Syllabus 2014

ENGL 259, New Media (Curb Center, 146A)
Topic: Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative

Week 1 (Aug. 21) Week 2 (Aug. 26-28) Week 3 (Sep. 2-4)
Week 4 (Sep. 9-11) Week 5 (Sep. 16-18) Week 6 (Sep. 23-25)
Week 7 (Sep. 30-Oct. 2) Week 8 (Oct. 7-9) Week 9 (Oct. 14)
Week 10 (Oct. 21-23) Week 11 (Oct. 28-30) Week 12 (Nov. 4-6)
Week 13 (Nov. 11-13) Week 14 (Nov. 18-20) Week 15 (Dec. 2-4)
Readings, Films, and Games
Course Requirements

Course Description

This course explores the impact of new media on narrative and communication through a focus on online games.  Beginning with a massively multiplayer role playing game (MMO) and some examples from the indie gaming world, the course introduces students to the literary and artistic challenges of constructing narratives in a virtual world and the implications of digital media for communication in our daily lives as students, professionals, and members of global communities.

The course has four components:

  • Games. Students will play a selection of indie games and join the free-to-play MMO, The Lord of the Rings Online.  They will also do collaborative reports on selected console games—chosen from among candidates such as Assassin’s Creed, BioShock Infinite, Skyrim, Star Wars: The Old Repubic, Final Fantasy, or others of their choice.
  • Readings. Texts will include literature in the romance tradition that inspired fantasy gaming from Spenser, Keats, Tennyson, Browning to Tolkien, and treatments of media and game theory such as Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, 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.
  • MOOC. As part of our exploration of online experience, students will sample a few of the resources developed for an online class taught in Vanderbilt’s Massive Open Online Course on the same topic: https://www.coursera.org/course/onlinegames.  The MOOC will not substitute for classroom meetings, but videos will sometimes serve as preparation for seminar meetings in lieu of other homework.
  • Digital projects. Students will create a blog and use digital tools such as Google Earth, Neatline, Twitter, and other social media to learn how to convey complex arguments in visual, spatial, and audio formats. The final project will be a contribution to a collaborative game design module.

No background in gaming or digital technology is required.  Students will learn the theory and practice of new media through demonstrations and hands-on workshops.  Students will need a laptop with a mouse that is capable of running LOTRO (see system requirements at http://www.lotro.com/en/content/system-requirements).  Mac users will need to have Bootcamp or another Windows emulation program installed on their computer before the first class meeting.

*

Readings

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (1954) – purchase any edition, print or digital

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One: A Novel (2011)  – purchase any edition, print or digital

OAK: Poems by Edmund Spenser, John Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, and Constantine Cavafy

OAK: Media theory by Jesper Juul, J. David Bolter and Richard Grusin, T. L. Taylor, and McKenzie Wark

Films

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, dir. Seth Gordon (2007)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, dir. Peter Jackson (extended version)

Games

Lord of the Rings Online (Turbine, 2007) – Free to play.  Download from www.lotro.com/en/game/download

Braid (Number None, 2008) – $9.99 on Steam

Gone Home (Fullbright, 2013) – $19.99 on Steam

Journey (thatgamecompany, 2012) – PS3 only (do not purchase until we have discussed it in class)

*

Week 1 (Aug. 21)

Thursday

Course procedures and requirements.

Instructions for downloading and subscribing to Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO).  When you enter the game, be sure to log into the GLADDEN server. Set up a WordPress blog account, register for SteamCoursera, Twitter, tumblr, and the class Facebook page.

*

Week 2 (Aug. 26-28)

Tuesday

Jesper Juul, “Introduction,” Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds, pp. 1-22. (OAK)

Coursera, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative: watch videos

1.4 Types of video and computer games

1.5 A brief history of games

Gameplay assignment (LOTRO) – Complete before class

Complete the Tutorial and the quests in the Intro region, which will take your character to around level 5-6.  You will know you have completed the Intro when an NPC asks you to go with him to retake the region and warns you that you will not be able to do any more quests in the Intro area once you have accepted his quest.  When you have ported out of the Intro area, ask in Coursera chat if there is an officer from Vicarious Universe who can invite you to join the Kinship.

To join the Coursera chat channel, click in the chat box, then type: /joinchannel coursera. You can switch to that channel by typing: /1 and a space.

Thursday

Gameplay assignment (Indie game) – Complete before class (alone or in teams).  Spend a minimum of two hours progressing through as many levels as you can of this platform game.  You do not have to finish the game, but there will be a prize for the individual or team who gets furthest.

Braid (available on Steam).

Blog Topic (Groups 1 and 2 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.): Write about any aspect of your experience playing Braid.  Feel free to discuss it in relation to Jesper Juul’s concepts of emergence or progression.  Or comment on how rules work in the game or its innovative handling of story. Does the game succeed in evoking a sense of the character’s memories?  Does it prompt you to reflect on time?  Or write on some other feature of the game that intrigues you.

*

Week 3 (Aug. 31 – Sep. 4)

Tuesday

Discuss King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Coursera, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative

1.2 Gameplay: Epic quest line, Book I

Gameplay assignment (LOTRO) – Complete before class.  Recommended level: 10-12

Meet one or more of your classmates inside the Prancing Pony in Bree and post a screenshot of you together to Coursera Forums page.  Then form a fellowship and begin Book I of the Epic Quest line.  (You do not have to complete the Prologue before starting Book I, Ch. 1.)

For help on how to take a screenshot on Windows, see: windows.microsoft.com/take-a-screen-shot.  For help on how to take a screenshot on Mac OS, see: cnet.com/three-ways-to-take-a-screenshot-on-a-mac/.

Thursday

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (Book I, chapters 1-6 of the novel)

Coursera, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative:

2.2 Tolkien’s life and work

2.3 Tolkien’s popularity

Skim Nick Wingfield, “In E-Sports, Video Gamers Draw Real Crowds and Big Money,” New York Times (August 30, 2014).

Blog Topic (Group 1 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.): Write on King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.  You are encouraged to consider characters and settings other than Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe (or in addition to them).  Consider discussing Walter Day, Brian Kuh, Roy Shildt, or Steve’s wife and family.  You might want to talk about the whole phenomenon of world records (in gaming or in other aspects of life, including any of them in Guinness’s),  or the arcade subculture portrayed in the film. You might compare today’s gamer culture with arcade culture.  Etc.

*

Week 4 (Sep. 9-11)

Tuesday

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (Read Book I, chapters 7-12 of the novel)

Read Constantine P. Cavafy’s “Ithaca” (OAK)

Coursera, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative:

1.3 Remediation

1.8 Cavafy’s “Ithaca”

Gameplay assignment: Make progress on Book I of the Epic Quest. Chapter 1 requires a fellowship, so please ask in Kinship Chat if someone will help you on the Epic Quest line. Do as many chapters as you can while you have a fellowship, since it will make your progress easier.  Aim to complete Chs. 1-7.

Thursday

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (read Book II, Chapters 1-5)

Bolter and Grusin, from Remediation (OAK)

Blog Topic (Group 2 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.): What has your initial experiences playing LOTRO been like?  Do you feel at ease in a virtual world?  What do you find fun?  Are the controls easy for you to understand?  Do the quests seem easy to understand and fun to play?  Do you enjoy exploring or socializing with other players in the game?

*

Week 5 (Sep. 16-18)

Tuesday

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (read Book II, Chapters 6-10)

CourseraOnline Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative: 

3.3 Allegory

3.4 Tolkien on Allegory

Gameplay assignment (LOTRO) – Complete before class.  Recommended level: 12-15

Chicken Run.  For a guide to participating in a Chicken Run, visit the Supplementary Materials tab in the Coursera class.

Thursday

Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”

CourseraOnline Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative:

2.7 “Childe Roland” I (introduction)

2.8 “Childe Roland” II

2.9 “Childe Roland” III

Blog (Group 1 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.) – Write on any topic related to the course that interests you.

*

Week 6 (Sep. 23-25)

Tuesday

Complete before class: Watch the extended version of the film, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, dir. Peter Jackson.  Note: the film is considerably longer than the theatrical release so please allow sufficient time.

Coursera, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative:

3.1 Genres of romance

3.2 The romance circle

Gameplay assignment (LOTRO) – Complete before class: Finish Book I of the Epic Quest line (recommended level: 15-17)

Thursday

John Keats, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”

Coursera, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative:

4.0 Gameplay: The Chamber of Mazarbul

3.11 Keats, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” I

3.12 Keats, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” II

Blog (Group 2 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.) – Write on any topic related to the course that interests you.

*

Week 7 (Sep. 30-Oct. 2)

Tuesday

Gameplay assignment (LOTRO) – Complete before class: find the Forsaken Inn in the Lone Lands.  Your character must be at the Forsaken Inn, ready to go, at the beginning of class.  Recommended level, 17 or higher.

Complete before class:

Download and install screen capture software from the list of recommended programs in Supplementary Materials. Practice recording video clips of gameplay in LOTRO.  You should be thoroughly familiar with your program and ready to record our class activities when you arrive.

In-class progject:

From Candaith’s camp, we will journey to the top of Weathertop.  If you do not have a character at level 22, you can still participate, as long as you have had players help you to complete Book II, Chs. 1-4.

Note: We will be creating videos of your assent to Weathertop with voiceover narrations comparing the game’s remediation to the film and the novel’s versions. Be sure to prepare your screen capture software ahead of time. 

Thursday

Journey (thatgamecompany, 2012) – PS3 only.

Optional: Watch Jenova Chen’s keynote lecture on the “Theories behind Journey” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S684RQHzmGA).

Blog (Group 1 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.) – I encourage you to write about Journey.

*

Week 8 (Oct. 7-9)

Tuesday

Create a video of “Retake Weathertop” and post it to YouTube.  You may use a private, password protected channel and supply the password to me.  Be ready to show your video to the class.

Instructions: Use voiceover narration to compare the scene in the novel, the film, and the game with respect to one or more of the following aspects: the actions or events in the scene; how characterization occurs; dialogue; setting / mise en scène / gamespace; point-of-view; and your experience of reading, viewing, and interacting with the scene.  Think carefully about the message you intend to convey, then block out or “storyboard” your ideas before you begin.  You may use written text in the form of cut screen slides or superimposed on your video if you think it enhances the power or artistry of your video.  Pay attention to the transitions between cuts in the video.  If you add background music or other graphics, be sure that the material is not copyrighted but is available under a Creative Commons license.

Thursday

Reading: There are three parts to the reading assignment.  First, watch the two short videos (5.0 and 5.1.).  Second, read stanzas 1-7 of Book III, Canto 1 of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene   Then, third, listen to the video discussion of the stanzas 1-7 (video 5.2).

1.  Coursera, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative: Watch “5.0 Introduction to Spenser” and “5.1 Spenser, the man and the poet”

2.  Read Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book III, Canto 1, Stanzas 1-7 (skip the 5-stanza long “proem” or dedication that begins Book III and begin with the actual Canto 1).  The poem is available free online at:  http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/queene3.pdf.  The archaic language can at first make the poem seem difficult but most readers quickly get the hang of it and find the action-packed story fun. There is an audio version of Book III, Canto 1 at LibriVox: http://archive.org/details.php?identifier=faeriequeene3_0906_librivox (36:24 minutes in length).  You might try reading along as you listen to the poem, but you will want to go back and read the seven stanzas again on your own.

3. Coursera, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative: Watch “5.2 The Faerie Queene, Book III, Canto 1, Stanzas 1-7″

Blog (Group 2 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.) – Write on any topic related to the course that interests you.

*

Week 9 (Oct. 14-16)

Tuesday

The assignment has three stages.

1. Read Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book III, Canto 1, Stanzas 8-19.  Available free online at:  http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/queene3.pdf.  There is an audio version of Book III, Canto 1 at LibriVox: http://archive.org/details.php?identifier=faeriequeene3_0906_librivox (36:24 minutes in length)

Please do not watch the video before taking the ungraded quiz I will send you.

Take an ungraded quiz on these stanzas.  Do not sign your name anywhere on the quiz so that we can keep the results anonymous.

Then watch Video 5.3, covering stanzas 8-19 in the Coursera MOOC Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative.

2.  Next read stanzas 20-40, then watch Video 5.4, covering stanzas 20-40

After you have done both, take the ungraded quiz on these stanzas (remember not to sign your name)

3.  Finally read stanzas 41-67 and watch Video 5.5, which covers those stanzas.  End by heaving a sigh of relief that you don’t have to take a quiz

Thursday

No class (fall break)

 No blog post this week.

*

Week 10 (Oct. 21-23)

Tuesday

Coursera, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative:

6.0 Beginnings, middles, and ends

6.1 Beginnings, middles, and ends (continued)

6.2 Fellowship’s end

6.3 The many ends of The Lord of the Rings

6.4 The many ends of The Lord of the Rings (continued)

Thursday

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses.”  Please read the poem in two stages, following the instructions below.  The poem is available free online at The Poetry Foundation at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174659.

1. Read lines 1-23, then take an anonymous, ungraded quiz on those line. Please do not watch the video before taking the quiz and do not sign your name anywhere on the quiz.

Then watch Video 6.5, covering lines 1-23 in the Coursera MOOC Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative.

2.  Next read lines ,

Then watch Video 6.6, covering lines 24-70.  After you have done both, take the quiz on these lines (remember not to sign your name).

Blog (Group 1 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.) – Write on any topic related to the course that interests you.

*

Week 11 (Oct. 28-30)

Tuesday

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One: A Novel (2011), Chs. 1-10

In-class: choose console or educational games and divide into teams for your group presentations, then plan work-flow for gaming research.

Thursday

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One: A Novel (2011), Chs. 11-20

Blog (Group 2 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m. – Write on any topic related to the course.

*

Week 12 (Nov. 4-6)

Tuesday

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One: A Novel (2011), Chs. 21-30

In-class: Each group reports on their progress on the presentation.

Thursday

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One: A Novel (2011), Chs. 31-39

Class presentations:

Group 1 – Ariel and Diana

Group 2 – Thomas and Jo

Blog (Group 1 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.) – Write on any topic related to the course that interests you.

*

Week 13 (Nov. 11-13)

Tuesday

Class presentations:

Group 3 – Chall and Carly

Group 4 – Julia and Emma

Group 5 – Tony and Sparling

Thursday

Gone Home (Steve Gaynor, designer. Fullbright Company: 2013)

Blog (Group 2 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.) – Write on any topic related to the course.

*

Week 14 (Nov. 18-20)

Tuesday

Game design workshop

Thursday

Game design workshop

No blog post due

(Thanksgiving Holiday, Nov. 22-30)

*

Week 15 (Dec. 2-4)

Tuesday

Game design workshop

Thursday

Game module presentations

Blog (Groups 1 and 2, “Collaborative blog posts” – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.) – Write game design notes for your collaborative project.  All members of the class should read, comment, and grade all blog posts for this week.

*

Course Requirements

  • Weekly blog entries: 30% of the grade.
  • YouTube video assignment, “Retake Weathertop”: 20% of the grade.
  • Group presentation on a console or educational game: 15% of the grade
  • Collaborative game design project: 25% of the grade.
  • Completion of reading assignments and class participation, 10% of the grade

Blogs will be peer evaluated, using the following criteria: Does the author seem deeply engaged with the topic? Is the blog entry thoughtful, creative, offbeat, or humorous? Is the entry coherent and well-suited to its apparent purpose?  Blogs will not be graded on length or mechanics unless major patterns of sloppiness appear.

Class discussion and presentations

  • Rationale: Learning to speak articulately about topical issues is a valuable skill, which small discussion 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.
  • Presentations will be evaluated on content, integration of media, and oral performance.
  • 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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