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Instructor: Ryan House (he/him)
Email: ryan.house@wsu.edu

Class Meeting Time (via Zoom): 11:10am – 2:00 pm (PT) / 1:10 – 4:00pm (CT)

Office hours: Virtual, by appointment

Course Description:

DTC 392 is described in the WSU Course Catalog as the “[h]istory and theory of video games with a focus on innovation and cultural impact.” Part of the CMDC Program’s Game Studies and Design Certificate, the course works in tandem with DTC 492 Engines and Platforms taught in the spring semester each year to provide students with a deep understanding about best practices in video game design and development.

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Required texts to purchase:

  1. Fernández-Vara, Clara. Introduction to Game Analysis. Second edition., Routledge, 2019.

  2. Donovan, Tristan. Replay : the History of Video Games. Yellow Ant, 2010.

       (Supplemental readings will be provided to you.)

 

Required access to:

  • Basecamp

  • Slack

  • Twitch

  • Itch.io/Steam

  • WSU email

  • Zoom

  • Perusall (course code: HOUSE-XG9RG)

  • At least one game creation tool of your choice: GameMaker Studio 2/ GoDot / GB Studio/ Adventure Game Studio/ Stencyl/ Twine/ Etc.

 

Suggested access to: A note-taking app

 

Course Logistics:

This course is organized by weeks of the semester. Each week, students are assigned a mix of readings to complete (including the annotation of select readings), videos to watch, games to either play or learn about, and written responses. The course schedule lists what is due each week and can be found on the course website and on Basecamp. (Note: the schedule on the course website constitutes the “official” one.) These weekly assignments are to be completed by our scheduled class time on Friday of each week as they will provide the basis of our discussions. Details of these assignments can be found below.

On Fridays, we will meet virtually via a mix of Twitch and Zoom. Starting in week 2, we’ll begin  our classes with me streaming a game and students participating in chat. After a short break, we’ll reconvene on Zoom, where students are expected to participate by using microphones and with cameras turned on for discussion and short lectures. More information on expectations for virtual class can be found below.

 

Time/labor expectations:

“1 college credit represents approximately 1 hour spent in a classroom and 2 hours spent on homework each week” (Pearson). Because this is a 3 credit course, you should expect to spend ~3 hours in class each week and ~6 hours working on the material outside of class each week.

I’ve taken these time estimates into account when assigning viewings, readings, and other activities. Reading takes time and reading to learn takes even longer. With this in mind, I’ve estimated an average reading speed of ~20 pages/hour for our weekly readings. Supplemental materials, like videos or games to play/watch, fill out our weekly time allotment.

Some weeks, such as when major assignments are due, are lighter on these readings/supplemental materials. This is so you can use that time to focus on the assignment for things like revision. They are not time “off.”

As with most everything, these estimations will vary between individuals. Some may work faster, some slower. The most important thing is that you approach this course each week with a desire to learn. With that, you can’t go wrong.

 

Attendance:

Attendance in virtual class meetings is mandatory and necessary to complete our learning goals. Learning never takes place in a vacuum. Discussion with others, or even just being present to hear others’ discussion, is vital. Because we only meet once a week, missing even one meeting is a substantial loss of these opportunities.

That said, I understand life happens. Sometimes it will be unavoidable to miss a meeting. Please reach out to let me know as soon as you can that you will be missing and be prepared to reach out to classmates to get caught up. Alternative readings and/or responses may be assigned to make up for missed meetings. I reserve the right to handle these situations on an individual basis. Equity is often more just than equality. IF absences become habitual, I will meet with the student to discuss their ability to remain in the course.

 

Classroom expectations (etiquette and participation via Zoom):

Because we will be learning to work through challenging conceptual texts, it is necessary that our class meets synchronously and focuses on discussion. I know that synchronous Zoom classes can be very challenging. Here is what is expected of you in order to receive full credit for participation:

  • Participate in class actively and frequently. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, such as speaking in large group discussion, speaking in small group discussion (when applicable), placing relevant comments in chat, etc. If you are concerned about your ability to participate or want to discuss alternative modes of participation, please send me an email.

  • Please have your camera on during class. This is a soft rule (there are a number of exceptions) but you should at least plan to be on camera each day. If you need to turn your camera off briefly for personal reasons, you are welcome to. If you have a disability or other issue that prevent you from using your camera and would like to discuss alternatives, please send me an email.

  • You are welcome to step away from your computer during class briefly as needed, for example to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. It is fine to turn your camera off momentarily and to do so without asking.

  • Please feel free to make yourself comfortable during class. You are welcome to sit wherever you like, dress however you like (so long as you’re clothed!), hang out with a pet, eat a snack, etc.

  • When we are meeting as a full class, please mute yourself if you are not speaking. However, when you work in small groups, you are welcome to keep your mics on. Be mindful of background noises.

  • If you are having internet trouble and need to leave and return to the room, feel free to do so without apologizing or announcing your return.

  • If you need to serve as a caretaker for another person during our course meetings and would like to discuss specific accommodations, please send me an email. Kids running around in the background are a-ok, no worries.

 

Breakdown of assignments:

Major Projects (Recommended lengths: 800-1200 words)

Project 1: Write an overview of the game you want to analyze

  • Using Fernandez-Vara’s Ch. 4 as a guide, write an overview of the game you will be analyzing over the course of the semester. This project will describe rather than evaluate and illustrate rather than summarize.

Project 2: Analyze your chosen videogame through the lens of its context w/ sources

  • Using Fernandez-Vara’s Ch 3 as a guide, write an analysis of the game’s contextual elements – its paratexts, factors of production, conventions of its genre(s), socio-economic and historical setting, etc.

Project 3: Analyze your chosen videogame through its formal elements of design w/ sources

  • Using Fernandez-Vara’s Ch 5 as a guide, identify formal design elements of the game, and discuss how their interrelation creates meaning and/or shapes a player’s experience.

Project 4: Make a videogame using a game creation tool, w/ short artist’s statement/reflection

  • Applying some aspect(s) of the course to your design, create a game (or game-like artifact) using an approved game-making program/platform. You may work independently or in small groups of 2 or 3. (In the case of groups, each member must submit a full reflection focusing on a unique aspect of the game’s design.)

  • Artist’s statement/reflections (300-500 words) should describe your intention of design, discuss any setbacks/complications, and reflect on your experience using your platform of choice. 

 

Weekly Responses:

Each week, a prompt will be posted to the message board on our class’s BaseCamp asking students to reflect on some aspect of the week’s materials. Students will respond by posting a reply to this prompt within its thread. Responses should be semi-formal (less formal than a research paper, more formal than a text), should be about a paragraph in length, and should reference (again, semi-formally) at least some of the week’s materials, connect to prior ideas/materials, and/or reflect on the student’s process of learning in the course. Responses are due before class time on the week for which they’re assigned. (I recommend composing your responses outside of BaseCamp and copy/pasting them into the message board to mitigate the potential for lost work.) I estimate this activity to take 30 mins to an hour each week, including time to revise and proofread.

Collaborative Readings via Perusall: 

We will be using a web tool called Perusall to read and annotate selected class texts together. Students are required to participate in all of these collaborative reading activities through the annotation of the texts.

 

**To register, navigate your browser to perusall.com and click [Log In] in the top left corner. Click [Register] if this is your first time and fill in the necessary information. Once registered, you’ll find a series of buttons along the top of your homepage. Click [Enroll in course] and use the course code HOUSE-XG9RG to enroll in our videogames course. After you’ve done this, you’ll find the course listed under [My courses] on your homepage. Within the course, assigned readings can be found in the menu on the left under [assignments]. These readings will also be linked to on our course website each week.**

Using Perusall allows us to make the act of annotating our course readings a social learning endeavor. Hopefully, the thoughts and questions of your classmates will elevate your own understanding of the material, and in turn, yours will help them. For this to work, everyone needs to be on the same page about what it means to participate in this activity. Unfortunately, this can't be fully laid out in a sentence or two. It won't look the same for everyone every time.

Here are some tips for avoiding less-helpful, low effort comments/annotations:

  • Resist the "[Blank] was here" comment - I call them this because this is essentially the only information they relate: "someone" was here. These comments are very low effort and usually say something like "This is interesting!" or "I never thought about it like that!". If you find yourself tempted to respond like this, just think: why is this interesting? How has my thinking changed, and what exactly led to that change? What are some consequences of this change in perspective? Answering these questions can lead to a much more fruitful discussion or, at the very least, help you develop those ideas for yourself more fully.

  • Engage your fellow readers-- These annotations should be a bit like a group text. I hope you will engage and be engaged by your classmates. It’s easier to engage with someone when they've more fully expressed themselves (echoing the first point). Ask questions about a section of the text that doesn't make sense to you. Feel emboldened to answer questions about the text that you think you know. Be willing to be wrong -- we're all learning here. And some of the questions we'll be asking do not have easy answers. Above all, be kind to one another.

  • Pace yourself -- Break down longer readings into 2-3 "sessions". When you feel fatigue set in, like when you feel yourself just pushing forward so you can get done sooner, take a break. You're not really accomplishing much at that point anyway.

 

Below is an incomplete list of ways I hope you use the collaborative annotation tool for our class readings:

  • Glossing – Defining unfamiliar words; parsing out references made to other works. (Please don't just drop a link. Provide context.)

  • Questions – Noting when something doesn’t make sense to you. Learning to articulate what you don’t understand is an important skill in research.

  • Opinions – Feel free to state your opinion about something an author writes. These opinions should be respectful, and they will be respected.

  • Research tool – If you come across something you’d like to return to later in your analyses, make an annotation and give yourself a note about why you think it’s important/interesting or where it will fit in.

  • Discourse – Above all, strive to interact with the annotations of your peers. Respond to their questions with your own or ideas you may have about it. Respectfully engage with others’ opinions. Disagree! Add to others' ideas! Converse!

 

Please refer to this section should you find yourself stuck at what to do when engaging with our class readings.

 

Play/Games on Schedule:

You are not required to buy games for this class. One of the biggest challenges of teaching a course on videogames is the issue of access; games are expensive and the machines to play them on are even more so. I do expect you to engage with the games in some way, though, even if it’s just learning about them through internet research.

For some weeks, I’ve found games that you can play via your web browser (and perhaps even your mobile device), so please do check them out. I ask that you play them long enough to “get” them – find something interesting about them to write about in your weekly response and/or bring with you to class for discussion.

For games where this kind of emulation isn’t possible, I’ve linked to videos of playthroughs. If you have access to the games, I request that you play them, but if not, checking out a video of someone else playing is the next best thing. You need not watch these videos in their entirety (some are rather long), but again, find something interesting to bring with you to class (and feel free to skip around on some of those really long ones).

When there are three or four games listed, watch or play some of them all. When there are more than that listed, choose three or four to play/watch/learn about.

 

Play Journal:

This on-going assignment is meant to be a space for informal writings/reflections, a place to keep track of the game(s) you’ve been playing and to take notes on your own impressions to aid in your analyses. Work on the PJ is self-driven; there won’t be scheduled assignments corresponding to it. Instead, be diligent throughout the semester to use it when you play (or have ideas concerning your play). Play journals will be submitted with each Major Project, though they are not evaluated beyond complete/incomplete. Digital images of physical journals are permitted, so long as they are legible.

Some things you might make note of in your journal as you play:

  • Aspects of the game relevant to your analysis

  • Moments that surprised you / subverted your expectations

  • Assumptions made by the game (e.g., through representation, in the design, in its mode(s) of interactivity)

  • Frustrations you have/things that are broken/not intuitive

  • Recurring patterns (in the design, themes, etc.)

  • Relationships with the context (refer to Fernandez-Vara pg. 33-34 for a brief discussion of this)

  • What the game is about based on the mechanics (vs. what it says on the cover or through its narrative, maybe)

  • Elements that point to the game’s socio-historical context

 

Labor Based “Grading”:

This course operates on two basic assumptions: first, that learning is a processual practice of embodied labor; and second, that students enrolled in the course want to learn.

I cannot grade what you learn, in fact I may never know the full extent of it. Only you can ever evaluate the quality of your learning. As stated above, I believe learning and labor are intrinsically linked: the more labor spent on learning, the more one learns. Makes sense, right? So, while I may never know what you actually learned in the writing of, say, a weekly response, what I can evaluate is whether or not you completed that assignment in the spirit in which it is assigned. My evaluation stops there. If you complete every assignment, you get an A for the course because you will have completed the labor towards reaching our learning goals and, I’ll argue, learned something in the process. 

 

  "But Ryan, does this mean I can just turn in anything and get an A?"

 

Well, yeah, I guess...to an extent. Remember that it must meet the assignment’s requirements. And what a waste of time and money it would be to not put some effort into learning something when the opportunity presents itself. (And honestly, you cunning finder-of-loopholes, you clever beater-of-the-system, I bet even you learn something out of all this anyway, so yeah, sure! An A!) This goes back to my second basic assumption: you're here because you want to be here. And we're not here for fun (I mean, I'd like to think this isn't exactly not fun, but anyway).

 

  "So then....what happens if we *GULP* don't turn in everything?"

 

Then the rats will deal with you, bwahaha! *Ahem* Sorry, nothing so dramatic.

The completion of all Major Projects is required to pass the course. Students who also turn in at least 2/3 of the other work will receive a B. Students who do at least 1/2 of the work, a C. Ultimately, if a student fails do the minimum amount of labor necessary, they will receive a failing grade for the course. All told, though, it's still better than the rats.

 

  "But what if we turn something in late?"

 

Good question! I'm willing to work with you on deadlines. Put another way, you need to communicate with me early and often when you think you might be late in submitting a Major Project. I'm less concerned with you hitting the exact date and more about you staying on top of finishing it and getting it to me before the class moves on without you. You must submit all Major Projects to fulfill the labor requirements of the course.

 

The weekly assignments will be more concerned with engaging with the readings and or discussions for the week, so if you don't do it on time, the class will be moving on without you. The same can be said about the collaborative readings. This is not to say that I won’t accept the occasional late response or annotation, but if it becomes habitual, we’ll need to discuss your ability to remain in the course.

 

Major projects will be submitted to Basecamp. Weekly responses will be posted to BaseCamp’s Discussion Boards. Collaborative Readings will take place on Persuall.  

 

Format filenames as follows: LastName,FirstName-AssignmentName[file extension]

For example, if submitting week 3’s response, an acceptable filename is: house,ryan-week3response.docx. Or, if submitting a major assignment, it might look like this: house,ryan-project3.docx.

I am unable to open Pages files, and so I cannot accept them. Please convert to a Word file before submitting.