (OAK)
  • Thursday (October 15)
    • T. L. Taylor, “Whose Game Is This Anyway” and “The Future of Persistent Worlds and Critical Game Studies” in Play between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture , pp. 124-62.  (OAK)
    • Blog topic (due 6:00 p.m.): Write a blog entry on anything that relates to any aspect of the course.

Week 9

  • Tuesday (October 20)
  • Thursday (October 22)
    • Fall Break. No class and no blog entry required.

Week 10

  • Tuesday (October 27)
    • Salen and Zimmerman, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals ( OAK ): Defining Games, pp. 71 – 83 and The Magic Circle , pp. 93 – 99
  • Thursday (October 29)
    • Salen and Zimmerman, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (OAK): Games as Narrative Play, pp. 377 – 416
    • Blog topic (due at 6:00 p.m.): Choose one of the following topics:
      • Has online gaming this semester affected other parts of your life–your schoolwork, your social life, athletics, etc?
      • What do you think is the difference between games and play?

Week 11

  • Tuesday (November 3)
    • Excerpts from Book 3: Cantos 1 and 2 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene (OAK, e-reserve).
  • Thursday (November 5)
    • Excerpts from Book 3: Canto 3, stanza 1- 26; summaries of Cantos 4 and 5; Canto 5, stanzas 27-55;  and Canto 6, stanza 27-55 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene (OAK, e-reserve)
    • Blog Topic (due at 6:00 p.m.): What would you tell an IT professional like Professor Hall about reading Spenser’s The Faerie Queene?

Week 12

  • Paper 3 topic: Discuss what you think Spenser means to say about desire through the stories of Venus, Cupid, Adonis, Amoret, the Greek Gods, and Scudamour in Canto 6, 11, and 12 of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.  Their tales, and those of the other characters they encounter, present a variety of forms of sexual desire.  Why is a thorough treatment of desire important to a book about chastity?  To make your case, analyze Spenser’s use of imagery and of parallels and contrasts among characters/episodes in these three cantos.  You should focus on one character in particular, but you may bring in other figures from elsewhere in these cantos.
  • Tuesday (November 10)
    • Excerpts from Book 3: Summaries of Cantos 7-10; Cantos 11-12 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene (OAK, e-reserve)
  • Thursday (November 12)
    • Narrative Workshop Assignments
    • NPC Selection and Dialog Teams
    • Peruse Obsidian Manuals ( OAK )
    • Blog Topic: None this week
  • Monday(November 16).  Rough draft of third paper due by 5:00 p.m.
    • Submit your paper using the Digital Dropbox in OAK. Send it to Jay Clayton. Be sure to use the SEND button not the Add button.
    • Name your paper (both on the hard drive of your computer and in OAK) as follows: ” Lastname, Firstname – paper 3 – draft”.

Week 13

  • Tuesday (November 17)
    • Mythrendale Quick Reference Manual (OAK)
    • Game design workshop
  • Thursday (November 19)
    • Game design workshop
    • No Blog topic.  Happy Break!
  • Friday (November 20).  Final draft of third paper due by 5:00 p.m.
    • Submit your paper using the Digital Dropbox in OAK. Send it to Jay Clayton. Be sure to use the SEND button not the Add button.
    • Name your paper (both on the hard drive of your computer and in OAK) as follows: ” Lastname, Firstname – paper 3 – final”.

Thanksgiving Break, November 21-30

Week 14

  • Tuesday (December 1)
    • Williams, Hendricks, & Winkler, ed. Gaming as Culture
      • Dennis D. Waskul, “The Role-Playing Game and the Game of Role-Playing: The Ludic Self and Everyday Life,” pp. 19 – 39 ( OAK )
  • Thursday (December 3)
    • Final Game design workshop
    • The FINAL Blog Topic (due at 6:00 p.m.): Using the Mythrendale area descriptions as an example, work with your partner to collaborate on a design statement for both the area and the NPCs that you were assigned in class.   Do this as a team.  In your title, Type: TEAM X: BLOG TITLE and place both your names in the by-line.  This is a group activity, so please actively collaborate with one another.

Week 15

  • Tuesday (December 8)
    • Game design workshop
  • Thursday (December 10)
    • Conclusion

Requirements

  • Three 5-page papers will count for 50% of the grade.
  • Weekly blog entries, 30% of the grade
    • Passionate
    • Author Engagement in the topic
    • Thoughtful
    • Creative
    • Coherent
    • Not grading on length or mechanics unless major patterns of bad grammar appear.
  • Completion of daily reading assignments, class participation, and final gaming project will count for 20% of the grade.
    • Learning to speak articulately about cultural issues is a valuable skill, which literature seminars are designed to foster. Pushing oneself to voice an informed opinion in public often forces a person to think more deeply and to respond to others, whereas listening passively can foster the tendency to accept others’ ideas rather than work out one’s own position. Speaking about specific features of the text also demonstrates that one has read the assigned material carefully.
    • Class participation grades will be calculated as follows:
      • Attendance at the great majority of classes constitutes the minimum passing standard and establishes one’s participation grade as a D.
      • Speaking up only a few times during the course of the semester constitutes satisfactory performance and earn a grade of C.
      • Entering the discussion every class or two constitutes average performance and earns a grade of B.
      • Frequent participation, which is intelligent, respectful of others, and clearly oriented toward contributing to the class experience rather than scoring points or showing off, constitutes excellent performance and earns a grade of A.

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