Syllabus 2016

ENGL 3726, New Media
(Curb Center, 146A)
Week 1 (Aug. 25) Week 2 (Aug. 30-Sep. 1) Week 3 (Sep. 6-8)
Week 4 (Sep. 13-15) Week 5 (Sep. 20-22) Week 6 (Sep. 27-29)
Week 7 (Oct.4-Oct. 6) Week 8 (Oct. 11) Week 9 (Oct. 18-20)
Week 10 (Oct. 25-27) Week 11 (Nov. 1-3) Week 12 (Nov. 8-10)
Week 13 (Nov. 15-17) Week 14 (Nov. 29-Dec. 1) Week 15 (Dec. 6-8)
Week 16 (TBD)
Readings, Films, and Games
Course Requirements

Course Description

This course explores the impact of new media on narrative and communication through a focus on gaming.  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, or Final Fantasy—indie games (LimboFlowerPortalNever Alone), and educational games.
  • Readings. Texts will include literature in the romance tradition that inspired fantasy gaming from Spenser, Keats, Tennyson, and Browning to Tolkien; novels and films about gaming such as Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One; and media theory such as Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media and Jesper Juul’s Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds.
  • 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: Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative.  The MOOC will not substitute for classroom meetings, but videos will sometimes serve as preparation for seminar meetings in lieu of other reading.
  • 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).

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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

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

Blackboard: Media theory by Jesper Juul, J. David Bolter and Richard Grusin, T. L. Taylor, and others

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 (Wait to buy until class)

That Dragon, Cancer (Numinous Games, 2016) $14.99 (Wait to buy until class)

Gone Home (Fullbright, 2013) – $19.99 on Steam (Wait to buy until class)

Journey (thatgamecompany, 2012) – PS3 only (Wait to buy until class)

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Week 1 (Aug. 25)

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 and sign up for Coursera, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative

Register for SteamTwitter, and request to join the class Facebook page.

 

*

Week 2 (Aug. 30-Sep. 1)

Tuesday

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

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.  You will not be able to use the Chat function until you have been in game for three hours. 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.

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Week 3 (Sep. 6-8)

Tuesday

Discuss King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007). Available for rent on Amazon.

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

1.2 Gameplay: Epic quest line, Book I

Gameplay assignment (LOTRO) – Complete before class.  Recommended level: 7-10

Meet one or more of your classmates inside the Prancing Pony in Bree and post a screenshot of you together to the class Facebook Page (one photo will do for both if you name the players in a comment).  Then form a fellowship and do quests together.

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

Play Pokémon Go on a smart phone. Prepare to report on your adventures.

Blog Topic (Group 1 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.): Write on Pokémon Go.

*

Week 4 (Sep. 13-15)

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

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)

Blog Topic (Group 2 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.): Write on “Ithaca” and the idea of the journey in your own life or in Tolkien.

*

Week 5 (Sep. 20-22)

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

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. 27-29)

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

Play That Dragon, CancerIt takes two full hours to complete, so allow sufficient time.

Blog (Group 2 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.) – Write on your reaction to a game like That Dragon, Cancer, which addresses emotional issues of great consequence in this new media form.

*

Week 7 (Oct.4-Oct. 6)

Tuesday

John Keats, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”

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

3.11 Keats, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” I

3.12 Keats, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” II

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.

Play the game on a PS3 system or watch the following 20-minute video screen capture of the entire journey:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUErsZQvorY – Longer play-through of Journey (1:26) for class discussion

 

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. 11)

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

No class (fall break)

 No blog post this week.

*

Week 9 (Oct. 18-20)

Tuesday

Virtual Reality assignments: TBA

In class: We will use Vive for in-class activities.

Thursday

Virtual Reality assignments: TBA

In class: We will use Vive for in-class activities.

*

Week 10 (Oct. 25-27)

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)

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

Thursday

Read Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”  The poem is available free online at The Poetry Foundation at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174659.

Then watch Video 6.5 and Video 6.6 in the Coursera MOOC Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative.

In class: Twitter fiction and Storify.

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

*

Week 11 (Nov. 1-3)

Tuesday

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

Thursday

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

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

*

Week 12 (Nov. 8-10)

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

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

*

Week 13 (Nov. 15-17)

Tuesday

Class presentations:

Group 2 – Elliot and Carson, Amnesia

Group 3 – Tom and Megan, Undertale

Group 5 – Marc and Joe, Sports games

Thursday

Class presentations:

Group 1 – Bradley and Chloe

Group 5 – Celeste, Katherine, and James, Mass Effect

Group 6 – Ethan and Umang, Psychonauts

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

Thanksgiving break (Nov. 19-27)

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Week 14 (Nov. 29-Dec. 1)

Tuesday

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

Game design workshop

Thursday

Game design workshop

Blog (Groups 2 – due Friday, 6:00 p.m.)

*

Week 15 (Dec. 6-8)

Tuesday

Game design workshop

Thursday

Game design workshop

No blog post due

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Week 16 (Dec. 13)
TBA

Presentations (TBA)

No blog post due

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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.